I used to laugh at the lines in my mother’s face – the ones that creased the skin around her mouth when she would read the discipline reports sent home from my school.
“It’s not polite to laugh at people,” my mother would tell me, the phrase worn out from repetition. Each time she said it to me, she would move her hands across her cheeks, as though to smooth away any signs of her deterioration.
I didn’t care much for her manners. They only elicited more hiccuped laughter from my unwrinkled mouth. Even then, I knew her morals were as outdated as the lines on her face. All of it a mark of her age, which amused me to no end.
The discipline reports sent home were only the beginning of things. Every family received them. Signals to our parents that something was wrong. That action beyond the scope of typical parenting needed to be taken. That we were becoming a problem.
“What are we going to do?” I once heard my mother ask my father, my ear pressed to the cool steel of their sleeping unit rather than to the soft cushion of my pillow like it was supposed to be at that hour.
“Not much that we can do,” my father said. “We don’t even understand what’s happened to these kids.”
When I heard that, I had to cover my mouth to stop the laughter. It was all so funny then. How was it that they didn’t realize it was them? It was their fault we were different. They were the ones that had chosen to leave their home, to sail across the galaxy and start anew. They were the ones who decided to have children on a planet that wasn’t their own. Had they stayed on Earth, had we been born and raised there, we would have been different. Or rather, we would have been the same as them. But we grew up atop a different soil than they did, under a different sky, in the light of a different star, breathing a different air in a different corner of the universe. How could we not have ended up so different from them?
As we grew, it became apparent that our generation was another breed. The next—and ultimate—step in evolution. The first of a new species. Only human in the sense that we came from humans.
By the time our parents realized that, so had we.
When we became aware of what we were, we began shedding ourselves of anything that belonged to our parents. All the manners, all the dealings with money, all the religion. All the things people do when they know that one day they’re going to die.
Our path was different from theirs. While our Earth-bred parents lived in trajectories that distributed vitality in the shape of a bell curve, our existence looked like a steady incline when charted out. A consistent and unwavering diagonal line that eventually plateaued but never fell. We became stronger as we grew older, until one day in our twenties, we just stopped. Never aging. Never weakening. Never dying.
And so with our futures uncertain, but entirely different from that of our parents and everything they knew, we started pulling away. Rebelling. Seeking freedom from what they wanted us to be. We denied their teachings, heckling our instructors until we stopped going to school altogether, no longer needing their histories or conventions. We took what we wanted from stores without paying. We took joy rides in restricted planes and spacecrafts. We found drugs native to the planet and delighted in them. We stayed outside during the dangerous solar flares from the nearby star. We burned down new construction sites just to see what an untamed fire looked like. Without the threat of death, we had no boundaries. Unlike our delicate and fragile parents, we were untouchable. And that frightened them.
“We need to fix this problem,” our parents said to one another.
“How? Earth won’t send the reinforcements necessary to…subdue them.”
“What does it matter when they can’t die? Reinforcements would be useless.”
“You would kill our own children? Take human lives?”
“They are not children. And they are certainly not human.”
No, we weren’t exactly human. But we were their children. It wasn’t that we wanted to hurt them or frighten them. It was impossible for us to know the extent of our actions when the consequences did not apply to us.
We heard our parents’ concerns, though we never developed any of our own. After all, they couldn’t touch us. We couldn’t die. And where that frightened them, it excited us. Our actions escalated. We staked out our own land. Built our own wild society. We broke into their weaponry and destroyed their schools with high-powered lasers. We were suffering from a thirst that couldn’t be alleviated – hungering always for some sort of meaning. Wanting for something more. And then, one night, we killed someone. One of them.
It happened during an eclipse, a common occurrence on this planet due to the many moons that orbited our world. It was a man, old by our standards, his hair greying at the temples and his joints starting to stiffen from a lifetime of overuse. And I remember that the skin around his mouth was starting to wrinkle, just like my mother’s.
Perhaps the man had thought it would be safe to come to our territory when there was no light, assuming that we would be asleep. Or maybe he thought he could sneak in under the cover of dark. Whatever the reason, his mistake was in thinking that we operated like his kind did. Instead of staying inside and functioning by artificial light like our parents did, my peers and I reveled in the utter darkness that came from an eclipse. We ran about in the dark, shouting and laughing, blindly racing hovercrafts and marveling at how they burst into flame when they crashed into one another.
I was laying on the cool ground, enjoying the last waves of excitement that came from jumping into total blackness from a low-flying plane, when the nearby star began to emerge from behind the moon that had eclipsed it. That was when I heard the shouts.
“What’s happening?” I asked some of my friends as they went running past.
“There’s an old man here!” they yelled, not slowing down.
Curious, I followed them to the middle of our town where the shouting grew louder. Our parents never came to visit us on our part of the planet – they were too frightened. And after what happened that night, we couldn’t blame them for being so.
As the moon drew entirely away from the star overhead and light flooded our half-constructed buildings, I stood in a crowd of my peers, watching as the old man was dragged to the top of a bit of scaffolding.
“Please, I’m only looking for my son,” the man cried out, searching the crowd with panicked eyes. “Please! I just want him to come home! His mother is sick! She’s dying!”
If his son was present, he did not step forward, most likely embarrassed by this mention of mortality. Many of us felt this way – ashamed to have come from something so weak – though we never voiced it.
Someone from the crowd yelled “Send him flying!”
Others laughed and soon the phrase became a chant. Someone produced a pair of anti-gravity boots that were passed up the scaffolding and strapped to the man’s feet. From where I stood, I could see that the speed on them was turned up to its highest setting. And then, the people holding the man let go.
The crowd cheered as the man screamed, the boots propelling him upward at an unrelenting pace. His body twisted and turned, making his flight through the air erratic and awkward. And then the boots ran out of power, cutting out about seventy feet above the ground. The yelling intensified as he fell back down to the planet’s hard ground, people scattering to get a better look.
There was a sickening thud and then a collective silence as we all took in the sight of the man’s body, crumpled and motionless on the ground.
We all say it was a mistake. That we didn’t realize it would end that way. That it was a joke spun out of control. That we didn’t think he’d really die – how were we to know he had never learned to manipulate the speed on a pair of anti-gravity boots? But really, we wanted to see it. To see what it was like to be afraid. And what it meant to die.
That was when an alternative occurred to our parents. Or perhaps it had always been an idea alive in their minds, but until then it hadn’t been an option.
If they could not change us or do away with us, they would leave us.
So they piled their aging bodies into their spaceships and fled back to their old chunk of rock. They took all their ships, took all their fuel and maps so that we couldn’t follow them.
We pretended for a long time that the abandonment didn’t affect us. And that neither did the death of that man. We carried on, seeking more, not knowing what we needed. But in their leaving, our parents gave us something. For the first time in our existences, we had a purpose.
It’s been nearly two centuries now, but the hurt has not dulled. Not for any of us who watched our parents fly away. We’ve replicated their sciences and added some of our own. We’ve built ships and educated our offspring about their grandparents. And now, we’re going to Earth. Angry, abandoned children looking for answers and apologies. Children grown into gods.
What we will feel or do when we get there, I do not know. But I am certain that I am, for once, terrified. I am terrified of seeing the wrinkled skin of the elderly that walk the Earth’s surface. For what once brought me so much amusement now only breeds pain in my chest, dredging up memories of my mother’s aging face.
Taylor Eaton is a Southern California native whose writings can be found in various forthcoming publications, as well as on her website, littlewritelies.com, where she posts weekly short fiction. You can follow her at twitter.com/tayloreaton where she tweets about writing, wine, and nerdy things.