I waited for my dad as I stood in line for food rations under a blue-gray sky streaked by the contrails of war planes. Every Monday for the last eighteen months we had met outside the Klein building for our weekly food vouchers. The combination of drought and the war effort to reclaim Mars had broken the food supply chain. The government stepped in and, well, there we were standing in line to find out if our families would eat this week.
My dad came from the meglev stop down the block. He wasn’t moving as fast as the others, but for a man of 97 he was looking surprisingly well. Medical science in the twenty-second century did wonders for our life spans. Too bad everything else was shit. I stepped aside and made room for him. The woman behind me said something nasty but I ignored her. My dad was looking good for his age. He stood about my height, on the tall side of average, with a full head of grey wavy hair. The lines of his face traced frowns as well as smiles. He had his share of both. Most importantly you couldn’t see the sickness in him.
The line stretched around the block. “For your country and your health, nutrition is vital,” the loudspeakers reminded us every seven minutes. A video marquee displayed an ad for Genrocorp’s new Reclamation procedure. “It’s much less painful than dying. Molecular disassembly on a whole other order,” it said and rattled off all the benefits of the procedure. I shook my head. “That crap should be illegal. Molecular disassembling my ass. It was murder.”
Dad looked up at me. “People like to think they have a choice. You can’t begrudge ‘em that.”
“That’s no choice.”
“The courts would disagree. Beside it’s been centuries since assisted suicide became legal. This is nothing more than the evolution of that. Plus, there’s some benefits.”
“So they claim. Besides, since when did you become such a fan?”
Before my dad could answer, the peace officer waved us on. We entered the building and quickly picked up our vouchers. As usual we spent one of them on lunch in the attached diner.
The room’s design was that of an old twentieth century railroad car dinner, complete with red vinyl seats, Formica tables, and even black and white checkered floor. We slid into a booth next to the door and ordered the usual, eggs, meat, and some fruit. Our coffee came quickly, and I settled back, glad to be off my feet for once.
Dad took a sip of his coffee and looked over the cup at me. “You know I decided to sign myself up for Reclamation.”
The coffee mug in my hand trembled. “What? When did you decide that? The treatments have been going so well.”
Dad shook his head. “It’s not that, well it is. I just know that this is the end for me, I’ve faced it and I settled my mind on that, now I think I want to do something more.”
I slam my coffee cup down, eliciting some startled glances in our direction. “Something more? And you think striping out every last bit of material from your body is something more?”
“If it improves someone else’s life, I do.” Dad’s eyes took on a distant look. He wasn’t listening to me anymore, but that only made me angrier.
I lowered my voice. “The point is you’ve been given a second chance.” The robotic server floated by our table and shot some more coffee into our cups from the nozzle on the end of one of the eight appendages protruding from its round squat metal body. “You just want to throw all that away?”
He shook his head and smiled at me. “No. Son, you have to realize, I have Reinfeld’s Cobalt disease. There is no cure. My body will literally eat itself up if I don’t go insane first.”
“You’ve been doing good.” My eyes pleaded with him. “The treatments are working. Another six months you could be in full remission.”
Dad shoved some eggs in his mouth and shrugged. “Yeah or the symbionts they inject to keep the disease in check could collect in my brain. I could wind up a drooling idiot with one large parasite where my brain used to be.” Dad took a sip from his coffee. The corner of his right eye twitched so minutely that only someone close to him with knowledge of his illness would catch it. “Look, I know we don’t live forever, I’ve been closer than ever to that realization. The last thing I want is to just be some pile of decomposing organic matter. I want my death to be an opening for someone else.”
I looked down at my tin plate with the perfectly proportioned amount of eggs, hash browns and some kind of orange gel. I didn’t feel like eating any more.
“Then donate your body to science after you die. You know once you sign up for reclamation, they take you. What about the rest of us? Jenny and the kids? We’re still alive and want you in our lives.”
He shook his head. “It’s not like that. In the contract I specify the date and even time of my disassembly. I figure before that we can all have one last weekend together at the coast, you and Sara, Jenny and the kids. We’ll make it a real family vacation.”
I couldn’t hide my anger anymore. “Oh, sure the vacation just before Grandpa goes off to die.” I waited for him to say something, but instead he just kept it to himself. “You know if mom was still alive…”
“I wouldn’t be doing this if your mother was still around.”
“Damn it!” I slammed my hand on the table. The officer at the door looked our way. His hand moved to his rifle. I smiled at him and lowered my voice to a sharp whisper. “Damn it, Dad, you’re saying the rest of us don’t matter?”
He laid his fork down and sighed. “No, that’s not it either. I don’t want to be a burden. Your mother at least had me, you never had to see how bad she got, what this disease did to her. I’m not about to inflict that on you or your sister. The mornings I had to wake up and find her ice cold and shaking. The screaming and cries for the pain to just go away. You weren’t there for all of that.” Dad’s eyes grew dark with the memories.
