Extant: Part Two
Author's note: Third NaNoWriMo entry. Second part of Extant.
Things I RememberThe first thing that I can recall from my life is being taken from the only people I'd ever known. Not my parents, no: the teachers and nurses who had been assigned my nursery among their rounds. I remember the day like nothing else. I had been calmly playing on the floor of my room when my teacher came in, and in a soothing voice told me there were some people I was going to meet. I understood her perfectly well, but she thought I was completely uncomprehending when she was able to carry me out without a word. The baby I shared the room with stood up in her crib and reached an arm out to me through the bars, but by that point I had already been swept through the open door.
I clutched to my teacher's shirt without a sound. She took this as a sign that I was afraid, and she cradled me and hummed assorted lullabies to me. I closed my eyes just enough so that I wouldn't have to see whoever it was I was going to meet, but I heard them well enough. I heard a gasp and my teacher put me down on the ground, upon my feet that I was so unaccustomed to walking on.
They were a man and a woman, both so tall from my viewpoint, and the man ran to me with the most disbelieving and hopeful grin on his face and gathered me into his arms. His speech was quick and too excited for me to make out. I was touched with chills and I observed him with some trepidation.
Then it was the woman's turn to hold me. I remember exactly how she smelled – like warmth and cinnamon. I wasn't afraid of her at all. She reined in her excitement and anticipation, whereas the man did nothing to withhold his. Was he the more caring of the two? Did he have some work that incorporated more direct involvement?
The nurse's words stopped their every action.
“We're only letting you see her because... Well, you know.”
“We know what?” The man was suddenly tense.
“Your daughter is an expendable.”
I had heard the word spoken often enough in my association, but I never pinpointed its exact meaning. It was a bad connotation, clearly, by the fear in the eyes of the people I had been brought to meet. My parents. The words didn't feel right; I didn't feel right sitting with them as their own blood. I put up a fight to release myself from the man's – my father's – grip and I returned to the safety and familiarity of my teacher's hold. I pressed my face into her, and in the darkness I could suck my thumb and my parents wouldn't see.
My teacher didn't return me to the nursery. She walked me down long, forbidding corridors until we reached a ward that was too shiny, too clean and kept to be a real living place. She laid me down in an oversized and unfamiliar sleep cubicle in a dark hole of a room, and left without goodbye.
I was not the child to cry. I was not the child to run to the door and whimper for who I had lost. I saw her walk out without a word to me and realized all along that she had been a phony. She never had any feelings for me as a maternal figure. I now had to depend on the two people I hadn't seen in my life to nurture me, as good as or better than I had been taken care of for the past year.
My father was the first to enter the room after I had been locked within it hours earlier. I held still in my position, though everything inside of me wanted to run from him as fast as I could. He proved not to hold such unpredictability in him, and he was a calm figure that helped me sleep through that first night.
I met my mother again at lunch the next day. She seemed jumpy, unaccustomed to my presence, though if anyone were to act as she was for the reasons she was acting as such, it should've been me. She watched me without speaking words, and I tried my best not to let the crawly feeling get to me.
She only really started to grasp my interest when she produced an unusual-looking package and slid it across the table, intended for my father. He thanked her for it, his voice tired and stance haggard. I reached for the flat box, but my arms proved too short and I slapped them frustratedly upon the mysterious package's surface.
My father opened it with the offer of letting me copy inscriptions – the reason for the box. Thin sheets folded over and over until he reached a space of blank white. I took the pen he gave me, grasped it in my hands, and drew without knowing art, wrote without knowing words.
However, this box of sheets was quickly hidden when the nurse arrived, apparently with more bad news. My parents seemed distraught after she left, and they tried to engage me in play but their eyes were too hollow and sad for me to let them pretend for my sake.
My mother spent the next night with me. She was very wise despite the image she portrayed as being isolated and reticent. Without my father beside her she opened to me as being a very caring figure that had lost so much when I was taken away. I knew nothing of this, and so sat transfixed and listened to her tale.
She stayed up the whole night long and made funny inscriptions in the pages of her own sheet-box. I woke up often during the night and would peer over the edge of the cubicle and watch her stare off into space between moments of intense concentration on the pages in the box.
We caught up with my father that day at lunch, and so alternated for the next days. I couldn't count. Time seemed infinite to me. However, my parents did nothing but mark the passing of days. I grew to adore the people who had jumped back into their rightful place as my caretakers, and taught them to put time aside and live in the moments. They never questioned it, never questioned a supposedly mentally disabled two-year-old's stand on how to live life.
