[personal profile] jjhunter issued a speculative fiction fest challenge, to write a short story describing an ordinary day in the life for an ordinary woman and her family coping with illness somewhen in the future. It's quite a specific set of prompts, but it sparked off with the song I was listening to, and turned into this, which I post as it stands, as a rough sketch.

(It's a stand alone, although it could be the same world as these snippets, not least because it's inspired by music from the same source - thank you Deathboy, for your music as both band and individual!

*****

First of March

"So, here we are - the first of March and the sun's shining." Kal tilted the camera towards the viewscreen behind her, and smiled. The automatic polarisation on Ella's bedside viewer abruptly killed the contrast, but she could still see the light burst bleaching out most of Kal's viewscreen. "We made orbit right on schedule." Kal returned the camera to dock, and the light levels settled back down again. "I love you, lady. Have a good day." Kal touched two fingers to her lips, and blew a kiss to the camera, and then the screen went dark.

"Love you, too," Ella whispered, and flopped back in the unmade bed, allowing herself the luxury of a minute or two's silence to feel herself missing her wife. Seventeen years married to a Nav officer, and she still got that acid base-line anxiety whenever Kal was in deep space, and missed her every day when she was out. At least she was doing shorter runs this assignment, all stuff within com-range. Waking up to a vid-burst from Kal each morning was better than any auto-alarm.

She scrubbed her hands over her face, rubbing the sleep grit from her eyes. She was still tired - when wasn't she tired - but the regular blink of the clock on her viewer was insistent, annoyingly out of sync with with twin lights indicating there were priority messages on both her personal and the household's com lines. Thank the stars for my sons, she thought as she sat up, for the tweaks to the com-comp which allowed Kal's burst through without unleashing the whole torrent - Adanad wrote the code for her birthday gift, but she was pretty sure that Raj who had come up with the idea. They didn't often work together like that, but the fact that they did sometimes gave her hope.

She was in the shower, listening to her personal bursts, bitching to herself about how casually people used the 'priority' flag, and just about to switch to the wet-rinse, when the boys woke up. "Pause," she said, and froze herself, listening for the shape of their conversation. Their apartment was far from soundproof, but the boy's room was at the opposite end. She couldn't make out the words, but when their volume said 'bickering' rather than 'fighting', she told the coms-comp to resume, and tapped the shower for her metered burst of water. Bickering could stand to wait 90 seconds, even if their waking did mean the end of her few precious moments of personal time for the day.

Dried and dressed, Ella finger-combed her short hair as she crossed the family room, and knocked on the boys' doorframe. "Raj, Ad! Are you getting up?"

The room fell silent. "Boys..." She dropped the tone of her voice a notch, warningly. Their privacy lock was a recently-negotiated perk, and thus far their joint interest in maintaining it had outweighed their usual antipathy. The friends she had made in the Mat-ward, the few she was still in coms with, all talked about their twin's close bond and sometimes about the trouble that caused. Trust her to end up with such a miss-matched pair they could barely stand each other's company, along with a housing assignment that meant they had to share a bedroom.

Eventually Ad broke the silence. "El-mum, Raj is being weird again!"

"Am not!" Raj snapped back, but his irritation couldn't hide the sound of tears clogging his voice, not from his mother's ears.

"Raj, honey," Ella could hear her own exasperation writ clear in her voice, and consciously tried to rein it in. It wasn't Raj's fault he was off the scale for empathy. "Ad, open the door for me - you don't want me to pop the lock for this."

Adanad's heavy sigh was textbook teenager, five months short of turning thirteen, but the door frame's glow switched from blue to white.

The boys' room lights were on auto, shining bright morning sunshine spectrum as recommended by the ed-techs to help regulate their diurnal rhythms, but Ad was wearing a pair of shades and Raj had his head stuffed under his pillow.

"Morning, babe," Ella ruffled Ad's hair. "The shower pod's not so bright you'll need those."

Ad jerked away and furiously smoothed his hair, and Ella had to smile. So ferociously keen to be a grown up. "Go on, shower," she instructed, and Ad rolled his eyes and went.

Ella perched on the edge of Raj's bunk, and laid one hand on his bare shoulder. "Raj, honey?"

