“Ordilori do not leave Ordilor.”
Cashin nearly stomped his foot in frustration. “There is nothing for me here. Nothing for anyone my age.”
His father did not answer. He continued to load data disks into his belt pack.
Tional and Lingi ran through the room shouting at each other, and Cashin stepped back to let them pass.
“There are no jobs, Father. Nothing for us to do. The Academy will give me opportunities on other planets.”
His father lifted the edge of the table and folded it into the wall. He turned to face his son.
“I know you are worried about your future, Cashin.”
“Not just mine, Father. What about Sennar, Oksell, Tional, Lingi, Nutry? Only Sten has a future, working your job someday. And maybe Sennar at Mother’s.”
The younger children ran through again and both stepped back to give them room to run.
“We’re bringing the new recyclers online tonight. They will make a big difference.”
“Not to me and not to my friends. All of our generation has nothing to look forward to. The recyclers are automated. They won’t create any jobs. I heard from Genar that his Dad will lose his job as a result of the recyclers. Genar doesn’t even have that crummy job to look forward to.”
Cashin’s mother walked between them with a container of freshly washed clothing. She unfolded the table from the wall and placed the container on it.
“Our people have always stayed on Ordilor, Cashin. From the first settlers until now, no one has ever chosen to leave and make a home elsewhere.”
“Maybe some of them should have,” Cashin said. “Ordilor wouldn’t be so overcrowded then.”
“We love our home and we don’t leave it,” his father said.
“You just don’t understand. Either of you. You don’t know what it is like to face your future with no hope. To know that your fate is pre-determined, that you were obsolete the day you were born.”
His parents exchanged a glance and then his mother wrapped her arms around him. “You aren’t obsolete, Cashin. You are the future of Ordilor—”
He laughed shortly.
“—though it does not seem that way now. Your father and I were blessed with all of you children and we love you all very much.”
“I’ll try to remember that when I’m standing around useless with no employment for the rest of my life.”
Another look passed between his parents.
“Time for me to get to the plant,” his father said. He adjusted his belt pack and left the room for his evening goodbyes. Cashin used to look forward to the ritual with his dad, a few moments of personal time for just the two of them, before his dad left for work each evening.
Now it was just a reminder for Cashin that he would never have a similar ritual with his own family one day. No woman would want a husband with no job and no future.
His father returned, stepping over Nutry where the three-year-old laid on the floor fitting sticky blocks together. Avid bent down to give the boy a quick kiss and hug, smoothing the hair out of his eyes. Nutry squirmed to get back to his blocks.
Avid moved toward Cashin, arm extended, but Cashin drew back against the wall.
Avid dropped his arm and stared at his second son. “I know how you feel, Cashin. I do. But Ordilor is the place for you. You will understand later. The recyclers will change everything for our people. Tomorrow will be a new start for Ordilor.”
Cashin refused to look at his father or acknowledge his words. What else could be said? There was no future here, but Cashin couldn’t leave. Tomorrow would be the same as today, only worse.
His mother hugged his father briefly. “I’ll meet you for your lunch break.” Avid nodded and opened the apartment door. A steady stream of people passed by the doorway. He waited for a slight break in the crowd before he pushed out and was gone.
* * * * *
Cashin leaned against the promenade railing with his friend Genar and ignored the crush of Ordilori hurrying by behind them. Weak evening light from the sun drifted down and illuminated the new recycler plant in the valley below. One more blocky building, nearly indistinguishable from all the other structures around it, uniform in their gray hopelessness.
“My dad says they’re bringing it online tonight,” Genar said.
“All of them. A new dawn for Ordilor.”
“Did you ask your dad again?”
“He said no. Again. ‘Ordilor is for Ordilori.’”
“Mine too. Do you suppose when we’re adults, we’ll say the same stupid line to our kids?”
“Not me. If I ever get lucky enough to have kids and they want to leave the planet, I’m letting them go. When I’m old enough, I’m going to find a way out of here myself.”
“There is no way out. No ship’ll take you off-planet without papers and the government won’t give you any. We’ll die on Ordilor.”
“Not me. I’ll find a way.” Cashin stared at the recycler facility with all the frustration and hate he felt for his crowded, hopeless life. “Not me.”
* * * * *
Cashin woke from sleep that night at a gentle touch on his forehead. His mother drew back from the kiss she had placed there.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” she whispered. “I’m headed out to meet your father for his lunch break.”
He nodded sleepily and closed his eyes.
“I love you.” Her last whisper echoed into his dreams as she tiptoed around the other sleeping platforms, dropping kisses on each child.
His next wake up call was ruder.
“Cashin! Get up!” Oksell’s voice, just on the edge of changing to his adult tones, grated across Cashin’s ears. “Mom’s not here and Dad’s late.”
Cashin propped himself up on his elbows, careful to duck his head so he wouldn’t hit it on Tional’s platform above. “Where’s Mom?”
“I don’t know. They’re not here.”
