A Visible Legacy
Dr. Raymond Plummer bragged frequently of his achievements, both old and new. His favourite? Although the lowest-rated professor in the Manicheel Institute’s History, Dr. Plummer also had the greatest death toll on his hands in the Manicheel’s history.
Out of the 10 students that remained of his initial 30, he was expected to choose 5 to advance as lab technicians for the Institution’s planetary research department. 5 assistants for the department he was demoted from over a year ago. It was an agony to see someone else at the helm of his project, but when it came to his duty as a professor, Dr. Plummer took it seriously.
Dr. Plummer cleaned his glasses, ignoring the last students dropping their papers on his desk. One by one, they escaped through the lecture hall’s sliding doors only ten feet away from his desk, where on the other side, they screamed curses about him. Dr. Plummer chuckled. He only allowed one hour to their exams and mocked their complaints a week earlier. Somehow, even the slowest amateur physicist managed to beat his clock by a few minutes.
His red-ink pen was ready despite his exhaustion. The sooner he finished, the sooner he could be out of the classroom for the “summer” break—a welcomed remnant of their life on Earth. It didn’t take long for the headache to kick in.
The Manchineel—the 1200 person starship he lived on for the last two decades—was without light, heat regulators, and coffee. At full power, they had only five days on the backup electricity system with their solar generators down.
According to the mechanics, it was an estimated two-week repair. Working in the light of a dusty orange sky did little to aid his already weak eyes. They were the reason for his demotion, and now a hindrance in his current task. Despite his suffering, Dr. Plummer vowed to remain in the classroom until he finished.
The numbers blurred together in the dim orange light until they were flickering, light gray waves. Dr. Plummer stopped frequently, rubbing the bridge of his nose until his eyes watered. He had a week to complete this task. Refusing defeat, but accepting a temporary surrender, he replaced the cap on his pen. He leaned back, looking out the floor to ceiling windows. Out in the alien, hazy desert of the strange fog-and-clay planet they were docked on, he found his least favourite things: teenagers.
Three, all in final year uniforms, huddled just outside his window with their backs to the Manicheel. They were short enough to hide, save one, who’s familiar bright orange head bopped in and out of frame often. By proxy to her, he assumed who the other two were. He exhaled, throwing his pen down. “School’s Out!” Their wrinkled jackets said. “Good riddance,” Dr. Plummer replied. He had a mind to leave them be, but anyone could walk in and lecture him for refusing to do his job: babysitting. Students and civilians were forbidden from leaving the ship without accompaniment.
They didn’t notice Dr. Plummer behind them until his boots hit the cracking, dry clay ground. All three turned, recoiling when they realized who it was. “Hi, dad.” Ur said, twisting the end of her messy orange braid. “What are you doing out here?”
Dr. Plummer ignored her question. “Don’t you know how toxic the air and mud is out here? Not only that, how much trouble you’ll get into if you’re caught disobeying ship rules again?”
The young man beside her, Nel Flint, grabbed Ur’s hand. With his free hand, covered in the alien clay, he fished in his pockets for folded up papers. “My dad needs some soil samples for testing in the greenhouse tomorrow and asked us to fetch them. No possibility of mercury poisoning where we are. You would need to dig at least six miles underground to hit anything remotely dangerous.” Once again, Nel’s father Dr. Flint, had made only the slightest attempt to hinder their fun. If only his daughter and her friends used science to improve life on the ship instead of fooling around outside. For now, Dr. Plummer bit his tongue, especially since he was the one without license to be outside.
“Come take a look at what else we’re doing.” Ur quickly changed the subject. She pushed her friends back, giving Dr. Plummer room to crouch beside her and witness the source of their interest.
He looked down, letting his eyes refocus. “Of all the things you do, Ur, you came out here to play in the mud like a child.” He could almost hear the other girl, Ur’s best friend Marlie, roll her eyes. Unlike the others, her father wasn’t a scientist. He was a mechanic, and they shared no love for researchers like Dr. Plummer especially. “What is this?” He demanded.
