Part Four: Family Groups
Notes: This is the next part of a spin-off story of a series I posted on Literotica (titled Bonded, as Carizabeth) and the subject matter is m/m sci fi. The first parts can be found a few posts down. I’ll put them all in the same place soon. Don’t read it if you don’t want to, people. If you do, enjoy! If you enjoy, let me know:)
In a universe where medicine had advanced to the point of near-immortality and genetic manipulation was routine, suicide was a rarity. Deaths occurred, of course. People would be killing people wherever they existed, and accidents certainly happened. In places where there weren’t reputable medical facilities, people’s natural tendencies tended to come through, and in some cases that meant a cocktail of mental illnesses that would make anyone unstable. Then there were the very rare, the naturals, those people who were resistant to genetic manipulation and who couldn’t be helped with prolonging therapies or cured by autodocs. They could die of illnesses that no one even remembered existed.
Many of the old ways of helping people had been lost, drug therapies and counseling abandoned with the advent of re-creationism. The powers that be forgot that society was a bell curve, and the outliers on either side suffered for it. Things slipped through. Perfection, no matter how appealing a concept, was in reality an impossible dream. People died. People killed themselves.
The suicide of Larissa Child had shocked the public. She was a star, a diva, a legend. She was the most gorgeous woman imaginable, had shaped and sliced herself to fit the public’s image since she was a little girl. Her looks changed depending on popular perceptions of beauty, but she was always inherently Larissa Child, always somehow recognizable no matter how many changes she made. When she married a promising young military officer from one of Earth’s oldest families, it was perfectly right. When they had a son, people had sighed with satisfaction. Even stars had normal lives. How lovely. How wonderful. How perfect.
She killed herself when Garrett was three. Miles had been away; he was often away, just like she was. They spent very little time together, and less time together with their son. Garrett was watched over by a flock of caretakers and personal assistants, and the only way he’d known something was wrong was by the sudden flood of tears from the woman pushing his swing as news of his mother’s death came over her com. Stricken, one hand over her mouth, she’d kept pushing him, her hand weak on his lower back as he swung his legs, trying to go higher, and she tried to figure out how to tell a child that his mother was dead.
Garrett remembered being unmoved. The last time he’d seen his mother she’d left behind an impression of shimmering fabric and curling dark hair and warm, too-wet lips pressed to his cheek. That was all. No sound, no smell, no feeling of love or affection. Just a brief, damp kiss and a flash of color. Her death didn’t mean anything to him, no substantial change from the way he’d been before. It did mean that he got to see his father more for the next few months, and that made him happy.
Despite the media hell that had become their lives, Miles must have continued to love his wife. He must still love her in some ways, Garrett reflected as he gazed over at the small portrait on the table just inside the sunroom. Why else would he keep her picture around? Miles joined him at the table a moment later, and Garrett pushed thoughts of his mother aside. “Coffee or bissap juice?”
Miles raised one eyebrow, a perfect imitation of his son’s gesture the night before. “You have to ask?”
“I do have to ask,” Garrett replied smoothly, pouring both of them mugs of rich, dark coffee and ignoring the carafe of purple juice. “I promised Claudia I would.”
“Contrary woman. No problem with alcohol, not in the slightest, but the sight of caffeine sends her running for the hills.”
“In her defense, you prefer coffee brewed strong enough to melt your enamel.”
“It’s still there.” Miles grinned briefly by way of proof, then picked up the mug and drank. Garrett added a little cream to his, then followed suit. They sipped in silence for a while, neither feeling pressure to speak as they watched the suns rise over the horizon in a slow flood of red and gold. Breakfast was brought out a few minutes later.
“She’s sleeping in, I take it,” Garrett said as he spread an embroidered navy linen napkin across his lap. Another of Claudia’s touches. Before they’d used utilitarian white.
“She had a big day yesterday.”
“So did you.”
“I’m used to it,” Miles replied, spreading apple butter across a piece of toast. “She’ll get there, but I’m not in any hurry to make her keep up. The work will wait. Besides, I like to watch her sleep.”
“So soft and sentimental in your old age,” Garrett teased.
“We’ll see how soft I am when I throw your ass off this balcony, kiddo.”
