Word Count: 4774
Summary: Anno Domini 1951, fifty years after the failed Fertility experiments, the world still deals (somewhat successfully) with the mutations the experiments brought. With the advent of successful mechanical wombs, and a resurgence of female fertility, Carriers finally won full civil rights, and a new type slavery was abolished. Still, in many small towns and rural parts of America, in isolated communities, carriers were still viewed with suspicion, distaste, or horror.
This is the world Jared finds himself having to navigate.
Story at AO3
Freedom Day, it turned out, was quite a lot of fun. Working his shift-and-a-half certainly took a toll on his back and feet, but his apron pocket was stuffed with tips "just because", and person after person wished him a joyous Freedom Day, usually followed by a hug. His cheeks were positively sore with little-old-lady kisses—he was beginning to reek of lavender and Shalimar.
As his shift's end came closer, he realized he had dozens of buttons pinned to him. He'd gotten them from diners, from busboys, from the other servers, even from Lando; they'd all given him their buttons in honor of this being his first official Freedom Day. He stared down at his overladen apron. He tapped a pencil against his apron—at this point, he was pretty sure the darn thing could deflect bullets.
He studied the first button he'd been gifted—a silly thing nearly the size of a saucer that Lando had pinned on him. The design was clever, though: a stylized apple blossom between two up-swept wings, over a split globe showing Eastern and Western hemispheres. Under the design was a simple 200. Lando told him this was not only the official Freedom Day design, it was the flag of the Western Pact. It was quite stirring, really, very dramatic, very beat-the-swords-into-plowshares. It was also all a bit much to take in for someone who'd grown up with their entire world-view wrapped around 'America' with the rest of the world being a vague, foggy sort of idea.
The rest of his buttons were simpler designs; just the globes, or wings alone. By far the most popular were tiny things printed with simple apple blossoms. Along with their buttons, many of the diner patrons had a paper blossom tucked in a button hole, or pinned to their lapels or hats. Candy told him the blossoms were a symbol of peace. Jared liked that. Addie and Candy tried to coax him into copying them, with their paper blossoms tucked in their hair.
"Pregnant," he snapped, pushing away their little crepe offerings, "but still not a girl." And not a wet blanket, no matter how much they whined he was.
It was the last few minutes of his shift; Jared was weaving his way through the crowd, balancing a tray of dirty dishes, on his way to the kitchen. He caught Ralph signaling at the corner of his eye and nodded. He dropped his tray off and made his way back to Ralph and Carl's table, puffing away and sweating rivers—Thing was doing him no favors, and the unusually large crowd was overcoming the cooling fans. He slapped his palms down on the table, leaning there with a grateful groan. It felt darn good not to be moving.
"What can I help you with, sir?" he teased and Ralph snorted, tucked a few bills into Jared's pocket, the third time that evening. Stonily ignoring Jared's protests he grumped, "This is movie money. I don't give a shi—crap if you're pregnant—you're not dead. Get out and have some young people fun. Go to the movies, go eat someplace better than this dump, hit a club or whatever the kids are doing these days."
Carl gulped the last of his coffee and smacked the mug down on the table, waving off Jared's wince. "For once the man is makin' sense. Go be a kid, Jay."
Jared blushed and nodded, almost undone by their kindness. Holerah—these guys were as bad as a pair of doting uncles. Deep down of course, he sort of loved it. It was nice to be made a fuss over sometimes.
As soon as Lando locked the doors for the evening, Addie pushed and prodded Jared onto a trolley that would take them to the city center, ignoring his only-partially serious protests. "Yes, Jay, we'll be back by bedtime," she said when Jared asked.
"Oh my—you are so full of horse manure," Jared snapped.
"Horse manure?" she laughed. "Look at you being all wicked and citified—almost cursing! Next we'll have you smoking and drinking," she crowed, and laughed some more at the scandalized look Jared gave her—which lasted until Jared had to laugh as well.
Not more than a few steps off the trolley, he had to loosen his scarf, dabbed at the beads of sweat tickling his forehead. He was always a little too warm nowadays, courtesy of Thing. It was warmer in general since he'd first slunk off the bus in Nice; spring was reaching out to summer—slowly. The wind whipping through the streets seemed to be alternately warm and cold, as unsettled temperature-wise as he was. Still, it brought the scent of growing things twined in with the usual smell of the city—food, people, concrete, exhaust—Jared swiped at his nose, then blinked as he actually took in the city transformed for Freedom Day.
City Center was a veritable tornado of sound and color, crashing against them as they made their way through surging crowds, waves of people rushing at them, then breaking to move around them in a way that was just dizzying.
