Day 13: Theft

We only steal what we can’t afford.

We can’t afford anything.

One of those statements is a lie, and it doesn’t matter which one. We steal bread like a swarm of angry Jean Valjeans. We slip cell phones down our pants. Brandy fills a travel mug with rolled up pairs of underwear. Ken once walked out of a bar with two bottles of vodka. We take from the rich. We take from the beautiful. We take, and take and take.

We want to give. We talk about it at night, drinking vodka, eating bread. We want to be heroes. It’s our great failing. We’ve snuck into too many movies. Pirated too many television shows. It’s easy to be good when you have great hair. We don’t have great hair.

“One big score,” says Li. They had worked at Macy’s for two weeks. Long enough to figure out how to steal the machine that removes security tags. Li is already a hero to the rest of us, but it’s not enough for them. “Rob a vault, and then we like drop the money into a crowd.”

“And start a riot?”

“The people should riot.”

“Yeah, over systemic inequality. Not to grab $20 from somebody else who needs it just as bad.”

“They’d all get arrested, and the cops would confiscate it anyway.”

We all pretended to spit, when Brandy said “cops.”

We argue about direct action and ethical spending. But Prue is a sloppy drunk, and when Candy helps her to bed, we all give up for the night.

Ken and I take a walk. The reservoir isn’t far. He’s describing an anime he watched. I can’t tell if it’s a movie or a series. A lot seems to happen, but for all I know, that could just be the prologue. I never really know what Ken is talking about. It’s my favorite thing about him. He stops talking when we get to the reservoir, when the sound of frogs is briefly overwhelming. I realize that I don’t understand how drinking water works. Do they have to strain out the tadpoles? Shouldn’t they build a dome to protect the water so nothing awful falls in?

“I got a job,” Ken says.

“Huh.”

“Don’t get me wrong. Life of crime, it’s a great resume line, but I’m tired. I don’t feel bad about stealing, I just don’t feel great about it anymore.”

I understand but I never did feel great. I never expected to be a hero. I’m not Robin Hood. Or the Godfather. I’m just hungry. Forever hungry, and I want it to stop. Not to feel full, but for a moment sated. Maybe this stolen bag of chips will do it. Or that Precious Moments figurine.

“Good for you, man. I’m not being sarcastic. That just makes it sound more sarcastic, doesn’t it?”

“I’m not a traitor?”

“We’re not a cause. But if it’ll make you feel better. We’ll steal from you too.”

“It does.”

I want to steal something right now. Take something from the frogs, from this park, from the city or maybe even from God itself. I pick up a small rock. It’s a start.

Day 12: Resurrected

The dead love cellphones. They love burritos, and pot dispensaries and condoms. Show them a light for the first time, and they clap. They don’t think there are tiny people in the television. They marvel less at skyscrapers than they do at grocery stores.

“So many different types of soup! People must really love soup in this time,” Clara exclaims.

She’s my foster resurrected. Seventeen years old when she died of an ailment. Undiagnosed at the time, and she doesn’t like to talk about it.

“Sick is sick. Dead is dead. Alive is alive,” she says when I ask.

I buy her Twinkies, and Oreos, and some sort of energy drink that she was entranced by. I buy us chicken, and vegetables. She finds the choices amazing and ridiculous.

She’s never had a room of her own before. Not that it’s entirely her own room. It is already decorated, filled with another teenager’s memories, though I’ve done my best to clear out the most personal items. Lizzie was younger, but Clara is so slight, that the clothes fit fine. Clara likes the hoodies best.

“Is she coming back?” she asks, “I came back.”

I don’t know. Nobody knows how any of it works. Are the resurrected good people, or bad people? Are they dangerous? Are they still citizens? I’m hoping that by the time she’s 18, Clara will fit in well enough, that we can lose her paperwork, and let her just be a normal person. I’ve been trying to keep her from other resurrected to prevent her from living in the past. The present is very present. It is frankly a lot, and I passed through time the normal way. So, I understand the desire to reject modernity, but I want Clara to find her own balance.