Garrett rolled his eyes. “My mistake. You reek of youth and testosterone. You are as unassailable as some quintessentially unassailable thing, and as far from cutely in love as you are from puppies and kittens. That better?” He cut a bite of his steak and ate, still smirking.
“Brilliant, handsome and an incurable smartass. Where did I go wrong?” Miles threw his eyes heavenward before snorting under his breath. “Shut up and eat.”
Garrett did, and they sat in easy silence for a while longer. Garrett looked at his father, really looked, and decided Claudia was having a good effect on him. Miles looked younger, the lines of his face falling into smiles more naturally, the thick gray of his hair a little longer, a little less severe than before. Despite his myriad of new responsibilities, he seemed more relaxed than he had for years. Garrett was tempted to start teasing him again, but thought better of it and looked back down at his plate, then frowned.
Teasing was standard. Teasing was rote. Garrett loved his father, but he’d long ago decided that the best way they got along was when they were picking at each other, and that pattern had worked for them since he’d been fifteen. If Miles wanted easy, uncomplicated conversation he could go his new wife. Things between father and son were supposed to be comfortably sharp, yet he found he didn’t want to needle his dad into a state of exasperation. Yet another aberration in his recent behavior. Maybe he should get checked out by an autodoc.
Miles, astute politician that he was, noticed but didn’t comment. Instead he finished his eggs, wiped his mouth, poured them both more coffee and said, “Jezria really wants you for the Pandora project.”
“No she doesn’t,” Garrett said automatically, “She just said that to perturb you. Not that I’m performing any desperately necessary tasks here.”
“She seemed pretty sincere to me.” Miles leaned back in his chair stretched out his legs and crossed his ankles, holding his mug of coffee comfortably at chest level as he looked out over his new domain. “She’ll be back in a month or so. If things go the way she thinks they will out there, she’s going to start hiring staff almost immediately.”
“Looking to get rid of me already?” Garrett asked lightly.
“No.” Miles took one hand from his mug and reached over, putting it firmly on top of his son’s where it rested on the table. The look Miles shot Garrett was serious, so serious it made him uncomfortable, but he couldn’t quite make himself pull back. “Absolutely not.” Miles held his son’s eyes for a moment longer, then relinquished his gaze and his hand and returned to his comfortable slouch. “Although I’m surprised you’re not bored out of your skin here.”
“Right, and Pandora would be a noted improvement over Paradise.”
“Pandora would offer its own challenges, and you’ve never been afraid of those. There’s always the central system too, although that,” Miles grimaced, “comes with its own set of problems.”
That was true enough. More civilization meant more people, more notoriety and far less privacy. The fringe was bad enough sometimes. You had to be constantly vigilant on the central worlds, and the way Garrett was feeling off his game lately, that wasn’t a prospect that appealed to him.
“I’ll think about it,” he said at last. “I’ve got some time. I’m not relishing the idea of living with a bunch of fundamentalists, though.”
“Actually, I think Jezria mentioned that the strongest bid was coming from a group of naturals.”
“A group?” Garrett was astonished. “There are enough of them out here to form a group?” Naturals were a vanishing breed as pre-birth technology improved even more.
“Them and their families,” Miles replied.
“Huh.” Well, that would be different. Depressing, but different. Garrett could understand why they’d want to get away, someplace where naturals wouldn’t be treated like glass and kept at a distance. They were so fragile, by comparison to regular humans. So incredibly fragile. They were hard to get close to, when all you could do when you looked at them was think about when they wouldn’t be around, how long you might have, when they might go. Being a natural in a prolonged society was no picnic. “I’ll definitely consider it.”
Claudia joined them soon afterwards, slightly mussed from her slumber and frowning because Miles had let her sleep in. Garrett watched his father gentle his stepmother’s pique until both of them were glowing with affection and decided that discretion was the better part of valor. He took his leave, kissing Claudia’s cheek as he went, and headed to the barracks. Something entertaining was bound to be going on there.
He wasn’t wrong. The barracks were packed, not just with the Marines who weren’t currently on patrol but with a lot of the spare security personnel as well. Apparently there was an exhibition going on. Moving a little closer, Garrett made out the two silver-clad forms going at it on the mat and grinned to himself. Quite an exhibition. It wasn’t every day the average soldier got to watch his commanding officers beat the shit out of each other.
