Chapter 9:

Years Ago — Four

The Story Of Who

The HVSS Mariposa was a massive ship. Calling it a boat did it no justice. It was taller than any building I had ever seen and looked large enough to house the entire population of So-Eleh 1. Mariposa was one of the fastest ships on the planet. It took in passengers from all the Societies on Milday before finally going off world. So-Eleh 1 was its last stop.Bookmark here

This was the last chance anyone had to get off the planet before it imploded on itself from all the missiles and bombs that would be dropped in the coming days. So even though no one knew that So-Eleh 1 was being wiped out today, there was still a massive crowd at the docks.Bookmark here

There were other smaller ships parked at the docks, ready to carry whoever they could before leaving Milday for good. They wouldn't travel as far as Mariposa but they would travel far enough for anyone who had the money to start life over again—without any civil wars.Bookmark here

Father still carried me and I still carried Jethro though he was awake now and couldn't tolerate the XOry blanket being over his head.Bookmark here

With the crowd at the docks, it would have been impossible for me to stay with Father at all times even if we held hands. I didn't want to get lost and the view up here was pretty great so I wasn't complaining.Bookmark here

My teacher said that the docks were a place where children were frequently stolen from their parents to be sold in the night markets.Bookmark here

I believed her, and it still terrified me—being stolen away; never being able to see my family again—even though I have dreamt about it so many times.Bookmark here

To keep myself from thinking about the slave trader that were prowling the docks, I spent my time scanning every dark-haired woman we passed in hopes that it was Mother. We couldn't contact her to know her exact location since she had taken all the communicators with her; she also had all our valuables.Bookmark here

Medics didn't get searched at checkpoints so we gave them all to her so we wouldn't seem suspicious when we went through the same roadblocks that had let her through so easily.Bookmark here

Nobody would expect a father and daughter pair to attempt a breakout without any tech or currency on them. It made it easier for the soldiers to let down their guard.Bookmark here

If there was no suspicion present, most minds were more than easy for me to manipulate but if we didn't find Mother we'd be stranded without any way to buy food or shelter.Bookmark here

Don't think about it. Don't think about it!Bookmark here

"We'll just have to go straight to the boat, Princess." Father patted my back and ran his hand over Jethro's hair. "Your mama might be waiting for us there."Bookmark here

"Mama," Jethro repeated cheerfully then stuffed one of my pigtails into his mouth.Bookmark here

I leaned my head against Father's, ignoring the cold slobber dripping down my neck. If I pulled my hair away, Jethro would start crying and the last thing we needed was a baby drawing attention to us. I chose to endure instead, for all our sakes.Bookmark here

And it turned out that I didn't need to suffer for long.Bookmark here

"Solomon!"Bookmark here

Father turned around and I caught a glimpse of Mother's beautiful smile as she ran towards us from opposite the ramp leading up to the ship.Bookmark here

"Rita," he pulled her to his chest with his free hand and buried his nose into her hair, "I'm so glad that you're okay."Bookmark here

"Mama!" Jethro shrieked happily and threw my hair back at me. The wet pigtail slapped me on the cheek as he grabbed eagerly in Mother's direction.Bookmark here

"Did you miss me, baby?" she asked him quietly then pulled him into her arms. She pressed her nose against his and kissed his lips despite the drool covering them.Bookmark here

"Rita, what are you doing here?" Father set me down at last.Bookmark here

I stretched my legs and flexed my knees, happy to finally be walking on my own.Bookmark here

"Let's talk while we walk," Mother said after a quick glance around. "News that we're missing will circulate soon."Bookmark here

We headed to the ship. Bookmark here

I made a game of kicking every stone in my path and seeing which went farthest. I got extra points if I managed not to hit someone and bonus points if I hit someone and they didn't notice.Bookmark here

"There was a problem," Mother began to say when we reached the nearly unoccupied ramp. "Prices must have gone up because of rumors of tonight's bombings. I could only get three tickets."Bookmark here