“You keep changing the subject. Is she coming back?”

What if she already has? What if she’s in a camp? What if somebody else is fostering her like I foster Clara?

“Do I have to leave if she does? Please, let me stay. I can sleep on the couch. Or the floor. It’s a fine floor. Don’t make me go back to my husband. Don’t find me a new husband. Let me stay, let me be her sister.”

I hold her as she starts to cry. This poor child from out of time. A girl discovering sugar, and pop songs, and softness. Our world will fail her. The resurrected will be deemed a threat when somebody realizes they are less conservative than we imagined. I can’t keep her safe, just like I couldn’t keep Lizzie safe. But I’ll try. I’ll die trying. Then I’ll come back again, and keep trying. The road is long, but now I know that we have time.

Day 11: Caller

“End of the World Helpline, this is Mary, how can I be of service?”

Marisol tensed. That moment before you know the problem is the hardest. Will she have to instruct somebody on delivering a baby into a doomed world, be a grief counselor, or teach somebody how to set a snare trap (hopefully for animals)?

“Hi Mary, I need to prepare a turkey.”

Marisol keyed open the file on turkeys.

“Is the turkey still alive?”

“What?”

“Sorry, store bought or are you slaughtering and defeathering yourself?”

“Whoah. It must be getting crazy some places, huh? Store bought. Butterball? Is that good? I’ve never done this before. I mean obviously, cause I’m calling you for help. But I saw Butterball, and I’ve heard of that. But maybe, that’s not good?”

“Butterball is fine.” Marisol knew it was best to neither praise nor defame any brand. People were touchy about their brands. None of it mattered to her. She’d been buying store brand everything forever, splurging only on spices, and fresh produce.

She walked the caller through the process of preparing a turkey. At one point, she had to look up what type of oven the caller had so she could instruct her on how to turn it on.

“Alfredo, I’m taking a break,” she called to her supervisor who gave a thumbs-up.

Prisha was in the breakroom frowning at a cup of coffee. The selection of K cups had been getting steadily worse. First, they’d run out of the darker roasts, then the normal coffees. Cinnamon, which was at least relatively benign, next. Now, everything was strongly flavored.

“Hey, Mari, you were on that call forever, what did they need?”

“A turkey dinner. Can you believe? I mean, I don’t have running water at home, and this girl is throwing Thanksgiving.”

“Bet you, she calls back to make cranberry sauce.”

“Please, let my next caller have to cauterize an amputation.”

Marisol brewed a cup of raspberry vanilla coffee. Neither of them spoke while the machine whirred and sputtered.

When she was a girl, Marisol had wanted to be a vet. She’d sneak food out to the neighborhood cats. One black cat used to follow her. Waiting outside the school. One boy at school had noticed, and he sang, “Mary had a little cat, little cat, little cat, that fur was black as night.” She hated being called Mary, but loved the idea that she was special to animals. During lulls in calls, she liked to read computer manual’s entries on animal husbandry.

“How is your mother?” she asked.

“Crazy. She wants us to move back to India. Not like it’s back to India for me. I’ve been there twice. Like I’m making enough to buy tickets. But she keeps talking about home. But, I don’t want her to be disappointed in me.”

“My mom used to say to me, ‘You are a perpetual disappointment to me. So, don’t worry about pleasing me.’”

“How’d that work out?”

“I continued to disappoint her, but I felt extra shit about it. So, mission accomplished, Mama.”

“I should get back to work. But thanks,” Prisha grasped Marisol’s hand before you got up and left the breakroom.

Marisol sipped her awful coffee, closed her eyes, and said a prayer for her mother. A prayer for Prisha. A prayer for the world.

Day 10: Eggs

Speckled. Multi-colored. Left in grass. Balanced on eaves. Another, always just in your peripheral vision. It was unsurprising that the children thought it was an Easter egg hunt, even though it was two weeks too late, and the eggs were, well, big. There were a range of sizes, but even the smallest were too big to contain a chicken, or if they did, a chicken so large as to be monstrous. Maybe more monstrous than what the egg actually contained? Just as anything miniaturized becomes cute, anything bigger than it should be strikes the mind and eye as wrong.

