15:40, Tuesday the 10th, Lunar 3, Luka 16
Near the Harbor
The Fenn Family Home
The voyage home was silent apart from my crying in the back row of the water taxi. There were some moments where I thought I might recover, followed abruptly by another bout of tears. What I wouldn’t have given to be back on that dive podium, to change things, to never grab those scissors… but it was done. People gawked. My mother held her hand tightly over my arm until we got to our stop, to hide my marks.
My sister Portia and Duncan, my little brother, were both in the kitchen when we got home. Whatever they were bickering about stopped the instant my parents got inside, before me. They didn’t even have to say anything.
“What’d Petra do this time?” Portia asked, smug as always.
The worst part was that she was right, but she usually was right. She was only a year older than me, but somehow she was on a total other plane of existence.
“Not now, Portia,” our mother said, as she walked past, stripping off her white work clogs and earrings as she went for the stairs. “Let me just change and we can talk up here, Petra.”
“Go on upstairs, you two,” our father said. “I need to speak with Petra alone for awhile.”
“Ooh,” Duncan said, looking curious. “She really is in trouble!”
Father wasn’t in his usual spirits. “Go,” he said, quite firmly.
I sat down at the kitchen table, relishing in each second it took for the others to get upstairs, the calm before the storm…
“I need you to show me what happened,” he said, removing the webbed glove from his right palm. “Please Petra–I mean, Pietro…– it might make a real difference if we can understand why.”
I cringed. Palm Swapping is always awkward, but it’s especially awkward when it’s your dad, and you’re sixteen, and maybe there are plenty of things in your head that you don’t want him rummaging through on accident — and vice versa. “Do we have to?” I asked, hesitantly raising my right hand. I took off my glove, too.
Without a word, he closed his eyes and touched his palm to mine, both of us spreading our fingers wide. The moment our hands connected, the swap began. Images. Moments of time, streaming backwards, forwards, thoughts. Every moment I spent in his head, he spent in mine. There he was at work that afternoon, underneath some sporty space cruiser when the phone rang. I could feel his stomach hit the floor, his heart racing. His fear. He left in a rush without telling anyone, praying for my safety along the way. And then when he saw me in that cell. My hair. The numbers. Knowing he would never be able to pay back that debt, but putting his signature on the line anyways, no doubt in his mind, apart from the anguish of knowing what the cost would be…
Father pulled his hand away first. I opened my eyes before doing the same myself, as is custom. More tears were falling down my cheeks. His were glistening, too, and my heart dropped knowing what he must have seen, heard and felt. We both put our gloves back on.
“You were provoked. This–this is good,” he said, nodding to himself. He reached over and cupped his hand on my cheek. “We might be able to fix this. Don’t cry–you weren’t in the wrong.”
I hid my face in his hand. “That’s not why I’m crying, Dad. I’m just… I’m so sorry.”
The stairs creaked. There was my mother, in her regular clothes. “I take it there’s some good news?”
Father nodded at her. “It was that Fisk boy again, Lillia. He attacked Petra with the scissors first. She was just protecting herself.”
“I wish I could say that was a surprise, or a relief.” My mother sighed deeply, into her hand. “It still might not make a difference, Jade. You know that.”
Father winced, before turning back to me. “I know,” he said. He squeezed my hands tightly. “No matter what, this has to be the end of it, Petra. Please.”
“The end?” I asked.
Mother came and sat down beside him. “You know we support you. We love you. And we don’t agree with the laws, either, but…”
“…But until they change, we have no choice but to abide by them,” Father finished.
“It’s not even about the money, dear,” Mother said. “It’s the jail part. Re-education. You’re so close to them locking you up and throwing away the key, and when that happens, there’s nothing either of us can do…”
The money part wasn’t true, but I let her think I believed it. I just stood there for a few moments, accumulating unprocessed thoughts, and trying not to imagine what I’d be losing.
