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Mitchell's Change

by Megan Chadsey 2 years ago in science fiction · updated 8 months ago
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He kissed his world goodbye, now we will al regret it

Forty days into the driest rainy season in one hundred year left the air thick with unrealized humidity and lingering fear. All around them the signs of withering vegetation gave visual sign to the unease in the inhabitants.

“Everything is going to be fine, Carl.” He reassured his husband of seven years. “I’ll be along in a few weeks.”

Carl bit his lip, tugging at the brown leather encircling his right wrist “Why can’t you come with us?” He asked again.

“You know how Kylie is.” He blew out an exasperated breath, “She’s not approving my transfer until the new girl, a Jeanette something, is fully trained.”

The frown did not leave Carl’s face. He clutched their son, Jaime, closer. “Maybe we can wait…?”

“We do have a place waiting, Space in the domes is at a premium.” he reminded the other man. The underwater domes started off as a single glass domed research station, built at the edge of the volcanic caldera that created the Perdita Atoll to the south. As more people became interested in joining family two more domes were built. The original dome took on the name Umiko, after the lead researcher. The subsequent residential Domes were named Cordelia and Pelagia, chosen by the builders. “Plus…it might be better to be well away with the election coming.”

Carl’s eyes flashed out the window, a motion that seemed involuntary, to the yard across the way. Though it could not be seen in the dark Mitchell knew there was a sign there. One that proudly proclaimed, ‘Vote for Vicky Grace. She will save us from our sinful ways.’

“I suppose” Carl sighed softly, doubtfully. “I’m just worried.”

The next morning the three stood in the early morning light. Jaime was drowsy, dozing on Carl’s shoulder. Carl and Mitchell looked at each other quietly for a moment.

“It’s only a few weeks,” Mitchell repeated, suddenly feeling a bit anxious himself.

“I know. It just sucks that you can’t see us off at the docks.”

“We talked about this…” Mitchell started off. They had argued about it actually. It simply wasn’t safe to provoke the people around them. Especially not with their precious little one there.

Carl scoffed, angry all over again. “Some neighbors, right?”

“They’re frightened.” Mitchell answered back softly. It was hard for him to feel any real anger at the Collins across the way. They had been their friends once, before the droughts destroyed so many industries. The Collins needed something to blame, someone to blame for their empty bellies and the crumbling economy. A direction for their fear of the future. “They are frightened. They are hungry and angry.”

“So that’s it. We just roll over and let them blame us.” Carl bit out, “You and I, we didn’t do anything wrong. Our son did nothing wrong. We are not the cause of the droughts”

“That’s why we’re leaving” Mitchell reminded him. “Why it’s better to spend the election in the Domes. Hopefully when calmer heads prevail we can come home.”

Carl twitched but his glower didn’t fade.

The first true rays of light came in through the window and Mitchell took a reluctant step back. “You’ll need to go soon or you will miss your ride.”

Thankfully Carl didn’t call him out on his worry. Instead the taller man pressed a peck on his lips and left their home without another glance. Mitchell forced down a wave of fear and sadness. Everything would be fine.

The next two weeks dragged each minute into an hour, or so it felt. It seemed like every question Jeanette asked pushed his leave date further from his grasp. Now though was his final day. Tomorrow he would board the transport ship and in a mere week he would be with his family.

Mitchell entered the office to an eerie quiet. Everyone was clumped together talking in low tones. A few eyes shot to him, away from the radio. The normal amounts of suspicion lingered around a few of his less tolerant coworkers, but a few shown with a fascinated sort of pity. That was new.

“I would have thought you would have been down town. It figures someone like you wouldn’t care.” His boss murmured without looking at him as he entered her office.

It stung a bit, even now. Kylie had been his friend long before she had been his boss. They had known each other for almost a decade. She had been at his wedding to Carl, cheering them on. After she had found out she was infertile, though, things had changed. It had become a sore point between them, especially after they had given up on using her as a surrogate. Jaime’s birth cemented the rift. after the final straw had come when Kylie had begun openly supporting Vicky Grace and her horrid hate filled speeches.

“Care about what?” Mitchell sighed.

Kylie blinked and looked up, focusing on a point to the right of him. “You haven’t heard?” she asked the wall of her office. “It’s been all over the radio this morning.”

“I overslept and had to run to get here. What happened?”

A strange change came over Kylie’s face. The contempt mixed with a bit of pity and some sadness. “There was a riot in the Domes three days ago. Umiko has been destroyed outright.”

Mitchell felt himself rock backward in shock, “Just Umiko? What about Cordelia?”

Something in her face softened, the contempt draining away. “They evacuated Cordelia and Palagelia in time but there is no news about the survivors. When you weren’t here this morning I figured you were down at the docks looking for news.”

Mitchell turned and ran without another word. He needed to get to the docks and find out when Carl and Jaime would be back; if they had been hurt. They weren’t dead, he would have known, have felt something. Jaime must be so scared. And Carl, well he was such a worrier already. He was never going to let Jaime off the island again.