Ur was oblivious to the silent tension, smiling as she poked the little green sprout. Its leaves bounced back from her fingertips’ gentle tickles. “It’s one of Nel’s apricots he sprouted in class. I thought we should plant it and see if it would survive. See? It grew a new sprout already.”
“Ur, these things take decades to grow. Why are you wasting good seeds?” Dr. Plummer asked. It was like her to do this. Gardening was her hobby, and rarely, did he let her indulge in it. A remnant of their life on earth with her mother he refused to think about. Dr. Plummer was certain she was only friends with Nel to get access to his father’s greenhouse. By the boy’s dumb grin, he would give the entire greenhouse for her. Marlie on the other hand tagged along to cause trouble.
“What happens if we come back?” Marlie asked. They already knew the answer.
“Out of the question,” Dr. Plummer replied.
“The next star system is radioactive from the nearby quasar. We’ll all die entering it before this apricot here even gets a chance to prove you wrong, doc.”
Ur smiled, she knew her friends was willing to push his limits. No longer their teacher, he had little say over their actions. Dr. Plummer at least had say over his daughter. “One of these days you three will be out here and we’ll take off without you,” Dr. Plummer dusted his knees off and stood with Nel’s assistance. “Now get inside, your time allowance is almost up.”
“Good riddance!” Marlie muttered. Ur elbowed her.
Dr. Plummer walked back to the ramp, limping from kneeling so long. Close to the door, he listened.
“Your dad is a real piece of work. No wonder they knocked him off the research team,” Marlie hissed. “Why do you let him boss you around like that?”
“Oh, be quiet. The committee likes him. I hope you didn’t make us come out here to plant this to annoy him. He’s got enough health problems as it is.” Ur whispered back as the glass doors slid shut between the teens and Dr. Plummer.
It took over a week to finish marking the exams and triple that for the solar energy generators to come back to life. Running again, the Manicheel zipped past four galaxies and past fifteen potential planets, sans one little apricot tree sprout. Once Dr. Plummer turned his marked exams into the head office, he sighed in relief, forgetting the stress he shouldered the last two weeks.
Dr. Plummer dragged himself from the Institute and up to Bay 11 of the Manicheel where he shared a three-bedroom suite with Ur. Most of the researchers, professors, and chiefs-of-staff resided here from floors 8-11. Bay 12 was the navigational chambers for the Manicheel and strictly off-limits. Bay 7th was exclusively the Manicheel Institute of Space Exploration. Anything below was machinery, cheap entertainment such as bars, and rows of single-room apartments barely the size or Ur’s closet.
He stopped outside the sliding frosted glass door of his apartment, key card inches from the scanner. Laughter. He rarely heard that behind these doors—and never during exams season. It ended the day before and on a brilliant note for his daughter. He expected nothing less from his daughter. He prided himself on hard she studied—his legacy wouldn’t die with him. He walked in, both Ur and Nel sat on the sofa, watching something on her computer together. Dr. Plummer, still ignored, sat down on the square metal bench beside the door to unlace his shoes.
“You’re home early.” Ur shut off the computer, watching her father walking to the kitchenette. “Are your eyes okay?”
“Fine. I was done early tonight. I hope I’m not interrupting anything.” Dr. Plummer’s yellowing hair was a mess about his head and his shirt was rumpled. He hadn’t yet noticed Ur’s tight, shiny curls and her teal gown or Nel’s equally handsome matching suit.
Nel helped Ur to her feet and made Dr. Plummer a spot on the sofa. “We were waiting for you, actually. I was hoping since exams were over, I could steal your daughter tonight.”
“You’ve never asked before.”
“We’re going to dinner and later to the observatory. My dad is running a late-night exhibit. We’ll be gone until dawn.”
Dr. Plummer waved him off, more interested in his teapot. “Have fun. Don’t stay out too late.”
Without so much as a goodbye, Ur dragged Nel out the door. Dr. Plummer didn’t care. The exams went far better than expected and he had a fair pool of students to pick from. Perhaps there was some hope after all for his institute’s future. His presence alone made the teachers pick up their slack.
