Nicholas - Part 3
Merch was not a man of his word, or maybe he'd stopped by the commissary and bought something to drink. It wouldn't be the first time the old man had finished the alcohol before getting back to the cube and left the door standing open. That or he just didn't want to be woken by Nicholas leaning on the door alert when he couldn't get in.
Nicholas shook his head in amazement, his long blond hair swishing across his shoulder blades, and checked the small sitting room and kitchen to make sure none of the marginally valuable items had been taken. His sector housed mostly non-military, small families of lower ranks and wasn’t policed nearly as well as the sectors of the higher ranks. Drug addicts and other homeless people flopped in unassigned cubes or wandered the halls looking for opportunities such as that left by Merch to rob an unattended cube. Any roving drug addict or even one the undocumented boys in Nicholas’s own gang of opportunists could help himself to the nutrition generator or any of the family’s personal items..
Everything seemed in place so he dropped onto the couch with a nutrisnack bar and rolled out his data sheet.
He synced his personal sheet with the cube's unit and brought his class info up on their entertainment screen. Holoscreens in the classrooms had the added benefit of evaluating objects and data in three dimensions but generating a holographic, three-dimensional image large enough for an entire class to observe required huge amounts of energy. A three dimensional simulation on the flat entertainment screens was more than adequate for the confines of a family’s cube.
Nicholas brought up the classroom schematic. He hated to admit it, but the other boy's addition to his data was a real benefit. Not only did it give him visuals of the girls in the class, it gave him the girls' names as well. Too bad it didn't give me the rest of their bodies.
A shiver ran up his spine when he considered how many really good looking girls there were in the glass and how many of them had responded so favorably. Nicholas had probably missed as many days of class as he had attended. What could he accomplish with these girls if he was there every day? Then his eyes fell upon the girl who sat in front of him.
"Celia Perchant," Nicholas said, bringing her face forward to fill a larger portion of the screen.
Though her mouth was narrow, her lips were full and turned up slightly at the corners, giving her the appearance of enjoying a secret joke.
"Are you smiling, or did someone tweak this picture?"
In the image her reddish brown hair parted down the middle and fought to escape where she'd tucked it behind her small roundish ears. Though her oval face tended toward the shape of an egg with a small, rounded chin, her bulging hair made her head look much larger than it should be on the narrow stick of a neck. She appeared to have brushed her hair in preparation for the image, though enough strands flew free to give her the appearance of wearing a halo.
"What would you look like with a real hairstyle?"
Nicholas liked the color of her hair. It reminded him of the trees in the redwood park.
The trees on the base couldn't grow as tall as their ancestors did on Earth, but the park reached twenty full levels in height, giving the trees 100 meters of vertical space to grow. Designed to remind the base's inhabitants of their connection to their home planet, the park was one of the few places a person could observe the curve of the base. Two kilometers in width from fore to aft, the park stretched seven kilometers in length, nearly half the circumference of the base on level 46.
Trees planted when the base was first commissioned had been growing for over 200 years. Climbers who had scaled the simulated granite walls on the fore and aft borders of the park told Nicholas some of the trees were as tall as 60 meters.
He imagined taking Celine to the redwood park to show her how the bark matched the beautiful color of her hair. But it wasn't really her hair that attracted him. Partly it was how she isolated herself from the other kids. Nicholas didn't picture himself as a part of the class or of any group of young people on the battle base. Consequently, he felt kinship to a girl who kept herself apart from others.
Her small, round nose gave her a childlike look, matching her ears.
What shocked him was her eyes; emerald green and glowing as if they were backlit to stand out especially bright, like warning lights on a panel on the bridge. What made those eyes burn? Was there an emotion suppressed behind them fighting to escape?
A noise through the wall behind him alerted Nicholas that Merch was stirring. If Nicholas was within reach when the old man came out the consequences could be painful. He scrambled to shut down the viewer, grab another nutri bar, and roll his data sheet at the same time. He dashed to the corner of the sitting room opposite the kitchen. Doors to his bedroom, the bathroom, and theone to his mother's bedroom formed a small alcove just big enough to accommodate a single person. If Merch filled the space before he did, it would cost him.
He pushed into his room and flipped the latch down in one fluid motion in time to hear Merch open his door and shout, "You in there, boy?"
"Yeah. Don't worry about me. I'm just going to bed," Nicholas called from where he had leapt onto his bunk.
"Worry?" Merch sounded aghast and continued speaking, though most of what he said was lost to the insulation in the walls.
A single child room associated with a low status, marriage contract cube could not be described as spacious. This cube was assigned to his mother and birth father after six weeks of marriage preparation classes and filing the requisite paperwork. By the time the contract was signed it was apparent Nicholas was already on his way.
A married couple may contract for one or two children and are obligated under the contract to remain together with complete fidelity until both children have reached the age of twenty. At that point they may dissolve the contract if they decide they are incompatible. Violation of the contract would result in monetary fines and possible incarceration.
A couple may choose when a child will be born, the gender of the child, and who will carry the child. If a couple is unable to carry a child to term and aren’t able to find an appropriate surrogate on their own, a newborn child would be provided.
For couples who weren't interested in raising children, cohabitation contracts were available and were much more flexible. The contracting couple could specify contract length, platonic or conjugal relationships, and varying degrees of fidelity.
Nicholas's actual father found out in the first year after his son's birth that he wasn't interested in fatherhood and purchased falsified papers and payments to take a shuttle off the base. He boarded the station for a jump gate to distant systems before anyone realized he had skipped out. His mother filed charges against her estranged husband, but without enough cred to continue an investigation across several light years she turned to a man who promised to provide emotional support for her and her son. A man who would only sign a cohab contract and not one for marriage.