Fortunate Son is my first and so far only short story (at least the one not still rattling around inside my head!)
It has appeared in two places: Narrator International (no longer active but their pages remain up) at narratorINTERNATIONAL.com and OMNI Reboot. OMNI Reboot is now Futurism and my story no longer appears there.
Since then I have made edits to the story, cut out unnecessary words and refined my writing style.
Philip awoke as the morning sun shot through the bedroom. Its rays hit the flawless wall and a door opposite the large window. Blinking a few times, he rolled onto his back, rubbed his eyes and stretched the sleep from his nine-year old body. Sitting up, he looked out the skylight. Adjacent the bed and just as long, it gave him a view of the outside world without leaving the comfort of the blankets. The plexiglass porthole angled outward at a slight angle, allowing him to look straight down. One big reason his friends like to do sleepovers. None of them had this in their bedroom. And it was fun to pretend what it would be like to be down there, on the ground below.
He yawned, propped up onto his knees and leaned over, resting his hands flat against the glass. Forest covered hills move slowly beneath the great ship. Floating over them, the large vessel did not yet cast a giant shadow upon the landscape below. In the distance, he saw the beginning of the big ocean.
“Oh boy!” he spouted.
Last time there, he and his friends pretended his bed was a boat. With their childish imagination, they motored among a group of whales below as plumes of water shot from their backs. School taught him the water down there was full of salt. He oft wondered what it smelled like.
He crawled off the bed, stretching, yawning, walking to the dresser embedded in the wall. A thin black line outlining each drawer indicated anything was there. Touching the left side of one opened it. All the clothes therein sat neatly folded. They always came back that way from the laundry section. Then his mother would arrange them by color.
It was Sixthday. No dressing for class. He chose casual attire for his day off: gray short sleeve, pullover shirt, dark blue pants, all fitting loosely upon his small frame. He and friends planned to roam about the ship and play.
He left the bedroom barefoot and prodded towards the kitchen area. Like his room, white, pristine walls and floor covered the modest sized living space. Lights embedded in the ceiling illuminated the entire area without a decibel of noise. Despite efficient environmental scrubber units, a faint, yet unmistakable odor filled the crisp clean air. Mom was making a handmade breakfast, not using the food processor. He didn’t mind it either way. It all tasted good. But his parents told him handmade meals were their special time with their special son.
“Morning mom.” He approached the counter where she stood. Her young, flawless face below a head full of light brown hair looked down.
“Morning, Sunshine. Ready for your day off?”
She rubbed his head, watching him smile with a row of perfect white teeth. He walked around to the other side of the counter in the middle of the kitchen. It doubled as their meal table. There he waved his hand underneath the lip of the countertop. Out came a small chair supported by an L-shaped bracket. Seated, his arms firmly on the armrests, the chair rose up, giving him a proper seat at the table.
“Eggs, mom?” he asked, reaching for a carafe of orange colored liquid.
“Yes, hun. And those cakes you like.” She didn’t turn, alternating her glance between the cooking counter and a small plasma monitor against the wall. She needed to get things right:
Cook eggs toughly, turning every 1.25 min to avoid burning.
NOTICE: Cook all foul products until well done to avoid consuming biological contamination. Allow scanner to indicate appropriate temperature before serving.
Using a dark black spatula, she turned over the two eggs already cooking. She was careful, still not having the dexterity to do so in one smooth stroke. She then turned her attention to the cakes adjacent, then the monitor:
Batter poured until circumference approximately 10 centimeters. Allow to cook until small bubbles cover most of visible area. Turn over, allowing an additional 2-3 minutes to fully cook. Cake is done when color is a light brown across face. Refer to color chart opposite for comparison.
Philip finished his drink, the pasty taste of sleep in his mouth now gone. “Where’s dad?”
His mother turned over the cakes. “He got a textcall from Tech Department. An electrical issue on one the upper decks.”
“He wanted to be here too, you know.”
“He’s important. He helps make the air we breathe. Every cubic meter pure and clean!”