He sank into the couch and noticed Ur’s notebooks left out on the table. Nel’s books were also mixed in the pile. Flipping through the pages, the notes were legible and complete. What more could Dr. Plummer ask for? There was nothing done from the extra handouts, however. The first round of exams were all the same—simple testing of the previous year’s learning. The entry exams next month would stumble her—Dr. Plummer wrote them. She might as well have fun now, he mused, resting his eyes while he sipped on a sweet green tea.
Nel wasn’t his favourite choice for his daughter, but he sufficed. Ur staying out with him kept Marlie away from his daughter, who more than once sneaked Ur into the dangerous Bay 4 clubs. All ages or not, he didn’t care for the celebrations of the “Working” class. Nel, like his father, had some decorum and avoided those entirely. He had a future on his father’s projects started on the Manicheel’s maiden voyage 30 years ago. Dr. Flint studied the viability of human agriculture on other planets, and the attempt to feed double their colony in a matter of a decade. The research often proved hit or miss but resulted in fresh, cheap produce for the whole colony.
He shut his eyes to rest them for what felt like the first time in forever. His tea tipped over from its perch on his knee, startling Dr. Plummer awake. He cleaned up the stained carpet, leaving the cup on the table when he saw the light on the intercom flickering. He flipped the switch.
“Dr. Raymond Plummer?” A woman’s voice came through.
Dr. Plummer yawned. He leaned over and answered. “I’m here.”
“Oh, good, we have been trying to get in contact with you. There’s a situation down at the Institute and we need your help.”
“What is it?” Dr. Plummer asked. His heart sank. Was there an issue with the students? He missed the guard’s reply. “I’ll be there in five.” Still wearing his housecoat and sandals, he dashed out.
Every bay had a set of elevators that went straight to the Institute. At its peak times, it took less than five minutes to travel the Manicheel from Bay 12 to Bay 1. Regardless, Dr. Plummer cursed its speed from entry to his hasty exit. Fleeing his apartment to entering his lecture hall took Dr. Plummer less than two minutes. He stared at his brightly lit lecture hall and clutched his stomach. A security guard caught his arm and shouted for a medic.
The windows looking into the Institute’s lobby were smashed. Spray paint covered the walls inside the darkened room with misspelled choice words. Several torn-up saplings were stolen from the greenhouse and oxygen tubes were hung by makeshift nooses from the ceiling above overturned desks and stools. “Again?” He wheezed. “The airlocks going outside…”
“They’re fine.” The guard helped him sit on a chair. “They won’t talk. Can you tell us why this happened?”
Dr. Plummer turned to a bench filled with several teenagers, one he immediately recognized as Marlie. When they hung their heads in shame, the stench of unwashed hair and alcohol wafted into the compact lobby. “I expected better of you, Marlie.” Dr. Plummer said.
“Which is why you talk shit about all labourers, right?” Marlie snapped with surprising clarity. “The labour board voted 175 to 25 to return home last week. The Manicheel is falling apart and we can’t keep it together to survive a flight back home. We’re dead if we keep going like this.”
“The Institute determined the Manicheel worthy of another six dozen flights. One of these days, you kids will kill us all,” Dr. Plummer snapped. “What did you think this would accomplish?” Silence.
“And how many of us will you kill by constantly pushing us? Maybe the Manicheel can handle it, but we can’t.” Marlie’s voice cracked. “The ship’s breaking down and it’s all your fault.”
Dr. Plummer cleaned his glasses, looking for something to do. “What will happen to them?” He asked the guards, slowly removing the teens, one by one.
“Their parents are collecting them and will face charges. Any of these teens in the research programs are expelled immediately.”
From up the elevator emerged Ur and Nel, still conjoined by hand. They stopped short, blocked by a security guard. “I did it.” Nel gasped. “I gave them my key card to get in. It was my idea.”
“That doesn’t change the punishment.” Dr. Plummer stood, barely trusting his legs.