Some kids began to gather them. Too big for baskets, they stacked them like cairns in the backyard. More active parents, stopped their children before they even began. They called Animal Control. They listened to hold music, temporarily interrupted with tips on avoiding rabies, touting the Animal Control website, which in truth was still under construction since 2001. A clever gutter cleaning service quickly rebranded themselves as egg hunters, and became the town’s go-to.

But we wondered, what was inside? Leaving eggs everywhere, some hidden, many in plain sight seemed a strange strategy. I wanted to know more. So, while neighbors eagerly had their eggs removed, mine stayed put. I called Dr. Penny, a nickname she’d had even before she became a doctor. Back when we were undergrads, and she was the serious one. She’d been dating a friend, but after they broke up, Penny was the friend, and Flora was just a person I used to know.

“Ridiculous, of me to think that as a zoologist, I could date a woman named Flora,” Penny said more than once. “I pray, I never meet a woman named Fauna.”

She arrived just in time. A neighborhood organization that I hadn’t known existed were trying to force me to remove the eggs. They thought they were a possible menace, or detrimental to property values. But Dr. Penny arrived, placing official looking tape around my property, and a sign that read to not to disturb the site, per order of Dr. Penelope Landis.

“I’m deputizing you as my field assistant,” she said to me, “We’re going to be famous. Well, zoologist famous, which is actually not great. But conservatives on the internet are going to hate us, whatever we discover.”

We catalogued all the eggs on my property. Took pictures of them. Measured them with calipers without disturbing them. She’d tap on the shell, listen to them with a stethoscope. When there was nothing to do but wait, she had me draw them, recreating the patterns. Speckled. Sunset. Cow spots.

“Is this busy work?” I asked.

“Do you want to be idle?”

We’d drink cocktails in the evenings, and she’d tell me about all the girlfriends she’d had since college. The stories she didn’t share on Facebook because they were too embarrassing to share with coworkers and high school acquaintances, but made me miss her retroactively. I wished we were still best friends, even though we’d never have called each other best friends in the first place.

We were on our first pot of coffee when we heard the first egg crack open. It was so loud, we heard it from inside. We rushed to the backyard, to see a chick over a foot long, it’s blue feathers still plastered down.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

The next egg contained a horned lizard. Another had something like an armadillo. One was just filled with chocolate, cracking on its own, and just spilling out everywhere. Another held another egg, and then another. One, to Dr. Penny’s dismay, was filled with flowers.

Neighbors were crowding around the edges of my property, just for a glimpse, taking pictures with their phones. For years after, people would claim the whole thing was a hoax. Sometimes, it makes me mad, but whenever I hear that first bird singing from her nest, I don’t really mind.

Day 9: Light

The rock garden is my favorite chamber. It’s the farthest point from the central chamber, a giant cave where most of our homes are located. Our settlement is pretty social in general. Community is how we’ve survived this long. Loners like me are pretty rare, and I don’t really feel like I’m that much of a loner. Sometimes, I just like the quiet of the rock garden. Kitty would join me, our fingers intertwined as we walk, only letting go as we enter the chamber. But, she hasn’t been around so much these days.

Still, I like the garden. Water drips from the ceiling, attracting moss. Green is most common, but there is blue, red, and orange as well. There is rarely much color variation in the Underground. There are hints of paint on some walls that suggest we used to have a whole spectrum of colors, but they’re faded and chipped. Grays, browns and greens are most common. My mother used to tell me the story of the bargain our ancestors made, when the end was coming, they gave up certain types of light just to live. She said color was a type of light. I don’t know about that. I guess, I’d give up the Rock Garden if I had to. Now that it’s just me, I wonder if I ever wanted to be alone here in the first place.

I hear somebody skid on rocks, and then exclaim, “Shit!”