"Follow me," Addie shouted, as if Jared had any plan at all of letting the woman out of his sight for a darn minute—to ensure that, he hooked his fingers in the ends of her scarf, stuck his tongue at her when she looked back and rolled her eyes. "Really?"
"Oh, shush—this way I won't lose you."
She swooped and whirled around the people, and Jared jogged after, in absolute awe of Addie's skills—against the push and pull of too many people, she managed to snag them food and drink from the handcarts wobbling through the crowds, and did so with the finesse of an angler. She was also thoughtful enough to stop often so Jared could take a desperately needed breath. He appreciated that most of those stops were next to washroom tubes. The Thing took a positively sadistic glee in dancing on his poor bladder.
They were halted again at the moment, thank the Lord. Jared flexed his aching calves and toes as they sat on a park bench, nibbling on giant, hot pretzels. He was enjoying the sight of a wildly colorful band float passing by in the street. The air rang with exotic music, all clashing symbols and frantic guitars, the dancers flinging hips and arms and elbows like mad and it was a miracle they didn't knock each other off the float.
Dozens and dozens of young people danced In the street, trailing behind the band floats. Jay noticed that many of them were in uniform, arm in arm in the constant rain of brightly colored bits of paper. Seeing them reminded Jared of his first sight of a giant military base craft in those first few days he'd arrived in Nice, how frightening and overwhelming they seemed—still did. A shiver ran down his spine at the memory of the ponderous ship moving silently over head, followed by buzzing aircraft. Now, he had to fit the memory of those frightening but majestic ships together with the sight of giggling, half-drunk, uniformed boys and girls stumbling through the streets, their hands full of free food, hair practically bristling with paper blossoms and faces smeared with kisses.
Were these undisciplined fools really the people who staffed those ships? The Lord help them all if this peace of theirs ever fractured...
He was glad when Addie moved them on; he was much more interested in the shops she was towing them towards. She made a bee-line to one, a marquee-type sign over the wide doorway advertising 'World Cafe', with little yellow, blinking, lightening bolts dancing on and off across it. The cafe was packed with revelers crammed against the busy counter, shouting their orders, trying to talk over the other. The constant noise and motion all around him was exhausting. Jared wished Addie could have found a quieter place to take a break. Should he suggest heading back home?
He decided against it, not wanting to ruin her night, so he waited, trying not to fidget, as she fought the crowd to order for them—a tall, sweet, frothy coffee concoction for her, and a disgusting Sanka with a splat of milk and a few grains of sugar for Jared, because Addie was a cruel busybody. He forgave her somewhat when she waved a plate holding fresh, sugary doughnuts under his nose, before hustling them to a free table.
He sank down gratefully, grabbing a doughnut and spraying the metal table with sugar. He scooted his chair closer when he saw the table couldn't move—it was bolted down. It actually looked more like a desk than a table, and chained to the top was a small clunky, beige metal box. They sat side-by-side, sharing the hot doughnuts and when they were gone, Addie smiled, pushed his coffee to one side and said,"And now, young Jay," cracking her knuckles like she planned to play a piano, "let us expand your horizons."
She took a couple of coins from her purse and fed them into a slot set into the side of the box.
"Buying the coffees got us a half hour of comp use. It's fifty cents for each fifteen minutes after—knowing you, I'm sure we'll use every cent of it." She smiled wide and said, "This cafe is my favorite—it's cleaner than most and they also have pretty decent food."
Jared shuddered at the thought that this was one of the cleaner places, but his attention was locked on the box. Addie said their drinks bought them comp use—what did that mean, exactly?
Suddenly, the box beeped and the front panel popped loose. Addie pulled it down to reveal a screen that flickered into life with a musical chiming sound. 'Fifteen additional minutes of use per coin' scrolled across the front.
Jared jumped, hand flying to his mouth in surprise. "Oh...gosh." It was some form of minicomp, like the staff used, like he'd been itching to get his hands on forever. Jared fixed Addie with a pleading look. "Won't you show me how to use this?"
"Of course! I've seen the way you stare at the minicomps like you want to have deep, personal, possibly unnatural relationships with them…"
"I'm going to pray for you—a lot," Jared muttered, and yelped when she poked him with a finger as stiff and pointy as a knitting needle.
"Now, pay attention. Take notes." She winked, and then ran her fingers over the buttons and the screen came to life—the same symbol that was on Lando's button flashed over the screen first, and then Addie punched keys and explained as scene after scene flashed across the screen; a free classroom in some distant city, where a teacher was lecturing about a painting for her unseen class, a trip through a valley in a faraway rain forest, news, so much news, a theatrical play Addie said had been recorded at an earlier time and was now showing free for people anywhere.