His mother smiled, ensuring the cakes where the appropriate, fully cooked color. She shared her son’s pride in the skills he contributed to the ship.
“You meeting your friends today?” she asked, placing his breakfast onto a disposable, but sturdy, black colored plate. She then entered some commands for the food processor.
Philip poured himself some more juice. “Yeah. Jill and me… maybe Benny too… are going to the park section.”
“You kids like it there don’t you? I remember the many, youthful days I spent there as too.”
She presented Philip with his breakfast in one hand. In the other, she held her own.
Philip smiled as she sat in her own self–adjusting chair. Philip noticed his parents’ eggs always looked different from handmade meals. His were flat, with the yellow and white colored parts showing on both sides. Theirs a solid light yellow and square. He asked a few times why. The answer always being they liked them that way.
The two started in on their breakfast. Their utensils the same color as their plates, just as disposable and sturdy.
“Be careful today, you and your friends.”
“Yeppers, mom.” His answer came between bites.
Philip entered the park from Level 1. Located near the rear of the ship, the Park Section extended for two more decks above, just in front of the engineering sections. Those places were off limits to him. Once, he and his friends tried to go there, just out of curiosity, something fun to do. They were turned away with an explicit warning not to do so again.
He strode over a small bridge crossing a shallow, gently moving stream. He glanced left and right, taking in the simulated forest, complete with hills and trails. The stream ended at a modest sized pond at the far end of the cavernous area. The sound of running water mingled with others from speakers hidden within the tops of the trees. His teachers told him they were the sounds of birds and other extinct animals. A number of people roamed the park or sat by the big window. Like his bedroom, it faced out and down onto the world outside, taking up the entire side of Level 1. Emerging from the forest, he scanned all the tables along and near the window. His perfect eyesight spotted his friends within moments. Doug was there too.
He jaunted towards them. The young girl seated there turned and saw him approach. Jill stood and waved. “Hey Phili!”
Doug sat upon the table, Benny in a chair adjacent Jill, all the same age and energetic. Philip gave Jill a slight hug. Savoring the friendly embrace, he caught sight of Doug’s irritated face.
“How long you’ve been here?” Philip asked as Jill sat back down. He didn’t sit, preferring to stand next to Jill, but opposite Doug.
“Not long… just waiting for you.” She smiled. “I like days away from school”
“Mental strengthen’ and physique buildin’ is all they want to teach us,” Benny added.
“Yeah,” Doug said, leaning back on the table, propping himself up. “Was just telling Jill how my dad is gonna take me to the Command Section next week.”
“Oh.” Phillip responded, sounding unimpressed.
“Yeah. Gonna ask if Jill can come along.” Doug glanced down and gave her a smile.
“Wow,” Benny spouted. “Kids aren’t allowed there. Your dad can do that?”
“Yep,” Doug answered. Philip knew it was a way to impress Jill. The one thing he noticed Doug doing more often.
“That’s great!” Jill responded, a look of glee and anticipation sprang from her young, unblemished face.
Not to be outdone, Phillip brought up the subject now. “Hey… getting close to the big ocean!”
“Yeah! I saw that!” Benny stated with delight.
“Sleepoverrrrr!” came from both he and Jill at the same time. Doug remained silent. Seeing the outside world from the Command Deck or the park was not the same as your bedroom.
“Yeppers!” Philip was equally ecstatic.
“And a handmade breakfast?” Benny asked. “Like the other times?”
“Yep. My mom likes to do those I think.”
“Well... let’s go for a hike and have some fun.” Doug announced as he stood, unable to compete with Philip in that department.
The group sprang up and headed towards the forest, weaving through other people milling around. They followed one of the trials until it came to a remote point, then ventured beyond the well kept path. They ran, jumped or skipped atop the tidy, plush grass, trees and shrubs. Both Doug and Philip attempted to lead their small group in one direction or another. Jill and Benny followed behind.
“I wonder if it’s like this on the ground?” Jill mused as Doug led the group up a small hill. Only a few trees stood there, allowing a good view of the entire park.