A security guard let Ur slip by to hug Marlie before she was dragged off. Anther guard cuffed and dragged Nel out with the others. Dr. Plummer said nothing, hauling his sobbing Ur out of the crime scene before she too was questioned and expelled.
When they returned, Ur refused to speak with Dr. Plummer. Instead, she smashed a vase on the coffee table and locked herself into her room. A few minutes after he laid down to nurse his migraine, Ur stormed out again and didn’t return until morning. Dr. Plummer slept poorly the nights following.
Repairing the lab took longer than anticipated. He ached to be away from the student classrooms, but he had little choice in what he got to do. Scrubbing down spray paint wasn’t how he intended to spend his break. When he wasn’t working, he was at home, ignored by Ur. Ur locked herself away in her room, quietly talking to Nel and Marlie on the computer. Although Nel was expelled from the Institute, he promptly found work in the greenhouses down in Bay 3. Barely self-sustaining work considering he would pay down his vandalism charges with his work credits. He refused his fathers help, having embarassed him enough. Dr. Plummer avoided his moody daughter as much as possible following the news.
“Nel wants me to reason with you.” Dr. Flint eased himself into a stool across the bench from Dr. Plummer, his weight making the stool groan. “He says that you won’t let him see Ur. He’s a good kid, he didn’t have anything to do with the vandals. At least let him apologize for hurting your reputation.”
“My daughter is busy with entrance exams, Dr. Flint. If he cared about her, he would leave her be to study.”
Dr. Flint cleared his throat. “Well, the thing about that is Ur transferred departments two weeks ago. She’s studying for an agricultural researcher assistant position.”
Dr. Plummer looked up. “You are joking.”
“The night Marlie and my boy got arrested. Ur transferred. She said she couldn’t handle the stress and wanted to get into agricultural research instead. She’s upset with Marlie too, considering she’s her best friend. She got there just in time to apply before the midnight cut off. She can’t go back, Ray. Look, be mad at me, don’t take it out on her. I signed those papers.”
Dr. Plummer packed up his suitcase. He worked calmly, putting his papers back in order before testing the lock. Once, twice. He changed the codes every day now. “I understand. Ruin others’ lives when your son ruins yours.” Dr. Plummer shouldered his bag and strolled out.
Outside, he skipped the elevator for the stairs. He needed to get rid of his head fog before he confronted Ur. He had no clue what he would do if he ran into Nel or Marlie. Rumour had it, Marlie was under house arrest in her own studio apartment. In Dr. Plummer’s humble opinion, the Manicheel was safer for it.
The docks were busy this day, the crowds thickest at each window. They whispered about the eerie, golden rainstorm, cut by the endless crashes of blue lightning. The storm ended that night and then they would leave this horrid planet. Until then, they suffered.
Dr. Plummer pushed through the freestanding walkways through Bays 9, 10 and 11 after escaping the suffocating lounge of Bay 8. He followed the constricting, murmuring crowds, jolting like an electric eel at every crash and flash of light. The Manicheel faced far worse. He checked his watch. Looking up again, the crowd cowered at something new, forcing even Dr. Plummer to a standstill. Gazing further upward, he saw her shadow.
Marlie was in a jumpsuit and upside down, gazing back from the other side of the glass. Her eyes shut in contentment, her arms free flying in the wind, only her ankles were tightly bound by rope. A sign was strapped to her chest with the same rope, readable for only those few seconds before the ink washed away with the liquefied flesh.
THIS IS YOUR ONLY WAY HOME, Marlie’s sign read. The bright ink dripped down her exposed skull, gone in a matter of minutes. The crowds echoed her message throughout the Manicheel’s bellows and bays. Half the starship’s populace crowded on the groaning walkways to gawk at the nonexistent crime scene. Dr. Plummer shoved his way to the elevators, only a few feet away.
Ur handled Marlie’s suicide with surprising grace. To start, she didn’t throw another vase at her father. Instead, she thanked him and slid back into her room after he delivered the news. He knocked many times but went ignored. Her bedroom door only reopened once, several hours later, when Nel showed up in his wet, muddy jumpsuit from the greenhouses. Dr. Plummer didn’t force him out but didn’t acknowledge him either. He watched through his office’s clear door the two kids in the living room. Ur quietly shook into Nel’s shoulder. Whatever Nel said, Dr. Plummer didn’t hear. That night, she left with Nel without a goodbye to Dr. Plummer.