Raj curled towards her, but kept the pillow in place over his head.

"Oh, honey. What's up?"

Raj shook his head vigorously, making the pillow rock. Ella rubbed his shoulder in calming circles. Ever since he was an infant, Raj had responded to touch, craving skin contact more than any other form of interaction, in a way the ed-techs said was typical for his sort of psych-profile. She kept stroking and squeezing his corner, and gradually Raj unwound a little, less tense, and more sprawled around her in a full body hug, his knees pressed against her thigh, his stomach against her lower back. It was a little claustrophobic, but also what Raj needed, so Ella let it happen, trying to breath calm and reassurance with every breath. She'd learned early on that letting him pick up on her worry for him could turn into a vicious downward spiral.

"Can you tell me?" Ella asked when Raj's face emerged from the pillows, tear tracks visible down his cheeks, and eyes reddened. "Whatever it is, I'll help. I love you, Raj-sweet. It's ok."

"She woke me up," Raj croaked.

Ella's heart sank, and Raj tensed. Calm. Reassurance. Ella focussed on her breathing for a long moment, thinking about love and caring and safely.

"Who did, honey?"

"Ajji-P - she's so scared and sad and broken. Like she has a nightmare and she can't wake up."

Calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, Ella recited in her head. The last thing her baby boy needed was a wallop of her own despair, or the guilt that invariably followed for feeling the way she did about her own mother.

"Then I should go wake her up, huh?" Ella said, keeping her voice carefully light. "While you practise your sheilding. You remember what Doctor Sen taught you last time we vidded with him?"

"That I should imagine a clear shiny umbrella?"

"Atta-boy, Raj. Can you do that for me? Open that umbrella up, so all Ajji-P's emotions roll of it, and don't get mixed in with yours?"

"I can try." Raj's brave smile could have broken her heart, and she didn't do anything to try and keep the surge of love she was feeling from washing through their touch connection.

"That's the spirit, honey."
Ella stood up, her fingers lingering for a second on Raj's creased forehead, and then headed back into the family room, to her mother's room.

Ad was out of the shower, sprawled in his comp-seat wearing shorts and a damp t-shirt, already jacked in to his school's social channel.

"Hey, mister. Did you have breakfast before you switched on?" she asked, knowing that he wouldn't have.

Ad groaned. "El-mum!"

"Don't give me that, Ad. You know the rules, and where the fridge is."

"Yeah, my mum's being ..." Ad said into his mike, trailing off as Ella glared at him. "Be right back," he told whoever he was on coms with.

"Go on," Ella nodded her head towards the kitchenette in the corner of the room. "Your mother and I don't work hard to put fresh food on the table for fun, you know. And get dressed properly!"

Ad rolled his eyes, but unplugged.

Ella turned back to her mother's door, and squared her shoulders. There was no privacy lock on this room. "Light - half up," Ella instructed as she opened the door.

Raj had been right, poor lamb. Her mother's bed was a twist of crumpled sheets, and she twitched and flinched, for all her eyes were screwed tightly closed.

"Mum," Ella said, gently, and then a little louder. "Mum, Mum, wake up." Her mother gasped, and turned towards Ella, then lapsed back, eyes still closed. "Mum?"

Ella reached out to touch her mother's hand, only to have it snatched away as her mother came awake, breath suddenly quickening to uncomfortable-sounding panting.

"Mum, it's ok, Mum. Just a dream. You're awake now. It's ok." Ella's mother looked at her with dark, terrified eyes, and just for a second Ella cursed the scientists that had done this to her. Her mother didn't look a day older than Ella herself, but at such a cost! Early Gen-meds that had gone mainstream before anyone knew about the long term side effects.

"It's Ella, Mum, remember?" And that right there was a gamble. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes she thought Ella was a care worker, which only hurt the one of them, but on bad days, and - oh hell, today was a bad day.

"I don't know you," her mum's voice was querulous, sharp, still terrified. "I don't remember. I should remember, shouldn't I? Who are you? Why don't I remember where I am?"

"It's ok, mum. You had a bit of a bump to the head is all," Ella lied with guilty familiarity. "Tripped and bumped your head earlier. You should take a pain pill, and get some more sleep. You'll remember everything when you wake up."