Kitty enters the chamber from a passage I’d never noticed before. Her knee bleeding. I’ve never seen her bleed before, and maybe that’s what makes me really look at her, instead of at the Kitty shaped shadow I know so well. Her hair seems lighter, her skin darker, but not dirty. Her eyes are doing something weird.

“Hey,” she says, “I slipped. Can you grab me some of the blue moss? My dad says it’s good for wounds.”

I peel some moss off of the central column. It comes off easily. When we were younger, and we played here, we’d grab handfuls of moss. It would always regrow by the next cycle, or be replaced with a different variant. Still, the rock was never bare.

Kitty sat where I had been sitting. I pressed the moss against her knee. It’s been weeks since we’ve been close enough to touch. I sometimes see her in the evenings with her family, but she’s been extra reserved. She hasn’t been singing, even when her parents try to coax her. I worry that she’s found somebody else, but she seems withdrawn from everybody. Her secret is bigger than love.

“How does that feel?” I ask.

“Good. Thank you.”

She touches my hair, runs her fingers through the tangles.

“Will you come with me?” she says.

“Where?”

“With me. I can’t tell you unless you already agree. It’s not fair, but nothing has ever been fair. The deals our ancestors made were unfair in a world that was already as unfair as possible. But I promise, I’ll never tell you that something is fair when it isn’t.”

“I’ll go with you. When?”

She stands. Dropping the moss.

“Now.”

All along the way, she sings, and I understand why she hasn’t been singing at the nightly fires. Her song is just syllables, like so many of our songs, but it feels new. It’s filled with the discovery of an unseen world. Anybody who heard it, would know what she is up to. I’m afraid, but she holds my hand. When we reach the light, it hurts so much, but I’ve made my choice.

Day 8: Dream

Tess has joined the dream.

“Shit, what the hell is going on?”

Matt was in a dark hallway, being followed by something that could have been a childhood bully, a goblin or his co-worker that droned on too long at meetings. It seemed to change with each step.

Cleo was dancing, but clearly getting tired, and the audience looked bored.

“Oh shit, Tess, are you here now?” Cleo stopped dancing, “Matt, forget that thing, Tess is here.”

“Oh, thank god.”

The hallway and monster disappeared. The audience and stage disappeared. There were just the three of them in an empty space waiting to be filled.

The programmed was billed as “Zoom for Dreams.” Virtual reality, but better.

“Is this supposed to be in black and white?” Tess asked.

“That’s how I dream,” Matt said.

Tess reached out and grabbed Matt’s hand. She concentrated, and then everything was in vibrant color. Cleo’s lips were such a bright red, brighter even than the shade she wore in the waking world.

“Wow, color. How did you know that that would work?”

“It’s a dream, why shouldn’t it work?”

Cleo snapped and they were in a park. Matt blinked, and they all had pink ice cream cones that tasted like chocolate.

“So, how have you guys been?”

“Good. Eric was a little weird about me trying this. I think he thought I’d do it with him first. But, I wanted to test it with you two first. I wanted to see how much subconscious bleed there is.”

In the time they’d been friends, this was Matt’s first serious relationship. It was understandable if he wasn’t ready for Eric to see everything yet.

“Ugh, you two are so cute. Even when you’re fighting,” said Cleo. Her ice cream had turned into a bird.

“We don’t fight, we… squabble.”

“Aaargh, even cuter!”

“Tess, how have you been?”

A tree got struck by lightning. Matt’s ice cream started to melt. A patch of grass caved in.

“Fabulous!” she said as lightning hit the same tree again, “I haven’t been sleeping well. I’ll settle into bed, put on some white noise. But then, I’m just afraid to close my eyes. It’s not that I’m afraid of sleeping. I’m afraid of not being awake.”

Cleo’s bird hopped to Tess’s hand. It sang a melody that eventually became a Cranberries song. The park was gone, and they were in their college’s dining hall. It was 1994, but Matt was still balding. Cleo was totally present Cleo, but Tess was now wearing her favorite college hoodie.

