I sat in the gardens, but my mind was wandering. Could I be right? Were we being trained as expendable soldiers? Was someone planning another world war? There had been regulated peace for as long as I could remember. Who would we fight? I would be just as likely to shoot Robin as I would an enemy. And he on his crutch! How could they? Mel had said “we” but didn’t include herself. Surely the rich could buy a plea for their child to stay. More money for the colony, more room, a total turnover.
That’s when I felt it again. The mist. It had a tinkling kind of sound, but I felt like I understood it. It was calling me away. But away from where? I reminded myself that I didn’t believe in spirits or any of that Hocus Pocus. That didn’t make it go away, though. It felt like a being, a friendly entity, but I was scared too. The hairs on my arm raised up and I spoke to it. “Go where?” I got the feeling it wanted me to leave the colony. That’s when I knew I had to be insane. Some what? Voice in my head? Trick with a hose? Alien life form? Telling me to walk out the air lock? Maybe I was just suicidal.
“I can’t,” I told it. “Humans can’t live out there.” I felt it tell me to trust it, but I couldn’t. Not with my life. It seemed lately that my life was not in my own hands. I still had no idea what would happen to me when I turned 21. Galen wasn’t upset about it, but he’d probably have some great job working with his father. Me? What could I do around here? A blind misfit?
“Come with me,” the mist seemed to say and then as abruptly as it came, it was gone.
Galen was coming. “Sorry it took me so long, Ari.” He sat next to me, too close to me. But I had sat at the edge of the bench and had nowhere to go.
“Do you mind?” I elbowed him.
“No, I don’t.” He didn’t budge. Fine. We sat in silence for what seemed like a long time.
“What are you thinking?” Galen asked. I was enjoying my other four senses. The vitamin D lamps, the hum of bees and the rustle of leaves from the indoor fan unit. The fragrance of freshness between flowers and other plant life. However, his interruption of my reverie wasn’t unexpected.
“I was remembering what flowers look like.” I could only see splashes of color and petals but my mind strained to “see” them.
Galen was quiet for a while, which pleased me greatly. “I’m sorry,” he finally said.
“For what? Invading my personal space?”
He chuckled. “No, I don’t regret that. But seeing you here is so...beautiful. It’s like a painting. I just really wish you could see it.”
“Hey mister. If you’re putting moves on me...”
I felt his hands raise in mock surrender as they brushed my shoulder. “Whoa. No. I mean it.”
“What do you see? You know, if I could see, I wouldn’t be in this stupid colony. I’d be living on Earth, feeling the real sun.”
“Well the dome is clear today because we’re shaded from the sun. When we’re in direct light the shades block the ceiling in solid, but today you can see the stars forever and the breeze from the fans have the trees swaying a bit.” He knew just what I wanted to hear. “The gardens are high with crops of course, so we’re in a small spot off the path. The rocks they chose are river rocks so there are colors everywhere. Little glints of quartz, and the mulch looks freshly turned over.”
“I smelled that,” I confirmed. “What else?”
“Well there’s you.”
This conversation was taking a dangerous turn. “What do you see?”
“I see waves of hair, thick and brown, eyes so blue they look like the oceans of Earth.” He tucked a piece of hair behind my ear. “And a scar right here.” His fingers traced the line from my eye to my temple that I kept hidden with my hair.
I shook him off. “Leave my hair alone.”
“It isn’t ugly,” he said. “It just tilts your eye a bit at the corner.”
We sat in silence again.
“Was it an accident?”
“What?” My mind had wandered.
“Your sight; your, um, injury. Was it an accident?”
“No.” I really hadn’t told anyone but Robin about my childhood. Mel knew because she had gone through my file when she was forced to volunteer in the Medical unit during my tonsillectomy. “My mother’s boyfriend,” I explained. I had no idea why I was sharing this. “It’s all in still pictures in my mind. I remember being almost three I guess, I was whining about something. The way all little kids do. He told me to shut up. My mother was there, but she never said a thing. Not until he hit me. It was a wooden baseball bat. I do remember that.” I winced. Galen put his arm around me and this time I let him. “The bat caught me in the face because I turned, I don’t know if he actually meant to hit me with it. My mother started screaming when she saw all the blood, but I never saw a thing after that. There were several surgeries. I was lucky not to have brain damage. They brought me from the hospital to this god-awful place. I never got to see my room again, sleep in my own bed. Play with my own toys. I just wanted to go home. You know?” I felt a hot tear slide down my face. Galen pulled my head to his chest and wrapped me in his arms. I shook with the few tears I shed and he held steady, letting me cry out my home-sickness. His arms were strong and his chest was muscular, but we’d all put on muscle with this new training. He felt warm and safe and smelled of spice. I don’t know how long we sat there, but I know it didn’t look good when we were caught by his father.
“But it wasn’t her fault!” I heard Galen jumping to my defense. I sat outside the warden’s office. There was a lot of mumbling going on inside with the presence of the disciplinary board. You’d think we were caught having actual sex or something. But video cameras don’t lie and we were caught in a lover’s embrace. I knew I was in for it this time. Three strikes in a month and I was going to be “out.” I could only hope not to be sent to sensory deprivation. Isolation was hard enough. Sensory deprivation was probably harder on children who had all their senses to begin with, but being stripped of them all isn’t easy for anyone. That’s the point, I thought wryly.
The receptionist’s bob brushed her shoulders with a whisper sound. She tapped her pen on a folder, absently chewing the end of it while she flipped through pages. Was that MY file? She was a loud chewer. It was too bad I couldn’t see it. She saw me looking because she began a lecture on reading others’ notes before catching herself. Yeah, dummy, like I could read from here anyway.
