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by Chez
Rated: E · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2228191
17 Yr old runaway to Saturn. It takes him 5 yrs to come home, 5 yrs to face his mom.
"Vincent, you coming back?" the Loadmaster asked.

"I don't know, not sure what I’m going to do, or where," Vincent said, pushing his long hair out of his eyes again. He walked down the ramp of the freighter. The Station crowded with ships and people, all hurrying to drop their shipments and get back out there. Back to the black, the nothing, the universe. Vincent had been in that black for five long years. Another runaway, another child who should have been home doing his homework and listening to his teachers and parents. After five long years, all he had to show for it was an ugly, modified body, some nasty scars, and dirty clothes in an old worn duffle bag. He walked the streets of his home town. Nothing much had changed. The main street still had the same old tired stores. People saw him and moved away, not looking at him, afraid. He had gotten used to it and hung his head down.

"Is this what I have become?" he said to himself. A sadness creeping over him as memories of another time, another Vincent flooded his mind and heart. He walked, past the park he had played in, kids chasing one another. All in their blue coveralls, he stopped to watch.

"Vinney, Vinney, push me on the swing, please," he heard his little sister Evie call to him. She was five, with big brown eyes and a stuffed bear held tightly in her hands. He remembered saying no, walking away from her, too busy with more important things.

"I should have spent more time with her," he said to himself, pushing the memory out of his head. She was Ten now and probably didn't even remember him. He had reached his apartment cube, still average, still dull, people milling about. It was beautiful. Leaning back, he could just barely make out the roofline. The roof where they played, star troopers. The roof where they were hero's, and you could die a thousand times and come back tomorrow to do it all again.

He reached the doorway, a young man hurrying, glanced up at him, and stopped. His mouth dropping open, fear in his eyes. He moved out of the way, apologizing the whole time.

“Jason, it’s me, Vincent,” he said, holding the door for the other man.

"Vincent? Vincent, is that you?” he said, swallowing hard, still terrified of the hulk in front of him.

"Just got in today," he said, his hair falling forward, the long hair covering the scars of melted skin on his forehead.

"I, ah, got to get to work, but hey, let's get together,” Jason stammered as he scurried past him. Vincent watched him jump on the ground transport. A part of him was envious. No one would be terrified of Jason. Think of him as a monster, just a man. The duffel slipped on his shoulder, and he pulled it back in place, walking up the stairs.

It was hard being in real gravity again, and at the same time, it felt good. His gravity. His atmosphere. Reaching the upper landing, he stopped for a minute. "I should have cleaned up, I should have gotten new clothes," he berated himself as he dug through the duffle for the box. He paused, gathering his courage, “You can do this," he told himself, not sure what to expect. Five years was a long time, a long time in the black.

The hallway ahead morphed in his head, and he was back on the freighter, old man Relon leaning against the bulkhead shaking his head at him. "Kid, are you ever going to learn how to do anything? Grab the Talon wrench with both hands and tighten down those lugs in a star pattern, idiot! Check the torque!" he chuckled to himself, Relon was old, his hands as big as Vincent's head. A jack of all trades, some legal, some not. As tough and mean as any of them, but he had a soft spot, and for some reason, he had kept Vincent safe. Safe from a lot of things. He had taught him how to survive out in space, the black.

Staring at the door to what was once his home, he tried to think of something smart to say. The door flew open, and a teenaged girl crashed into him. He caught her before she fell, a tiny thing in his massive arms.

"Evie?" he said to her. She pulled away frightened, looking closer at him, her eyes became huge.

"Vincent!" she yelled, jumping into his arms. He hugged her, looking through the open door to the apartment ahead. His mother was standing there, a dishrag in her hand. Silent. Evie jumped down, and dragged him into the apartment, wrapping her little arms around him.

"Mom," Vincent said. The silence between the two deafening. The woman said nothing, just stared in disbelief. He took a few steps forward. She took a step back, looking up, focusing on his one natural eye. He held the small box out to her, waiting for her to take it, to move, to say something. Scream at him, or hit him, do something. Her frail hand shook as she reached forward to the box, gingerly touching the crushed bow. She looked into his face, burn scares wrapped around a long scar running down the left side, a mechanical implant covering the left brow down to his cheek. He was a boy when he had left, innocent, and sweet. Not this!

"What have they done to you?" was all she could say.

"Mom," Evie said, "It's Vincent, he's come home, who cares how he looks. I think its kinda cool in an ugly sort of way." Evie's said, laughing and holding on to her big brother.