“It is,” Doug answered, looking at the simulated sky above. Projected onto the smooth surface over the park was the image of a clear, blue sky, with a hint of clouds rolling past.
“How’d you know?” Phillip said, racing past Doug to the top.
“ ‘Cause that’s what my father says.”
Doug reached the top also, leaning against the largest tree there. He took in the park below. Jill came up beside him and glanced over the landscape as Benny finally caught up.
“Your father been on the ground?” Philip asked.
“No. But he talks to those in the camp.”
“Won’t be there again until after we’re over the ocean,” Benny added.
Doug smiled at Jill as he spoke. “Then the park will be changed to a beach. One day, when I work for Command, I’ll get to decide when we change the park.”
Philip said nothing, his slight frown spoke for him.
“Environmental Systems is important too, you know,” Philip said. “Maybe that’s why we have a window view in our quarters.”
Doug didn’t respond. A fake beach was one thing. A privileged view of the world was another.
“Hey. What’s that?”
They all turned. Benny pointed at some trees a few meters away, slowly walking that way. Doug strode towards him first, attempting to see what it was.
“What is it Benny?” Jill asked, taking a few cautious steps towards the trees.
Philip meandered that way. Approaching one of the trees adjacent the clearing, he saw it: a small branch, lying on the ground, part of it buried under the soil. He gaped at the sight as Jill came up behind. With silent glee, he noticed Doug’s normal, pompous fountain of authority had dried up.
“Never seen that before,” Benny said, hunching over it.
“Bet it’s leftover from when the park was changed—”
“Why didn’t anyone clean it up—”
The puzzled look on Doug’s face gave Philip a chance. Curiosity also got the better of him. He stepped up and reached for the misplaced branch. Benny backed away. Straightening back up, the fictions soil covering part of the limb fell off in undignified clumps.
“Don’t think you should touch that,” Benny stated.
“Why not?” Philip held the limb at one end, turning around to show everyone. “The tech crews will just get rid of it anyway.”
Doug remained silent as Jill moved closer, now just as curious. “I wonder if they are like the ones on the ground?” she asked.
Philip wondered the same thing. Both examined the jagged edge, noting the solid white texture encased within the rough, gray bark. He then placed a hand on the each end, casually testing its girth. He glanced at Doug.
“Think I can break this even more?” he asked, looking back at Jill.
Her eyes lit up in anticipation of the unexpected event, breaking the monotony of their normal routine. She took a small step back, watching Philip apply more pressure to the unfortunate branch. Benny saw Philip’s face go from curiosity to a straining grimace.
“I could a done it too,” Doug said, silently cursing himself for not doing it first.
With a sudden crack, the limb snapped. A small spray of liquid, debris and soil shot out from the break. Part of it caught Philip in the face. In his moment of triumph didn’t feel it. His arms shot up, each end still in hand.
“Yessss...” he spouted, exuding victory over the simulated wood.
“I knew you could do it!” Jill was just as ecstatic. She turned to Doug. “I knew he could do it.”
Doug put on a small, feigned smile. Jill turned back around.
Philip jaunted towards them and spoke. “Wasn’t that ha—”
He froze dead still. An odd, funny sensation filled his head. The feeling grew stronger. His breathing nearly stopped. Aghast, he then felt himself drawing in a deep breath. His body reacted solely on instinct without a single thought or him moving a single muscle. The branches fell to the ground as his eyes squeezed shut.
“Achoooo--” The sneeze left his nose just as his hands clasped his face.
Petrified, Philip dared not move. His eyes slowly opened as he looked up from his hands. His three friends stared at him, wide eyed, mouths open.
“O… M… G… What… What did you just do!” Benny pointed at him.
“Why did you make that noise?” a stunned Jill asked, stepping back.
“I knew you should of left that alone!” Doug moved between her and Philip.
With no idea what just happened, Philip mustered no answer. He looked back down at his hands, noticing the small droplets of liquid covering parts of his palms. For the first time in his short life, the unnerving sensation of fear swelled up inside him.
“I… don’t know!”