The closer he got to the docks the people got out of his way. He barely noticed the looks of pity he got, or how many of those looks had changed to disgust when they saw the bracer on his right arm.

He had only had the bracer for five years, though he had been married longer. Carl had been so angry, furious at the announcement when it came out. Five years ago, the laws had changed, any same sex marriage that used the more traditional marriage pendants would be null and void. Every one of the couples had two weeks to turn in the pendants and find a set of leather bracers.

While Carl had raged Mitchell had shrugged, bought a plain pair of bracers, three inch wide pieces of brown leather to be tied to the right wrist, which he customized. It had always been Carl who was the rebel, the one to stand up for what he believed in.

He arrived at the building panting for breath. It had clearly been set up as a temporary information center. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Mitchell reached the desk. A young woman, looking something between bored and harried under a mask of sympathy, sat there.

“Please” he gasped out, breathing hard from the run, “My family…They were in Cordelia. I need to know they got out safe.”

“OK” the woman began in an even tone. “Both Cordelia and Palagelia have been evacuated. Umiko was destroyed outright and the last indication shows that the other two Domes flooded shortly after. Of the 600 residents between the two domes, a total of 200 are still unaccounted for. We do have lists of the accounted for survivors.”

Relief gripped him, strong and unrelenting; turning his knees liquid. He gripped the counter, hard, to keep standing upright. The woman saw his bracer and her entire demeanor changed. Gone was the boredom and false pity. In its place was an achingly familiar disgust.

“Not that we will need it for one of your kind. You have no business here.”

The relief popped and shriveled, leaving him feeling like he was caught in a whirlwind. “What?” he gasped.

“Your kind. They wouldn’t have evacuated your kind.”

“I-I-I don’t understand…My husband and son were in Cordelia. I n-need to know if…”

“They are dead. Or wishing they were. They didn’t evacuate the unnatural. Now you need to leave.”

Mitchell sputtered, “My son, surely my son is on your list. He’s only a toddler.”

The woman looked at him dismissively. After a moment of contemplation, the woman finally said, “Nits make lice. Now you need to leave.”

Air rushed from his lungs, trapping itself in his throat. He could feel his jaw working helplessly. Inarticulate noises escaped as his mind tried to process. Nits make lice.

He didn’t know how long he stood there, stock still in that shifting mass. One moment to the next and hands gripped his arms. Two towering burly men grabbed him firmly but gently to frog march him from the hall. From the corner of his eyes Mitchell caught sight of the matching bracers, this time two inch strips of black leather,on the security guards’ arms.

The next few days he spent in a fog, wandering with those words echoing in his ears. Nits make lice. Kylie eventually found him. That last strand of friendship caused her to bring him to her home; to force food into him. In thanks he showered.

A week or two after he lost everything Vicky Grace spoke on the tragedy.

“…approximately 4 Third Shift, Dome time a riot broke out in Umiko. The destruction of the Umiko Dome was enough to damage the connecting tunnels. Cordelia and Palegia were evacuated. The elevator shaft down to the central hub appears to be completely flooded indicating that the Domes have been destroyed. Our sources have confirmed that the six responsible for the riot were protesting Unnaturals moving into the Domes. Our hearts go out to the families of those lost in Umiko and in particular the families of the six who died to make this point. I am happy to announce that only Unnaturals were lost in Cordelia and Palagelia. I assure you all that when I am elected I will ensure that such a sacrifice will never be needed again…”

Tinny cheers cut the speech off over the ringing in Mitchells ears.

Why? Why would they cheer? That woman…that monster called the rioters actions a sacrifice. Echoing from his memories were those hated dismissive words, nits make lice. Overlapping that was the cheering. Why were they cheering?

Only Unnaturals in Cordelia. Only. Only his soul. Only his life. Only the two most important people in his world. Only…

“Not the way I would have put it but she makes a lot of sense.” Kylie commented from his right.

Mitchell whipped around to face her, ignoring the monster-woman who kept speaking. Kylie was looking thoughtfully at the screen. “What?”

“About separating out the Unnaturals.”

Kylie appeared completely oblivious to the way Mitchell felt like he was a frayed rope about to snap. “Surely you know you are unnatural?” She sounded so matter of fact. As if she wasn’t gutting him. “There is no natural reason why someone like you had a child while someone like me could not.”

Mitchell’s lungs felt filled with Ice water; freezing and unable to breath. “You-You” he sputtered out, gasping “You agree with her?”

Nits make lice, he heard again; dismissive and contemplative. The words overlay Kylie’s calm, “If there were not Unnaturals it would not have happened.”

Abruptly Mitchell was standing and moving, all but running out the door and down the street. To a little park where he used to bring Jamie to play on his days off. In the dark he could hear sobbing and cries and screams of grief. He could sense others like him; the restless dead forced to walk among the living.

