Alex whimpered softly. The soft rustle of silk precluded a sudden draft over his body and he twisted back into the bed sheets, trying to keep the chilly air from attacking his feet
"Alex," a low voice called to him softly. "Alex, wake up."
He felt a hand, cool to the touch, pull the silk pillow away from his face and smooth back the reddish brown hair on his forehead. He cracked open one eyelid, squinting. Mama stood bent over him, an anxious look on her face.
Alex complained again, squeezing his eyes tightly shut, and tried to flip over, away from her grasping fingers. Mama was quicker, however. He felt the covers slide past him as she began to haul him out of bed. "Hurry Alex!" She said quickly. "I need your help. We're going on a trip. Get your things."
"I'm sleepy." He whined, rubbing his eyes blearily. "Not time to get up."
"Get up honey, it's a very special trip and we have to leave right now or we'll miss the shuttle." Mama replied in a patient tone as she dumped him unceremoniously on the floor. She turned to the open closet and, finding what she sought, threw two ancient duffel bags on the floor, the thump muffled by a faded old woven silk rag rug on that stretched across the polished stone floor.
"I don't wanna go." Alex yawned and moved to crawl back to the shelf cut straight into the rock where his covers lay strewn. In the corner his sister Rowana began to whimper from being awoken.
"Alex!" Mama snapped. "Now! We are out of time. Help me get your things or you are leaving them all here!"
Startled, Rowana burst into a full-fledged bawl. Mama sighed in exasperation and bent to pick her up. Alex was frightened. Mama never talked like that. He hugged himself against the chill of the room and looked at her. In the waning light of the solar lantern on the carved stone shelf, worry lines creased shadows into her normally happy face. There was a tightness in her mouth that Alex only saw when she was very upset and her eyes darted back and forth anxiously.
Mama, his Mama was scared.
Alex swallowed and tried to make the fear in his belly calm down.
"M-Mama?" His voice quavered.
Mama shot a quick glance at him from the corner where she swayed with Rowana and tried to pack Rowana's clothes and silk diaper squares into the duffel bag that had once belonged to his grandfather. She sighed and turned to him.
"Alex, it's ok, really. But we need to leave. Go get your clothes off your shelf and put them in that bag." She pointed to the other empty duffel on the floor beside his bed. Usually he wasn't allowed to touch items that were "older than dirt," as his grandmother has once put it. Something about 'keeping our history alive'…Alex didn't really understand how a bag could be alive. And what in the world was 'dirt' anyway? He eyed Mama in askance; every other time he'd tried to play with this bag he'd gotten a smart tap on his behind and a stern lecture. Surely this was a test.
She had already turned around again, rolling Rowana onto her hip and maintaining a slight bounce as she sought to stuff the pile of diapers that had fallen to the floor back into the bag.
"You may take one toy if you want, but it can't be too big. We won't have a lot of room."
Reassured, Alex obediently climbed to his feet and padded over to the small closet - really more of carved out indention in the wall with metal brackets bolted up the back, and began to shovel clothes into his bag, distracted by the option of which favored toy to take. He finally settled on the model space shuttle Dad had helped him build. It made a really cool whishing noise when he swung it around. He paused for a moment to give it a good swing in the air. Satisfied, he put it on top and turned expectantly to Mama.
"When are we gonna eat? I'm so hungry." As if to prove his logic he pointed to Rowana. "Why does she keep crying? I think she's hungry too." He rubbed his ears as if to block out her shrill cries. "She doesn't want to go either." He added petulantly.
The door opened and dad looked around the room as he walked through. Elizabeth, his younger sister trailed behind him, still in her silk nightgown, clutching her ratty old teddy bear to her chest. She stared up through bleary hazel eyes at all of them, squenching her toes up against the chill of the floor.
"Chris, help Alex please. Rowana is still trying to wake up." Mama pleaded. Rowana's cries began afresh at this unexpected interruption of Mama's attention. Nodding, Chris knelt down and began re-rolling the clothing, Alex had stuffed carelessly into the bag. He ruffled his son's hair.
"Hey son, you excited?"
"I'm tired, Daddy. Don't wanna go. It's too early," he whined. He took a deep breath to begin another rant, but catching the stern look on Mama's face, shut his mouth instead and contented himself to glare mournfully at his dad. Even the risk of mama's wrath couldn't keep him silent for long though. "And I'm really hungry. Can't we eat first?" He blurted out as fast as he could. Emphasizing his point, he grasped his stomach dramatically, sucking in to show how skinny he looked.
Chris laughed was strained. "That's my son! You should become a lawyer. It takes energy to argue this early in the morning.
