GROUNDED • by Travis M. Prendergast

Scott stared out of the window, studying the landscape beyond his bedroom. His house was on the outskirts of the city, and from there, he could only see the greenery of the communal park, the shimmering material of their lifedome, and then the barren, red landscape of Mars. Grounded again,he thought, and on a beautiful day like today.

In reality, Scott couldn’t see anything either beautiful or ugly about the day. He didn’t fully understand the concept of a beautiful day, but it was something he had picked up from his father. “You don’t want to spend all day inside on a beautiful day like today,” Dad would say. Scott knew that was just Earthtalk. All the days in the lifedome were the same; this one didn’t have the luxury of artificial weather yet. His father had once brought him to a dome near the Valles Marineris on a work trip. They had gotten caught outside during one of the simulated rainstorms, and as the rains poured down in sheets, Scott could barely make out the dome walls. He could almost imagine he was on Earth.

Scott pushed away from the glass, chased by the pain of the memory. The raw, red knuckles of his right hand ached. Guilt bit at him as Scott remembered how his fist had connected with Jeremy’s cheek, followed by the look of shock on Jeremy’s face. They were friends after all. Friends usually didn’t punch each other in the face, even if they might mess around sometimes. This was different though. Scott hadn’t even wanted to punch Jeremy. He just did. And now he couldn’t take it back, and he couldn’t explain it to anyone, certainly not the teachers. He didn’t know how he’d explain it to his dad, and he’d be home any minute.

Scott looked around his room, picked up something from the floor, and sat down, examining it. The four wheels turned as he glided the object over his hand. Its two long doors opened, revealing the black interior. In front of the left seat there was a wheel, and some sort of lever stuck out from between the two hard, plastic seats. Scott shut the little doors and turned the object over in his hand. A horse in mid-gallop adorned the front of the object.

“Where’d you find that?” his father asked.

Scott jumped a little and turned to face his father with eyes downcast. “In your room.”

His father sighed, and pulled up a chair across from Scott, who only saw the chair legs and his father’s work boots. “Scott, look at me,” his father said.

Scott raised his eyes to his father’s face, saw the man that he would look like in another thirty years. Deep brown eyes bored straight into him. “What happened?” his father asked.

Scott looked away again. “I hit Jeremy.”

“Yeah, they told me that part. The principal called over to the research center to tell me.” Scott winced at hearing that. “Why’d you hit your friend?”

“He said something he shouldn’t have.”

“What’d he say, Scott?”

Scott tried to talk but couldn’t. Tears brimmed over his eyelids and ran in streaks down his face. The words caught in his throat, burned there. He felt like he had a chicken bone stuck in his throat. A chicken bone. Another bit of Earthspeak. He had never eaten meat with bones in it. It all came out of the vats in sheets.

“Let me see that,” his father said, and took the toy car out of his hand. His father flipped it over, gave the wheels a spin. Scott was looking at his dad again and saw him smile as the tires spun. His dad pulled open the little toy door and turned the wheel inside. Scott watched as the front wheels turned. The man looked at Scott, “I used to have one of these, you know? A full-sized one, got about 20 miles to the gallon.” Again with the Earthspeak, Scott thought. “That’s not very good, but it was fun to drive.”

“My friend Malcolm says that everyone on Earth had a car.”

“Not everyone,” his dad responded, smiling, “but enough people did. Too many people did.” His father’s smile faded, and he put the toy car down. “So, what did your friend Jeremy say?”

“He said that,” Scott cleared his throat and wiped away the last of his tears, “he said that our parents ruined Earth. That you were monsters and you’d doomed us to live on this prison planet.” There it was, Scott had finally gotten it out.

“He said all that, huh?” his father asked, then added, “Kind of poetic for Jeremy.”

“Yeah, he said it in front of everyone.”

“And what do you think?” Scott’s father asked softly.

“I don’t think you did it on purpose,” Scott whispered, watching his father’s face carefully. There was no malice in Scott’s voice, but even so, his father shut his eyes for a moment at hearing that, then looked at Scott.

“But you do think we ruined it?”

Scott thought about the horse on the front of the toy car, an animal he only recognized from cartoons and documentaries about Earth. Those were the very same documentaries that he had to sneak into the library to watch, because no one wanted the Martianborns to know about what they had left behind. Scott thought about the vat meat, and he thought about the simulated rainstorms. He thought about the parks that only recreated in meter-by-meter increments that which was bountiful on Earth.

Scott looked up at his father and said, “Why else would we be here?”

Scott’s father embraced him, and inside that embrace, Scott could’ve been on Earth or on Pluto or anywhere in between, but it didn’t matter. “I brought you here because I love you,” his father whispered. Scott knew that was true, and in that moment, in his father’s arms, he decided to never bring it up again.

Travis M. Prendergast lives in Groton, CT at the moment with his wife, newborn son (who he will not be taking to Mars), and his three cats. When he has the time, he writes both non-fiction and fiction, which can be found either on his Twitter or his personal blog. This is his first published work of fiction.

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Every Day Fiction