Editorial Note- This story contains social elements that some may find distressing. Seth Underwood writes dark dystopian fiction. Like all of Seth Underwood’s stories, it's recommended for mature audiences with open minds.
Author’s Note about the story…
I’ve placed this story in the world of Rosella Tolfree.
Imagine a time when human genomic perfection is created. Those with genetic defects are no more, and yet the 15% who are still imperfect are allowed stand beside them (assuming the authorities do not catch them).
Thomas Finley is one of the 15%. What would you do if you didn’t know this?
The Adults in My Life
Here I sit beneath the old and dying branches of the elder oak, the one near my Aunt Debbie's house in the park with the paint covered pedestal of a former monument. I don't know what the monument was because others had chiseled away all its references long ago. The graffiti is faded. Sara and I used to play on it when we were younger. She dared me to knock her off it. I always failed at that game.
As I look at my left hand, it still shows the indentation of my wedding band. The one I pulled off, and with fury, threw at the kitchen floor moments ago. I do not know where it got off to, except I heard it bounce when it hit the floor as I left through the back door. It doesn't matter anymore. Sara needs something I can't give her. I guess I've failed at this too.
To think all this began when my parents died on that mountain road. A car crash with a self-driving semi when I was seven. I wasn't in the car, but at home with my British governess. According to my aunt and uncle, my parents were "techno-minimalists." But all I remember is we lived in a big house on a mountain in the woods. I can't even recall my parents' funeral. The next thing I recall is being told by a woman in a black robe I was going to live with my mother's brother and his wife outside of Roanoke, Virginia. Now that I'm 28, I know it was a judge, but back then it looked like a woman in a black robe.
Uncle Cranford was seldom home until I was ten. He served in the newly formed Ranger Marshals and was my mother's younger brother. He was a tall muscular man with a full beard. He said all the men in the Ranger Marshals had beards and were tough as steel. He always dared me to punch him in the stomach when he said that. I did, but I always hurt my hand on his abs. He would then laugh. To this day, I still don't understand why he would make me do that. He knew I wasn't as built as him, even when I was fifteen or sixteen. I was always this pudgy kid lacking muscle tone. It turned me off to the idea of joining the Ranger Marshals if you had to be that built.
When I turned ten, my uncle Cranford became what he called a "weekend warrior" for the Ranger Marshals. He kept a pack of military gear in the closet and on the top shelf, locked in a metal box, his personal service pistol. I still recall that day he took me to the local Ranger Marshals' firing range. I was eleven or twelve. He tried to show me how to shoot his pistol. "Try" is a major understatement. I was so nervous, I couldn't hold the pistol steady, and the shot veered off course, ricocheting off a piece of metal and bounced back towards another person practicing. Lucky for me, the bullet buried itself into the dirt ten feet in front of where the person was standing. This was the only time I saw my well-built uncle Cranford being chewed out by a shorter, less built woman. My uncle's head sunk to his chest, looking at the ground. At the end, he snapped to attention and saluted. My eyes welled up with tears at seeing the entire scene. I didn't understand at the time she was my uncle Cranford's superior at the gun range. To me, it was a woman dominating a man who should be able to overtake her. That was the last time my uncle Cranford ever showed me his pistol.
The next time I saw the pistol was when I was seventeen. It was a crazy time with an insane president. I remember my uncle Cranford being called up to go to Warrenton, Virginia, to fight against an army of armed radicals. President Veronica Simmons broadcasted the entire event as part of her White House Press Shows. Now, I had played online shooter games, but to see live vids of actual people being blown apart was something else. Except a part of me wanted to know what it felt to have yourself blown apart. I told no one about such thoughts because I knew things like that could get me put into a mental house. Mental homes were real, and on the social media net there were always these PSAs about helping your relative with a problem by turning them in. Everyone knew once that happen you never saw your relative again.
For a long while after the battle, my Aunt Debbie and I heard nothing from my uncle Cranford. But this wasn't out of the ordinary for him when doing stuff for the Ranger Marshals. It wasn't until five weeks after the battle, a man dressed in a Ranger Marshals uniform came to my Aunt Debbie's house with papers and two boxes. My Aunt broke down upon seeing the man and wept. The man handed me one box, saying my uncle Cranford wanted me to have what it contained. I opened it and it was my uncle Cranford's personal service pistol with two unused magazines. This funeral, I recall. It was a bright, cloudless day at the local cemetery. In attendance were myself, my Aunt Debbie, the funeral director, and Sara's family. This was another time my eyes would well up with tears. When I looked at the others crying around me, I would feel a deep sadness in my heart I didn't understand. I recall Sara squeezing my hand. It would be when I was eighteen that my Aunt Debbie confessed to me my uncle Cranford had taken his own life on the battlefield. My uncle Cranford became seriously injured and didn't want to end up as being part machine with the possibility of biofeedback pain. It was because he took his own life while on active duty that my aunt didn't qualify for the widow's pension benefits. I had never seen her so angry at my uncle Cranford, and he was dead. It made no sense to me. Even today, it makes no sense to me. Why would a person get so upset with a dead person? It's not like you can change events that have already occurred. In her anger, my Aunt Debbie said it made him a coward for not facing up to the challenge. I suppose so. But his choice made sense to me. I wouldn't want to be part machine feeling constant pain. I could see the benefit of not being a burden to her or others being in such a state. This way she could move on with her life and remarry. She didn't do this. When I was twenty-five, my Aunt Debbie would contract a non-reversible and non-treatable RNA-virus cancer. It was a remnant of the deadly influenza pandemic during the Great Melt and vaccination efforts. This was the second funeral I would recall, but in far greater detail. Because I had to do all the work with the funeral director. It was just me and Sara in attendance this time. A year earlier, Sara's parents had sold their house and moved to Ohio.
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