Father nodded along with her, agreeing with every word she said. “So from here on out, it all has to stop. No pants, no boots, no nicknames, and your hair…” he stopped, twirling the tip of his finger through a few of the jagged pieces. “It can’t get much longer than this.”
“And no going out anywhere without us, or your brother or sister, or meeting anyone else like… like you,” Mother continued, her eyes wavering. On some level she must have known she was asking a lot. “I know it’s hard, Petra, but we can’t risk it.”
“Okay,” I managed, the word barely there. “I’ll be perfect from now on. I promise.”
After that I went up to bed, even though the suns were both still high in the sky. I closed the blinds and sat in the dark awhile, running my fingers over the two new, fresh marks on my right wrist. They were starting to heal and to itch, a constant, unneeded reminder of how much was at stake. Whenever I closed my eyes, I was back on that platform, standing there, waiting to swim my lap. The salty pool air surrounded me…
The door opening jolted me awake. Only minutes had passed. Portia let herself in without asking, per usual. Light streamed in from the front of the house.
“Did I wake you?” she asked, lingering in the doorway. “I can come back later.”
I yawned. “No, what’s up?”
“Just checking on you,” she said, looking me up and down, mostly at my hair. “I heard what happened… Do you have any idea how bad this is, Petra?”
“I mean, the first five guilt trips definitely gave me a clue,” I muttered, staying in bed. Perfect Little Portia was exactly the last person I wanted to talk about it with.
“Guilt trips?” she asked, eyes wide. “Is that what this is to you? Divine Lords, Petra, can’t you ever take responsibility for what you’re doing to us?”
It hurt when she said stuff like that to me, even more than anything Fisk or the other shitheads at school could ever do. Portia just didn’t get it, but she didn’t have to. Portia was everything any Lumerian parent wanted for a daughter–beautiful, traditional, feminine, and had never once stepped out of line. Even now at home when she could’ve dressed however she wanted, she still wore a cutesy lavender ruffled sundress with her hoof-toed deerskin boots and kept her fins adorned with matching tips. Innocent bystanders were lucky if my dresses stayed on long enough to get in the front door. She was my polar opposite. No one could ever believe we were siblings, even back when I thought I was a girl.
“Look, I get it. I’m going to everybody’s little… Petra from now on. I promised,” I said, struggling to get over my birth name. “You don’t get how hard this is for me.”
“Oh, yeah, your life is so, so hard,” Portia rolled her eyes. “What WILDLY UNFAIR, high expectations Mom and Dad have, wanting you to stay out of jail and not bankrupt us for a generation. Oh, and trying to keep you safe from a bunch of perverts and criminals…”
If she went on after that, I tuned her out. Portia usually did though. All the time, it was a never-ending spiel of how we had the best education and opportunities in the galaxy, that our parents worked harder and more than most, and that I ruined everything all the time with my absolutely unreasonable desires to dress a little differently, or wear my hair a little longer, or otherwise see something in the mirror that didn’t make my stomach churn.
That was the part I didn’t think any of my family understood. I didn’t do the things I did to be difficult, or to stand out; I did them because I had to. When it came to girly stuff I just… felt wrong, like an imposter, some abstract actor pretending to be me. I didn’t feel much better as a boy, either, but at least pretending made it easier to imagine things were different, and that way, I could dress a little closer to what felt right. What I really felt like was something in the middle, not a boy or a girl but sometimes both, or sometimes neither. On my planet there were only two genders: male and female, and we were taught that they always, always, 100% of the time, mapped on to whatever was in our pants. Maybe it worked that way for most people, but not me.
“Petra? Don’t you see how hard this is for them?” Portia asked. “For all of us?”
I waggled my right hand at her. “Believe me, I know. Saw it first hand today.”
Portia cringed. The one thing we had in common was an aversion to palm swapping our parents. “And still somehow, you just don’t–”
“–Dude, how was I supposed to know the fines went up like that? Last time it was like…200 or something.”
“600. It was 600, Petra, and it wasn’t okay to wipe out Dad’s entire paycheck then, either.”