"What do you mean? That information is classified. If there were rumors, the Governing Society would have pushed forward the time of the bombings to stop anyone from leaving the planet," Father said and pulled me closer, as though he was afraid I'd wander off. With my nose pressed into his thigh, I couldn't kick my stones anymore. I was forced to listen in on my parents' conversation.Bookmark here

"I don't know, Sol. All I know is that they said we'd have to leave someone behind," Mother said and began to stroke Jethro's head in that way she did when she was getting nervous. "I couldn't accept it so I went down to see if there was a place I could pawn off some of our Arantine Tech but none of the vendors accept unverified merchandise."Bookmark here

By now we had reached the top of the ramp. In front of us was a line of people. Behind us was a line of people.Bookmark here

The line moved forward.Bookmark here

I wrapped my arms tightly around Father's leg, afraid of being swept away. Jethro sneezed and started fussing; Mother started humming a lullaby to calm him down.Bookmark here

"We aren't leaving anyone behind, Rita," Father whispered harshly. "We can't afford to."Bookmark here

That was a lie and I knew it. What we couldn't afford was to buy more tickets. If even I knew that, he must have known it too.Bookmark here

We had used almost all our money to buy the three tickets we already had. If we spent any more we wouldn't be able to start over comfortably wherever we were relocating to.Bookmark here

We couldn't gather money either, even if we had the means. The Governing Society was just days away from ordering our arrest and the soldiers of the Resistance would send men after us after a few hours of searching inside So-Eleh 1.
Bookmark here

This ship was the only one that was heading to our destination before the bombs fell. Even though the docks weren't technically part of the Society, bombs would drop on it too. Then there would be no way to leave the planet—even if we somehow survived.Bookmark here

Someone had to be left behind, and that someone was me.Bookmark here

Mother couldn't be the one. If we didn't have her, who would take care of Jethro? Father would be heartbroken without her and if there was a way for her to survive the bombings, Mother wouldn't take it. She wouldn't have the will to live.Bookmark here

Leaving Jethro behind would have the same effect. Mother wouldn't be able to live and Father would die of heartbreak.Bookmark here

Abandoning Father wasn't even an option. Without him we all wouldn't be able to survive. He was the one with the connections and the kind of smarts to make it anywhere. If he wasn't with us, we'd starve to death after we were cheated out of money.Bookmark here

Father loved all of us but Mother only loved him and Jethro. If I died, it wouldn't break her. Jethro would be there to make Father happy if he had any sad thoughts, and maybe in a couple of years I'd have a little sister—a sibling that didn't enjoy putting things in their mouth as much as Jethro did.Bookmark here

That wouldn't happen if I wasn't the one left behind. I was an older sister, I had to think about the futures of my brother and the sister I might have. It was simple "Maths And Migration" and no one had ever beaten my scored in class.Bookmark here

When I slipped my hand out of Father's, he looked down at me with concern.Bookmark here

"What is it, Princess?"Bookmark here

"I'll stay behind. . . If there aren't enough tickets."Bookmark here

"What are you saying?" he looked at me like he was confused even though I knew that he understood what I had said. I could already see the future being crafted in his mind. "No one is getting left behind."Bookmark here

The line moved forward again. There was now only one person in front of us. We had to make a decision soon.Bookmark here

"I have thought about it," I told him quietly, even though my heart was pounding so, so hard. "The XOry blanket won't hide Jethro from the ship's scanners. Even if it could, how long would it take for the authorities to find out that an unauthorized baby was onboard? They'd take him away and we'd get arrested anyway."Bookmark here

"That doesn't mean—"Bookmark here

"She's right, Sol," Mother whispered, agreeing like I knew she would. Having her on my side gave me more confidence that this was the right thing to do.Bookmark here

"You can't be serious, Rita. Without her only you would be here right now. How can you—"Bookmark here

"Your tickets please," the man at the desk said and cleared his throat. I watched his gaze shift to Mother—all over mother, like she was a naked slave at the market. "Oh, Marge. You're back."Bookmark here

"Thomas," she smiled at him as though nothing was wrong. "This is my husband. My children."Bookmark here

