An Excerpt from Arcana Aeternum

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The Part with the Kid

Several factors have dissolved the idea of the family unit on the Eco Shell. First and foremost, children are an extreme rarity. With a population that fluctuates around two billion, there are only a few thousand who are under twenty, so the family unit no longer revolves around child-rearing. Also, with the entire population being sterile, and conception entirely artificial, there are no blood relations, and therefore no biological issue of incest. Interestingly, the taboo has persisted in a dilute form, much like the “boy next door syndrome,” where otherwise unrelated individuals have no interest in each other because they are “like siblings.”

The average household still hinges on someone with steady or abundant income, but the laborer-housekeeper pairing has faded into antiquity as neither role exists among citizens. The majority of monogamous couples consist of an entrepreneur and an artist, often owning a single business, such as a cook and a restaurant host, or a brewer and a bartender. Few households consist of fewer than three individuals, leading to a wide variety of household dynamics which have evolved from the family unit.

The Part with the Kid

Constance was a practical woman; the kid knew this. The fact was self-evident in her every action. Take, for example, the matter of his name, or rather, his lack thereof. He didn’t need one. Furthermore, once he had such a need, he could probably come up with one he’d like better than anything she would give him, and thus, she had no need to give him one herself. She took good care of him, for sure. His position in her life was to fulfill her need to nurture, just as her relationships with the other housemates each fulfilled a need. She saw no need to ask bacon of a hen, as she would put it. All of which only served to make her completely irrational position against him attending a little social event all the more confounding.

“You didn’t even have to think about it? Just no? I haven’t even told you what it is—or who’s going!” The boy stood at the bottom of the stairs. He’d just clambered down them, all smiles and sunshine, to ask permission to go out with some friends. Actually, to be perfectly accurate, it was more that he’d informed her he was going, in an effort to glaze over the fact that it was up to her where he went.

Constance hadn’t even turned from the feed she and Samson were watching. “Whatever it is, you’re too damn excited about it for it to be anything good. Now hush up and get back to your studies.”

Samson had been stroking Constance’s hair, but decided he’d rather not be physically attached to the woman should she decide the altercation required a chase. After delicately extricating himself from her and casually sliding his hand to her hip, he turned to the boy with his mouth scrunched to one side as if to make clear his simultaneous support and uselessness.

Samson was a massive man; not the starved pile of rippling muscle of a body builder, but a dense behemoth of pure functionality that came from a careful lifetime of work in the fuel domes, where gravity was several times what was comfortable, and no task required less than herculean strength. Socially, however, he was utterly submissive. Perfect for Uncle Kincaid, the mysterious sadist that ran the household so well he was hardly ever present. Perfect, also, for Constance, who needed someone to watch chick flicks with.

Constance, herself the courtesan of Aunt Sylvestine, the other head of house, was no less statuesque, like a predator carved in onyx. Constance’s appearance, however, was largely manufactured.

The two embraced a nudist lifestyle the kid abhorred.

The boy’s appearance didn’t deviate far from the average, aside from his artificial pallor, which he accentuated with brilliantly colored clothes and makeup that covered as much of his skin as possible. It was the calling card of a social group called Fleur-de-lis, known for their sunny dispositions and general nonchalance. Neither attribute was particularly present as he began to rail against what was clearly the oppressive rule of his guardian.

“You can’t do this! This is criminal! You’re ruining my life!” And, his case appropriately made, he stormed back upstairs, lamenting that he had but one door to slam.

After a moment of silence, Samson tilted his head back to Constance’s “You know he’ll go anyway.”

“Yeah, baby, I know,” she sighed, eyes still on the screen. “But if I don’t tell him no now, I can’t tell him I told him so later.” Seeing an opening out of the corner of her eye, she gave him an affectionate peck on the lips.

Upstairs, alone in his room, the kid paced. He wasn’t angry; the fit he had downstairs was merely a calculated effort on his part. He found it hard to muster passionate, negative emotions, but knew such a thing was useful, so occasionally he acted. As far as the event, he and his friends had been planning to go to this concert for months. They even had backstage passes, which his friend Hector bought at exorbitant expense. The question was not should he sneak out, but rather, should he plan to come back? There weren’t too many places he could stay. Most of his friends were the marginally responsible type that would sooner drag him back home than pay to keep him around, and he wasn’t ready to pull the kind of income it would take to emancipate.

After some thought, he bundled a few choice outfits into a garment bag, which he then rolled up and tucked into a tube which was in turn slung over his shoulder, just in case the opportunity arose. The last thing he wanted was to be caught without a change of clothes.

Next, he opened a terminal window on the mirror inside his wardrobe to check his messages while he touched up his makeup. Only one other friend seemed to be having trouble getting to the concert. Salazar was being held up by a meeting. The kid tapped a quick message up, saying he might be a touch late, and left the terminal to close itself out.

Now for the difficult bit. It wasn’t like the old days where a kid could just jump out of his window and be free to his hedonistic whims. Residences didn’t have windows—none that opened, anyway. In order to get out of the house without being detected, the kid would have to rely on an intimate knowledge of the house’s wall voids and duct systems.

Tightening the strap across his chest that held the clothing tube to his back, he opened the small service panel under his bed and slipped into the darkness beyond.

The ducts weren’t particularly built for human access, but being the scrawny little runt he was, the kid had a way of negotiating the tight squeezes and hairpin corridors. The ducts themselves were meant for air circulation and piping things like water and electricity around the house. They were also the only way to access the intricate phosphor arrays that constituted the higher quality terminals that could be accessed on the open walls of the house. A terminal could be opened just about anywhere, from the arm of a chair to the front of a shirt. Some people even had arrays implanted under their skin, but the finer the surface, the harder it was to get a detailed display to fit. Open walls were always better because they had ten inch wall voids behind them to work in all the components for things like eye-tracking three-dimensional display, TRUcolor phosphors, and high fidelity proximity and pressure sensors.

It seemed like it took the kid an hour to squeeze his way through the cables and pipes to the front hall, but once there, it would have been a straight shot to the front door—were it not for the fact that Kincaid was just arriving after a long week of whatever Kincaid did to earn money. The kid honestly didn’t know, and had no interest in the subject.

Kincaid was tall and thin, and had a long, narrow nose that peaked through the strands of silver-grey hair that he had only recently untied and shook loose. The deep lines of his face made him look like he was constantly in deep concentration. For a moment it seemed he’d decided to ignore his brat, as he turned to put his long wool coat on a hanger (he was of a stock that insisted on coats despite the general lack of inclement weather), and the kid had made it halfway to the door before the deep, commanding timbre of the head of house froze him in place.

The kid was genuinely unaware of the words used to stop him; the panic they instilled had so choked him up. As far as he could later recall it may as well have been a bark or a gunshot. Slowly, he turned to Kincaid with his best approximation of an expression that conveyed boundless apologies and deference.


The boy admired the man’s atticism, to be able to sum an entire line of inquiry to a single word with such force as to convey that such varied implications were intentional. He was not only asking where the boy was going, but to what end and at what expense. It was this man’s eloquence that the boy aspired to.

The boy blinked rapidly for a moment before attempting to craft an adequate response. “I- it’s a concert. A friend is paying. We might stop by a grill on the way back.”

Kincaid’s eyes unfocused for a moment as he checked the house network through his implant to see if the boy had completed his coursework. Once satisfied, the man’s face stretched into a mischievous smile as he bestowed his official blessing. “Do have fun.”

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