Ur never cried or confided in Dr. Plummer. Some people wanted comfort—he only offered solutions and reason. Dr. Plummer found it rather selfish she refused to speak a word about transferring departments, nonetheless explain where she left that day. She came home for a few hours at a time, he noted, by his tidied dishes and ironed suits.
The day after her entry exams, Ur didn’t come home at all. His suits were rumpled and he had to wash his own teacups. Curious, Dr. Plummer checked at the Institute. She passed the entry exams with flying colours and landed a top spot on Dr. Flints’ team. She started right away and wasn’t down in the 6th Bay with Nel as he initially feared, although she worked with him most days. He let her be.
Life went on like this for several weeks. Dr. Plummer only saw Ur during her trips at the lab, shadowing Dr. Flint. Although they didn’t talk, she waved to her father. When he tried to speak with her, Ur buried her head into her paperwork.
Dr. Plummer accepted her new living situation, wherever it may be. He came home after dinner with some of the committee members. The odd time he went out, it was when the lounge had specials on student-made wines. Returning to his apartment, he tripped over the bench on his way in. Dr. Plummer leaned against the counter, holding a hand to his chest.“I thought I was disowned.” He said once he caught his breath.
Ur and Nel waited. Ur sat on the sofa while Nel, a little haggard compared to last time, paced back and forth, still sprightly as ever. Meanwhile, Ur had a new glow about her. She looked ready to spring up from the couch and dance. She remained poised on the sofa, her hands smoothing the hem of her dress. Dr. Plummer relaxed, relieved to see his daughter smiling one way or another. With the rest of the Manicheel fatigued with recent riots and Marlie’s suicide, someone needed to smile.
Ur refused the teacup Dr. Plummer offered her. “I came here to tell you something,” She began. “I’m pregnant. Me and Nel are getting married.”
“I thought that happened the other way around.”
“It was going to but… things were taking a while because of the Institute...” Ur flushed. “I’m leaving my job at the Institute. My work ends this Friday.”
“And live on a labourer’s salary with his debt? Absolutely foolish.”
Ur shook her head. “Nel took the blame to save you, dad. You forgot your key card in the door like you always do, Marlie took advantage, like always. Nel has great respect for you. Please, go to the committee and tell them the truth. We can’t keep living like this.”
“Truth doesn’t work outside limitations.” Dr. Plummer sank into his bench by the door, waiting for the hazy spots on his eyes to disappear. “Nel testified. That’s all there is to it. Don’t throw your future away for a labourer.”
“What future?” Ur asked. “We’re stuck on a rocket going nowhere. What else is there to look forward to?”
“Future of the human race. This research has nearly saved our planet from environmental destruction. We—”
“—I never asked to be involved in this!” Ur interrupted. “The Institute hasn’t done any research for the last decade. We’re waiting for the government to call us home. You know what? They will never waste the money to bring us back.”
“Like you have wasted my legacy!” Dr. Plummer screamed. Nel stepped forward but Ur held his sleeve. They watched Dr. Plummer stumble to his bedroom, fighting with the door. Ur at last pressed a switch on the coffee table, locking Dr. Plummer in his bedroom. The glass door closed him off from the only family Dr. Plummer had known.
He woke up late the next morning. He found Ur’s room tidied and abandoned. A note written on paper was left behind. Sorry for last night. I know I disappoint you but I don’t care anymore. We don’t have any intention of sabotaging your work. I promise everything will work out. For you. -Fleur.
She abandoned everything they had made. The Institute, her father, the Manicheel’s very mission. Where did Dr. Plummer go wrong? He threw the note into the trash and searched for a somewhat tidy suit.
He sat alone in the conference room, drafting the new year’s syllabus. Scientists passed through to collect their mail, politely greeting Dr. Plummer on their way out. Dr. Flint was alone, lumbering in with a tall coffee in hand. He lingered at the door.
