Part 5 - Nicholas: part 3

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.



Part 3 - Nicholas

See note below about trigger warnings if this is your first visit to this page.




The shuttle, recently arrived from the jump gate, docked just long enough to disembark its passengers, do a quick clean, restock the pantry and board the passengers leaving the battle base. Every second that passed meant 66,000 kilometers more they would have to travel to get back to their gate.

Nicholas worked his way up the aisle, keeping his head down, studying the display on his wrist comm while looking for the best seat for his purpose. He found it and crawled across three sets of knees to reach one next to the bulkhead. He hunched down, turned his back on the aisle and acted as if he was asleep.

A voice came over the open comm. "Welcome passengers. I'm Commander Alicia Cordant and will be overseeing your trip to the jump gate. Please have your ID and datasync ready for the flight techs coming down the aisle. If we can get underway in the next five minutes our trip will be less than four days, eight hours, seventy-three minutes and sixty-five seconds. We'll pass out nutrition packs once we are free of the base's magnetic field and you will have two hours to consume them before we go into induced sleep. Of course, we'll wake you..."

Nicholas ignored the briefing and listened for the techs as they moved forward, checking ID's and syncs.

"Would you wake him, please?" Nicholas heard before the person next to him nudged him in the ribs. He rolled over, sat up, blinked his eyes, yawned and gave his best surly-teenager-scowl.

"I need your ID and your sync," the steward said to him.

"Why?" Nicholas asked, rubbing his nose.

"So I can be sure you belong on this ship," the steward said.

He held up his ID and said, "My mom’s got the sync. She's on the back row. You should have it already."

He turned back to the bulkhead.

"Which is your mother?" The man asked with an air of impatience.

"Oh. Sorry. She's on the back row, in the black and silver jump suit," he said doing his best to sound accommodating, and turned his back on the steward again.

"Let's go, Mick. We've got half the shuttle still to check," another man said.

"Sorry. This kid here says his mother's in the back, wearing a black and silver jump suit. Did you see anyone like that?"

"Yeah. Half the women on the shuttle."

"Get out here kid, now. I think you're trying to do a circuit on me," the steward growled at Nicholas. "You need to come show me your mother, or..."

"Save your threats. I'm coming. When my dad hears about this, you're the one who's going to be in deep space," Nicholas grumbled. When he got to the aisle, the steward grabbed him by the collar of his jump suit and dragged him to the doorway.

The man pressed a plate next to his name badge and said, "Security. I think I've got our stowaway."

Three security officers met Nicholas and the tech at the aft hatchway. As he was handed off to the three, Nicholas waved vaguely at the shuttle bay and said, "Wait. What about my mother?"

"If she shows up before we undock, I'll send her your way," the steward said and gave Nicholas a solid push toward the officers.

Seventy-five minutes later, Nicholas sat in a small, stuffy room at a dingy plastisteel table, blocked from escape by a juvenile representative of the base's civilian judicial system, sitting between him and the door. It hissed open and a man stepped in, filling the little remaining space which wasn't table or bench. The door closed and the man sat opposite Nicholas and the representative.

"Merch. What are you doing here?" Nicholas asked. "I told them to get Mom."

"Now, Nick," the representative started, but the other man interrupted him.

"Don't be stupid," Merch said. "You know your mother's on duty. Is that why you chose to act up now? To waste my time?"

"Mr. Morris, that's not," the representative began.

Merch's face turned deep red. "I'm Frailer. He's not mine. His real father didn't want him either. Can we get this over with? I've got things to do."

"Like sit on your fat butt," Nicholas said. "You don't work for two more days."

Merch made to stand up. As he did, the representative did as well and held out his hand to Nicholas's stepfather. "Mr. Frailer. I'm Lieutenant Posker."

"Sub-Lieutenant," Frailer said with a sneer at the man's collar insignia, and sat without taking the other's hand.

"Right then," the lieutenant said and sat back down. "Mr. Frailer, Nicholas stole flight documentation and boarded a gate bound shuttle. Theft and fraud; those are serious crimes on the base. The case is being forwarded to the juvenile division of Judicial because Nick's still fifteen. Another couple months and he’d be treated as an adult."

"Don't call me Nick," Nicholas grumbled, slouching as much as the confined space would let him and scowling at his stepfather.

"Alright, Nicholas. Mr. Frailer. I've been assigned as your stepson's council."

"Is he going to jail, or do I have to take him home with me?" Merch asked.

"This is his first offense, so he will be released into your custody. It will be your responsibility to make sure he stays out of trouble until Judicial can review his case. My office will be keeping a close eye on where he goes and what he does until then."

Merch squeezed into the open space between the table and the door and stood. "That's more responsibility that I want. You can keep him."

"Mr. Frailer. I'm sure you don't mean that," Posker said, standing as well.

Frailer's sneer widened into a grimace as he leaned over Posker. "You don't think so?"

Nicholas thought the lieutenant looked small next to his stepfather. Posker was a few centimeters shorter and at least ten kilos lighter, though it was obviously because the officer was fit and healthy. Nick was used to seeing his stepfather bully others around and waited to see how the lieutenant would react. His heart raced with hope as he imagined Posker slugging the old man in his gut.

Posker waved the door open, indicated for Merch to exit first, and said, "Come, Nicholas. It's time for you to go home. My contact is on your data sync at the front desk. You can pick it up on your way out."

Nicholas sighed and slid off the bench. As he passed the lieutenant outside the door, Posker said to him under his voice, "Buzz me if you need to. Any time."

His stepfather had already synced for his items and stood in the exit to the outer passage. Nicholas glanced toward Posker and said, "Sure."

He caught up to Merch in the passage. The man handed him his ID card and data sheet without a word.

"What about my data sync?" Nicholas asked.

"I'll hold onto that until I believe you're going to behave. This way, you can't go anywhere you shouldn't."

"How am I supposed to buy my lunch?"

"I don't know. You're the criminal. Why don't you just steal it?" He must have thought that was funny and his stomach shook as he laughed to himself.

"I can't get back into the cube without it. You know you hate it when I wake you up."

"You'll just have to sit in the passage until I wake up and look for you."

"I hate you," Nicholas said and charged ahead, but before he'd gotten out of reach, Merch grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around, his other arm cocked back, his fist alongside his ear.

"Go ahead and hit me, Merch. Right here in the passage for the whole base to see."

Merch looked up at the scanner above the closest link and lowered his fist.

"You're not as smart as you think you are. You're an irritating rash. One I can get relieved and not have to worry about anymore. You've rubbed me the wrong way for the last time."

Merch shoved him backwards. Spinning, Nicholas stumbled down the passage toward the link and, eventually regaining his balance, he jogged on through, trying to ignore his stepfather's laughter.