"Watch this." Addie clicked a few buttons, and the screen filled with the most adorable kittens tumbling out of a box and all over each other. It really was magic.
The screen chimed again, became a green square warning them that their time was up—an hour had flown by.
Addie patted the top of the box and said, "The minicomps are like the not-very-smart cousins of these fellows. With these, you can travel the world, see anything, learn anything—what you saw this hour was the tiniest peek through the door."
Jared sat slowly back in his chair, clutching the cold cup of Sanka to his chest, his mouth open...totally overwhelmed by what he'd experienced. He gulped his fake coffee in reflex, set it down with a grimace. He looked up at Addie and sighed. "What an incredible device—it's truly magic. And anyone can use it?"
"Anyone with tokens, sweetie. The library does have a free machine to use, but this is more fun—no restrictions." She winked, and Jared huffed. He had no idea what she meant, but he was will to bet it was mortifying.
They were distracted by a commotion at the cafe's entrance. A group of uniformed boys were mock-fighting, blocking the doorway, laughing at the annoyed servers who were flittering around them, trying to shoo them away. Jared shook his head. What a disappointment these uniformed boobs turned out to be. Rude, vulgar, tall, and...and their uniform pants were way too tight, and their jackets were sinfully fitted...they were just embarrassing, really. No manners whatsoever.
"Soldiers." he tutted and shook his head. He was glad he didn't have to spend time with any of that crowd. He followed Addie through the entrance, reaching up to wrap his scarf around his neck to ward off the sudden gust of cold wind that flung open his coat and exposed his belly to the cold; winced when he realized he'd just elbowed someone. Before he could apologize, he heard the unmistakable sound of someone clearing their throat, then spitting. Eyes down, he saw where the glob of phlegm hit the sidewalk, right at the toe of his boot—quite a marksman.
"Watch it, ya fuckin' freak."
Jared froze, his whole being reduced a single, screaming, flayed nerve. He fekt violently emptied of everything but the life-sucking tumor in his middle, weighing him down, sucking him dry, pulling him into darkness—he heard freak freak freak FREAK FREAK—
A cry of pain shook him loose from the awful loop his mind had taken and threw him back onto the icy city street. A voice behind him yelled, "What in hell, you fuckster—stop hitting me, jack."
The anger in the voice drove Jared away from it, away from the screaming crowd. His mind cleared; he realized it wasn't 'freak' they were screaming, it was "Drink, drink, drink!"
Didn't matter. What he'd thought he heard echoed in his head, panic weakened his knees—he was alone in a crowd with no one to help. He almost burst into tears when the electric blue of Addie's scarf came into sight, through the racket all around him, he heard her calling, "Jay! Jay!"
She sounded as panicked as he felt, and he dashed towards her voice, calling her name. She apologized over and over for losing him, and he just held on and let the crowd surge around them. He was safe….
He didn't tell her what had happened, and it took a few nights before he could finally sleep without nightmares again.
"Jay, do you have a few minutes to meet with me in my office?"
"Sure, of course." Jared tucked his broom into a corner, and hurried over to follow Mrs. Mond. She was frowning slightly, but not in a way that made Jared worry about himself—he worried about Mrs. Mond. "Is everything all right?" he asked.
"What—oh, oh yes, thank you honey, everything is fine. It's just...the new doctor wants to see you."
"But I just saw him. I mean, he said I only needed to see him once a month." Jared tried to keep his tone light—he didn't want to seem ungrateful, but the Lord knew he wanted to spend as little time as possible with that ice-cold fish.
She nodded, a thoughtful frown deepening the furrow between her brows. She tilted her head in the general direction of her office. "So, let's talk."
As always, walking into her office was walking into a warm, safe cocoon. The room was always bright; even on a day like like this one, with the light muted by a gray and watery afternoon, her office radiated coziness. He took a few moments to settle in the over-stuffed chair pulled up to her desk, idly looking about as she shuffled through the files and papers on her desk. His gaze danced over the dozens of pictures of her children and grandchildren. He loved her family pictures—at this point, felt almost as if they were his—all those beautiful people, all sporting Mrs. Mond's smile.
It had come as a surprise to Jared to find that Outsiders were really no different when it came to the importance of family. Maybe even better, he thought sadly, catching sight Mrs. Mond's latest addition to the gallery: two young men wrapped around each other, one as brown and portly as Mrs. Mond, bearing the trademark family smile, the other short and blond and obviously family by way of marriage. A photograph that was set smack dab in the middle of all the others family pictures...he sighed, and was startled to have his sigh echoed by her.