Philip lay on his back, the scanner passing over him. Just like all the other times he endured a physical. Today, the pale blue light and feeble hum radiating from the moving device only added to his anxiety. So too the sensation of the blood pressure monitor, the wrapping grip growing more acute with each passing second. The scanner plate came to a stop just beyond his head. A deafening silence then filled the well–lit room.
He glanced over at the spotless, white door embedded in the wall. In the past, he’d be bored by now, waiting for Doctor Rill to come in and pronounce him healthy. Then get back to whatever playful adventure planned for the day. Now that usually brief moment seemed an eternity. Philip imagined him talking to his mom and dad… relaying the bad news… his mother starting to cry…
The door slid open. He gasped as Dr. Rill stepped in, bearing his usual smile amid a wrinkle free face set below a full head of hair. The pressure monitor automatically released its hold. Again he gasped, twisting his head, watching the clamp retract back into the side of the exam table.
The doctor approached. As he did, the table transformed with gentle speed from a bed to a comfortable chair, adjusting itself to the contours of his diminutive stature. His eyes stayed glued on the doctor. The muscles on his face remained stiff with fear.
“What’s the matter Philip?” the doctor asked, stopping next to him, looking over the monitor adjacent the now stilled scanner. “As always you are in perfect health.”
Still having doubts, Philip scrutinized the touch screen as he tapped away upon it. “Then… then what happened to me?”
The doctor finished entering some commands, then looked down, still bearing a comforting smile. He sat on an adjustable stool adjacent. “Well, Philip. It’s called a sneeze.”
Philip became puzzled. “A… a sneeze? What’s that?”
“Well, it’s when some stuff gets into your sinuses. They lay just beyond the top of your nose. It’s your body’s way of getting rid of it.”
His explanation ended with a broadened smile.
Philip sat quiet for a moment, digesting the new medical terminology. “How did the stuff get… get in my nose?”
“Most likely just some small, tiny particles you accidentally breathed in.”
“So… there’s… something wrong with me?”
“Nooo… of course not.” He patted Philip on the head. “It’s rare —a sneeze— but natural. It means you are special.”
A weight sprang from his shoulders. Philip broke into a wide grin. He was special. Good. Jill would like him more than Doug.
“So I am alright? And special?” he asked.
“Yes, Philip.” Doctor Rill stood up. “Now why don’t you go out into the lounge and play some Mahjong. I need to talk to your mom and dad, let them know you are okay. Then…” A finger towards the ceiling. “Then you can show them what a big strong boy you are!”
“Yesss!” Philip clinched his fists and brought them towards his side in a gesture of victory. He’s special. He sprang from the chair and looked up at the doctor. “Thanks Doctor Rill.”
The doctor smiled. “You are very, very welcome young man!”
Philip jaunted out, the doctor right behind him. Once in the next room, he went straight towards a small terminal table. Upon sitting, the computer screen came to life while a keyboard rose from the tabletop. He brought up a game of Mahjong. It was as though nothing bad had happened today. All his fears and apprehension were now gone. His young mind not questioning the words of the adults. And why should he? Life was good and there were many fun things to do. And he could have a sleepover. Take that Doug.
Dr. Rill turned towards another door. It slid open, exposing a much larger room, complete with a desk and cabinets stuffed with medicines and drugs. Philip’s parents sat upon a couch facing a large window viewing the outside and world below. Their heads spun round upon hearing him enter. A tall, slender man leaned against a table adjacent the window, his arms crossed, facing Philip’s parents. He bore a bit of white along the sides of his otherwise dark colored hair. Dr. Rill returned their smiles with one of his own.
“Well,” he said, seating himself at the end of the sofa. “We always knew Philip was a very special boy. We knew that as soon as I looked at the results of his biogenetics test right after birth.”
The mother spoke first, spitting out her words.“Is it... is it time?”
Silent resolve filled Rill’s gentle nod. “Yes. Sooner than expected, but it has come.”
The parents smiled at each other. The father put his arm around his wife and gave her a hug.