“Really, guys?”

“I will picture you in that hoodie until the day you die,” Cleo said, “You wore it the day we met, and in every single picture I have of you. I can’t show friends that scrapbook, they want to know why I was friends with a homeless girl.”

Tess licked the bird which was now an ice cream cone again. She was the only one left with ice cream and she had two.

“I thought you two were a couple. The only gay people I knew were the Indigo Girls. But I asked if I could sit with you.”

“She wanted a threesome,” said Cleo.

“I hate you so much.”

“I love you forever, darling. Unlike Matt, you’re the only one I’d dream with.”

“Matt, Cleo, will it be okay?”

“It won’t,” said Cleo.

“And then it will,” said Matt.

“And then it won’t again,” said Cleo, “Just like it always is.”

The roof was gone, and the sun was rising.

“I guess that’s all I can ask for.”

Day 7: Test

After the test, I went straight home. Molly ran up and asked how I did, and I gave her a thumbs up, but we both knew that there was no way to know for sure. Nobody knows what they’re actually looking for on the test. Some questions don’t even have correct answers, and on the ones that do, there’s no way of knowing if the testers are actually looking for them. Maybe, only the stupidest of us pass. Maybe, they just want to most pliable on the World Ships.

“Listen, I’m exhausted. I’m going to go home, we’ll talk tomorrow.”

“Not going to join us for ice cream?”

“Exhausted.”

She rejoined the others. There were only eight of us in class, so she rejoined the other six. We all got along well enough. Not all exactly friends, but we felt like a unit. When Sarit was sick and fell behind in her work, we all fell behind, forgetting our completed assignments at home. In Phys Ed, we refused to engage in competitive sports. They could make us run, but they couldn’t make us race. We formed a single study group until this test when there was no material to study. Part of me wanted to go for ice cream, to pretend for a little while longer that we were in this together, but I couldn’t.

During the test, I couldn’t help but look at the others. The way Javier sped through the pages. How Max agonized over each question. Molly started from the last page and went towards the front, convinced that the hardest questions always came last, and should be dealt with when she felt the freshest. Was it possible for all of them to be chosen for the World Ship? Was it possible that none of them would?

“Our planet is dying,” said the General Secretary of the U.N. sharing the stage with the President and other prominent world leaders, “But we have a plan. Eight space ships, World Ships, to take us to the stars. To start anew.”

It was not a popular plan. Some people said that if we’d put the same money and effort behind saving the planet as we had fleeing it, the problems would be solved. That obviously, only the elites would end up on the ships. People argued over what made somebody elite, being the single most argued question of the past 20 years at least. I didn’t know if it were better to be on the ships or not. But I’d miss my unit either way.

Mom hugged me as soon as I came in the door. My dad looked at my face intently, as if the answer to whether I passed or failed had already been imprinted on my cheek. Neither of them would be leaving earth. Too old. Too unremarkable. No vital skills. They were keeping their wishes for me secret.

“I thought you’d go out with your friends,” Mom said.

“Tired. Up late. Going to nap.”

On the steps, I turned back, “I love you, both. You know that, right?”

When Jen woke me up, it was already dark out. She was tickling my foot, and saying, “Wake up, stupid,” over and over.

“Stop, you little brat.”

She’d be tested soon. What if we were split up? Would I be able to talk to anybody until the ships launched without wondering that?

“You know, you made Mom cry,” she said.

“I didn’t mean to.”

“I’m not going to cry.”

“Never?”

“Want to know why?”

“Yes.”

My sister considered. Only two years younger than me, I can’t say I actually remember life without her. She’d tag along behind me until the day she started running ahead of me. We’d watch the same shows, and even when our tastes changed, and we’d argue over what to watch, we’d still sit through the other’s pick. She was smart and stupid and the first one to laugh at a joke, and the last one to finish laughing. But, she could look at a page of scribbles and see a bunny nibbling a leaf. Maybe, she knew something.

