Flash: Transport to Equity Part 1 – Eleven

Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

“They’re at it again.” My brother said through a downturned grimace and a glance at Jordan cradled against my shoulder. He slipped into our room, leaving the door partly open – it couldn’t be fully closed thanks to lowest bidder government contracts on the platform. Front door seals fine, as required for all space habitats, but the doors within the units, not-so-much.

Wiping the baby’s mouth after he finally released a hearty burp, I responded with a raised eyebrow and a half-shrug. “When aren’t they?”

Holland tucked his tablet away before whispering in my ear. “This one feels different.”  He lifted Jordan out of my arms and grabbed the burping cloth. With a quick meeting of eyebrows and a light touch to the three-month-old’s mouth, he asked if dad had feed him at all today.

I nodded to the single empty bottle, answering the question. Yesterday, there had been one empty and two filled ones on the box we had between our bunkbeds and the crib. With only one, that meant our stay-at-home dad had actually done some his official job as caretaker and managed a couple feedings today.

Now my brother and I don’t actually talk much. We are twins and have our own twin-speak. Facial expressions, body placement, long stares. The words just leap between us without talking. Strange, I know, for fraternal twins, but we developed it out of self-preservation before we even started talking. For him to actually speak, in hearing range of our parents, about our parents, indicated how shook he was.

I’m better at reading our parents, so I go to the door and watch.

In the background, I feel Holland rocking Jordan, talking to him with our twin-speak, keeping the kid quiet so he wouldn’t have our scars. Internal, not external. Our parents don’t abuse us, just yell and scream a lot.

At eleven, we are learning in our Ed civics courses that scars and abuse comes in all shades, but Holland and I agree we aren’t ready to report our parents because if we do, they’ll separate us. All of us. Jordan, Holland, and me, Georgia. Flung from one end of the solar system to the other getting therapy and new life assignment tracks. Never to cross paths or connect each other again. And that isn’t going to happen. Not ever. It’s the three of us against the world, starting with our parents.

They are arguing about rent. Mother’s job as an asteroid mineral assessor puts her toward the top of the food chain. Earth is mined out and needs everything it can get from its solar system colonies. Plus the pressure value to release humanity to the stars also needs a ton of substance. Between those two source demands, the asteroid belt had been getting a workout for decades. Mother and dad met while working on the same team. Dad is only so-so at finding things, but Mother was the second best in the solar system hence all our family’s special privileges.

The Population Center okay’ed them for unlimited children in the hopes her skill could be passed down. Both Holland and I have half our Ed track devoted to a life assignment as mineral assessors, and we are already showing “promise”. Based on what Holland and I can read off our evaluators, our “promise” has them crossing their fingers and toes that when our mental flip-flops to abstract thinkers happens during our teenage years, nothing will break in our heads. They have our life planned out for us.

Mother hated being pregnant and was thrilled to have twins for the first one, figuring she met her quota of replacement and then the extra the Population Center wanted. Dad wanted more, especially since you can’t be a primary stay-at-home caregiver once a minor reaches twelve, so he turned off the family’s contraceptives without telling mother last year.

That was a huge blowup. Holland and I didn’t speak a word at home until Mother’s morning sickness ended.

Dad wants better quarters; he always wants better and more. He thought with the baby we would upgrade to four rooms. With a three-room quarters, we rub elbows with other people who can have more than one child. All the gifted. The desired. The wanted. With a four-room quarters, we would be in the middle of the higher administrative crowd. Management. Dad is the child of management and wants that level of respect and power again. He also doesn’t want to work for it.

Our Ed civic courses has a lot to say about social responsibility. Having only one child until the population is under control. About not wasting resources. And working for the betterment of everyone.

Dad wants to be the everyone that everyone else is working the betterment for.

Mother is lying about not having the money to get better quarters. Since I feel the breath of a baby sleeping, I wave Holland to come over. My older brother, by nineteen minutes, puts the baby into his crib and joins me.

I motion with a sidetwist of my hand, Mother’s lying.

The two of them hate each other. A lot. But they hardly every lie to each other. They can’t keep their stories straight when they are screaming at each other, so they don’t bother with falsehoods.

But mother is lying.

“They didn’t give us a raise this quarter.”

“They didn’t give you a raise for the last four quarters!” We don’t have anything to throw in the family room, otherwise dad would have tossed something. “And yet they gave Kesha and Merick raises.”

Dad kept up with everyone from his old unit. He networks hard, even now, in the hopes of making management when he is required to return back to work.

“Because their unit found some gold needed for the breathing modules.” Mother bit her lip.

Truth. One of her biggest tells. She bites her lips while trying to think of a way to present something in a better light.

“But I did get a raise. The cost-of-living. And that extra bonus for the pregnancy.”

She’s hiding something about that extra bonus. She pressed her hand against her stomach.