That was another thing I remembered. Not as clearly as the introduction of my parents into my life, but I vaguely remember it as the undertone for the early years. The words were thrown around often enough. “Spinal deformity,” “mental disability,” “expendable.” All of the opposite words that children were supposed to hear. Not children in the airship, apparently.
I wasn't disabled at all. Indeed, I had had a spinal deformity when I was born, but a series of surgeries in the first weeks of my life – things they talked about later when they thought I wasn't listening – reversed it as much as possible. True, I walked with a noticeable right-favoring slant, but as I grew, and of course under the new nurturing environment I was put into, it lessened considerably. I never cried to my parents about back pain they couldn't see was there. I learned to walk as straight as the other airship inhabitants. My only disability was my incapability of speaking comprehensible language. “Low linguistic development” was another term they threw about amongst themselves. Besides that, my mind was so far beyond those of the other children I met in the nursery ward. I guess it was my advanced intellect that led them to demove me, my advanced intellect trapped inside of a body incapable of speech. I was somehow a threat to them, a threat before I could have even been explained any of what they were afraid of losing due to me.
I had no clue that being an expendable eventually meant that I would lose everything. Of course I wouldn't. Of course they didn't think I would have known. But I for sure knew that the first night away from my parents meant something terribly wrong was happening outside the boundaries of my awareness.
The next day when the both of them reappeared, I couldn't rein in the joy I felt. I was so exultant I reached the skies. The only way I could safely release my pent-up energy was to run, as freely as any child. That day, I proved to my parents how I wasn't any different than the other kids, than the kid I could have been. I walked as straight as a pole, I forced my tongue around the words I held inside for them. I was also sad, though. My intuition clued me in that this still wasn't the happiest situation. I frequently ran up to either of them and hugged their knees fiercely, saying to them how much I missed them even if they couldn't understand me. Even when my mind wandered from their physical bodies, my heart still held on to their soul. They were there even though they disappeared again that night, neither of the two of them present to cradle me in their understanding arms, neither of them to explain the mystery of the boxes they pondered over night and day, neither of them to feel any of the childishly spoken words I ached so desperately to tell to them.
They didn't reappear the next day. I looked everywhere for them, my heart pounding as I peeked around every corner and looked under every table, hoping they were just hiding as part of a game and would jump out with a hug to dispel all of my fears.
They didn't appear. I didn't find them. They were not playing a game. One of my nurses appeared, and by the look in her eyes, the way she walked, her overall mien, I picked up on some indirect clues and knew that she was to blame. My parents weren't gone; they had just been kept from me.
While she was resetting some gauges and configuring heart valve monitors and other such things, I slipped out of the open door and made my way to the door leading out of the expendable ward. I didn't know where to go. I had no idea where my parents would be. I ran through dark halls, ducking under the arms of inattentive guards, and I had slipped and fallen right on my backside when I saw them peering out of a doorway.
I must have been screaming for them the whole time. They ran to me as they had the first day, and my mother picked me up and I smothered my tears into her chest. I heard my parents sniffle back tears of their own. When I heard the nurse appear down the hall behind me, I confirmed that she was in on this elaborate plot.
“Your daughter is a crafty one.” I was plucked from their arms without struggle in my elated torpor, but as soon as the cold, antiseptic lab-coated arms of the nurse held me, I howled. My parents looked so badly like they wanted to reach out to me. I threw my arms towards them and let the pain torrent out. Screams and screams. The nurse did nothing to stop them; my parents could do nothing to ease them. I was carried right back to the prison of the expendable ward, hooked up to various machines, and stabbed with a needle that sent me into darkness.
Those are the things I remember. I do not remember the life I lived – or was kept from living – within the shuttlepod. I do not remember the wandering dreams I ran through while my body was frozen in position. I do not remember awaking soon after the shot and finding myself encapsulated in a metal tube. I do not remember words my parents wrote; I do not remember words my parents told me. I do not remember what they called me, the nurses or my biological caretakers. I do not remember that I lost a valuable decade of my life to nothing.
All I remember now is the incredible impact of crashing, the splitting open of a metal cocoon I had been trapped inside, the cold whoosh of the night air, and a hundred million eyes, all peering down at me from up in the stars.