Mrs. Mond turned from her desk to get coffees for the both of them. He was surprised she gave him a cup of real coffee, but she just rolled her eyes and made a shooshing motion.
Sitting again, she said, "I'm surprised that you have another appointment so soon. So does Charlotte, and Aggie, and—" She shuffled quickly through the cards stacked on her desk, picked one up and peered at it. "Naomi." She tapped the cards against her palm. "All under sixteen, hunh…"
Jared blinked at her, pressing his lips tightly together. For a moment, it seemed like she'd forgotten he was there, then she blinked as well and looked uncomfortable.
"Jared, honey, I overstepped. I shouldn't have mentioned the girls. Can we, oh dear, not mention this to anyone?"
She looked so flustered that Jared could only nod, and she relaxed a little, looking less like an extremely troubled sparrow. "Now, where in the world is my minicomp…" Pushing aside some papers and files that lay scattered across her perpetually untidy desktop, she unearthed her minicomp. "Great, now where's that goshdarn dynapen—ah-ha!"
She held the silver stylus in the air, waving it in triumph, and Jared couldn't help but chuckle at the glee in her voice. She grinned back at him. "Now, I have other, much more pleasant news to talk about. You're doing so well in your classes, and moving along so quickly, your instructors want to move you up again. I agreed. There's no reason why you should take classes that aren't challenging you, don't you think?"
Jared nodded, though personally, he was just fine with his non-challenging courses seeing as how he had challenges in every other aspect of his life, like working all night when his back was killing him, and working next to a group of girls who would rather pretend he didn't exist. Getting up all hours of the night to pee, trying to get feet the size of blimps into his shoes, and being so gosh-dang holerah hungry all the peanuts time and constantly being nagged at to switch his beloved coffee to Sanka which was a brew concocted by the devil—
"Jay! Jay! Are you listening?"
"Oh my goodness. Never mind, pregnancy brain, I understand."
Her casual remark and eye roll made Jared bristle. He hated being dismissed in that way, his feelings relegated to some side effect of pregnancy—as if the most important thing about him was that he was pregnant.
"Never mind, honey. I'll get you a packet from your instructors and we'll get you set for the next—no, you'll be jumping two levels to Gamma! I'm so proud of you, Jay."
Gamma level? Gamma level? But that was only one level away from completing Secondary...to tell the truth, the idea was somewhat frightening. He was fifteen, sixteen next year, and next year would be his last level, instead of giving him one more year to decide what to do with his life. That is, if he had a choice of being anything other than Thing's caretaker. Gamma….
"Mind you, just because you're not graduating your level with your classmates doesn't mean we can't celebrate." She got up to take a covered tray from the credenza that held her electric coffee percolator, and unveiled it in front of Jared with a graceful flourish. "Ta-da!"
It was a slice of cake, topped with cream and a handful of hot-house strawberries—Jared's favorite. Truthfully though, these days everything edible was his favorite. Mrs. Mond set a mug down next to his plate, held her hand up when Jared's eyes went wide and he grinned with pleasure. "I know what you're thinking," she said, picking up a ceramic pot and starting to pour, "but it's not more coffee. It is hot chocolate though, so I hope that's a suitable substitution. I don't feel comfortable giving you more than one cup of coffee, sorry!"
Jared made a face like he was grudgingly accepting this non-coffee interloper in his cup and Mrs. Mond laughed.
"Too late, darlin'. I know what a massive sweet tooth you have!" She laughed as she ladled a heaping spoon of whipped cream into his cup. Jared could only grin. The woman knew him well.
"Happy graduation to your new class, Jay. We all are so proud of you."
The doctor's office was as dreary and cold as Jared remembered. He sat on the only chair in the room, groaning quietly as his back took a few creaky seconds to decide how it felt about sitting. He hoped it wasn't going to be a long wait. He hoped he wasn't going to need any kind of invasive exam. He just didn't have the spirit for that today. He crossed his long legs, then cursed under his breath when it was too uncomfortable them crossed—in fact, it was getting uncomfortable to keep them closed. He was just straightening up again, when the door flew open, and the doctor breezed in. Jared noted that Dr. Adler had always knocked. This guy was plain rude.
"Now, Jared,' he said, still nose-down in a file, "I've asked you here to—" he looked up and did a double-take at finding no one on the table. He looked around and frowned when he saw Jared sitting in the chair instead of perched obediently on the table. Jared hated sitting on the table because of the way his feet dangled in the air like a little kid's. It gave him a little spark of satisfaction to see the doctor's irritation.
