At the History Center
By: James Bates

It was becoming more and more apparent to twenty–four–year–old Quinn that he just didn't fit in with the twenty–third century. Especially now in 2220 when he and his five–year–old son Matt were growing closer and closer every time they saw each other. More than ever he wanted to spend time with his only child and be part of his life. It was an emotional connection he'd felt ever since he held Matt in his arms for those first few moments after Karen had given birth and before the nurses had whisked him away to be raised in the first of many regional dormitories.

He'll always remember being told he shouldn't have those feelings."Too bad buddy," one of the nurses in charge had said back then, smirking unsympathetically as he prepared to take the newborn baby away. "That's just the way it is."

All things considered Quinn thought he'd done a pretty good job of not punching the jerk in the nose right then and there. But that would have caused a scene, something frowned upon by the World Order, so he'd kept his mouth shut, hands in his pockets and his feelings to himself.

However, he did have feelings, strong parental feelings. In those first few moments after Matt had been born Quinn felt a bond forming between them. He knew Matt had felt it too by the way the little fellow smiled a big, toothless grin when Quinn first held him. But that was too bad, because according to the World Order it wasn't supposed to be like that. Feelings were frowned upon in the twenty–third century. He tried to ignore them, but as Matt got older and Quinn spent more time with him, he realized he had to do something. For most of the past year he mulled it over, thinking about what to do, but so far, he'd come up with no plan. Nothing. He was in a quandary.

Then, out of the blue that very morning, while waiting for the transport carrier to drop Matt and about seventy other five year olds off for a World Order mandated field trip to the regional History Center, the answer had come to him. It was a simple solution, really, elegant to his analytical mind, and the more he thought about it, the more he thought, Yes, this is the right thing to do. He'd simply steal Matt away from the dormitory where he lived. In short, he'd kidnap his son.

In the year 2220 the world had been dealing with the effects of global warming for two–hundred years. Because food supplies were limited, human life was terminated at forty years of age, but no one ever lived that long. To keep citizens in line, the World Order mandated a policy of taking a day off a person's Lifeline for any of a myriad of offenses, many of them trivial – crossing in the middle of the street, waving to an acquaintance, laughing in public. Quinn had already lost one hundred and seventy–nine days due to a host of petty indiscretions. He was racking up more and more being with Matt and hugging him and holding hands, shows of affection frowned upon by those in charge, but he didn't care. It was worth it.

Quinn went over his plan in his mind as he waited for Matt. It took only a moment because the truth of the matter was that he didn't have a plan. Not really. In fact, he hadn't even told Karen about it. He'd just decided that very morning to do what his heart was telling him – to take his son away from the cold, heartless dormitory that was euphemistically referred to as The Neighborhood by those in charge and start living a different life. A better life. One with he and Karen and Matt together as much as they wanted and not prescribed by the World Order. He may not know what exactly he was going to do or how he was going to do it, but it felt like the right thing to do and that was the important thing. After all, he told himself, he wasn't going to live forever.

When five–year–old Matt stepped from the transport carrier, Quinn took off his oxygen mask and rose from his bench in the waiting area to greet him. Matt was easy to pick out from the other five–year olds because of his bright red hair. Even though he was short in stature, the red hair was a dead giveaway, part of a genetic strain that ran through Quinn's family and similar to the hair color of his long–departed mother.

Quinn waved to get Matt's attention, who, as soon as he saw his dad, grinned and waved back. They hurried to each other and instead of the World Order mandated handshake, Quinn gave Matt a big hug, ignoring the gasps from the other parents gathered to meet their own children. Quinn didn't care. It felt good to hug his boy, so he did it again. So, what if he lost two more days off his Lifeline, one for each hug? He didn't care. Besides, how could he ignore the wonderful feeling he got when Matt hugged him back. Take that, World Order Police, he thought to himself. Too bad if you don't like it.

Quinn took Matt's oxygen mask and put it along with his own into his backpack. Once they passed through security, they came to the first exhibit. Matt excitedly pointed and read the sign, haltingly, wanting to show off for his dad.

Quinn smiled as Matt turned serious and intoned, "House. Victorian Era. 1900's."

"That's really good, son," Quinn said, complimenting him, appreciating how much better life felt when the two of them were together.

Matt's proud smile quickly faded. "Thank you," he said, politely. "But, Dad, I don't know what it means."