“Yeah, can’t say math is my strong suit, but I wasn’t expecting a jump from 600 to two-hundred million.”
Portia gasped, her perfectly made-up eyes flying wide. “Is… is that for real?” She started shaking a bit, like I’d never seen her do before. “Divine Lords, I’d heard Her Majesty’s Court released a… a revision to the Enforcement Code, but…”
“I guess it went up a lot because I stabbed Fisk in his right hand,” I said. Her eyes bulged. “What? He came at me with scissors.”
“His right hand?” Portia covered her mouth with her hands. “Out of anywhere you could’ve stabbed him, you picked his…his right hand?”
“Well, I didn’t pick. It all happened kind of fast.”
“Divine Lords, Petra! He’ll never recover!”
“Eh, I doubt he’s over there doing much palm swapping anyways. Hardly seems the sentimental type.”
Portia hid her face. “No wonder it was so… so much lux.”
“Yeah, it’s a lot.”
“That’s more than a lot! That’s… ” Portia raised her voice, uncommon for her. “They will never, ever pay that back, Petra. They will die in debt–for you–for this.”
Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any fucking worse, she had to go and say it. I was so pissed I couldn’t even say anything for a second. “…Dude, just, leave me alone for awhile, okay?” I muttered. “Believe it or not, you’re not helping.”
Portia hesitated, like she wanted to say something else but didn’t. “Fine,” she finally said, and left in a huff.
I fell asleep almost immediately after Portia left, scent of one of her fifty-or-so body sprays hanging around me while I did. I laid there for a while thinking how much better off everyone would’ve been if they ended up with two of her and none of me. But maybe she was right to be pissed. Once I calmed down a little, the reality of how much debt it was started to hit me. Two hundred fucking million. That was like an entire town worth of houses, and nice ones. More than most of those rich bastards at school had. Probably enough to buy the school.
It wouldn’t help much if I got a job, but I knew I had to offer… if I could get one, that is, with my brands. Maybe I could work on ships in my father’s shop. At very least I could drop out of school to save them that bill. I could do… something. And maybe when I turned twenty and came of age I could take on the debt myself, for them. Maybe. At least that way they’d have a chance. I’d be fucked for life but at least then it would just be me.
When I woke up it was the dead of night, long after second sunset. The only lights through my window were from diships and conventional cruisers warping out from the port across the bay, and the calm waters down by the beach. Portia and Duncan were both fast asleep in their rooms, but mother and father’s light was still on. They were talking, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I tip-toed closer, half nosy, and half wanting to share the plan I’d come up with to fix everything.
“If this works, we can reduce the price by half. That’s what the adjusted bail would be, and with no re-education.”
“Oh, great. Only one hundred million lux. Only enough for a small castle or the fastest diship in the galaxy.”
“But we could do it, Lillia. We could.”
“If–If we sell the house, and everything we own, and both work longer hours, we can maybe–maybe–afford the monthly payment on that.”
“Well what choice do we have? She’s our daughter.”
“I know, Jade, b-but… we just don’t have the money. What about Duncan? He’s too young to be home alone, and when the girls go to school… if Petra can even go back to school…”
“I’m sure you could pull a string at work, and–”
“She disfigured a senator’s son, Jade. Can you even imagine it? Being that young, and never able to see inside someone’s heart and mind again?”
Mother started crying then, and father too, by the sounds of it. A deep and empty feeling taking hold of me as I went back to my room. My heart was pounding in my chest again.
Stupid fucking Ian Fisk.
It pissed me off that everyone cared about him for some reason, as if he was somehow so innocent when he was the one who came after me, and what I took from him by accident was somehow worse than what all of this had taken from me.
A voice in my heart screamed at me to go back to jail, and to stay there. I couldn’t fix this with a part-time job, and even if I took on the debt the second I was old enough, the damage would be done. Maybe I could convince the jailer that my parents changed their mind, and I could get them out of the deal they made. Maybe. It was worth a try.