Sensing an odd tension in the air, Alex's glare turned to uncertainty, but as his dad ruffled his hair again, finally melted into a childish smile.
"What's a lawyer?"
Dad smiled, "Don't worry. I'll tell you all about it on the trip."
"Ok." He bent and started handing dad the rolled clothing, watching him carefully situate everything to maximize available space in the duffel.
Elizabeth wandered over from the open doorway and hitched herself up on Alex's bed, staring at them unblinkingly. Teddy lay limply in her hands. Five minutes later Alex sat beside her holding tight to his chest the toy spaceship. His dad knelt in front of them both.
"Ok guys, you're ready. I need you to listen close now. Mama is going to take you down to the old hanger bay." Alex gasped in awe.
"You mean the one with my ship in it?" He held up his toy proudly.
"Yep! That's right! I'll be right behind you, ok? I have to go get some things from my office. I need you to listen to Mama. Do whatever she tells you, even if it sounds dumb." He looked at them anxiously until they both nodded their heads mutely. His eyes relaxed a bit and he pulled them both into a bear hug.
"I love you so much." Alex heard him whisper against his hair.
Irrational fear welled up again in Alex as he too wrapped his little hands as far as they would reach around the bigger man. Finally Dad let go and stood, facing Mama and a sniffling Rowana. He gazed lovingly at his baby daughter and bent to kiss the red fuzz on the top of her head.
Mama's eyes were tight. "You don't have to go Christopher," She whispered urgently. "It's not that important. You could be kil-" She stopped and looked at the two older children on the bed staring back at them. "You'll risk missing the special trip." She corrected hastily. "Please, it's not worth it!"
"I promise I'll stay out of sight. We need those papers. We need the proof! I won't be long." Tenderly he brushed her cheek as he bent to kiss her lightly.
Hurry, there isn't much time. I'll meet you there." With one last loving look at his family he spun and left the room. Mama stared after him forlornly for a moment and then reluctantly turned her attention to her children.
"Ok guys, let's go."
Rowana watched as the retreating figure of her father disappeared around the doorway.
She rubbed her eyes again; trying to shake off the overwhelming heaviness that seemed to want to glue them shut. She was so sleepy. Why wouldn't Mama just let her go back to sleep! She longed for the soft blankets of her little bed.
Instead she began to look around for the food. Mama only woke her up in the morning when it was time to eat. But it didn't feel like morning. It was too dark. She didn't smell anything yummy cooking, and Mama wouldn't even allow her to go say good morning to all her toys. Now Daddy, who usually sang to her while she was getting dressed, was walking away! She felt the tension in Mama's arms leaking into her own body. It was too much to bear and her eyes brimmed with tears as she held out her arms towards the direction Daddy had gone.
"Shh shhh! It's ok my darling. It's ok. Don't cry. You'll see daddy soon. Don't cry Row. I love you."
Gently Mama began to rock back and forth, whispering calming words to sooth her frazzled, sleepy nerves. Rowana felt a touch and she flinched before looking down to see Elizabeth patting her leg and staring up at her solemnly.
"S'ok Row, I'sok."
Rowana laid her head on Mama's shoulder, found her thumb and began to comfort herself. Mama sighed in relief and turned to the two children standing.
"Come on guys. Alex, can you hold on to that bag while we walk? Good. Remember, everyone is sleeping so we have to be real quiet. Don't even whisper. Just follow me." Mama shut the door to their apartments gently behind them and beckoned to Alex and Elizabeth.
Silently they walked through the dimly lit hall, hand in hand. Shadows loomed deep in the evenly spaced cubbies that marked the entrance to other apartments. Every so often a sconce bloomed on the wall as if trying hold back with stern, functional, metal arms, a darkness that would otherwise crush the rounded stone tunnel. They turned, turned again. On and on, it felt. The monochromatic grayish black of the unadorned stone at once frightened and lulled Rowana, until she began to doze fitfully against the rocking of Mama's shoulder. She shifted, trying to find a more comfortable spot around the big bag Mama had slung over her shoulder. She started suddenly at the creak of a door opening and came fully awake at seeing the little person peeking out at her.
"Beys!" She called out happily, now fully awake. She was always happy to see Bleys. He played with her all the time and gave her sweet things!
Mama whirled around, clamping Row's mouth shut with her hand as she looked at the little boy in the doorway. Rowana squirmed in frustration and began to whimper again.
"Shhhh Row, be quiet!"
Alex started eagerly forward to greet his friend, only to be stopped by an iron hand on his shoulder. "Alex, Stop!" Mama said sharply.