Quinn took Matt's hand, ignoring that it was another violation, and worked his way through the crowd to a nearby bench where they sat down. "That's okay. I'll tell you what I know." In the back of his mind he saw another day being lopped of his Lifeline.

"Long, long ago, people actually lived in houses like this."

Matt's eye went wide, thinking about the cold, gray concrete structure he lived in. "No way! They did? What happened?"

"Well, you needed wood to make houses like this one and as the world got warmer most of the trees died."

"Trees?"

"Yes, like we saw last week in the Biodome."

Matt's eyes lit up. "Oh, yeah! I liked it there."

"Me, too. But, remember that the exhibit at the Biodome is like this one. Things aren't like that anymore."

"I know." Matt was quiet for a minute, thinking. Then he said, out of the blue, changing the subject, "Dad, I have to tell you something."

"Sure. What is it?"

"I don't like where I live."

"You mean at the dormitory?"

"Yes," he snuffled, tears beginning to form as he tried to be brave.

Quinn's heart went out to him. He put his arm around Matt's thin shoulder and pulled him close. "What is it, son? You can tell me."

Matt looked up with plaintive eyes and Quinn's heart almost broke, "They're mean to me there, Dad. Plus, I get lonely and I miss you. And Mom."

The World Order mandated that children be raised according to their strict guidelines. Married couples could have one child and that child was removed from them shortly after birth and raised in dormitory with other children of their age, their indoctrination into World Order philosophy beginning in the cradle. They only saw each other on approved outings, like the one they were on now. For caring parents, like Quinn and Karen, it wasn't much or nearly enough.

Most couples accepted the situation with equanimity, but Quinn and his wife Karen did not. Karen loved Matt deeply but her job as a biochemist for Millennium Microbial forced her to work long hours. Quinn happily picked up the slack. He saw Matt as often as he could, sometimes even taking a day off from his job as engineer at the regional wind farm to go on World Order mandated field trips, like the one they were on today. Any excuse to be with Matt was fine with him; in fact, the more times the better, as far as he was concerned.

Matt's plight touched his father, furthering his resolve to make a drastic change. Quinn took his son's hand and they walked to the next exhibit, a replica of a huge white domed building. When they approached it Matt dutifully read the sign:

"The White House. This is where presidents lived. Right up until the World Order took over in 2120."

Matt looked at his dad, confused. "I don't get it."

Quinn said, "Way back then, where we're living now, there was a country called the United States of America. When the world temperature started getting warmer and the crops began failing and the oceans started rising, all..." he was going to say "All hell broke loose" but he didn't. Instead he said, "Well, things began changing. Fast. And not for the best."

You could say that again, he thought to himself. And things had gotten lots worse since then, too, especially concerning world's food supply. Or lack of it. The project Karen was currently working on was investigating ways to improve food production to help increase the dwindling supplies. As she had told Quinn just last night, "The prospects are grim, believe me, but Jen and I are doing our best."

And Quinn certainly hoped for the best, but his wife and her team of one had a huge task ahead of them.

Quinn and Matt toured a few other exhibits and Quinn began to notice how subdued the young boy was. It was breaking his heart. He saw Matt for at the most four hours a week and it clearly wasn't enough; for either of them. The time was right to make his move.

As they walked with the group of parents and five–year olds to the cafeteria for lunch, Quinn leaned down and asked, "Matt, let me ask you something."

"What, Dad?" Matt took Quinn's hand.

"How would you like to live with me and your mom?"

Matt's eyes went wide. "Really? Live with you and Mom?"

"Yes. Shhh," Quinn held his finger to his lips."Not so loud," he grinned to show he wasn't mad, but his heart was pounding. The last thing he needed was to get caught before he'd had a chance to even try to get Matt out of the dormitory. Quinn looked around to make sure no one close by was paying attention. Then he asked, "Would you like that?" He didn't notice a security guard eyeing them suspiciously.

"Oh, yes! Yes, I would."

"I'd like that, too," Quinn said, and smiled as he tousled Matt's thick red hair, accepting that it would result in another deduction from his Lifeline. He didn't care. After today, it really wouldn't matter.

"Are you hungry?" Quinn asked.

"Yeah. Starving."

They followed the crowd into the cafeteria and the security guard lost interest in them.

"All right, let's get our lunch," Quinn said.

"Goody," said Matt.

But they never did.

