“That is so not fair!” Lucas protests, trying hard to keep his anger and frustration out of his voice.
“Life isn’t fair,” his mother fired back with her pat answer.
“But it’s just garbage!”
“It is your job, and you missed it,” Lucas’s mom reminds him, “maybe next time you won’t…buster.”
“Ugh,” Lucas groans as he glares at his mom, waiting to see if she has anything more to say. Lucas learned many lessons in his short fourteen years dealing with his mom and her brand of punishment. First was, never raise his voice to her. Second was, limit arguing, period. Finally, never walk away until you are sure she has nothing left to say.
“You can go,” she finally says.
“A month,” Lucas mumbles, but loud enough so his mother can hear him, and not call him back for being a wise ass.
Sentenced to a month, the duration of the grounding did not surprise Lucas, it pissed him off, but did not surprise him. It was the standard punishment for everything he did. Come home late, whether it was for dinner, or the end of the day, grounded for a month. Phone call from a neighbor, or an older couple across town stating that Lucas was vandalizing their property, grounded for a month. Shoot out the back window of grandma’s car, and letting his little brother take the fall, grounded for a month. The only time the punishment was different, was when he brought home a bad report card. Then the punishment was until the next report card, a whole quarter.
No surprise that his parents have not seen an unaltered report card in over a year.
A month…how was he going to keep courting Sarah from his room? She was coming around. Giovanni was so close to being history, and now this. All because he forgot to take out the garbage.
“Crap!” Lucas yelled as the door to his bedroom closed behind him.
He once asked Portia if he could just permanently move to the space station. His parents would never miss him, he argued. She assured him that they would indeed miss him, and it was not fair to put them through that kind of anguish.
“It’s not fair that they put me through this kind of anguish.” Lucas said to the ceiling as though Portia could hear him way out past Jupiter.
Life is not fair, once again, his mother’s mantra rings in his head.
Taking up permanent residence in the space station would mean never seeing his earthbound friends again, including Sarah.
“How do I let her know it’s not by choice that I am no longer stopping by?”
Lucas pounded his fists into hips knowing punching a wall will draw further ire from his mother. The more he thought about losing contact with Sarah, the more he seethed. This is reminiscent of the day he met her. It appeared as though they hit it off, and by the end of the day, he was going to have a beautiful new girlfriend. Then boom, he stops by the house to check in, and his mother grounds him, making it look as though he disappeared from her life.
“Thirty days in the hole,” Lucas sing songs as he looks about the cramped bedroom.
Cramped because his mother requires that he keep two twin beds in the room. Between those two beds a single stacked chest of drawers while another dresser sits against the opposite wall. All the extra furnishings to accommodate whatever family vagrants’ strays into the house. God forbid if his mother should ever say no to the next cousin or family friend that shows up at the door. His uncle just moved out not that long ago, so for now, the room was all his.
His and his alone, to sulk, and dream about other worlds. Prior to his abduction, that is how he spent his time in solitary confinement. Reading science fiction and fantasy books, and day dreaming about what life would be like in the worlds painted in black and white by the authors. So much of his belief system came from characters like Elric in the Michael Moorcock books. Characters such as these were a much bigger part of his everyday life than the adults who lorded over him.
“I really need Sarah’s phone number,” Lucas mumbled in frustration.
Doubt tickled the edges of his mind about that possible solution. Lucas dwelled on it for a moment before the source of doubt dawned on him. Sarah’s parents did not allow her to spend more than a few minutes on the phone.
“That would be enough to let her know, I haven’t given up on her.”
Lucas threw himself onto his bed in frustration, buried his face in his pillow, and screamed until his throat hurt. Tears of frustration burned the back of his eyes, but he refused to let them flow. Real men do not cry, he reminded himself. Throat raw and red rimmed eyes glistening, he rolled over on his back and looked through the ceiling out to deep space…to the space station.
“God, I hate my life,” he whispered as a single tear streaked down his left temple. “If not for the Galactic Defense force, I would probably run away.”
As was his wont, he considered his options when the prospect of running away arose. What was he going to do, become one of his vagrant cousins and flop at whatever trailer trash relative offered a spare couch. Take his whopping thirty bucks a month from his paper route and travel the country…back pack across Europe? Nope, going to sit here and take my medicine.
