Terms of Enlistment

Chapter 1

“You should go see your father,” my mom says from the kitchen.

I look up from my book reader and glance at her. She is putting a meal tray into the warming unit, and her back is turned to me, so she can’t see the smirk I’m giving her. I go back to reading about the destruction of the Pequod, which is a much more interesting subject right now.

“Did you hear me, Andrew?”

“I heard you, Mom. I’m just ignoring you.”

“Don’t be a smart-ass. Are you not going to go and say good-bye before shipping out?”

“Why the hell should I? He’ll just be drugged out of his mind, anyway.”

Mom takes the meal tray out of the food warmer, which seems to work as intended for a change. She walks over to the table and puts the tray in front of me, with emphasis.

“Put that thing away for dinner, please.”

I let out a sigh--also with emphasis--and turn off the book reader.

“You’ll be in training for months, Andrew. With the way his cancer is going, you’ll probably never see him again.”

“Good,” I say.

Mom glares at me with an expression that’s a blend of sadness and anger, and for a moment, I’m expecting her to slap me across the face, something that she hasn’t done since I was ten. Then her glare softens, and she looks out of the window, where thick bands of rain are pouring down onto the concrete gerbil maze of our Public Residence Cluster. I hate rainy days--the moisture makes the smell worse.

“He’s still your father,” she says. “You’ll never get another chance to speak to him again. If you don’t go and see him, you’ll regret it someday.”

“You broke his nose when you left him,” I remind her. “You weren’t too broken up about the cancer. Why the hell should I care?”

“That was seven years ago,” Mom says. She pulls out a chair and sits down at the table. “A lot of stuff has happened since then. He was proud of you when I told him about you being accepted into the Service, you know.”

She looks at me, and I try to ignore her gaze as I peel off the seal on the meal tray. The flavor of the day is chicken and rice. There’s not much you can do with the processed protein in the Basic Nutritional Allowance to make it appealing. I poke the fake chicken patty with my fork, and look up to see that Mom is still looking at me, with that dejected expression she has when she’s trying to make me feel bad about something. I hold her gaze for a moment and then shrug my shoulders.

“I’ll go and see him,” I say. “And if I get robbed and killed on the way over there, I hope you feel bad about it.”

My room is just big enough for a bed, desk, and dresser. All the furniture is made out of stainless steel, bolted to the floor so we can’t dismantle it for scrap. The dresser is half empty. I don’t own enough stuff to fill it up.

I open the top drawer, and toss the book reader onto the small pile of clothes inside. I traded a box of ancient rimfire ammunition for it last year, and the guy who traded with me thought I was a complete moron. The school property stickers are impossible to remove, but the Public Housing Police doesn’t get excited about school hardware. When they do their sweeps, they only look for guns and drugs. I could keep the book reader hidden if I wanted, but the cops gets suspicious when