Authors: Rinelle Grey
© 2013 by Rinelle Grey
All rights reserved.
Cover design by
HE PHONE BUZZED ON THE
bedside table. Rubbing his eyes, Tyris rolled over to pick it up. The bed was empty beside him, the covers thrown back. Trying to focus, he stared at the message on the screen, ignoring the little niggling feeling in the back of his head telling him that something wasn’t quite right.
“Appreciate the help, Tyris. Hope you enjoy these tickets to the show next weekend as thanks.” It wasn’t signed, but he knew who it was from. A tingle of anticipation ran down his spine.
He’d got them.
Tyris smiled and lay back on the pillows, resting the phone on his knees. An image of the screen projected above it, and he swiped his fingers across it several times, checking for the best space fares. Finding a good deal from Urslat to anywhere else in the galaxy wasn’t easy these days, what with the scarcity of anysogen, but price was no object.
He’d thought long and hard about how to top the anniversary gift Milandra had given him last year. A slow smile curved his lips. He’d been so disappointed that he couldn’t make the shuttle races on Milat, but his leave application had been denied. He didn’t know Milandra had already arranged with General Harrington for him to have the time off, and had already bought the tickets in advance. Sometimes, being married to a general’s daughter had its advantages.
He hadn’t even minded that they’d spent five of the seven days shopping. The race had been amazing. Hard to top. But he’d done it. Exclusive, invitation only tickets to a show by her favourite designer on the faraway moon of Pilar. He didn’t understand what was so wonderful about making new clothes out of old ones from three decades ago, but that didn’t matter. Milandra loved the stuff. Luckily, the designer’s assistant owed him a favour.
Tickets booked, he set the phone on the nightstand, jumped out of bed, and went looking for his wife.
He found Milandra in the kitchen staring into the freezer. The picture she presented, bending over, white silk dressing gown lifting to show most of her thighs, made him smile. He crossed the room and kissed the back of her neck as she stood up, sliding his arms around her waist. “Good morning,” he said huskily.
Milandra laughed, and twisted in his arms to return his kiss. “Good morning to you, too.” She wriggled out of his arms and poured herself a glass of orange juice. “There’s a letter for you.”
Her words sent a sudden chill down Tyris’s spine. “There is?” His voice sounded faint, even to his own ears.
Milandra nodded towards the kitchen bench where she’d thrown the mail. Tyris stared at it from across the room. The pile contained mostly junk mail, but hidden under the stack was an official-looking letter with a government seal.
Why did bad news still come by mail when for years everything else had arrived by e-mail?
He’d been dreading this moment for three days, since the announcement of the government’s radical new plan to combat the chronic overpopulation.
It wasn’t the first time the Colonies had faced this problem. Thirty years ago, before the discovery of anysogen, when they were limited to the half a dozen planets they could reach via slow shuttles, they’d tried to limit population growth by suggesting that people stop having so many children. They paid scientists to draw up frightening graphs of how quickly food would run out.
It hadn’t worked.
Just as they’d begun tossing around ideas for more serious controls, anysogen and faster than light travel had been discovered. This opened up an enormous number of new planets, and in the rush to populate them, the government had encouraged people to have more children. Their population boom had rivalled their expansion.
Until they realised the anysogen was running out. Then they were back to square one.
Worse off really, because almost all of the farming had been moved off Urslat onto distant farming planets. No one knew how they would feed the billions of people who called the central planet home when they ran out of anysogen.
Already, the food shortages and overcrowding caused more and more crime problems every day. Milandra had laughed when the government announced that anyone with a criminal record would be denied the choice to have children. It solved all the issues so neatly—reducing the population by targeting the most troublesome areas.
Tyris had been unable to join in her mirth. Even though he recognised the neatness of the solution, a sudden fear had clutched at his heart. After nearly four years of marriage, he’d never told Milandra about the incident in college.
He’d never discussed it with anyone.
Milandra took a mouthful of orange juice and slid a meal into the microwave. The click of the door closing made him jump.
“Are you going to open it?” She nodded to the letter. Then she stopped and looked more closely at his face. “Is everything okay? You look pale.”
He didn’t trust his voice, just nodded. And since nothing would be gained from putting it off, he took a deep breath, and crossed the room.