She shook her head. “It’s dinner time. Mom ordered Indian food. I told her to make yours extra spicy! Let’s go.” And she ran from the room.

Day 6: Meditation

Lie down. Preferably some place comfortable. But that’s up to you. Beds are good, but some people prefer the floor. Couches aren’t great. Remember you’ll be there for a while. So, grass may seem good, but then a single blade tickles your ear or a ladybug crawls up your leg. A rarely used street late at night is risky, but satisfying.

Now close your eyes. Listen to my voice. It’s going to sound familiar. The mind shies from the unknown, so you’ll try to match it up with somebody you once knew. Your freshman year math teacher, who you once spotted on a date with the drama teacher. The server at a chain restaurant who waited on you every Thursday night for a month and then seemed to disappear. The voice you imagined that your friend’s dog spoke with. I might be any of them, probably all of them. My voice has been part of your life for longer than your own voice has. Set aside questions of if that is sinister or soothing until later.

Are you comfortable? Are your eyes closed? Have you set aside your questions? Good. I’m proud of you. So many don’t even make it this far. It’s time to go deeper.

Do you remember your first rain? Not the first time you saw it, or even felt it. But the first time you intentionally went outside in it. No raincoat or umbrella. No boots, not even shoes. It had been dry for weeks. Nobody really noticed at first. How many days without rain is normal, anyway? But over time, it was all anybody could talk about. You’d scan the skies for a dark cloud. Still, nobody noticed until the rain was finally upon you. Then, you were all outside.  Some people were dancing and kicking in the newly formed puddles. But you just stood still, feet planted in the mud, soaking it all up. That version of you, is the version we need now.

Do you feel the rain? Are you full of elements? Are you ready? Don’t answer that. You are ready. I know you are. Even if you don’t trust yourself, trust me. You can do this.

Exhale the breath you’ve been holding in. You don’t need it anymore. It’s just been holding you back. Now rise. Float towards the ceiling or the sky. It doesn’t matter, even if there’s an obstruction, you’ll go where you need to go. Just keep rising. Gravity does not hold you. It never did.

At this point, there are two paths, depending on what you’ve done so far. Did you remember to bring your body with you? Did you simply forget it on the bed, in the street, in the park (ignoring my warnings of ladybugs)? It will be tough on the person who finds you, but don’t feel bad, this was always your path. You are star dust now. Goodbye.

For the rest, rising into space, body and all, our journey has just begun. Follow me.

Day 5: Time

The exhibits at the Museum of the Changing Past change every day. Not all of them, but enough that we find it worthwhile to go a couple of times a week. Lindsey and I both have memberships (I campaigned pretty hard to get mine as a birthday present). You’re only allowed to one guest per week per membership, but Joel comes with us so often, nobody really enforces the rule. It’s cool, being regulars and stuff, and it’s not like I’d want to just spend an afternoon with Lindsey, the coolest girl in the world in the coolest place in the world without my best friend. I mean, what would Lindsey and I do, kiss? Haha, that’s so stupid.

Queen Diana’s coronation jewels. The spacesuit of the first dinosaur on the moon. Elastica’s third album. Things that were never supposed to be, but time travel had made them possible. And for a day, maybe a week, they appear here, catalogued and observed, part of our history before somebody else changes the timeline.

Sometimes, we just sit in the hall of presidents and watch the wax figures switch back and forth. Bush Gore Bush Gore on a continual blink. Eugene V. Debs appearing and disappearing across multiple spots. William Henry Harrison alone never changing.

“Oh my god, Lindsey, remember what happened in history today? Kirk got so busted,” Joel laughs before finishing the story. The two of them share a lot of the same classes, and the same lunch period. Lindsey once told me they never sit together at lunch, but Joel is always telling stories of what happened in the cafeteria.

“I’m going to check out the Rock Room,” Lindsey announces. The Rock Room changes slower than others, literally altering at a glacier’s pace, and when it does, it’s just to add a new rock. Nothing ever disappears from it. Diamond’s are forever after all.

