Chapter 7: Borton
“Dad, can I go see the birds again?” Lilon asked as the two of them strolled into the library.
“You’ll have to see if Jaxine will let you in the back again,” Borton said. He and his andy did not plan to stay at the library for long, just enough time to check the wingmailbox in case his son had sent them anything. If all went as expected, they’d be back home within thirty minutes of walking out the door.
“Did I hear my name?” Jaxine said as she came strolling to their side. She never ceased to amaze Borton with her customer service. There used to be rumors that epicenes were cursed witches who performed dark magic. It made Borton laugh on the inside. If she’s a witch, he thought to himself, she must be one of the good ones, only using her magic to appear in a time of need.
“Yeah, can we see the birds?” Lilon asked, sneaking in a, “Please?” right before Borton could prompt nem.
“Not we,” Borton said, having no intention of soaking in the smell of bird shit. “Just nem. I’ll check our wingmailbox and wait outside the door. You two have fun.”
Borton ambled over to the wingmailbox labeled “Bakala” and inserted his key. He opened it up to find exactly what he had expected.
The smell finally hit him. Borton started coughing before his brain processed the stench reaching his nose. He looked up and realized the smell was so strong just from Lilon and Jaxine walking through the door to the pigeon coup. It made him all the more thankful there was a barrier between the pigeon coup and the rest of the library.
After another thirty seconds of waiting for their return, Borton wavered between the door and the computers. Wavering for some time, he eventually gave in to temptation. He didn’t know how long Lilon would spend investigating the creatures, so he made himself comfortable at a computer and searched the news stories.
Ever since Guru Macaab’s assassination, there had not been many riveting news stories. Borton felt a guilty for thinking that way, but it wasn’t untrue. Yes, there were some articles about the coming election, but nothing Borton hadn’t already heard or expected to hear from Toni. Plus, his wife was privy to certain details not in the news.
Besides information about the election, the next biggest story was about Jacke Ona, the oldest person in the world. It was his birthday today, or at least it was his birthday on the day the story was recorded. He had turned sixty-two, two years older than the next oldest person in the world.
As special as it was, Jacke Ona’s age was nothing compared to the myths Borton used to hear. Before the SHF Era, humans were supposedly living up to one hundred years. Stories like that baffled Borton, so he assumed it was an exaggeration. Otherwise, his grandparents would be able to play with his grandchildren, which didn’t seem sensible.
The door to the pigeon coup opened, and this time the smell was less odious. Jaxine and Lilon were laughing, not realizing it would be much quieter in the library. “Thanks, Jaxine,” Lilon said as they split and ne made nir way toward Borton.
Lilon smelled of pigeon. Borton couldn’t decide whether or not to tell nem. “How was it?” he asked.
“It was great,” Lilon said. “Jaxine says in a couple years I may be able to work with her. She’ll teach me how to train them and everything.”
“Jacke Ona,” Lilon said, reading the screen. “Isn’t he a guru?”
“No,” Borton said, “he’s just old. But he did turn down the offer to become guru a few years back.”
It wasn’t uncommon for people who lived into their fifties to be offered a chance to run for guru, as long as they hadn’t already become senile. It was a way of honoring the elderly, and hoping they might provide wisdom to the world the way a guru should. Before Macaab’s assassination, five of the nine gurus were over fifty.
“That’s dumb,” Lilon said as ne sat down beside Borton, “I thought it was an honor to be a guru.”
“It is,” Borton said, “but it’s also a great responsibility. Not everyone wants that burden. Plus, he lives in Eden. If I lived there, I’d want to sit back and do nothing, too.”
“Eden,” Lilon said, trying to place which province Borton was talking about. He waited for nem to figure it out. “That’s the one out east, right? The one that didn’t get destroyed in the war?”
“That’s the one.”
“I’m gonna live there someday.”
“It’ll be difficult,” Borton warned, “but it’s not impossible. If you’re really interested in working with pigeons, I hear people are willing to pay tens of grams for a private trainer.”
“They’re gonna need to,” Lilon said, “I’m not cheap.”
The two laughed, but stifled their laughter when they remembered where they were.
“Is it alright if I read through the news a little bit longer before we leave?” Borton asked.
“Yeah, but don’t take too long, we still have to see if Pauly, Franky, and Jaz destroyed the house yet.”
“Yet,” Borton repeated with a chuckle.
It didn’t take long to lose interest in the news. They stood up shortly thereafter.
On the way out, Jaxine offered Lilon a handful of Double-Dot sweets. This candy was based on past baking problems when someone would prepare the sweets, but would put them too close together to conserve energy. These sweets would connect with each other when they expanded, causing at least two dots to become one sweet. The preparer often pretended this was done on purpose, and that it was meant to represent fertility due to the shape representing various parts of the male and female anatomy. The story spread, and led to the invention of Double-Dots.
