Ten fingers, ten toes. That is what every parent hopes for when they see their baby for the first time. Is that what they all get? Not all, but most. When my daughter was born we hoped to see her turn out like the rest of us. The same human genetics that we have cultivated for the last five hundred years.
Cole was different. She resembled nothing familiar, but everything we had tried so long to change.
Huge steps in science had given us the opportunity to modify our physical appearance while in the womb. Colorful skin was coveted in society by so many. My partner and I were blue skinned. Deep discussions between he and I resulted in the decision that our baby would carry our modified genetics without fetus status checks. And, boy, were we wrong. We had hoped for purple or blue skin with orange eyes and a full head of hair. Cole came out with pale skin that was simply horrifying. Her eyes were dark brown and she was bald.
My mother of birth disowned me the very moment that she laid eyes on Cole, saying that I was a disgrace to her lineage and that she never wanted to speak to me again. My partner, who had helped me to sign the birth ordinance, left my side and never came back. When I returned home with Cole, all of my partner’s belongings were gone.
In Carthage, Cole had been labeled a historical oddity and a violation of discord. Creating such a violation reminded all scientists and doctors of the ugliness we once were. This ugliness caused wars. Although we do not know what it meant, the term racism was used constantly in our history pamphlets to describe the past cause of war. The colors that Cole displayed in her outside appearance was considered to be a slap in the face to all who laid eyes upon her.
After our first doctor visit, the council asked me to not go out in public with my child. I tried to obey, but there were times that I needed items and every person refused to help me. I was forced to go out during only the late hours. I had to cover her up as I went to shop.
Even though he would not look at her, the late night attendant took pity on me and never said anything about Cole being out in public. This went on for three years until one day Cole learned how to unlock doors. While I was in the bathing room for just a moment, she slid out the front door and ran down the hallway to the main eatery of Carthage.
In only a towel, I ran down the hallway, whispering her name in hopes that no one had seen her yet. That was the last time I had hoped for anything ever again.
When I found her, everyone in the eatery was screaming and poking forks and knives at Cole like she was a wild beast. She laughed and danced at their barbarous gestures. As I picked her up, their ravenous stares were turned on me. Later, I was visited by the council for the final time. They decided it was time to end her monstrosity once and for all.
It was supposed to happen early the next morning. They instructed me to bring her to the infirmary at 5 A.M. I was informed that the process would be quick and painless. No discussion was permitted. The decision was final.
After the councilmen left, I found two bags and stuffed all I could into them. There was no way that I would be able to take care of Cole without some essentials. My items were obsolete in comparison to hers. I packed only my bare necessities, which gave me more space for her needs. Finishing up, I dressed Cole in her warmest clothes and draped her favorite blanket over her innocent body. I hummed a lullaby as I stared at the tiny ticking clock on the nightstand. I would leave at midnight.
At 11:30 P. M., I planned to sneak to the store and purchase all the necessary needs to survive outside. I could only hope that the attendant would, once again, turn his head at my appearance. Over the years we had built a silent peaceful relationship and he knew when to expect me. Some days I questioned if he stayed open longer than necessary as he awaited my arrival.
I forced all the bags into the lower compartment of Cole’s buggy, which was quite small. Items it held now bulged out in awkward angles. This buggy would save me from carrying everything. It had been a gift from a friend before Cole was born. Now the only time I used it was in the wee hours of the night. With Cole asleep in the buggy, I inched down the hallway, being extra careful.
“Good evening, Mr. Stale.” I greeted when I noticing that him seated behind the counter, reading over a historical pamphlet.
He squinted as he absorbed my exasperation and the bulging contents of the buggy. “G’night Ma’am. Can I help you find anything?”
I was grateful at his offering, but I did not know how to ask for help since our relationship never escalated to that level before.
“Yes,” my voice quivered, “I do need a little help.”
“What can I help you with?” His yellow eyebrows rose as he stood up, staring very hard at the blanket draped over my child.
My whisper broke his stare. “Mr. Stale, I am not sure how you feel about my child. And frankly, it does not matter. I know you have children so I beg of you to help me save mine.”
He stiffened at my request.
I had to be more convincing. “I do not need much from you except your expertise. I need to be able to survive on the outside. Do you have any products that may help me? I will transfer all of my credits to you and I promise to never disturb you or this place again.”
“Well, now, I wouldn’t say you disturb me.” He grunted.
“So, you will help me?” My heart jumped in my chest.
“I can get you started, but you are going to have a heck of a time staying alive out there.” He pointed toward the outer wall.
“I know, but I have no other choice.” My eyes darted to the blanket.
Without giving me a reply, he went into the stock room, a sinking sense of suspicion hit my gut. He could be reporting me at this very moment. I turned Cole’s buggy toward the door to make my escape.
“Hold on now.” His footsteps were quick.
“I am so sorry.” I walked faster toward the exit. “I promise to never return. Please, just don’t tell anyone.”
“I had to get you a better bag.” A clang thudded against the steel floor behind me. “There’s no way you can carry everything you need in that pushcart.”
I turned to see him holding up a strange backpack with a metal support bar.
“It’s not much to look at, but we used to use these to journey up large mountains.” He held it up to me. I tried to picture a mountain, but was only able to bring up thoughts of pamphlet drawings.
“Oh, thank you so much,” I huffed. “I thought you were turning me in.”
“Wouldn’t think of it.” He smiled.
“How does it work?” I returned the smile and began to examine the backpack.
When we were done, the bag was as full as I could handle. Maybe a little too full. I figured that some of the food and water would be consumed rather quickly so I tried to cram as much as I could inside the bag.
Mr. Stale’s generosity stunned me. He knew there was no way that I had enough credits to cover the expense of my purchase, but he still insisted I take more and more. Saying goodbye to him, the only person who helped me in hard times, brought tears to my eyes.
“Don’t trust anybody,” He instructed. “And remember, follow your gut and use the gun. It will keep you alive.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Stale. You just saved our lives.”
He smiled and showed me to the door. With a glance in both directions, he gestured that the hall was clear. Being stealthy with a fifty-pound pack and a buggy was nearly impossible, but I did my best to walk with finesse toward the exit of Carthage. They did not hold you hostage here, but there would be a watcher near the door. It was considered absurd to try to leave.
Leaving Carthage equals death.
As I walked closer to the exit, I noticed that the watcher on night duty was asleep with a large gun in his hand. By the drool on his cheek, I suspected that he had been sleeping for some time.
In one careful motion, I stepped to the door ID panel and waved my ID in front of it. There was only one other time I had done this and it was a distant memory. Like before, the door slid soundlessly to the left. The desolate land beyond the door sent a shudder down my spine.
I looked down at my blanket covered baby. If I stayed, my beautiful baby would be killed in just hours. I took a step, rolling the buggy’s wheels across the threshold. A puff of air whooshed passed me, pushing the hair off my shoulder. It contained a sweet scent, but I did not know what it was. A cough from behind me made my feet shuffle forward without glancing back.
“Do not come back!” A hard shove against my backpack nearly knocked me over as the door slid shut behind me.