"Evie, get to school,” she glared at her daughter, “Evie, go, I said now." The girl made a face and hurried out the door to catch the transport. “I’ll fix you something to eat,” she said, walking away. Vincent dropped his duffel and followed her into the kitchen. The place was exactly how it was when he left, only smaller. He sat down, putting the box on the table. She busied herself with something on the stove.

"Evie has really grown up," he said, making small talk. Shifting on the chair, hoping it would hold his weight. He felt like a bull in a china shop; nothing was meant for someone like him to use.

"Yes, she has." Mom said, turning with a plate of food for him and taking a seat at the table. "So why are you here, the black finally prove itself to you." It was a statement, not a question. Nothing soft and gentle in the tone, accusing.

He took a bite, remembering how he loved her breakfasts, as the food rolled down his throat.

"It was interesting and different,” he said between bites. “Saw a lot of strange things. I was pretty far out. Spent most of the time out past the Jalion Galaxy." Jalion was a boring galaxy with little fighting. A few somewhat pretty planets with interesting life forms that were fun to talk to, lovely happy species. His mom didn't need to know the truth. She wouldn't understand.

"I doubt that," she said. Vincent’s mouth dropped, stunned. How would she know? She had never been anywhere, but here. He pushed the box towards her. She made no move towards it.

"I brought this for you, I thought you would like it," he said. Hoping to smooth things over, make her happy. She took a breath and reached forward, quickly undoing the ribbon.

“I know what this is and where it is from.” She said. A stone stared back at her, swirls of iridescent greens and blues staring back at her. “A nebula caught in a rock, a galaxy just for you,” she said. Her mind repeating the words, in her husband's voice, flashes of red sparked through the brilliantly polished face. A tear rolled down her cheek, and she swiped it away. Old memories were clouding her, no time for him.

"I know where you have been, and you are not welcome here," she pushed the box back to him.

"Mom, I'm sorry, I made a mistake leaving. I want to make it up to you, to Evie. I was in Jalion! And a lot of other places as well." he said, looking down at the food, no longer hungry.

"Tell me," she said. It was a demand that only a mother could make. No matter how you tried to sugarcoat or lie your way out of things, Mom always knew the truth. No choice, you had to come clean.

"When I left, the freighter was headed to the Saturn Rings. We were in orbit around Titan when the freighter was seized. I survived, along with a few others," he stopped, looking up at her, wondering if she understood. If he had said too much.

"They collared you," she said, and he pulled his collar up to cover the scars on his neck, nodding his head slowly. "They do all those mods to you, or was it all a choice?" she asked disgustedly.

"They did some. It wasn’t like they asked permission. I did others. You're either the..."

"The predator or the prey, and it's pretty clear what you decided to be," she said, finishing his sentence for him.

He swallowed hard, staring at her. He hadn't had a choice. They would have killed him if he didn't go along with all of it. "I didn't decide, I was told, and I was a kid, a scrawny, stupid kid," he said. After a pause, his emotions boiling over, he suddenly said. "I was a stupid kid that walked away from a perfect life." He heard his voice getting louder and took a minute to calm himself. She sat like a stone, no reaction to his outburst.

"I was sold to a mercenary unit shortly after this took hold," he grabbed his right upper arm, flexing a massive muscle. "I was so young, easy to modify, and keep in line. The first job they took me out on was at a mining colony in the asteroid belt over by pluto. The miners were holding back, and the company wasn't happy. I saw up close what that looked like. Living underground, waiting on bare essentials, always on half rations.”

He paused for a minute, collecting himself before saying another word. “We did our job. The uprising was put down. I never will forget watching those people fall. I remember every noise, every smell, every child's cry, every detail. Is that what you want to hear!" he threw back at her. "The filthy wastelands, the thousands of people shipped off of Earth to desolate nothing colonies on planets that can't sustain them. Starving, left by the corporations and forgotten. Yea, I was there." he glared at her. He started to stand up, "I should never have come back. It was a mistake."

"Wait," she said. "Vincent, sit back down." She watched her huge, hulking son slowly take his seat. "I had to know."

"Know what? It seems you have already been judge and jury," he said.

"Perhaps, tell me more," she said, her eyes had softened a bit. Still, she did not trust him, something hidden.

Vincent settled in his chair, "After I guess, two maybe three years, the crew I was on got a simple run to Charon, Altec Corporation." He heard her breath catch in her throat. "It was supposed to be simple. A small group had taken over an old mine. Stupidly, we landed on the bright side of the planet, never bothering to take a look at the dark side. It's locked, it doesn't rotate like most planets. They came out of nowhere and pretty much devastated the crew." He pushed his hair back, showing her the burns and scars left on his face.