"Tripped?" her mum said, curious rather than panicked now, as she reached up to feel her hair. Ella reached out and caught her mum's fine-boned wrist before she could make contact.

"Careful - that'll hurt if you prod it. Got a lump the size of an egg up there. Here," Ella reached over one handed and snagged the bottle of over-the-counter tranquillisers from the shelf by her mother's bunk. "You should take a pain pill, get some sleep."

"I should take a pill," her mum echoed, vaguely.

"That's right. Here you go." Ella fished a large gel tablet out of the bottle, and passed that to her mother, followed by the open bottle of water from the shelf. She transferred her grip to scoop her arm behind her mother's shoulders, helping her sit up in bed to take the pill. Genetically her mother might be age-proof, but months and years of growing confusion had left her less and less able to look after herself, and she'd been undernourished and unstable on her feet by the time Ella and Kal had moved her into their own apartment.

"There you go," Ella said, as her mum swallowed the pill, and Ella fluffed and smoothed the pillow behind her. Her mum laid back, and Ella smoothed the sheets around her. "There you go - you have a nice nap now, and you'll feel much better when you wake up."

"Thank you, dear. I am a little sleepy," she said, eyes already at half mast. Thank stars for fast acting gels!

Ella felt like a stone cold bitch, sometimes, drugging her own mother into submission, but it was a full time job she didn't have time to do, keeping her mum safe and out of trouble when she was active, but unable to remember where she lived or how the world worked, and it was almost impossible for Raj to function when his grandmother was distressed. let alone learn. At least this way her mother wasn't suffering, either.

"That's good - you rest now. Lights - one quarter."

The room's lights dimmed, and Ella pealed herself away, quietly pulling the bunk's safety bar up at the side. It had been expensive to get the mod fitted, but necessary. What else could they do, but the best they could manage for their boys and her mother both.

She closed her mother's door quietly behind her, and went to the deserted kitchenette. She badly needed a cup of caff before the work day started, and the clock on the room's main screen said that was soon.

"Boys!" she called. "Classes start in six minutes, hurry it up!"

"Coming, El-mum," Ad called.

"Ad stole my clean shirt!" Raj complained, and then "Ouch!" as he brother presumably thumped him for telling tales.

"Ad - no hitting. Raj - there's plenty of shirts in your drawer." Ella called back, breathing deep of the steam coming off her caff, and then adding "Five minutes!"

The family room was the only room in the apartment with a window - frosted for privacy, but a window, none the less. Ella keyed the command to open the shutter one handed, and then opened the fridge, gulping down her own fruit breakfast.

Five minutes, and the boys would be jacked in to classes, and she would be jacked into work, and another day would be on it's way, spinning them ever onwards, and the frosted window let in a beam of bright sunshine, dancing into rainbows through the prisms that hung from the frame.

"Three minutes, boys!"" she called, "Let's get moving. It's the first of March and the sun's shining."

*****

so - what do you think?
jjhunter: Drawing of human J.J. in red and brown inks with steampunk goggle glasses (red J.J. inked)

From: [personal profile] jjhunter


I am breathless--this is incredible. I love your attention to detail (El-mum, ed-techs, coms-comp, Gen-meds, etc.) and how so much is revealed just with word choice alone--within 'ed-tech' is a whole new conception of what it means to educate a child, with the implication of education being a form of programming, a machinery to be fixed and tweaked and run by a technician.

The tension between Raj's needs and those of Ajji-P, the hard choices Ella must make when Kal's away, the 'twins' (and there's a story there, isn't there, about how children seem to come regularly in sets--by design?) being out of synch, all these sharp panes of light intersecting in rainbows of pain and strength and life--did I mention that I think this is a stunning piece? Because it really, really is.

Thank you for writing it and sharing it, and I can't wait to signal-boost it when the index post goes up on October 2nd.

Wow.
jjhunter: profile of human J.J. with goggles and a band of gears running down her face; inked in reds and browns (steampunk J.J.)

From: [personal profile] jjhunter


p.s. re: fest, the past & present are also up for grabs...
.

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