First: The Testers
Previous: The More Things Change…
Mom Cara shed her white suit, revealing herself to be still rather like herself. “Not everyone has extreme visible changes. I run a few degrees colder than I used to, and I tend to be a little quicker to fly off the handle if I don’t pay attention, but I still look much like myself. And I’m still myself, Kelly-boop. I promise.”
“I believe you.” Nobody had called her Kelly-boop in years. She found herself wrinkling her nose the same way she had back then, before she found out that it would end more quickly than she’d thought.
Were her kids going to miss her? She thought about them, curled up there with their father. She’d spent a lot of time with her sister and brother, back then when her mothers had gone, but she was the youngest. It was only her left – and now just her kids and her husband.
“It’s hard at first.” Reynash patted her shoulder. “Thinking about the people you left behind. That’s one reason I made sure I was here to see you. So you had a familiar face, even if I’m, ah, not as familiar as I should be.”
“You’re still you,” she assured him, even though she wanted reassurance herself. “You still sound like you. Can you explain more while we walk?”
“I do better with diagrams,” Reynash admitted, “but the short version is that we – well, our ancestors – came to the conclusion that having children raised by essentially children was better than dying out. They went to a lot of work to clear the Down Under areas so that they were completely free of the taint, and then sent a bunch of teenagers and children through a very rigorous decontamination procedure. The first time, I’m told, they sent adults down as well. But only a few, because so many were needed up here for the war effort. We were dying out.”
Dying out. Kelly shivered. “So they sent the kids to – what?”
“Learn and take care of themselves and breed the next generation.” Mom Cara looked solemn. “My parents were born Down Under, but they were a couple of the first. The thing is, it’s working. Kids grow up safe. They make life decisions based on the world down there.”
“But the world up here is where we’re going to end up,” Kelly argued. “This is where everyone eventually comes.”
“And there’s a lot of education pointed at that. And some of the stuff that isn’t formal education – like rumors that you want to study hard so that you go to the right place when you come upstairs?” Mom Cara looked both intense and worried. “It’s not the best situation, I know. Kids end up losing their parents just as they’re getting attached. But it does mean that the human race survives, and, in the end, that those who study hard and try hard can help us fight the enemy.” Mom Cara hugged Kelly awkwardly. “It wasn’t easy for me, coming up here and leaving you. But you’re my daughter, and I know that you’re going to do great up here.”