"Bleys what are you doing here? Why aren't you with your grandparents?"
"Th-they," the square little blond boy looked bewildered as he looked at her. "Th-they're gone! I don't know!" Trembling, he clutched the light plexidoor as if he was afraid it too would disappear if he let go for an instant.
Gingerly Mama released the hand she held over Rowana's mouth and pressed it to her lips as she looked at Row intensely. Rowana's eyes widened in understanding and she pressed her own finger to her mouth in imitation. Mama smiled and Row watched as she beckoned to Bleys.
"Come on Bleys." She said softly. "It's alright. You can come with us. We're going to see the old ship. You can sit with Alex if you want." She beckoned again, this time a little more urgently. He took a half a step towards them when remembrance took him and he started back.
"Damian! I can't forget Damian. He will be looking for me. I can't leave him." He turned back to enter the apartment again.
"Bleys!" At the strain of Mama's voice Bleys stopped and turned to her.
"Bleys, I'm sorry sweetie but we don't have time. Damian is with Ca- your uncle August. Don't worry. He will keep him safe. You need to come with us right now. I promise, Bleys, he's ok. Please, Alex would like to have his best friend come on his special trip wouldn't he?" She turned questioning eyes to Alex, who nodded enthusiastically.
Reluctantly, Bleys shut the door and slowly took Mama's outstretched hand. Immediately Mama began leading the children away, picking up a faster pace.
Rowana wondered uneasily why Mama's face felt wet all of a sudden but contented herself to smile coyly at Bleys trailing behind them as they left the apartments and Damian behind.
Elizabeth shrank back from the gaping hole in the thing in front of them. It was so big! It looked like an ugly metal moth from the room with the silkworms, she thought to herself. But silk moths were so much more pretty then this thing. Elizabeth liked pretty things. They made her feel safe and secure in the primitive certainty that no harm could be shielded in beauty. The metal thing was certainly not beautiful and she grew uneasy.
Just then Granna appeared in the center of that dark hole and Elizabeth's uneasiness evaporated like the frost on one of the domes at the beginning of each sun cycle.
If Granna was coming then of course everything would be ok. Maybe it would be fun after all. Granna spoke, relief coloring her voice.
"Thank goodness! I thought you'd never get here! Hurry, I've already started the sequence. Pre-flight has almost cycled through."
She hustled them aboard and busily began to strap Elizabeth in when she saw Bleys.
"Good heavens, Juliane! You stole his CHILD?"
"He was never that man's child to begin with, Lila." Mama spoke calmly as she too began to strap Rowana in beside Elizabeth and motioned for the two boys to do the same.
"Well if tonight didn't make him angry this surely will." Granna sighed and bent to help Bleys buckle the thick nylon belt across his chest.
An oddly automated voice sounded over the intercom system. "Pre-flight status achieved. Input coordinates."
Elizabeth watched curiously through the partially open cockpit door as Mama flipped down a big screen and punched in a series of numbers from the a wrinkled piece of paper she had taken from her jumper pocket. She wondered if Mama would let her play with it. The buttons looked quite interesting.
"Ok, I'm going to go rig the airlock for an automatic release. I'm setting the clock for five minutes. Make sure we're sealed up and stowed away would you Lila."
Rowana whimpered as Mama whisked past towards the outside panel on the shuttle and Mama paused to pat her on the head.
The boys though silent, craned their necks back and forth to look through the portholes until Elizabeth thought they looked like the pictures she'd seen of animals called owls. She giggled softly to herself at the thought of them hooting and flapping their arms.
Granna, sealing the last of the bags away in a compartment, stepped up to the open hatch and asked over the humming of ancient machinery, "Five minutes? Are you sure? Will Chris have enough time?"
"Time is not something I think Chris will have to worry about ever again," inserted a new voice, a voice that Elizabeth knew very well - a voice that made her skin crawl in discomfort.
Mr. Cain, as she knew him stepped out from the entrance to the hanger bay. Elizabeth's eyes followed the length of his raised arm to rest at an oddly curved knife held lightly in his hand and pointed at Mama. She had never seen a knife like it before. The handle gleamed opalescent between his fingers, the curved metal shiny and razor sharp. It made her afraid but it gleamed so that she wanted to touch it.
He spoke again, the oily smoothness in his voice made Elizabeth want to take a bath, though she didn't know why.
"You thought I wouldn't find out, Juliane?" He asked in a low voice. Elizabeth could barely hear him.
"You thought you could leave me here all alone and fly off with your happy little family and let me clean up the mess you left behind?"