Holland points out she pressed her hand against her stomach starting with the cost-of-living increase.

I agree, both of these things are being hidden on some level. Is she hiding extra income from dad? Like Holland and I do with the odds-jobs we do around the station. “Possible.” Holland nods strongly.

“Which barely paid for the twins extra Ed classes.” Dad got us into some beginning management courses; ones where we taste every job on the station, from the air scrubber rebuilding to the food vats. I go in two hours early for my internships and Holland stays two hours late; that way dad is only left with Jordan for six hours.

I still haven’t figured out how my brother and I survived our infancy; maybe dad and mother were less crazy back then?

Dad’s arms swing wide. He isn’t hearing anything right now. “Nothing for me. For us, I mean. We need you to get more bonuses.”

He switched on the charm.

For him, it is a full-on switch. Holland and I are trying to master that technique having seen several of the management instructors use it too. Only theirs is warmer, more continuous. But somehow lesser. Dad’s is a bright, room-filling, monstrosity. Behind me, I feel Jordan stir – be still – Holland and I motion and think toward the baby until he settles.

Dad grabs mother’s hands and she lets him. She always gives in when he smiles instead of yells. Everyone does. He just can’t control his temper and keep the charm up long enough to be successful at management.

“You can do it. You are the best.”

Mother licks her lips instead of biting. A grown-up seduction thing where they are going to go to their room or one of her lying tells?

“I can’t, Manny.”

Not a lie. Not exactly.

“Of course, you can. Do your magic, get Withrow to help, he is the best with the scopes.”

“You don’t understand Manny, there isn’t anything left to find.”

“What?” Dad strung the question out.

“I mean there still is, but there isn’t much left. Green sector, where Kesha is assigned, is maybe a decade out from the rest of the belt.” Mother shrugged her pulling-herself-together-and-being-determined-shrug. “We need to switch to the Oort’s to get any new big wind-falls.”

“I am not moving to that cold, light-forsaken nightmare. None of the stations there have more than five dozen people.”

“I’m not really interested either. It is a temporary solution.” Oh, mother is making eye contact, hard, sustained eye contact. This is what Holland was feeling that was different. Mother has a plan. “I’ve been looking around there, after hours, just to see. Aside from the planets and dwarfs, I’m not finding much. Maybe four decades at the rate humanity is chewing through stuff.”

“That should be fine. You and the other assessors will have plenty of time to find more stuff.”

“You are not listening Manny. There isn’t anything left to find. It’s all trash. Dross. A missed rock here and there, maybe. Our lifetime, what is already in the production line will keep things going, but not for our children.”

Wait, is that mother caring about us? Considering us? Holland and I stare at each other for a moment before returning to watching our parents. We had agreed that mother is giving all sorts of parental vibes, her standing between us and the monsters of the world.

No one besides her and dad is allowed to harm us.

“What are you saying?”

“If we want to protect our children, give them any future whatsoever, and especially our children’s children, we are going to have to immigrate, and immigrate really, really far, because Earth is going to implode in sooner than later and take anything within reach down with it.”

Dad shook his head. He is looking for a lie in her eyes and is not finding one.

There isn’t one to find. Mother is as truthful as she ever gets.

“No. That isn’t going to happen.” His deep voice rumbles firmly, trying to make his own truth.

“Manny, it is. I turned in my first ever report today that my sector is cleared. Completely cleared. As time goes by, more of these reports will accumulate. Withrow gives management about five years before they start to collate the metadata into the doomsday document.” Mother pulled her hands out of dad’s. “He applied to immigrate two years ago, about the time we stopped getting all those bonuses you liked so much. He is leaving next month.”

Dad shook his head, no-no. He is trying to deny it, twist it. Somehow make it palatable.

Holland and I join hands. For a second our eyes met. We agree. He has to believe. Our attention, all of it, return to our parents.

“Yes, and if I could I would be on a ship beside him.”

“I knew you had an affair with him.” Dad grabbed at the thought and tried pushing anger to it.

Don’t you dare go there dad, listen to mother.

“No, Manny. Me and Withrow? Please.”

Dad chuckled, acknowledging that impossibility, his anger dissolving despite his determination to find some way to fight the truth.

“But as an assessor team, he and I could name our planet and our price. Problem is no one would take me with a divorce. They don’t allow immigration for people who can’t maintain a stable relationship.”

So that is why mother has stayed with dad. I knew dad needed mother’s skill to stay anywhere near the status he wanted, but mother? She has planned to immigrate for a long time.

“Good thing you have me then.” Dad smirked.

Oops, mother gave dad power. He is going to use it before he thinks things through.

Holland squeeze my hand. Yes, I squeeze back, we need to break them up. Now. Dinner time?

Together we move to ask for food, saying we completed our Ed work. We hadn’t, of course, but we normally did it when trading off Jordan’s nighttime feedings.

(first published 3/6/2022; words 2034)