I go with her. We look at emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Floofium, cat diamonds, and pop rocks.

“I love this place, but sometimes it’s too much. You know our parents lived with the past more or less stable. Yeah, they’d revisit ideas. Realize that heroes were actually villains, but the actions were the same, just new context. So, it’s nice to be in a room where Googlenium is always Googlenium.”

“Yeah.”

If I close my eyes, I can remember our first kiss in this room. I can remember walking in on Lindsey and Joel’s first kiss in this room. I can remember fighting so angrily, that none of us ever came back to the museum again. I can remember a security guard playing air guitar so hard, and all of us laughing, swearing we’d never forget it. The Rock Room is not stable. The earth is not stable. There is so much past, I can no longer imagine the future.

There are more rooms to see. A new wing has been added.

“Oh my god, Lindsey, remember what happened in history today? I got so busted.”

In the Photo-torium, none of us even recognize our own faces in a framed Polaroid on the wall.

Day 4: Robot

My sister, Emma, is building a robot. She says it will save the world.

Mom just wants her garage back.

“You said it would only be for an afternoon.”

Emma never said that. Mom made that assumption based on past experience. Like the time Emma started a band with Kelly and Kim. Or when Emma tried to learn how to juggle. But this is different. I could tell, but I’ve had more practice. I’ve been staring at Emma my entire life. When we were younger, it was to predict her moods. To know a moment before she did when the fun was over and she was going to insult me, and push me out of her room. Now, she was my guide, the senior to my freshman. She’s already everything I soon will be.

“I never said that.”

“Maybe, you can put your robot in the basement?”

“It’s not a robot, it’s a robotic flight suit, and once it’s finished, there will be no way to get it out of the basement.”

They have this discussion every night at dinner. Nobody has asked me about my history project. I got an A- (good!). Or my math test. C- (less good). I want to talk about the good grade, but not really the bad one, so I can’t bring it up.

“What if I wash the car this weekend?”

Mom considers. “Every weekend, until you’re done.”

“Deal.”

“And the dishes.”

“A deal was already struck.”

“I’ll do the dishes.”

They both look at me. I don’t know why I volunteered. Maybe, I wouldn’t do them. Mom could lecture me about responsibility. Standing in my door way, while I reluctantly took off my headphones, and looked at her, surly and bored. I’ve been working on my surly and bored. Mostly just when looking in the mirror. It’s not ready yet. After a few seconds, I break into my I-have-a-secret smile, the one that Emma says makes me look incredibly punchable.

After dinner, I do the dishes. Then I rush to the garage. Emma is working on the thrusters. She downloaded the schematics from the internet. Discusses improvements with other teens on discord. There’s a guy in China who destroyed a meteor heading towards Chengdu. Emma says she knows him. Well, he’s in the forum. Commented positively about her modifications.

“He didn’t even ask for a pic. Guys are always asking for a pic. It’s fucking bullshit patriarchy. Not taking pics. You want to take a pic, take a pic. But nobody should ask you for that. You know what I’m saying?”

I don’t.

I miss Kelly and Kim. When they were in a band, or when they were hanging out coming up with names for their band, they would let me hang out. Kind of like what I do now, but when Emma was on a rant, Kim would make silly faces at me. She always brought what she called, “Mexican Coke, with real cane sugar” and give me my own bottle. I was still in junior high, and when I think back, everything seems more innocent. Back then, meteor showers were just lights in the sky. Nobody thought about them being stones falling from the sky. Back then, my sister wasn’t planning how to launch herself into space.

“Hey dummy, did you ever finish that history project for Mr. Callahan?”

“I already got it back. A-.”

“Not bad, dummy. He’s a tough grader.”

“Yeah… are you really going to save the world?”

Emma stops what she’s doing. She stares at me like I’m volunteering to do the dishes.

“The world can burn. I’m saving you and mom.”

I don’t know what to say to that. Soon after, she turns up the music. Neither of us meets the other’s eyes for the rest of the night.