Matt's absence wasn't reported until later that evening when he turned up missing at evening bed check. The room he shared with three other boys was quickly searched and then the entire dorm. Nothing. It was late that night when authorities placed a call to Quinn and Karen who lived on the fourteenth floor of a fifty–story concrete apartment complex.

Karen answered, "Hello?" She listened for a minute and then shouted, "Matt's missing?" Her voice rose in anger. "Well, you'd better find him! Fast!! Because if you don't, I'll..." After yelling in the phone for five minutes she angrily hung up. Then she smiled to herself. There, that should convince them I don't know anything about what happened. Then she dialed Quinn. They'd been in constant contact since Quinn had discovered the vacant build six hours ago and had called Karen. They were now talking every hour or so, keeping each other updated on what was going on.

He picked up, "Karen?"

"Yeah. The security police just called about Matt being missing. I blew up at them. When I was done screaming, I'm sure they didn't think either you or I had anything to do with it."

"You did good, honey." Quinn breathed a sigh of relief that Karen could hear over the phone.

"So," she asked, "how are you two doing?"

Quinn pulled Matt to him and kissed the top of his head. They were sitting in the third and top floor an abandoned building on the outskirts of the city, five miles from the History Center and a couple of miles from the apartment building. They were cold and hungry but that didn't matter because they were together. "Good. I found some old blankets. I've got some food I stole from the cafeteria. We're going to have something to eat later."

Karen checked the time. It was nearly midnight. Quinn and Matt had been on the run for nearly twelve hours. She was mad at her husband in one respect for taking Matt without telling her, but she was also was proud of him for sticking up for Matt and doing what he thought was best for him. "I'll get some food and water and bring you some other supplies tomorrow. How's that sound?"

"Sounds good." Then he said, "Do you want to say hi to Matt?"

Karen's eyes welled up in tears of joy, "Yes! Of course, I do."

Matt came on the phone, "Hi, Mom. Dad and I are having an adventure."

Karen smiled. She could imagine Quinn telling Matt something like that, something to make them being fugitives seem a lot less serious than it was. But it was serious. They were wanted by the World Order Security Police – the WOSP. Quinn would certainly be imprisoned if he was caught, maybe even put to death, and she couldn't let that happen. She'd do whatever she could to keep her husband and son safe. Starting with bringing them much needed supplies tomorrow.

After a few minutes Karen said, "I love you, Matt."

"I love you, too, Mom." "Now, let me talk to your dad."

"Okay." Matt handed the phone over.

"Hi," Quinn said, trying to sound upbeat.

Karen wasn't having any of it. "My god, Quinn, what were you thinking? More to the point, what are you thinking? Do you know how dangerous this is? The WOSP aren't going to be messing around. They'll want to make an example out of you and I'm worried about what they'll do if they find you."

Matt snuggled next to his dad; a feeling Quinn wouldn't trade for anything. "Yeah, I know, Karen. But I'm glad I did it." He explained what Matt had been telling him about dorm life and how some of the kids were being physically mistreated by some of the staff. To make matters worse, the more they talked the more Quinn was able to read between the lines and figure out that some of the poor children were also being sexually assaulted as well. Finally, he said, "I just felt it was the right thing to do; to rescue Matt from that place and make sure he was safe."

Karen was quiet for a moment and then told him, "I know. I'm just worried. I'm sorry for getting mad. I love you more than ever for doing that. You did the right thing." She paused before continuing, her voice full of resolve, "Look, let's make this work. I'll bring you food and water tomorrow on my way to work." Matt listened, hearing the determination in her voice. Once Karen made up her mind anything was possible. It was good to have her on his side. "Is that okay with you?" she asked.

"Yes, absolutely! Thank you."

They talked some more, arranging where to meet and other logistics, both of them aware that their lives had now changed forever. When Karen hung up, she had one final thought and that was this – Quinn could never come home again. He was a fugitive and it was up to her to help keep him safe. He and their son. Could she do it? Karen spent the next few hours getting supplies together before she came up with her answer. And the answer was this: Yes. Yes, she would do what she could to keep her family safe because she loved Quinn and she loved Matt. Somehow, she'd figure out a way to make it work.

She lay down to rest but couldn't sleep. A dingy, gray twilight crept across the sky outside the one narrow window in the apartment. After a few minutes, she sighed and got up. Tomorrow was already here. It was going to be a long day. She hoped she was ready for it.

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