Milandra leaned back on the bench, tossing her blonde curls over her shoulder. The belt on her silk dressing gown slid open, revealing the lacy negligee that showed off her slim figure to perfection. Moments ago, that sight would’ve stirred his desire, but now it barely registered.
He slid his finger under the flap of the envelope, pulled out the folded paper and scanned its contents.
“What is it?” Milandra asked. “Are you being deployed again? Hopefully not to one of the outer planets. Last time you came back from there I swear it took a week of showers before all the dirt washed away.” She wrinkled her nose.
If only this letter contained something as mundane as deployment orders. The words blurred in front of his eyes. He skimmed through them, even though he already knew what they would say—
“Report to your doctor at 3:15 this afternoon for insertion of a contraceptive chip. Damage or removal of this chip will constitute a federal offence, and may be subject to penalties up to and including incarceration.”
This couldn’t be happening. Not to him. He hadn’t killed or hurt anyone. He’d been trying to do what was right. And where had it gotten him? He wiped one hand on his pants, but it still felt damp. The letter slipped from his fingers and fluttered to the floor.
Milandra put down her orange juice and picked up the letter. “There must be a mistake,” she said, skimming the document. “You don’t have a criminal record. I’ll talk to Daddy and get this fixed.”
“It’s not a mistake.” His voice echoed hollowly.
“What?” Milandra’s eyes widened and her hand fluttered to her chest.
“I participated in a protest in college.” Tyris closed his eyes briefly. He didn’t expect Milandra to understand.
“You went to a protest? Are you insane?” Milandra stared at him. “Why would you do something like that? What could possibly be important enough for you to risk everything?”
“They withdrew the pensions for those who fought in the Off World Wars.” A flicker of anger stirred in his belly at the thought, but he squashed it. He couldn’t afford those feelings—they’d already cost him too much.
“You took part in a protest for that?” Milandra’s voice rose a notch, and Tyris winced. “Do you have any idea what this could mean for us? For me?” She covered her face with her hand. “What will Daddy say? What will the papers say? How could you be so thoughtless, Tyris? Why would you do something so pointless? That’s what we have a Justice Department for! They appealed the decision and reinstated the pensions.”
Because we protested.
But he didn’t dare say the words aloud. “They shouldn’t have done it in the first place,” he mumbled. “Those people fought under government orders. They earned those pensions.”
“What do you care? Because of your Uncle Max? He didn’t even need a pension. He had more than enough money of his own.” Milandra shook her head in disbelief, her mouth a thin, angry line.
How could he explain to her? Explain that while his Uncle Max had never wanted for money, the war had broken him. The guilt, the nightmares, the constant drinking to dull the pain. So many people had come back from that war broken. They would never be able to work again. And without those pensions, children would go hungry, families would be homeless.
He’d already paid dearly for his part in the protests. Ten years ago it had nearly cost him his position in the Space Force. Now it was going to cost him again. But he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself if he hadn’t spoken up.
Had he made any real difference? He hadn’t been the only protestor. The outcome probably would have been the same without his presence.
He let out a deep sigh. “I don’t know.”
Milandra stared at him. “You don’t know? What kind of answer is that?”
“Look, does it really matter? You didn’t want kids anyway. Last time we talked about it, you said that you liked our life the way it was. Just us.”
Milandra had always been the one to say that they weren’t having children. Building up her career took all her time. What was left, she wanted to enjoy. He’d accepted her answer, even though he’d always thought she would change her mind.
Milandra’s eyes were cold. “Does it matter? How can you even ask that? Everyone is going to know. I won’t be able to look my friends in the eyes anymore.”
“Don’t tell them.” Even as the words left his mouth, he knew Milandra wouldn’t see it so simply.
“You want me to lie? Really? I’m a public figure, Tyris. People dig into my past. It
come out.” Milandra’s nose tilted up, the way it always did when she talked about her TV show. As though it made her a star.
Tyris shrugged, the movement stiff. “So what? So people will know we’re never going to have kids. It’s not like they couldn’t guess that anyway.”
“They’ll know you have a criminal record,” Milandra finished. “This will destroy everything I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl. I’ve worked so hard to get where I am, and this could bring it all tumbling down in an instant. Can’t you see that?”
“Come on, Landy, it was just a little protest, for a good cause even. It’s not like I murdered someone.”