Symbiosis

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Chapter 5 - Memory Lane

“YEA! YOU BETTER RUN!” I scream at the group of older boys as they swagger away from me. In response to my taunt, one of them turns his head to sneer back at me while waving my maglev pass in his hand.

Smug bastards, I’ll get them back for this, I always do. Maybe I should make an anonymous tip to the military police this time. I know that the one who has my pass sells illegal stims to the kids at my school. It’s not the smart thing to do, I know. It only makes things worse, but I can’t help myself. Even if it means inviting retaliation, it’s just not in my nature to let shit like getting robbed in an alley slide. Mom used to say I got my prideful side from her, and dad used to tease me about how stubborn I am. Before she left, my dad’s comment was always playful. Now when I hear him say it, I know there’s venom behind it.

I spend the long walk home musing about how I would take my revenge. I do it to keep my mind off what dad will do to me when he finds out I lost another maglev pass. He’s the one person I don’t fight back against. Sometimes I think that makes him even more pissed, like he wants me to hit him back. He wasn’t always this way.

Life had been good once, back when mom was still in the picture. He had always been a hard ass, but he had been a happy one. He’d never even put his hands on me before the day mom asked for a divorce. She caused me and dad so much pain, all so she could marry some rich prick. I haven’t seen her since she remarried, but from what I hear she’s happy with her new husband and kids.

I don’t begrudge her any joy, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t resent her at the best of times, and wish she would die horribly at the worst. Why did she have to leave? Did she just want the money? Was I that horrible of a son? I know I have some issues with authority but… I thought we had been a happy family. God knows most people in this shithole of a city have it a lot worse than we did. Now I get to live in fear of what kind of a mood my dad will be in when he comes home. Everyday it’s a coin toss. Either he’s sober and I’ll be ignored, or he’s drunk and I’ll get the shit kicked out of me.

I put my brooding on hold as I arrive at my apartment complex. It’s easily the most boring looking building I’ve ever seen. It’s just a big block of grey prefabricated panels, made back during the Unification Wars era to help with the population crisis. Before the Hegemony had started mass producing these cheap apartment complexes, overpopulation was so bad that almost every urban center had as many people living on the streets as under roofs. We aren’t taught about stuff like that in school, you have to know the right places on the nets to learn about things like history. The graffiti is the only color on the whole building. No one bothers to wash it off, not in our neighborhood.

I enter the front door as stealthily as I can, not wanting to be seen. Having to walk home means that I’m late, really late. Normally, I would be home an hour or two before dad, depending on how many bots need maintenance at the warehouse. Dad really doesn’t like it when I’m out past curfew, and I set a new record today.

I spend the climb upstairs thinking of an excuse that would placate him, but come up empty. With luck, dad just won’t ask where I’ve been. That will give me another day to try and get my maglev pass back. Losing this one may not be an option; I don’t think dad can afford to pay another replacement fee.

When I arrive at our front door, I start quietly turning the doorknob. Once the door is open, I realize that trying so hard to stay quiet is only going to make me look more suspicious. Changing tactics, I push the door open with casual confidence and stride in. I try hard to school my face for when the inevitable interrogation begins. Dad isn’t in the living room, that’s a bad sign. If he’s not here, it usually means he’s in his office drinking or… doing worse things.

I slink past his office door, but see it’s open on my way past. That’s strange. For the past year, every day when dad gets home, he either sits down right away and watches holovids, or goes straight to his office. “Dad?” I call out tentatively. No answer. I saw his jacket thrown across the kitchen table when I came in, so he must be home. I take a few more steps towards my bedroom before calling out once more, again, with no response.

A feeling of dread starts to build in the pit of my stomach. For a reason I can’t explain, I walk up to my dad’s closed bedroom door. Along with his office, I’m forbidden from entering this room, a lesson I learned the hard way. This is the only room I haven’t checked yet. I’m torn between going to my room and to bed, or knocking on the door.

On impulse, I reach out and knock. Immediately I pull my hand away, expecting my dad to come flying out of the room in a rage, but still, nothing happens. The feeling of dread in my gut starts to rise up to my chest and mingles with the pounding of my heart. I slowly put my hand on the door knob and turn. The door slowly swings open, revealing my father’s figure. Gently swinging side to side from a rope tied around his neck.

With a groan of effort and pain, I push the memory away. When I come back to my senses, I blink my eyes rapidly to clear them. My head is throbbing so intensely that I’m nearly brought to my knees. I start to check my surroundings in confusion, wondering what the hell had just happened. Before I can process anything else, I notice that my plasma pistol is still in my hand, and its barrel is pressed against the roof of my mouth.

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