Borton, as much as he loved candy, was not a fan of Double-Dots. It had nothing to do with the taste, and everything to do with a candy representing fertility being given to children. It didn’t sit well with him. Still, he accepted the candy from Jaxine. The children loved the taste.
Borton watched as Lilon stared at one of the Double-Dots before tossing it into nir mouth. “Thanks,” ne said to Jaxine, although the sweet was making it difficult to open nir mouth.
As they came to a major road outside the library, Borton reached down for Lilon’s hand.
“Dad, no,” ne said, feigning disgust. “There’s two carriages and a biker. I think I can walk across the street without a leash.”
Borton laughed, even though he didn’t much appreciate Lilon’s tone. Ne was growing faster than he would have liked, and he could only speculate how much longer it would be before ne declared. There were still two more years before ne could legally begin assignment therapy, but ne acted mature enough to know what ne wanted. “Sorry,” he said, “I forget which kids still need me to hold their hand.”
“Not me, that’s for sure,” ne protested. “Not Pauly, either. You know, ne asked me about our laws the other day.”
“What’d ne ask?”
“Ne wanted to know why ne couldn’t marry another man if ne masculated. Or if ne became a woman, why ne couldn’t marry another woman. So, I told nem it was because you can’t make a baby.”
“You did?” Borton asked, a little nervous. He hadn’t talked about sex with Lilon, now ne was informing nir younger siblings.
“Yeah, but that’s it,” Lilon said, “I don’t know much else. Then ne asked about divorce, which I don’t even understand.”
“Oh, yeah,” Borton said, nodding, “divorce laws are pretty complicated.”
“Isn’t that why Jaxine isn’t married? Because she had a miscarriage?”
“She did have a miscarriage, but a different kind,” Borton said. He took a deep breath. It was difficult to walk and talk this much. Quite a workout for his lungs. “Jaxine had a miscarriage of her assignment therapy. That’s why she didn’t have to get married by twenty-five. But if her therapy was successful she’d have to get married like the rest of us. Afterwards, there are only two ways to get a divorce: having two children, or having three miscarriages. That’s a miscarriage of a pregnancy, so it’s different.”
“Got it,” ne said. Borton watched as nir face gave a somber expression. “That’s actually kind of sad. Do you know anyone who’s divorced?”
“No,” Borton said, “but you’re right, it is pretty sad.”
Lilon and Borton both let out a sigh of relief when they came back to find the house still in one piece, but everything changed as soon as they arrived. Pauly and Francis wouldn’t stop fighting amongst themselves. Jaz kept throwing tantrums. Lilon was the only one who had outgrown those phases, although the tradeoff was nir snide remarks. Ne was far better at influencing the kids into proper behavior than Borton was. Borton just offered support as ne took the lead in calming them down.
“I don’t know how your aunt handles all of you when you stay with her,” Borton said, feigning exhaustion.
“She gives us drugs,” Lilon said. Ne waited for Borton’s reaction for a few seconds before cracking a smile.
There ne goes again, Borton thought to himself. Ne’s too sarcastic for nir own good. He returned the smile, even though he was a little disturbed ne would make such a joke. “Very funny,” he said.
It had been a minute before Lilon spoke up again. By that time, the room had fallen pretty quiet, allowing all the children to hear Lilon’s next probing question.
“Speaking of drugs,” ne began, “what’s so special about haptica?”
Stunned by the question, Borton tried to divert nir attention, even if only for a moment. “Let’s not talk about those things in front of the other kids, okay?” When Lilon nodded in understanding, Borton felt an immense relief. More importantly, he hoped Lilon would get sidetracked with so many other things Borton would not have to continue this conversation.
Haptica was a synthetic drug created to imitate a drug from before the SHF Era. Borton didn’t know the name of the ancient drug, but was aware of its effects. It increased tactile sensation and sexual drive. Conspiracy theorists argued this was meant to exploit epicenes whose therapy was either incomplete or miscarried. Haptica supposedly enhanced their sexual stimulation and improved their chances and intensity of orgasm.
Lilon’s question about this controlled drug meant two things, both of which were difficult for Borton to accept. Firstly, this drug must be widespread throughout all the provinces of Umzali. Secondly, the age of initial exposure was younger than Borton had thought. This highly addictive substance was no longer used solely as prescribed, now it was recreational.
Neither Borton nor Toni had ever tried haptica. Borton used to say food was his haptica. In a way, it was true.
“When’s Mom coming back?” Lilon asked, pulling Borton back to the present.
“Yeah,” the two next oldest children said simultaneously.
“What,” Borton said, “I’m not good enough for you all?”
“You are great,” Lilon said, “Mom’s just…Mom.”Borton laughed and nodded at the truth of the statement. “Yes,” he said, staring blankly at a corner of the room, “yes she is.”