I gave him a small wave, wishing I could just manipulate him into giving us another ticket for cheap. Unfortunately, people with these sorts of jobs were chosen in anticipation of this and usually had fortified minds.Bookmark here

I didn't have enough training to break into and influence them, and the crime for breaking into minds without authorization was death. Death if I messed up with Matthew and Matthias; death for me now. Had I always been about to die? I didn't want to die. Would I need to die every time my family needed to survive something? I didn't want to die.Bookmark here

"Have enough money for the other ticket yet?" he asked with a soft voice.Bookmark here

I could tell that he was trying to look concerned but his act wasn't fooling me. It wasn't fooling Father either. When Mother shook her head, I watched the ghost of a smile flit across Thomas' lips.Bookmark here

He was doing this on purpose.Bookmark here

"I really wish I could do something for you, Marge." He looked at the Screene in his hands. "Rules are rules though. Three tickets, three people get to board."Bookmark here

"When I checked the exchange rates yesterday evening, what I had was more than enough to get four tickets. How come it's barely enough for three this morning?"Bookmark here

"These are harsh times," he said with a click of his tongue and immediately I knew that he was lying. I just didn't know why. "Rates rise everyday."Bookmark here

Father placed a hand on my shoulder and turned to Mother. "We're leaving. We'll sell the tickets for as much as we can down the ramp then find another way off the planet."Bookmark here

"Sol." She grabbed his arm as we were about to walk away. "There is no other way, we both know that. We've planned this for weeks. This is the only way."Bookmark here

The people behind us were starting to get irritated by the holdup we were causing, I felt their anger and irritation prick at my skin and rub it raw until the air felt like steam on my body. It made me want to break into all their minds and command their silence. Instead, I silently pulled away from my parents and walked to Thomas, the swindler.Bookmark here

"Sir." I put on the sweetest smile I could manage and prepared myself for death. "I want my parents and brother to go on this big, massive ship. And I want to go with them. Are you the one who built it? I really love the ships I build at home but they aren't nearly as impressive as this one. This is the only ship I've seen in real life, can I really not go on it?"Bookmark here

I used all the energy I had in me to slip in the suggestion that I must get on the ship, I must leave this planet. I must stay alive, knowing that if I managed to escape my inevitable death on Milday, Father wouldn't feel guilty anymore. No matter what happened to me, he'll know that he didn't make a decision that led to my death. It was me. It was all me.Bookmark here

For a moment, Thomas just stared blankly. I squeezed my hands into fists, ready for him to accuse me of trying to influence him. If I got thrown in jail, Father wouldn't need to worry about me having a ticket and he wouldn't be the cause of my death either. It'd all be on me. Any moment now and everything will be okay again. . .Bookmark here

Thomas laughed and patted my head as though he had held me when I was born, like an uncle would. "Now this is a smart kid. The Government needs people like you."Bookmark here

"The Government needs me, Sir?" I forced excitement into my eyes, surprised that my manipulation had actually worked. I didn't let up yet and channeled my subtle persuasions into his carefully-guarded psyche. If I could get a ticket, any ticket at all, then everything would be much better.Bookmark here

"Yes, the Sorting Farms on Planet Centaur would be happy to have you." He nodded and typed something into his Screene.Bookmark here

By the time Father and Mother had finished their argument and returned to my side, I was holding my very own ticket.Bookmark here

"Thank you, Sir," I told Thomas honestly and eased out of his mind. I didn't need to tell him that nothing had happened, because I hadn't commanded him to do anything. I had merely nudged what was already there into the front of his mind.Bookmark here

After seeing the deepest parts of him, I finally understood that this was what he did to desperate families like us. He increased the price of tickets then bargained with the parents until he had a child or two to submit to the Governing Society. It was what he would have done to us if he hadn't wanted Mother in his bed in exchange for the last ticket.Bookmark here

There was no way I was going to let that happen. I had to have more little brothers and sisters—even if I would never meet them—and they had to have my type of blood flowing through them. They had to be family, like Jethro.Bookmark here

And Jethro was going to be a better older sibling than I ever could be. I wasn't going to let anyone change that.Bookmark here

Real Aire
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