“It’s not that bad Lucas, just a couple of hours ago, you were sitting in a T-350Avian simulator trainer.” Based on his limited experiences in the simulator, he decided it was a great spacecraft. It is the latest technology provided by a bird like race. A race that is highly gifted in flight engineering. Regardless if the flight takes place within the atmosphere, or the vacuum of space. Something to do with spatial relationships and the ability to think in multidimensional flight.
Even though his life here on Earth may suck, he was a part of something bigger. However, that did not take away the sting of yet another grounding for a trivial mistake. Part of him wanted to go upstairs and yell at his mom, “Don’t you understand that there is something bigger than garbage going on here?” That however would be a violation of the Gaffed policy and would get him drummed out of the Terran Defense Corp.
Nope, he was going to take his medicine, whether he likes it or not, as his grandmother often said.
Lucas wished he could bring some of the study materials down from the Gaffed space station, but that would be the equivalent of telling his mom she was off her rocker for grounding him. Instead, he spent the next hour or so going over the limitations, capacities, and flight characteristics of the T-350 in his mind. It was not long before his little brother called him to dinner. Afterwards, Lucas escaped into his latest paper back novel.
* * * *
After banking into his wingman for the third time this session, Lucas’s Avian instructor shutdown his simulator and ordered him to his quarters and wait for his HAM to council him.
Lucas tried to read his instructors predatory eyes. So striking was the Avian’s appearance to a Terran hawk, it was difficult for Lucas to believe it was another sentient being.
“Fartan, can I just give it one more try?” Lucas asked his instructor, fearing what comes after dismissal from a training session.
“You have exhausted your tries,” the Avian shot back, “now go!” Fartan finishes, pointing a wing towards the training room exit.
Lucas hesitates, still looking for some indication of what comes next. At first, it was incredibly difficult to understand the lipless enunciation of his own language when taking instruction from Fartan. Too often, and with growing frustration from his instructor, Lucas asked Fartan to repeat himself. Now, with the passage of time, Lucas learned the cadence and nuances of the Avian’s efforts at human English. Much like reading a new author for the first time, it just takes a few paragraphs to learn and adjust to their rhythm.
“For an Avian, I speak your language well,” Fartan once complained after Lucas asked him to repeat the description of a directional control system.
Now, the message was clear, Lucas is a screw up, and Fartan’s patients at an end.
Seeing no budge in his instructors feathered features, Lucas let his shoulders slump, turned, and walked out of the simulator training area. This was a first for him, and as far as he knew, early dismissal never happened to any of his classmates.
“This is bad,” he mumbled as he walked the corridors to his quarters.
First getting grounded, and now kicked out of flight simulator training before his session was up. Part of him acknowledged that his distracted flying has everything to do with his terrestrial troubles. He told himself to fly right before getting in the simulator, but did not realize how much not seeing Sarah was killing him.
“I can’t get here out of my head…,” Lucas sings the chorus to the old ELO song as he enters his room.
“She is driving me crazy and she doesn’t even know it.”
Prior to this latest grounding, Lucas knew he was falling ever more deeply for Sarah. His buddy Chris would remind him that there is no love at our age, it is just puppy love. We do not know enough to know the difference between love, and whatever it those girls feel.
“Chris will never love anything in his life,” Lucas says in protest to the thought.
The absence of Sarah, and his inability to communicate was eating him alive, if that is not love, then what is. Now, it was messing up his hopes of becoming a Terran defender. There was no way he wanted to sit on the sidelines while his fellow Terran’s fought in his stead.
“I won’t even know there is a fight,” he says aloud.
“That’s right,” Portia says from the open doorway.
Lucas startles and spins around at the sound of her voice.
“Geez, you could at least knock,” he scolds gently.
“The door was open. You had not yet closed it.”
Portia uses the rooms HUD to arrange a couple of chairs in the middle of the sitting area. Not the sterile single poled chairs with a simple round table like their last meeting in this room. The chairs were comfortable cushioned arm chairs with a small oval table separating the two.
“Take a seat,” she says pointing to one of the chairs, “something to drink?”
“Pepsi would be great,” Lucas responds as he sits.
“We have the formula for that now,” Portia says as she walks over to the dispensary.
“Don’t tell Coke.”
“We have that one too,” She says as she sets a glass with caramel colored fizzy liquid in front of Lucas.
Lucas takes a sip, offers a sound of appreciation, sets the glass down, and waits for Portia to settle into her own seat. Then fires off his first question.