They both wore sparring skinsuits that were calibrated to allow just enough force in, sufficient to stagger but not concuss, enough to make a joint twinge but not break. The suits stiffened to take a joint out of play if they judged enough force had been applied, to add realism to a fight, but neither of the combatants was trying to immobilize at the moment. They were going for pure percussive power.
Garrett sat down next to Wyl on a bench at the edge of the mat, soldiers and security staff melting out of his way without him having to ask. “Robbie feeling a little stressy?” he inquired.
“No, Jane is,” Wyl replied, not taking his eyes off the pair. “She just got word that her grandmother passed away. Jane doesn’t like to let things fester. She had a good cry, then said she needed a good fight and Robbie was the closest she was going to get.”
“Closest, huh?” Garrett turned his attention back to the mat. He didn’t know Jane Freeman all that well. She’d worked with Robbie in the fringe and had a similar background, and when Robbie couldn’t immediately take the position that Miles had offered him a few years ago, Robbie had suggested Jane as a replacement. Jane Freeman was a tall, Amazonian black woman with a doctorate in psychology and decades of service as a Marine. She also had a talent for logistics and getting projects off the ground, and her service had been invaluable to then-General Caractacus as he’d readied his short, victorious war. She was a good commander and a gifted tactician, and she and Robbie split their command duties right down the center when he came on board, with her planning operations and him in charge in the field. It was a nearly-flawless partnership that proved how well they worked together. This morning was showing that they worked against each other just as well.
Jane was a few inches shorter than Robbie but more flexible in the hips, and she used her extra reach there to great effect as one of her powerful legs came whipping around at his head. He moved out of the way but she didn’t snap the kick back, just let her momentum carry her around into a spinning side kick. Robbie took her heel to his midsection but grabbed her foot, throwing it into the air as he swept her plant leg out from beneath her. Jane crashed to the mat but didn’t wait for Robbie to close, hooking his ankle and knee with her feet and levering him brutally to the floor before rolling back to her feet. She wanted to bang, not grapple, and Robbie gave her what she wanted, jamming her next kick and grabbing her behind the head as he slammed his knee repeatedly into her gut. The watchers collectively winced.
“Mother fuck,” Wyl muttered.
“Yeah,” Garrett agreed. They winced again as Jane got her feet under her and thrust up with an elbow to Robbie’s chin, followed by several hooks that send him reeling to the side. “This is supposed to be therapeutic?”
“Fucked if I know.” Wyl glanced over at Garrett. “You have combat mods, right?”
“A present for my sweet sixteen,” Garrett said. “The civilian model, of course, Dad wasn’t about to push me to join up. Can you imagine me in the military?”
“Nah, not enough room for your toiletries in the standard kit.”
“Not even close.” They watched silently as Jane and Robbie beat each other across the floor, occasionally tossing in a joint lock or throw that was too good to pass up, but for the most part just kicking the crap out of each other. The suits were absorbing a lot of the damage, but both of them were slowing down. “How long have they been at this?”
“About thirty minutes.”
Garrett blinked. “Thirty minutes non-stop?” He glanced down at Wyl’s lap and grinned. “Have you had that for thirty minutes as well?”
“I can’t help it,” Wyl grumbled. “He does this to me all the fucking time; it’s not just the sparring. And I’m not the only one in here sporting wood either, this is better than porn for some of these jarheads.”
“Shut the hell up.”
Five minutes later the match ended when Jane got enough distance to scythe a crescent kick up into Robbie’s temple, hitting him hard enough to make the suit flash red, indicating a solid knock-out blow. Robbie was down on one knee, shaking his head a little. He let Jane help him to his feet and they deactivated their suits, then grinned at each other. The audience enthusiastically applauded.
“I’ve gotta get out of here,” Wyl said. “He’s not done, this was just the warm-up before they put the Marines through their paces. If I stay here I’m gonna be hard all fucking day.”
“Come with me,” Garrett suggested. “We can come up with a plan for my ship.”
Wyl looked at him, surprised. “You’re actually going to let me fix her up?”
“Cosmetic improvements only, for starters,” Garrett warned. “The rest is still in the air.”
“Give it time,” Wyl grinned as he stood up. “Once you see what I can do to her outsides, you’re going to beg me to go to work on her plumbing.”
“We’ll see,” Garrett replied, mentally resigning himself to handing tools to Wyl for the rest of the day. There were worse ways to spend his time.