I leaned back away from the table. Our time was up and there were plenty of other hungry people outside waiting for our seats. “I’m not going to change your mind on this one.”
“It means the world to me how much you’re trying, but no. I’ve made my decision. Actually, I already filled out all the paperwork.”
I shook my head. “Of course, you did.”
Once we were outside, I hugged him. I thought about asking how much time he had. Would I see him again? What weekend should I clear? I watched him walk up the block to the underground maglev. I couldn’t let go of the idea that I was watching him walk away from me forever.
Back at work my mind couldn’t focus on much of anything. It didn’t help matters that we were several days behind on processing a shipment of ore from the asteroid belt mining operation. Trains of cars stacked the rail lines into and out of the plant. They moved like sulking beasts clanging together in an ominous drone that drowned out the roaring of the furnace fires. The engineers got to sit up in the control room and push all the buttons, but the mechanics like myself were stuck down here, greasy and sweating among the lumbering boxes of steel and stone. We wondered how long before the next clank of the cars would be the last and our shifts ended. Now was not the time to let my mind wander. I guess what happened next was inevitable.
I came to on a gurney. Bodies moved quickly around me. Gowns, gloves, and masks. I tried to move my head for a better look but couldn’t. A stasis field held me in place.
“Blood pressure is steady now, heart rate and oxygen levels improving.”
“He took a whole cart of ore to the legs. Where are they?”
“Not enough left to scrape off.”
It was then that I realized I had no feeling below my stomach. Where were my legs? I tried to jerk my body up. I tried to scream at the people. What happened to my fucking legs!
“He’s coming to, better increase the meds.”
The sensation was of a cloud washing over me. The light shifted from stark white to a blueish tint. Warmth crept up my arms and over my torso. It felt like a huge blanket lay over me. I blinked my eyes and when they opened, the trauma center was gone. I stood on a grassy field. I could see the ocean beyond it. The memories rushed over my mind. Summer 2057. That week on the coast of Maryland. I could smell the salt in the air and feel the ocean breeze tickling the hairs around my ears. The sky was blue, a shade I hadn’t seen in a long time. I looked around, and I knew my dad and mother wouldn’t be far. We were just coming back from buying the food for the week. My older brother and I rushed out of the car as our mother worked on freeing my sister from her car seat as my dad yelled at us to get back and help with the bags. I was about to turn when I realized I was all alone. The picture was fading, not the memory just the perception of it right now.
The pungent smell of antiseptic gel burst through my nasal passages. I blinked my eyes open and saw my wife sitting in the chair across from me. Sunlight peeked through the closed gray curtains. I drew in a deep breath and let it out just as quickly. My wife looked up and came to my side.
“Don’t try to move.”
It was then that I realized I ached all over. If pain were a shroud of fuzzy pin pricks and barbed wire, I wore it from head to toe. Just then I felt the sheets pressing against a big toe. Feet. I had feet and legs, two of them. Was it all a dream? I tried to move again but nothing happened. The strain on my face as my head rose from the pillow caught my wife’s eye.
“You can’t move.” She placed a hand on my chest. “You’ve been under so long that your muscles have atrophied. You won’t be able to move them just yet.”
“How long have I been here?” I settled back on the pillow, blinking.
She hesitated, biting down on her lower lip. “Five weeks. The coma was induced to help your body accept…”
I knew what she was going to say. “My legs.” I looked around the room. “Where’s my Dad? He had put in for reclamation. That’s the last thing I remember before returning to work. “These legs, tell me they aren’t his.”
She shook her head. “They wanted to clone legs for you, but there wasn’t enough material left of your original ones and stem cells would have taken too long to grow into new ones. Your Dad moved up his reclamation. The molecular blueprint he provided was enough to get you the cloned legs.”
I closed my eyes and turned away. I didn’t want to hear any more. I’d become the thing I wanted least. The reason for my dad to go ahead with this damn procedure. I might have been able to live with the idea of some stranger getting a second chance but for that person to be me. For it to be me lying in that bed knowing that my dad is no longer on this Earth because of me. I know it was foolish and instead I should cherish the part of him that is now part of me. I’m too angry for that now. Maybe one day, my view will change, but not now. I miss my dad, legs, or no legs, I still miss my dad.
Vincent A. Alascia is the author of, “The Hole In Your Mind,” “Undead Heart,” “In the Presence of Gods,” and, “Xristos: Chosen of God,” available on Kindle and paperback as well as works that have appeared in anthologies and online. Originally an East Coast native, he makes his home in the Portland Oregon area with his wife. Vincent has been a librarian for over 15 years and is also a musician. He is currently working on a Steampunk Horror novel and a guide to reading Tarot.