Cashin rolled out of bed ands tumbled to the door. Nutry was crying softly on her platform below Ling’s. Cashin scooped her up on the way by. Oksell trailed after him.
Sten stood in the kitchen alcove by the message screen, but the screen was blank.
“Sten? Where’s Mom and Dad?”
His older brother turned slowly. Cashin had never seen that expression on his face before. It reminded him of the gogglefish in the zoo – wild, round eyes with no intelligence behind them. Gogglefish were so stupid they would swim right into your hand. Cashin felt a little scared to see that look on Sten’s face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Get the other kids.”
Sten turned back to the screen without answering.
Cashin found Sennar in their parent’s room. The small room was neat, the furniture folded up and stowed as their mother always left it. Sennar stood uncertainly in the center, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
“Sten wants us in the kitchen.”
“I thought there might be a note or something. Maybe Mom went to walk home with Dad.”
Cashin handed Nutry to her and went to get the rest of the kids from the bedroom. They settled onto the bench platforms in varying degrees of alertness. Sten still had that strange look and it worried Cashin more.
Sten lifted his hand toward the message screen and then dropped it. “I … the message light was blinking when I got up this morning. I thought it might be Rutti.” That was his girlfriend. She called a lot.
“You all need to hear this.” He pressed the playback button.
An image of their mother and father appeared.
“Mama,” Nutry said. Sennar hushed her.
“Good morning, children,” their father said. “By now you’ve noticed that we’re not home. Please don’t worry. There are some important things we need to tell you.”
Cashin slanted a glance at Sten. His brother stood stiffly, the gogglefish look replaced by a shuddering in the tight muscles of his face.
“Two years ago a committee was formed to discuss the problems facing Ordilor—the overcrowding, the unemployment, the diminishing resources. They examined many solutions, but given our advanced state of overpopulation, they soon realized that only drastic action would give Ordilor a future.”
On the screen his father slipped an arm around their mother.
“On that day, the idea of the recyclers was born. A technology that could restore health to Ordilor and give hope to its people.
“Tonight the recyclers are complete and in a few moments, they will be activated, each one in every city across Ordilor.
“What was never announced was exactly how the recyclers would save our planet. We kept that knowledge a secret until tonight.
“When the committee reviewed the possible solutions for Ordilor, they always came back to the central problem, too many people, not enough resources. We Ordilori love our children and have always rejoiced in those young lives, our best resource and hope. But without drastic action, there would be no future for our children.
“The recyclers do exactly what their name implies. They break down items into component chemicals and minerals and recycle them back into manufacturing, agriculture, all industries.”
He looked at their mother and a small smile of strength crossed his face. “Tonight, after the recyclers are activated, your mother and I, along with all adults over the age of 30 will enter the recyclers. We made this decision willingly, to leave our beloved Ordilor to those we love above all else—our children.”
Cashin wondered at the strange rushing sound in his ears and then realized he had stopped breathing. He drew a shaky breath and the noise subsided.
“Please understand how much we love you. We know this news will be a shock. But our sacrifice will make Ordilor into the planet of hope that it was meant to be.
“Be sad, our dear children, but only for a short while. There is much work ahead of you. In the morning there will be only a fraction of the population left on Ordilor. You must take over the jobs we have left behind. Tear down the empty buildings, plant farms with crops, use the zoo resources to repopulate the animals.
“Ordilor is your world now, to make of it what you will. Goodbye, our beloved children.”
They both waved at the screen and a hint of wetness glimmered in their eyes. And then they were gone.
“Mama,” Nutry said. Sennar did not hush her this time. Instead, she wrapped her arms tightly around the toddler as tears rolled down her own face.
Cashin looked at the blank screen and then bolted for the door, leaping over the bench where Oksell and Tional sat frozen.
Out in the hallway, he stopped. It was empty. For the first time in his life, the hallway was silent and devoid of people. He ran, blindly, heart racing in terror. He pounded on Genar’s door.
It opened and his friend stood there with a gogglefish look on his own face. Behind him, his brothers and sisters wept, screamed and sat in stunned silence.
Cashin couldn’t speak. He grabbed Genar’s arm and together they ran to the promenade. It sat beneath the early morning sun in eerie desolation. No crowds, no voices, no press of bodies, just empty sidewalks.
They stopped at the railing overlooking the valley, panting to hold back the sobs. Below them, the new recycler plant building looked the same as it had the day before. And yet Cashin knew he would never forget exactly how the sun hit the gray stone and metal today. The rays burned the image into his brain.
“Cash … what do we do?” Genar’s voice wavered with disbelief and unshed tears.
What could they do? Time would not roll back, no matter how desperately they wished it. Yesterday’s argument with his father scalded his heart. It seemed trivial and childish now.
He had wanted to be useful, to have a future on Ordilor. His wish had been granted, by his parents, by all the adults on Ordilor. He wanted to take it back.
Genar bent over the railing beside him, sobbing. Cashin laid his arm around his friend’s shoulders and stared across the valley, over the top of the recycler, into the morning sun.
“We are Ordilori. We will rebuild Ordilor.”