PHASES OF REPARATIONS
by Alissia J.R. Lingaur
Frielle hadn’t expected blue. Her daughters were still red-headed under-ones. Her lifemate’s lemon locks coiled near dainty ears and onto a pale, unlined forehead. Just the day before, Frielle oversaw a large shipment of planetary detritus to the Saturn belt for the Department of Resources and Rejuvenation, the most significant contribution she’d made to Gaia’s lifesource yet, and really, a boon to her career goal of directing the organization into its next phase of reparations. She had so much more to give.
Besides, her spiky mop had been green for years now, and Frielle enjoyed basking in the shades of lawn, pear, spruce that contrasted so nicely with her russet skin. Blue shouldn’t appear until she’d reached elder, or at least until she’d finished with clearing the northern sector of what was once Michigan. But as she brushed her hair from forehead to end, the strands shone deep as a bruise.
When Frielle entered their dwelling’s nourishment room, Dayla stood at the counter slicing a blushed sphere, back to Frielle. She asked, “Want to try this, love? From what I can discover in the Knowledge Center, our ancestors labeled it ‘tomato’.” She held the fruit aloft and turned in Frielle’s direction. Dayla gasped.
Frielle’s hair, ever alert, was Lake Superior blue, according to the details Dayla recounted one evening, or at least the fresh water color before humans sold its precious liquid to the desert previously known as Las Vegas.
The tomato slipped from Dayla’s fingers and splatted on the gunmetal floor, its flesh flattening and seeds spitting out in a semi-circle.
“You know I won’t eat your experiments,” Frielle said, striding to the room’s opposite wall and punching a three-digit code into a panel. In the square recess beneath the keyboard, a glass appeared brim-full with a greenish liquid smelling of brine. Frielle frowned; its shade would’ve matched her hair the previous day. She grasped the glass and swiveled to her lifemate. “You’re going to catch something from that gaia grub of yours,” she said, motioning to the tomato.
Dayla stooped to retrieve the squashed fruit, lifting it gently with her left hand. With her right, she wiped at the gooey splatters, escorting them to a rectangular vent where the wall met the floor. A vacuum sounded, and the mess vanished.
Standing once more, Dayla held the tomato under a tube extending from the wall. She pressed a button and watched as a solution of air and microbial elements surrounded it, returning the fruit to plump, living food picked from the mother plant growing in her lab. Dayla switched the rehydrater off. “My research is just as relevant as yours, my dear,” Dayla said, once more slicing into the tomato. She placed a sample of the tender red flesh onto her tongue. Chewing, she smiled. “This is excellent. You really should try it.”
Frielle sighed and drank her breakfast. With the glass at her lips, she gestured to her hair, and after swallowing the bitter nutrients, she said, “Now, more than ever, I need to focus on resource rejuvenation.” She placed the glass on the counter. “I might not make it home tonight.”
Dayla chewed another slice of tomato. “Now, more than ever,” she spoke quietly, “you need to be home.”
Within a week, Frielle’s hair darkened to indigo, and though she tried to ignore it by continuing into the department each day, her coworkers noticed, leaving condolence cards on her desk. Some even asked after her financial records, whether she’d allotted sufficient funds to care for her lifemate and their under-ones upon her passing. Frielle hushed them away and hid her crop beneath a scarf covered in hibiscus, a plant long extinct. But she couldn’t ignore a summons from the current Rejuvenation Major, and after knocking on his door, Frielle entered the expansive office that overlooked a hive of hover lanes, their generation’s attempt to reinvent the super highways of the past.
“You’re looking well, considering,” Major Terran said. He stood near floor-to-ceiling windows, his hands clasped behind his back.
Frielle gestured to her head. “This is nothing.” She advanced into the office, stopping inches from Major Terran’s steel desk. “There’s still time to finish the shipment to Jupiter. The filework’s on my desk now, and it will be the largest expulsion of earthly waste in the history of this department. Even superior to the recent Saturn consignment.”
Terran shook his head, his gaze on the floor, rust-hued eyebrows furrowed. “No need, no need. That project’s in the hands of Sector 4, thanks to your research. All tow-heads, all with years to complete the process.”
“But I’m devoted to restoring the lifesource,” Frielle exclaimed. “You can’t take this from me now.” She pounded her fist on Terran’s desk, rattling a stylus off the edge and onto the floor.
Major Terran met Frielle’s eyes, a sunset afro atop his head; his tone softened. “There’s nothing more I can do, Frielle,” he said. “When Gaia speaks, we listen.” Terran turned back to the windows and gazed out on the beige world below them. “It took us centuries to learn that lesson, but thankfully, humanity has finally yielded. Take anything personal, go home. Spend the time you have left with the ones you love most.”
Frielle pivoted and exited the office, just barely refraining from slamming Major Terran’s door on her way past. As she marched back to her overflowing desk, Frielle glared at the other Resource and Rejuvenation specialists, wanting to rip their manes of strawberry, fern, banana out by the roots. One man stood across the office, his mouth a grim line of disapproval at Frielle’s gracelessness. His hair glimmered azure in the evening light seeping through the windows.
