“He is no longer our responsibility.”
There was a pause, a pause just long enough to confirm that inside his mother agreed. Finally, she answered, “He’s our son.”
“He was a mistake.”
Adam remained still as his father’s words hung in the air. Although he couldn’t see the pair, it was easy to hear his parents’ voices over the low whirr emitted by the climate control system. They were his mother and father, but only when speaking in biological terms. What little relationship the three of them now had didn’t resemble a family.
He looked down and watched his chest rise and fall, being careful to not make a sound. There were only so many private places in the complex, so it wasn’t a surprise that his mother and father ended up in the supply area today. What his parents didn’t realize upon arrival here was that the food consumed by the inhabitants of the outpost left just enough room for a fourteen-year old to hide among the remaining containers. As Adam sat listening to his parents behind rows of supplies, he knew that hiding in the pantry was all that the three truly held in common any more.
While sitting with his skinny legs awkwardly crossed, he closed his eyes and hoped that this conversation would soon come to an end. Although his legs ached, the sting of having to hear the known, but awful, truth hurt more.
“The fact that Coms approached you is all the more reason not to get more involved— they’ve made enough poor decisions involving both of us over the years. We did our duty when he needed to be diapered and fed, but our time has passed. Now, we need to focus on making our daily quotas while the boy has his own responsibilities. Our time as caretakers has passed.” There was a pause. “Do not ask me to talk about him again,” his father’s voice trailed off mid sentence as the sound of his boots against the metal floor signaled his exit. The whoosh of the door sliding open and then shut followed. And a few seconds later, a second set of footsteps exited leaving Adam alone in the pantry.
Waiting until he was sure that they moved on to complete their daily chores, Adam crawled out from the stacks. A sigh escaped as he stood up. There had been a slow and steady decline of communication stretching back to Adam’s earliest memory that had prepared him for this moment.
Placing his hands on his hips, he surveyed his tiny sanctuary. His brow furrowed as he stared at the space that had been occupied by the invaders. “You could have at least let me have this space,” he offered to the empty room before him as he shook his head.
Inhaling deeply, he closed his eyes as the breathing techniques from training came to mind.
There are worse things that can happen here than this.
He felt slightly better as he exhaled. He opened his eyes and ran his hand along one of the metal bins in an effort to reclaim the space. Over the years if anyone had been monitoring the area via surveillance, they hadn’t said anything to him about his frequent trips here. No one seemed to notice or care that he came here, and no one likely would as long as he wasn’t stealing supplies.
He opened his mouth and inhaled again. A few years ago, the words would have stung more. At that age, he would’ve been reaching up to wipe a few tears from his eyes. But he now understood that there were more important issues facing the colonists then a boy’s desire to be acknowledged, let alone loved, by his mother and father. Adam stared out at the silver metal food containers as the machinery hummed in the background.
He raised his arms reached with the tips of his fingers towards the ventilation shafts overhead while drawing a deep breath. If he were on Earth, he would be considered tall for his age. And of course if he were on Earth, he knew many things about his life would be different. Instead of finding solace in a windowless storeroom right now, he would be in school. And although he had watched videos enough to understand the concept of classes with other students, it was difficult to envision what his days would truly be like compared to here.
Looking around the room, he surveyed the containers surrounding him that were stacked in perfect columns as he exhaled. Everything here was perfect, it had to be. Space could not be wasted. The food storage area only allowed room to conceal him right now because they were at the end of a cycle. In two days, the room would again be filled to capacity and he would temporarily lose his hiding place when the new ship arrived.
Lifting the top container from the nearest stack, he slowly returned the blocks that he had moved an hour ago. The metal boxes full of supplies were heavy, and although his arms had started to take on some more muscles over the last year, it took all of his strength to leave no trace. Slowly, the boxes were transplanted to their original placement.
Perfection— everything needed to be perfect. Life depended on meticulous attention to detail and every adult reiterated reminders of the precarious position that defined their everyday existence— “The hatch must be double-checked to ensure the integrity of the seal” or someone could be hurt, “Food consumption cannot exceed daily allotment” or people could starve, “Daily work must be completed” or the systems could fail and people could die. Here, people depended on each other.
This was his life; it had chosen him and was a life unlike any other kids in the long history of humankind. Because books were one of the few things here that were not rationed, he could see just how differently teenagers lived on Earth. Every day, he spent time reading on his device trying to understand what their lives must be like. He saw their rooms— pictures of shoes and shirts strewn across floors and beds. Life not perfectly placed, but instead tossed about without regulation. For those faraway kids, they could forget to take the garbage out or do the dishes or walk the dog without catastrophic consequences. Here, everyone had a role that contributed in some way to the colony’s survival.
“This is my world,” he whispered into the room as he stared at the exit. His hands were steady on his waist as he faced the doorway. He twisted from side to side and heard his back that was sore from crouching behind the stacks crack.
“And I don’t need a caretaker.” He said towards the direction of the exit. He agreed with his father that the appeal from Coms was best to be ignored, but part of him wondered what had sparked the request.
“I’m doing just fine.” But there was a hint of doubt sprinkled in as he whispered into the air. Is Coms actually worried about me?
The brown tips of his fingers fall drummed on the side of his legs for a moment in the sparsely lit room. Unlike the rest of the colonists, he only knew the safety of the inside of the complex here at Pangaea II so the lack of light bothered him less than the others. He sometimes passed the entire day reading alone in this sunless space finding that the dimness actually calmed him.
“No one needs to worry about me.” He turned and picked up his tablet. He then looked around to survey the newly formed stacks of food supplies. “Perfectly executed as always Adam.” He nodded in satisfaction and then made his way to the door. But despite doing his best to clear his mind, there was an undercurrent that pulsed through him. Pausing at the exit, he could still hear the voice of his parents in his head as he stared at the release to the left of the door.
I am alone.
Swallowing a lump in his throat, he shook his head.
I have responsibilities. There’s no time for childish thoughts.
Nodding, he reached out and pressed the button. The door hissed as it opened and he stepped out. As he exited, he couldn’t help but wonder if things would always be this way or if there was any chance his life would change in two days when the cycle came to an end and the new ship arrived.