“Ms. Corben… Maria. It’s true that we have only officially worked together for a short time. However, if you factor in the fact that we attended University at the same time, we’ve actually known each other for years. I feel I’ve gotten to know you pretty well during that time, so I’m sure that you’re going to want to go right back to work after you leave here. As your counselor, I’d advise against that. You’ve been through a traumatic experience and you need time to relax and relieve the stress you’ve suffered from this ordeal. As your friend, you don’t have to face this alone. I can fill in for you for as long as you need to take. You have deserved to take a holiday long before this, so seize this as an opportunity to take care of yourself for a change.”
At first, I was upset at Doctor Coleman when he told me that I should take a break. I needed to be strong. I needed to continue on despite the harassment against me. But, as I looked at my hands, I realized I had not stopped shaking since it happened. I couldn’t get the image of so many people coming towards me, wanting to do me harm. It boggled my mind so many people would hurt me simply for being a child of a splicer, who adopted a genetic trait that I had no control over. Begrudgingly, I had to admit that I was in no condition to help anyone if I didn’t attend to myself first. Edward Coleman was more than capable of dealing with the mental health of the people on this ship. After all, he managed to convince me to help myself.
I was planning to go back to my living quarters to relax, but I decided to head down to Main Street instead. It’s been a long time since I’ve allowed myself some time to just window shop. This area was designed to be a replication of the main streets that were once common in the smaller towns on Earth. It was originally designed to give the original crew a comfortable sense of feeling like they were at home. Now, centuries later, it serves as a living memorial to the planet that we left behind. But, most importantly, it’s just fun to go down there and browse. There are so many little shops that offer pretty much anything you could imagine.
When I got there I was greeted by the fresh smells coming from the hydroponic garden. I’ll definitely have to pick up some fruits and vegetables while I’m down here. There is so much you can do with fresh tomatoes. I love trying out recipes from the archives. The Earth was such a large place, with so many different cultures. It would take forever to try every recipe we had stored in the ship computer’s storage system. However, it’s definitely fun trying to do it.
Many of the recipes call for meat, though. No animals were brought on-board when the ship left the Earth’s orbit, as they felt that they would make the ship unsustainable. They were almost certainly correct, but I can’t help but wonder what actual meat was like. We have substitutes, which are quite tasty. Of course, with no reference to go by, I have no way of knowing how close they are to the real thing. Earth was so abundant in meat that they served it quickly in places called “fast-food restaurants”. I wondered just how fast these restaurants really were, and what a beef burger with cheese would actually taste like. We have substitutes made from seasoned vegetables and fungi, but I can’t imagine that plants actually taste much like animal meat, no matter how they are seasoned.
I laughed inwardly as I caught myself drifting off into some odd thoughts. I always do that when I come down here. Edward was right. I needed a break. This is the best way to get my mind off of things. I walked into the grocer and grabbed some tomatoes, oregano, onions, garlic, salt, flour, and yeast. I also went into the cooler and grabbed some cheese, or at least our approximation of it. I had always wanted to try a pizza, and I had been pleased to find a recipe that was relatively easy to follow in my last journey into the Earth archives. I paid the clerk with my work credits, and he bagged my purchases. It always amused me that we kept up this tradition when our orders could just as easily be ordered from and sent up to our quarters. However, I knew that tradition was important, to help keep us grounded.
I walked down the sidewalk and saw many shops with handmade items. The people who didn’t work on the ship’s crew usually worked down here on Main Street, and they often made such wonderful things. I really admired the craftsmanship that went into the items that were for sale here. That’s one of the reasons why I went into training as a mental health officer. Well, actually, the main reason was that I genuinely liked to help people. The second reason was that I wasn’t good at crafting anything. In school, my clay pots always came out looking like the pictures in the database of the ashtrays that were once common on Earth. I would not make any money-making things like that. Since the original crew didn’t include any plants that could be rolled up and smoked, an ashtray would be completely useless to anyone aboard this ship.
I continued to walk down Main Street and saw the shop that sold electronics. I walked inside, to see what kind of augmented reality programs were available that I could use to relax later that night. I then noticed a table that displayed many different breeds of robot dogs and cats. My mind started to drift off towards Earth again, wondering what it would be like to have an actual animal as a pet and companion. I spent a lot of time in my youth reading the newspapers from the Earth archives and remembered reading an article that claimed to have a pet to cuddle greatly reduced your stress levels. I could definitely use a cuddly pet right about now.
I began to think that there might be something to that study since I was feeling more relaxed just thinking about it. I began to think that the day might just turn itself around when my thoughts soon came crashing down to reality. A spine-chilling scream came from the end of Main Street, near the fountain in the middle of Market Square.
I knew I should just let security handle it since I was here to relax. However, I couldn’t do it, as it is just not in my nature to leave the helping of people to others. If someone was in need of assistance, I have always been the first one there to help as best I could. Once I got there, though, I’m sure the attacker wished that I had ignored my instincts. The mother of one of the men who tried to attack me, Carla Jackson, was kneeling on top of my mother, pounding her so hard that my mother’s blood was dripping from her fists.
One security officer was trying to pull Carla off my mother, while two others were just standing there watching. At that point, I think Carla said something, but I can’t be sure, since the blood in my body rose straight up into my head. Before I knew it, all sense of reality was out the window, and I jumped at Carla. I was now on top of her, doing exactly what she had done to my mother, only trying my hardest to do it twice as hard.
I had just begun to beat her when I felt two arms circle around me. I struggled at first, then looked up, to see the captain herself. “Don’t worry Maria, the medical team is here. Your mother will be OK. I’ll make sure she gets the best care possible.” At that, Carla just laughed, and I became enraged, even more than before. Luckily, the security personnel had both of us in restraints at that point.
“She got what she deserves. The real question is: what about me? Did you see what that freak did to me? Did you hear that inhuman hiss it let out when it pounced at me? We’re not safe with freaks like that on board.”
I couldn’t listen to any more of the acid coming out of her mouth. “What about my mother? She didn’t do anything to you, but you beat her anyway. You’re conscious and talking. My mother isn’t so lucky.”
The witch just laughed again. “All of you freaks should be put down. It’s only a matter of time before your animal instincts kick in and you reveal yourselves to be the monsters you really are.”
I stared coldly at her, completely surprised at not just her lack of compassion, but at her complete lack of reality. “The only monster I see here is you.”
The captain put her arm around my shoulder and addressed the security officer. “I’ll take her down to the holding cell myself.” The guard looked surprised, but answered “Yes, captain.”
When we got to the elevator, the captain turned toward me with a sad look on her face. “I’m sorry that I have to detain you at all, as I know without a doubt that I would have done exactly what you did in your position. You’ll only be there overnight, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to place you off duty for a while. Not because of your actions today, but for all of the stress you’ve been under because of this nonsense. Doctor Coleman will take over your duties, and I’m afraid you’ll be under his care for a while.”
I just nodded. All of my energy had been completely drained from my body. I looked over at the captain and sighed. “Did I really hiss at her?” The captain looked surprised at the question, then frowned. “I’m afraid you did.”
I furrowed my brows in thought. “Maybe we really are part animal. No one knows the full side effects of gene splicing. Maybe we can’t be trusted to keep our emotions in check when we’re in the middle of a dangerous situation.”
The captain surprised me and actually pulled me into a hug. “You have more human compassion than most of the people on this ship. You just did what anyone would do to protect their mother, myself included.”
I actually smiled, in spite of everything that had just happened. In all the time I had known her, I had never seen the captain allow herself to show her human side while she was on duty.