“Am I in trouble?”
Portia studies him for several seconds. Lucas can tell by the look on her face that his question did not catch her off guard, but her delay in responding worries him.
“Something we are discovering about young Terran humans is their lack of maturity,” Portia finally says.
“Not sure if that answers my question.”
“What is going on planet side?” Portia asks, closely studying Lucas.
Lucas squirms in his chair, as he tries to figure out what they already know, how much he should share, and what the consequences of not being forthright might be.
“It seems…no it is a fact. For every little infraction, I get grounded. Not just for a few days, not a week, but for a god damn month.” Lucas meets her eyes, “I am currently serving a month’s sentence for not taking out the garbage.”
“I see, explain this grounding concept to me.”
Lucas looks at her in disbelief. It surprises him how little they know about human culture. He corrects himself, how little they know about his little corner of human culture.
“It means that I cannot leave my room…for a month.”
“But you are here,” Portia shoots back after a few seconds of contemplation.
“I cannot leave my room, for anything other than the crap I don’t normally enjoy anyway. School, which is where I should be now. I have to report to the family dinner table very night, and go on family trips. At least those I cannot whine my way out of. Otherwise, I am stuck in my room with just my stereo, comic books, and whatever novel I have at my disposal.”
“I should get my stepdad to pay for some of them since he always ends up reading them,” Lucas tosses in as the idea sparks in his mind.
“I see,” Portia replies, then after some thought, “it sounds like getting grounded is something you should be accustomed to.”
“I will never get used to solitary confinement.”
“Solitary confinement? Is this something different?” Portia askes, confusion apparent in her features.
“It’s my name for my mother’s brand of grounding. Most kids get a week, maybe two for something really egregious. Often, their parents will get sick of them moping around, and release them early. Not my mother, nooooo. Maybe that is why she grounds me to my room. Out of sight out of mind.”
“Wouldn’t it be wiser to avoid getting grounded?”
“Duh!” Lucas spits back, “but being perfect was only accomplished by one man.”
Portia looks at him, eyebrows arched.
“Jesus,” Lucas finishes, “it’s one of my mom’s favorite sayings.”
“The only way I can avoid getting grounded is to never, ever make a mistake,” Lucas finishes.
“Mistakes are why you and I are sitting here right now,” Portia replies after another moment of thought. “It is obvious you are quite distracted. What is it about this grounded thing that is bothering you so much. You said it yourself, you get grounded for everything, therefore, you should be used to it.”
Lucas looks into her large oval eyes for a long time before answering. He knew what the distraction was, and Portia was right, under normal circumstances a grounding was just an inconvenience.
“There is this girl, I really like her, and now that I am grounded, I cannot see her.”
“Ahhh,” Portia replies, then falls silent. She watches Lucas as she contemplates what to say next.
“As I said a few moments ago, we are learning that even though humans in your age range are physically superior to older counterparts for this training, you lack maturity.”
Lucas bites his tongue, biting off a flippant comment for fear of upsetting the alien sitting across from him. He wanted to throw out another “duh,” or something like that, but instead he thanks the stars for his rapid response filter. Instead, he settles into his seat, and waits for her to continue.
“Adults,” Portia held up quote signs with that word, “in most sentient species are emotionally mature when their bodies are physically mature. With you humans, we are finding this not to be the case.
“You are proving to be a superior pilot, in your early training, but unfortunately, you let distractions impede your abilities. Adults can separate what is happening in their own life, from their duties to support the betterment of society, or the race.”
“Have you met my parents?” Lucas could not help but interject.
“Your step dad does not drive a fork lift through a construction trailer because him and your mom fought the night before. When doing the actual work, especially dangerous work, he sets aside his personal issues, and concentrates on what is at hand.
“Something you, and your classmates need to learn.”
“Easier said than done.”
“Regardless, your relationship with Sarah is of no importance if you cannot defend your planet against the Dark Empire, or you get killed in training because your head is elsewhere.”
Lucas thought about her words. He thought about Elric, and how no matter what challenges life was throwing at him, he always fought with a clear head. His love for Sarah was unwavering, but if his current stint of solitary meant losing her once and for all…well.
It was easy to say, so be it, but Portia was right. He needed to separate his terrestrial troubles from his duty to his family, and species.
“I will find a way,” he finally said, “I will not let you, my family, or Sarah down.”