“Does everyone here have a paper file still, or have we gone digital?” I wondered what they did with all the old files from retired people. She seemed momentarily pleased with my curiosity for knowledge, but remained leery.
“Everyone new goes digital right away and we have a team of older people doing data entry to convert all our files to digital CDRs, working with those who are present, first.”
“What about the people who are gone? Where do we go when we die?
She chuckled, “That’s no secret. Our bodies are put through any requested religious ceremonies and then either cremated for carbon fuel, or recycled into our gardens as compost.”
That’s what I wanted. “Can I request that?”
“That I be added to the gardens when I’m gone.”
“What a morbid thought for someone so young, but I suppose I could make a note of it.” That just confirmed she had my file.
“I’m not as bad as that file says, you know?” I picked at my cuticle.
“Then I think you must have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” I breathed a sigh of relief, maybe there was someone on my side after all. I smiled. The door slid open and she stood abruptly, scooting her chair back loudly. The warden’s presence was stifling, he filled all the air in the room.
“Has she been bothering you?” I could imagine him gesturing toward me.
“No Sir. Just denying charges.” Oh thanks. There went that friend idea.
“My son will be escorted home and then I will deal with you, Miss Rytrom,” he sneered. His door slammed shut.
Galen immediately spoke to me as fast as he could, “Ari I told them, we did nothing wrong. We were even on the path-”
“Shut up, you.” A guard shoved him forward. “Your orders are to leave her alone and go home.”
“I’m sorry,” I could hear him say as the antechamber door shut. It sent me a whiff of lemon furniture polish from the office equipment. This was a very “woodsy” type of office. Mahogany desks and musty bookshelves, etc.
“I’m sorry, too,” she whispered. The warden’s receptionist? “I have to display the utmost loyalty to keep this job. I saw the video feed and I agree with the boy. It was just the wrong boy,” she said, gauging my reaction. “I’m Ivy. I used to live in the hearing department, K pod.” I started to wonder why all this information was so forthcoming, but it hit me.
“You hear just fine,” I said.
“With the aides, yes I do,” she replied.
“So why don’t they send you back?”
She shrugged it off. “No one goes back. Even if they’re fixed.”
“But what about your family? Surely they have petitioned...”
“I don’t have family Arienne. We’re a lot alike.”
Except I wanted to get off this all-forsaken moon. No way did I want to die here. If they could fix me, I’d be gone. Not even to be added to that lovely garden. “Ivy, where will I go when I turn 21?”
“You’ll be given a job, of course.” She said it cheerily, like a memorized speech, but her voice lowered several octaves. Being blind, I can tell a lie when I hear it.
“But where?” I pushed. “Lower functioning people and the ones without jobs just aren’t seen after they turn 21. Will I be one of those? Where will I go?”
“Arienne, I like you, I really do. But you need to stop asking these questions. When they interviewed Steve-”
“They interviewed Steve?”
“Just as a character reference. He said you were a fine young lady, but he did mention you asking about the 21st program.” I wasn’t even aware it had a name. A dumb one, too. Suddenly, I felt like crying. I was so confused, probably hormonal, in trouble again for doing exactly nothing wrong this time and I wasn’t allowed to ask about my future. I needed a hug. No, that’s what got me in this mess. I needed a mother. I used to write to her the best I could or try to send video messages, when I was little. But after no reciprocation, I couldn’t handle the rejection anymore. Vaguely I wondered if I had any siblings now. Obviously, they were perfect or they’d be here with me. We probably wouldn’t have the same last name though, so how would I know?
I wasn’t even aware I was crying until I felt Ivy’s arms around my body. She smelled faintly floral in her perfume and she felt silky soft, if a little bony and slim. I let her hold me and cried my sorrows on her shoulder. I knew when the warden’s door opened because she stiffened and pulled quickly away.
“Miss Rystrom, I’ll see you now,” he boomed. They picked a good man to be warden. Large and intimidating, loud and scary.
“Okay,” I sniffed.
I felt my way to the worn arm of the leather chair I was so used to. I imagined it a deep shade of burgundy, worn and splitting from so much use. It still had a little bounce to the seat. The springs creaked though, anytime I shifted position, so I sat as still as possible with my hands in my lap. He had sent the board away so it was just us two. I was ready for a stern lecture. So, I was surprised by the softness in his voice.
“I have given this matter much thought,” he began and I nodded. “I can tell you are having trouble Arienne and I am suggesting you see the counselor. They will prescribe you an antidepressant and you will spend the next month in “R” pod. Away from my son.”
I opened my mouth to protest my interest in his offspring but he interrupted me. “He has made it clear that he was at fault and the video cameras show that he was in your personal space even though you pushed him away.” He sounded almost kind. “My boy is hard to resist, but you WILL resist his affections, Arienne. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes.” Oh really? I had never given a romance with Galen a second thought. Until now. For some reason, I found myself attracted to things I couldn’t have. I tried to stop myself with rational thought, but it was more like a passion, an inner drive to attain the forbidden.
“You may go. The counselor will come to you and you will respond positively to treatment. No trouble, understand?”
“Yes.” My lily-white butt. I didn’t want to be medicated. Then again, maybe I was depressed and I just didn’t know it. At least being sequestered to “R” pod kept me with Robin. I could handle that. “R” pod had its own lounge area and we could spend time together.
“You are dismissed.” I left feeling slightly lighter, freer, glad I had escaped unscathed. Or had I?