"If you wouldn't mind taking a seat on the table," the doctor's frosty tone let Jared know exactly how the man felt about him not being where he thought Jared should be. Jared shrugged, and lumbered up on the table, turning a blank stare on the doctor when he settled.
The doctor seemed a little flustered at Jared's lack of submissiveness, but hid it quickly. What an enormous...asshole! Jared thought. He sat for a moment, sort of rolling the word around in his mind, and decided, he liked it. It didn't seem as awful to him as it did to these Outsiders—maybe it was the fact that city dwellers had basically a passing relationship with nature and all her sticky, odorous glory. Still, he knew the intent of the word applied to a pants like the doctor, and it was darn satisfying.
Jared was given a cursory exam, his temperature and blood pressure taken while the doctor read questions from his minicomp in an uninterested monotone, asking if Jared was eating healthy foods, avoiding caffeine...his words became a meaningless drone that Jared either nodded or shook his head to in the appropriate spot, until the man said something that clicked.
"June, and next visit we'll set the date for a cesarean. It's fairly standard procedure with carriers."
But nothing Jared had discussed with any doctor yet. He was shocked, but not particularly worried. He'd survive this or not. He glanced down at his rounded midsection and his mouth twisted into a little half-smile. He was betting on himself to survive. Whether that would be a blessing or not was still to be determined.
"Jared, we touched on this at our last consult. Have you given any further thought to what we spoke about? Unfortunately, I neglected to bring the information I spoke of last visit."
"Adoption? Honestly, no...well, sort of. I'm not sure yet. I can't decide whether that'd be the right thing to do or not," he said, keeping to himself the part where he was still torn as to whether he deserved the freedom adoption would give him. He just...it was hard. If he didn't do it, he'd have to live with the constant reminder of where he'd gone wrong, and even though everyone around him seemed to think he hadn't gone wrong—and he knew now, that he hadn't. He saw evidence all the time that he was a freak, in being a carrier and being attracted to men. At least he knew it when he was thinking logically. When he refused to let the teachings of his former life bury him in guilt.
His eyes filled. Why, if being a carrier was such an abomination, did they even exist? Is that all life was, series of unfair tests—
"Jared! You have the attention span of a gnat, a not very bright one at that. I think you should give deep consideration tothe option of adoption. A child deserves a mature parent who will be constantly attentive to its needs, not just when it suits you to be."
Jared flushed a bright red, somewhat embarrassed, but mostly furious. He opened his mouth to apologize, but startled himself by what came out; certainly he startled the doctor. Again. "I'll have a decision when it's born, not until then. That's all I have to say." Whether to keep it and suffer the punishment, or whether to hold it blameless and release it to hopefully have a full and better life than what he could give it was his choice to make, and this pants heartless piece of—of—doctor would just have to wait until then to put a neat little ribbon around his case.
The doctor stood. "I see. Well, that's all for now. I'll see you next month." He made a note on his minicomp, his mouth screwed into a tight, disgruntled line. He glanced at Jared as he pulled his sweater back on and frowned even more as if he personally hated both Jared and his beloved sweater. Anyone who could frown at this sweater like that...Jared drew his hand over the cloud soft material...well, that was proof that the man was a giant asshole.
Dear Mr. Jim Beaver,
I hope all is well with you! I attended a Freedom Day event in the city. It was new to me, though I'm sure you must have seen many. Not that I'm trying to say you're old of an age By that I mean you have probably enjoyed a few. It was very interesting, very instructive. I found out that there is never really any escape from your mistakes.
I'm happy to be able to send you a payment for the items I stole from you, and again, hope that someday you will pardon me. I also thank you for being, however unwilling, a friend and a shoulder to lean on. The more ponderous I get, the harder life gets. I've seen the disgusted looks aimed my way and I pretend I don't. But I also see the smiles, and hear the well wishes, and you know, I feel like such a phony when I smile back. I'm not devastated, but I'm not exactly happy. I've given up on any hope I ever will be.
How I wish I could see your face. I have this image of you that you might find unflattering but it brings me such comfort. I wonder if you'd understand?
I'm sorry to constantly whine in these letters, but Mr. Jim, you have no idea how much better it makes me feel. Here's a bit of good news, I think. I have been advanced to Gamma level. I'm worried, but also, excited. I almost feel honored! I had a little celebration, that was so nice. See there? Not everything in my life is doom and gloom.
Mr. Jim, I swear, one day I'll be brave enough to include a return address. Until then, you should know that your wonderful sweater is being shown just as much love and care as you showed it. Happy Belated Freedom Day.
(and hoping I'm not being too bold by saying it) Your friend, Jay