Mama turned slowly from the panel to face him. "Where is my husband?" She asked coldly.
"Why he's in my - uh his former office." Cain sneered. Idly he began to finger the knife in his hands, testing the razor edge against his thumb.
"What did you do to him Augustus?" She suddenly yelled and he flinched. Immediately he brought his thumb up to his mouth, sucking away the blood that began to bead there.
"Cain you have no right to hold us. I want him brought here at once."
Elizabeth watched through the thick round porthole as her mother imperiously stepped towards him and he brandished the knife at her again. As she took another step the hand wavered for an instant before becoming firm.
"Sorry, can't do that. He's dead!" All smoothness disappeared from his voice as he spat the words at her.
From the open hatch Elizabeth heard Granna gasp and saw her clutch the frame of the shuttle for support.
Hearing this, Cain laughed harshly and opened his arms to Mama in mock consolation. Mama stared in disbelief. A series of emotions flitted across her face. Anger. Disbelief. Some of them Elizabeth didn't recognize. One, a blankness in Mama's eyes reminded Elizabeth of a doll she had left behind in their rooms. It had broken a couple of weeks ago and Elizabeth hadn't asked Daddy to fix it. All the magic that had made the doll become alive and real for Elizabeth had left, leaving the doll a blank shell that frightened her. She had hidden it in the very bottom of her toy chest. The essence of that broken doll reflected itself on Mama's face; she wilted against the console.
Cain smirked and stepped toward her, victory written across his own face. Mama did nothing. She gazed blindly up at him. Elizabeth didn't understand what just happened. Impatiently she looked to the door, waiting for Daddy to come in and make Mr. Cain go away. Rowana sat, content to amuse herself with her fingers and the boys both craned their heads to see better out the porthole. Quiet rocking sobs emerged from Granna's slumped form. Something bad had happened, something having to do with Mr. Cain and Daddy. Of that Elizabeth was certain. She wanted Granna to quit crying and come sit by her so she could curl up in her lap. Instead she stared at Mama, willing her to look up and say everything was ok.
As if Mama sensed it she turned her eyes and found Elizabeth. In that moment, Elizabeth saw a change overcome her. Her face cleared, leaving only determination in her broken clear blue eyes.
"Lila," she called out; her voice quavered only slightly. "Shut the hatch and get ready to leave."
Granna moaned as she sagged against the frame and began to shake her head.
"Lila now! The children, Lila you must!" Her voice firmed as her will to carry through her decision strengthened her.
Confusion flitted across Cain's face and he darted a glance at the shuttle. Shock rippled through his body as Bleys' small blond face appeared in the porthole.
That instant was all Mama needed and as Granna slammed shut the hatch with a sob, she reached back and flipped up the manual ignition cover, her hand hovering over the seemingly insignificant button. Cain looked back, saw her hand, and quickly retreated a few steps to the relative safety of the antechamber.
Angrily, he snarled. "Why is my son on that ship, Juliane?"
"He's not your son, you murdering pig! He's Cessily's son! You won't control him like you did her. I'm seeing to that!" Her voice did not tremble as she stared steadily into his outraged face.
"Give him back!" Yelled Cain and he lunged forward as if to wrest control from Mama, but stopped suddenly as her hand descended a few centimeters towards the button. He changed tactics in the blink of an eye.
"Juliane please," His voice was soft, consoling; Elizabeth shivered. "Please, I can fix this. Stay. You know I've always loved you."
"Love?" Spat Mama incredulously. "You've got to be kidding me! You've never loved me Cain. Power is the only thing you love."
Cain jerked as if stung but continued, stepping toward her cautiously. "Please Juls..." he wheedled.
"Don't call me that!" She screamed. "You killed him! You killed them all! I HATE YOU." Her voice dropped to low hiss.
Cain half turned away and Elizabeth saw the hurt and anger in his eyes. Mama saw it too and in her triumph became calm again.
An alarm began to sound the warning that an airlock breach was initiating. Panicked, Cain backed away a few steps and with a last look at Mama, finally turned to break into a run for the sealed observation room on the other side of the shuttle.
The engine startup startled Rowana who began to cry as Elizabeth stared out the porthole into Mama's stricken face. She smiled softly and stared back at her.
"I love you." She mouthed.
Then down her hand flashed as the sound of the airlock opening whished through the hanger bay. Liquid nitrogen exploded into flame, enveloping the override panel where Mama stood, igniting enormous jets and expelling the shuttle out of the hanger bay in a deafening roar of fiery gas.
Created by Megan Aubrey 15