They were few and far between though. Because he could also hear laughter and cheers. Distinct comments about how the tragedy was just. Whispers of a monument to the six who started it all.

It is impossible to know how long he wandered the park and its shadows. It could have been hours or days. It was light though when new whispers started. Of early voting and Vicky Grace’s landslide victory. The light was fading again when two military officers pointed at his Bracer and dragged him from the street.

Mitchell knew they were talking to him, telling him in disgusted tones why he was here. But he was no longer listening to the words. Because nits make lice and if there were no Unnaturals it would not have happened.

Rough hands pushed him into a plated room smelling of death and rotting salt. A dozen others were crammed into the space, some with visible injuries. Not that any of them made an impression. After all, Nits made lice. Mitchell remained slumped against the iron wall and time bent around him. The world flickered between darkness and light as the door opened to crush more broken forms into the room. Days must have passed with the world flickering in and out of coherence.

The hollow bang of the door opening and staying open made the wall beneath him shiver. Sailors began to reach into the humid, stinking space to pull out bodies. Mitchell did not resist as he was dragged past the pile of corpses belonging to ones who had not survived. The owner of the hands pulling him snarled, “All Ashore” as she shoved him over the side of the ship. In the distance the sandy shore of a desert island gleamed.

No matter how little he cared some part of him still had a survival instinct. A small spark that caused him to drag himself onto land. Because nits make lice and he would make them bleed.

Just as he was contemplating dragging himself to the tree line a voice said, “Well, I’ll be fucked. I never thought she would actually do it.”

Mitchell turned to face the speaker. The young man’s skin was ruddy from the sun and the irritation of dried salt. His clothes were damp. Underneath the sunburn was a fresh faced young man a few years older than Mitchell himself. “What’s that?”

The young man looked at him, faintly surprised that he had been heard. “Vicky. I was surprised she managed to pull this off. Let alone so quickly. Henry Grace at your service.”

“Mitchell Moran. Grace as in…?”

“As in” Henry agreed, watching others make their way to shore. “Vicky’s twin brother. Well twin anyway, not sure if the brother part still applies.”

“Why not?” A boy. It was boy who must have only just grown into his adult voice asked breathless and soaked to the skin. Burns, not caused by the sun, peppered his skin on the left side of his face and up across his bald scalp. He was listing so badly to the right he might as well have been lying on the sand.

Henry glanced around the group that now surrounded them and shrugged good naturedly, “Guess there’s no reason to keep the secret anymore. Vicky and I were grey blankets. My parents decided that Vicky would be a girl and I would be a boy.”

Though the swim had left his muscles feeling like they were liquid, Mitchell forced himself into sitting upright. “Really?”

Because nits make lice and he would make them all bleed.

“Yeah it was quite a kick in the teeth to find out. We would have never known ‘cept Vicky’s hormone treatment failed, and Ma saved everything. ‘swhy she is so obsessed with normal and that damned biological law she touts. Proving herself kinda thing.”

“Wouldn’t she protect you?” asked a particularly beat up older man.

Henry laughed a harsh brittle sound, “That bitch? Even if she hadn’t found me being handsy with her fiancé, she wouldn’t do shit for me. She has always been jealous that Mom loved me more.”

The older man, who had been under the few trees on the island, hobbled forward to kneel beside the burned boy who had slipped into silence save wheezing breaths. “Does anyone know his name…for the grave.”

Henry shook his head, “We were in the same hold but no one was really up to talking. Is he really gone?”

The older man shrugged, “On his way. It’s not like we have any way to treat his burns.”

“Another body to lay at her feet.” Mitchell growled, making a few people jump. “We’ve been abandoned; left to die because they, she, declared us unnatural.”

There was nothing passive now, anything gentle died with Carl and their son. All that was left was that small flame, that spark. Because nits make lice and they would make them all bleed.

The exhaustion in his muscles had been burned away under his burgeoning anger. His mind was clearer than it had been since the pier. He stood straight and look at each of the small group of men. They look down or away, submitting to his rage. “We need to prepare for the next shipment.”

He led the group to the trees, stepping over the burned boy still softly wheezing. The had preparations to make.

Because nits make lice and they would make them all bleed.

Epilogue

Mary knew that bringing Lucy along on this trip was either going to shape out to be a fantastic idea…or a terrible one. The young woman who had been so skittish when she had first come aboard four years before had blossomed. No she was a sarcastic, sassy second in command.

As the pig of shadow leader grumbled about their payment Lucy leaned over to whisper to her.

“Can we get out of here before whatever bit the walking corpse gets us too?”

Timing is everything in comedy and for some reason that line was delivered perfectly. Mary burst into peals of delighted laughter.

When she could finally breath again she looked up, straight in to the eyes of the old man. He jolted as if scorched. Then he stormed up to her, grabbing Mary by the collar to shake her.

“How?” He screamed, suddenly feral. “How do you have his laugh and my eyes?”

science fiction

About the author

Megan Chadsey

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