“We know, Doctor,” he said, looking into her eyes, drawing her closer. He turned. “I can tell you that we are both proud to do our part for our species. We… we knew this day would come… when he would have to leave. We understand.”
“Just not this soon…” His mother’s soft voice trailed off, lowering her head.
“That may be a plus,” Rill retorted. He gestured toward the other man. “Would you say so, Doctor Acre?”
“Most certainly. He is a bit young, but that would help him build up more immunity.” His voice was cautious.
The mother looked at him. “How long… how long do we have?”
“We won’t be back over the colony for a few months.” His smile meant to be reassuring.
“Will we ever see him again? Once he’s there?” the father asked.
“There’s always a possibility.” Rill used a cautious voice. “Of course, there could be no physical contact… once he leaves the ship.”
The father nodded. His wife clinched his leg.
“He’s… he’s going to do well.” Acre said. He stood. “You both have been more than helpful preparing him, like the special meals for him. And he gets to see the world in a more personal way each day.”
“A domicile with a view to the outside is truly a gift. Even if one will never get to actually be there,” the father stated.
“He’ll be less fearful of it… and I believe it has only heightened his curiosity about the outside world.” Dr. Rill hoped to ease their apprehension.
“He’s a strong boy,” his mother said looking up with glowing pride.
Dr. Acre smiled. “Yes he is. And the other members of the colony will be there to help in the transition. He’s going to make a valuable asset to those who help support us down there in the outside world.”
“Well then,” Dr. Rill rose as he spoke. “Best not to keep Philip waiting too long.”
His parents stood. The quartet then gravitated towards the door.
“Remember,” Dr. Acre spoke as they walked. “Start showing him the images and digital videos from the program I gave you. They’ll be helpful for when he actually gets to the colony.”
“You know,” the father said, holding his wife’s hand. “I don’t know if I could go around having to wear those things on my nose.”
“You mean glasses?” Dr. Acre asked. “Philip may never even need them. His genetic strength is his ability to cope with his body’s reaction to contaminates, not poor eyesight.”
The couple left without a word. Knowing this day would come, any words, action or gestures, no matter how heartfelt, would make it no easier. The doctors watched from the doorway as the two embarrassed their son.
Dr. Acre let out a bleak sigh. “So begins, the last vestiges of a blissful, ignorant youth,” He paced back into the office.
Dr. Rill went to his desk. Seated, he brought up the computer screen, then paused, looking up to see Dr. Acre staring out the window. “It doesn’t get any easier, does it?”
“No.” Dr. Acre took in the shoreline below, noting how the waves crashed against the tan colored beach. A flock of seagulls passed gracefully above it. “I envy every one of those like Philip we find.”
Dr. Rill nodded. “The precious few we do find.”
Dr. Acre didn’t take his eyes of the shoreline as he spoke. “I turn ninety years old next week. My life expectancy in one–hundred and fifty. As are Philip’s parents and friends. In all that time, none of us will ever know what it is like to walk on that beach. I will never be able to let wet sand caress my toes with each step.” He looked over at his fellow doctor. “I’ll never know what it is like to hold and smell a flower. A real one, I mean.” He crossed his arms, returning his attention to the world outside.
“They meant well all those centuries ago,” Dr. Rill stated. “Who knew creating a perfect human would have such a consequence? And… put ourselves into the frock of a doctor or the lives of a parent who lived in those days. Who wanted to see a loved one fall ill, or endure the suffering wrought by an infection or tumor or… or imperfection.”
Dr. Acre nodded. “Super drugs... genetic tests to weed out flaws. Perfect people… free of genetic flaws… we lost our ability to adapt. Perfection at the price of immunity. They prized that so much back then that now we seek the slightest genetic flaw or disposition… to save the human race.”
“Philip will make a nice addition to the colony. His genetic predisposition will work well in helping his body adapt. And, when he meets a special lady…” An envious smile. “Pass that flaw onto their offspring.”
“We can only hope.”
“Ironic that the germs and bacteria they so dreaded back then… so far are they winning the war of evolution.”
Dr. Acre smiled. He turned and took a few steps toward the desk. “They may still win.”