He picked up the story, “Altec wanted to reestablish it when the price of Trillium skyrocketed with the new compressed space-time reactors. They were pretty unaware that the people they had left to die had gotten help from a lot of places. When Altec stopped deliveries, a woman showed up soon after. She brought relief from outside of the galaxy. Altec had left a population of ten thousand on the planet to die. Fifteen years later, we show up. A handful of Mercenaries against an army of ten thousand. It seems Altec left out a few details. I was left in the rubble, to die. Should have died. Some people patched me up as best they could. Put me on a transport headed for Telerion. Spent the next six months having parts replaced, and grown, never really awake, never asleep either, kind of stuck in the ether. I don't remember a whole lot.

Eventually, I was sent back to Charon. I will never forget landing on that dark chunk of frozen rock. I got off the little freighter, and this tiny woman, smaller than you. Biggest blue eyes I have ever seen, and hair blacker than granite. Her little hands on her fat hips and huge lips. Her name was Aida, tough old broad. All she said was, "you'll do." Since then, I have bounced from every rock in the three galaxies Earth has touched, every place Corporate has spit. Every place humanity has stuck a dirty little finger," he stopped.

"Doing what? What does something like you do?" she said, not kindly, but at least with curiosity.

"Following Aida. Whatever and where ever she needed me to be. She has a vision that Corporate could be stopped; it could be changed; it could be made into something human. Most planets that Earth has inhabited are cesspools. People go to them thinking they are going someplace beautiful and nice, and they end up in the armpit of the universe. None of the other inhabitants of space will come into the Milky Way unless they are looking for contraband or slaves. Most species think we are scum, and won't let us live on their planets. Honestly, I don't blame them. Sure they all have their dark side, but not like places we inhabit. I think we are the only species that throw their children away, and think nothing of it,” he drank some water before he continued. “You know they use foster kids or orphans to work the mines! They put a big barcode on them, here.” Pointing at his shoulder.

“The corporations are worse. All the propaganda, come here, live the high life. The inhabitants barely get enough to survive. Once the mine dries up, they walk away. Leaving the people there, no supplies, no food and no communication”. He was silent, waiting for her to say something.

She undid the top buttons on her blouse, enough to pull the shirt away from her shoulder. A black bar code was burned into her skin. He remembered she would have a bandage over the area in the summer, her ouchie they had called it when they were kids. He had seen those codes burned into people.

"They barcoded us just before we were sent to planets. Mostly wards of the state. A convicted felon service life, to every one hundred kids. I grew up on Callisto. It’s where I met your dad,” she pulled her shirt back and buttoned it up.
“Your father was a freighter captain at the time. He was handsome, clean, and free. On one run, he demanded I come with him. Just to orbit, he said. He promised to bring me back. When we got into space, he just left the planet. Not because he was bad, he knew. He couldn't leave me behind, and he knew I wouldn’t leave them," she said, pushing away a tear forming in the corner of her eye.

"Knew what?" Vincent asked.

"That there were no more supplies to Callisto, not to my mine. That's why he took me. You were born on that old freighter. We stopped at the mine a year later. Everyone was dead, left where they died. That was twenty-three years ago.” She looked away from him.

Taking a minute to collect her thoughts, “I hated you for leaving for not listening to me. I was so scared for you. Five years, not knowing if you were alive, or dead, or what you had become. It’s why I always yelled when you talked about space. Space big and bright and beautiful. I know the real black, bleak and horrid. Every country on Earth and Mars sent their poor and their innocent to hell," she covered her face with a dishrag, crying into it. He was shocked, why had she kept this a secret for all these years? What she must have been through!

"Mom," he said, kneeling by her chair, his massive arms wrapped around her, cradling her as she cried. He held her gently, not knowing what to say or do. All he wanted to do was to fix everything.

She pulled herself together, blowing her nose and wiping her tears away. Walking to the bedroom, she returned, holding an identical box out to him.

"You are your father's son,” she said sadly, “he worked for Aida, the free colonies, and the resistance, I couldn’t raise a child in that.”

He took the small box in his large hand, lifting the lid, looking at a stone with swirls of iridescent greens and blues. A nebula, with flashes of red, sparked through the brilliantly polished face.

"His last visit home. Vincent, please don’t let this be your last time home,” she said, wrapping her arms around him, burying her face in his chest. He felt tears roll down from his real eye. He was home, and she still loved him.
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