“We’ll only be gone a couple of weeks,” Darren’s mom said as she hugged him.
“I know, mom,” Darren said, hugging her back in that non-committal way that teenagers hug their parents in public. “It’s just a quick trip to the Ring Station. You’ve told me a dozen times.”
“We just want to make sure everything’s taken care of,” his dad said, clasping a hand on Darren’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze. It was no longer the delicate hand of a Digerati, but was becoming rough and grizzled, a reflection of his last few years working on the docks, loading and unloading ships. Still, there was a strength there that only a parent of many years could muster.
The pair of them looked ragged around the edges, harried by years of scraping together every single credit to make ends meet. Years of being turned down for every single computer job they applied for, despite the fact that they were ten times as qualified as the next best applicant. Years of being ostracized by every corporation in the system. But now, they were going to see a big-wig about a job on the ring station. It could be the opportunity they needed to get back into the scene and moving out of the slums.
“I’ll be fine,” Darren said, rolling his eyes. “It’s not like you’ve never left for a few days before.”
“This is a few weeks, honey,” his mom said. “Noel, next door, knows what’s going on. She knows to expect you if you need anything.”
“I know, mom.” He ducked out of her embrace and pointed at the waiting shuttle, its engines spooling up on the landing pad. “You guys are gonna miss your shuttle if you keep saying goodbye.”
“We know, kiddo. We just want to make sure you have what you need,” his dad said, giving him a light punch on the shoulder. “No wild parties while we’re away.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Erricson, we need to get going.” A gold colored cybernetic hand and forearm, with intricate swirls and hand-tooled patterns winding their way from elbow to fingertips wrapped gently around Darren’s mother’s shoulder. The three of them turned to look at the sharply dressed young man it was attached to and he gave them a comforting smile as he aimed his parents toward the open hatch. “The pilot’s concerned about the engines overheating.”
“Thanks Adam,” Darren’s mom responded to the young man.
“And thank you for setting this up for us,” his dad added, eliciting an uncomfortable nod and a grunt from the man with the artificial arm.
“Just trying to help some decent folks out,” Adam replied.
“Well, we really appreciate it,” Darren’s mom smiled, touching Adam’s face tenderly.
“Okay, honey,” Darren’s mom said, turning to him again and smiling at him. “We’ve got to get going, but we’ll be back before you know it.”
“You guys be safe,” Darren said.
“We will,” his dad said.
Picking up their bags, they waved to Darren again, then headed through the shuttle’s door. Darren watched as they situated their things in bins near the hatch, then smiled out the door and disappeared into the front of the ship as the door closed and sealed them inside.
“C’mon kid, back up a bit. These things can be dangerous when taking off so you don’t want to stand too close,” Adam said, resting his intricately decorated cybernetic hand on Darren’s shoulder. Together they took a few steps back as the shuttle’s engines started to whine. They glowed brightly, venting hot thrust down toward the platform and the ship began to rise up off the platform.
Darren woke up panting and in a cold sweat. Every night since his parents had died, he’d woken up the same way, although, to this day, he still couldn’t actually remember what happened. He’d seen the news footage, and the security and crowd camera rolls as well, but his own memory of what happened was as blank as a powerless holographic display. His dreams, he assumed, were of that fateful event, but even though they woke him with a start every day before daylight, he could never remember them. Just the feelings of anger, sadness, and uncertainty that accompanied them.
Running his hands through his short brown hair he looked across his tiny apartment and locked his eyes on those of his reflection in the mirror by the bathroom door.
“One day at a time,” he recited the litany that had dragged him through the decade since his parents’ deaths. “A couple more good jobs and I can walk away.”