She stopped, deciding whether to bow under this comrade’s frustration, this man who faced her same fate, though he had two more shades while she stood on violet’s doorway, or to stoke the flames of her fury. Frielle grasped the tablet containing months of filework, with pilot contacts and coordinates of debris she’d arranged to export, including the mounds surrounding her daughters’ Learning Center. It was the department’s lone copy. Without it, the other specialists would have to begin again from nothing. Frielle slid the silver square into her shoulder bag, but refused to clear anything else away. She’d leave that to her replacement.
Frielle perched on a stool in the area behind their dwelling. The concrete oval supported metal cylinders at either end, shapes holding Dayla’s attempts at foliage, leafy shards she’d grown in her lab as she researched extinct life forms, including the plants and animals that once roamed Gaia’s surface. As Frielle brooded, her daughters chased a flying disc, laughing as it cloaked just beyond their fingers’ reach, and then reappeared over their heads or behind their knees.
Another week had passed since her hair progressed from green to blue to indigo, and she was sent home to await violet, the final shade. Frielle no longer covered the tresses, instead letting her hair pulse plum as she fumbled through the days, raging over the injustice of an end so near. Even today, when she could be up and reveling in these moments with her under-ones, she sat and clenched and unclenched her right hand, forming the fist that would shake in Gaia’s face, furious at her fate.
“Mama, look,” Virtuo said. She held the disc, its surface glowing white, between her two hands. “I finally caught it!”
“My turn, my turn!” Magni shouted, jumping at her sister’s hands above her head. With no success, the small girl faced her mother and stomped a foot on the unyielding concrete. “Mama, tell Virtee it’s my turn.”
Virtuo tucked the disc under her arm and moved closer to Frielle. “She has to catch it for herself, doesn’t she, Mama?” When Frielle didn’t respond, Virtuo wove her fingers between Frielle’s and gazed into her eyes. “Work harder, right, Mama? She needs to do it herself.”
Frielle felt her oldest daughter’s fingers, warm and smooth in her hand, and she reached to caress the rosy strands that danced across Virtuo’s shoulders. Magni shuffled to Frielle’s other side, her lower lip extending and her rounded toddler belly pressing against Frielle’s thigh. Frielle gently palmed Magni’s head, hair poppy-bright and silky as a dog’s ear. “It’s ok to help sometimes, Virtee,” Frielle said. “No one’s an island.”
“What’s an island?” Magni asked, shrugging out from under Frielle’s hand.
Frielle gazed at the top of the cement wall enclosing their outdoor space. “At one time, landmasses extended from the ocean floor, some small, some large, all over Gaia. They were completely surrounded by water and isolated from the rest of the countries, the rest of the people. Islands.”
The girls leaned into Frielle, one on each side, and she inhaled their fresh morning scents. Then they ran back to their game of chasing the disc, with Virtuo ever so slightly sheperding the flashing orb in her younger sister’s direction though Magni continued to lunge in vain. Their giggles filled the gray space and echoed off the wall, even vibrating the sparse vegetation in their sterile silver pots.
“I’m home,” Dayla called from within.
Frielle shifted slightly on the stool to peer behind, suddenly drained. Dayla passed through the doorway and into the light, and as the pale sun caught her shoulders, she emanated energy and youth and radiance, a clear contrast to Frielle’s eggplant haze.
“How was your day?” Frielle asked, attempting to straighten her spine.
Dayla moved close to Frielle and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. Frielle in turn, slipped her arm around Dayla’s waist. Enjoined, they watched their under-ones dart after the disc.
“We think we’ve found the key to the earthworm genetic structure,” Dayla said eventually. “They were massive recyclers of organic material, and if we could clone one, we might be able to populate the heaps with them, work to deconstruct everything right here, so your group wouldn’t have to rocket it all into space.”
Dayla’s body quivered against Frielle’s arm, so excited by her research she physically vibrated. Frielle squeezed her mate with both arms, laying her head against Dayla’s chest. She closed her eyes. Her wife’s body, with its supple curves and dandelion warmth, comforted her.
Frielle whispered, “There’s a tablet in my bag. Return it to the department for me. Major Terran will know what to do with it.” With those words, Frielle released Dayla and sighed as her body disintegrated into a thousand tiny moths, their iridescent wings shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow as they flew up and over the wall and into the infinite sky.
Alissia J.R. Lingaur’s stories and poems have appeared in the Crab Orchard Review, The Offbeat, The Villa, and the NMC Magazine, of which she is the literary adviser. She is the author of the novel, The Trainstop, available at Amazon.com and is currently at work on a second novel. Along with teaching developmental reading and writing, composition, and creative writing at Northwestern Michigan College, she has also taught English to non-native speakers at Berlitz Language Center in metro-Detroit. She now lives in northern Michigan with her husband, children, four chickens, an aging Cocker Spaniel, and a baby bearded dragon.