“It’s a shame when a scientist sabotages another’s work, isn’t it?” Dr. Plummer mused. “First, his eyes, next his family. What’s next, the Manicheel?”
“You’re a madman, Ray.” Dr. Flint shook his head. “Good riddance Ur finally disowned you.”
The protests grew worse as months dragged on. All social events were shut down to prevent them. Gathering halls like the observatory and clubs were sealed off from public access. There was a notable increase in violence down in the labour bays that rose to even once silent bay 11. A night curfew was also established. While the many doors and elevators were controlled by the guards, that did little to deter the most ambitious. Every morning, Dr. Plummer left his room to find someone murdered or an apartment broken into. His was, fortunately, a few blocks down from the security control room—these issues never tormented him.
Every day between classes, Dr. Plummer checked the birth records. A baby boy with the name DARNEL FLINT popped up in Bay 6—the worker’s union. He didn’t book a visit or explain to the registrar why he inquired. The mother lived, the child was healthy. He did his duty.
“Do you mind dropping these off to the ticket master?” A soulless intern asked Dr. Plummer once he returned to his lecture hall to clean up. “I want to go down and collect samples tomorrow but I need a scientist to sign off and accompany me.”
“I’ll go, gladly.” Dr. Plummer hadn’t left the ship for some time. There was something to be said about real oxygen and the thrill of being the only man to step onto a new planet. The intern thanked him and disappeared to the backroom, taking up Dr. Plummer’s tasks.
The ticket office was down in the labour quarters in bay 3-7, although it served all 12 bays of the Manicheel. Dr. Plummer stood in the dragging line, allowing his gaze to drip over the railing and down to the lounge.
A familiar young man stood next to a broken machine, kicking a narrow, tall floor waxing device. He leaned on it, catching his breath. Dr. Plummer learned some time ago Nel had taken a second job after baby Nel’s birth. He snapped his neck around for a sight of Ur and baby. However, Dr. Plummer was shoved towards the ticket counter by an impatient mechanic before he got his wish.
The monthly Institute meetings were a great time to test one’s heart valves. When Dr. Plummer took his seat next to Dr. Rang, most of the men were shouting at each other over the oblong conference table. Dr. Plummer listened in to fragments bit of conversation, mostly drowned out by the non-voting council members milling around. Dr. Flint took a seat across the table from him. Their eyes met but he looked down at his computer.
Dr. Rang stood, his imposing figure silencing the group. “Good morning, staff. I suspect today will be an interesting day, won’t it?” He went through the usual formalities: respectable discourse, the month’s budget, and inventories. The committee voted through, the swaying council slowly closing in, waiting for the appeal they came for. Dr. Rang did not disappoint.
“It has come to my attention the majority wants to return home. As it stands, we have five planets left in our course. What do you say, team? Who wants to push the Manicheel to her limits?”
“We should start on a return course to earth now.” a faceless intern waved his hand from the far back room. “We have gathered all the information needed and well beyond that. It is one thing if we have defunct generators, but we cannot survive without air filters or proper water filtration.”
“Yes, we can.” Dr. Plummer replied. “We have a reliable food source and the manpower to handle any generator emergency. Our greenhouses can replace oxygen filters. That is for the best, especially if we are returning to earth soon. It’s easily another twenty-year flight. Us with grandchildren or children born here must be acclimated.”
Dr. Flint stood up. “Our greenhouses are barely a reliable source of food, especially with our growing population. Turning back now is too late as it stands from my research. If we don’t turn back tonight, prayer will be our only means of survival.” Concerned murmurs filled empty spaces between the council.
“Let’s put it to vote,” Dr. Rang said. “All in favour of returning to earth tonight?” 5 of the 25 committee members raised their hands, including Dr. Flint’s. Slowly, another 5 joined. 10. “All against?” Plummer raised his first. Dr. Rang second. Several other hands lingered but soon joined them. Fifteen to ten.
“We deserve to choose our fate!” The invisible intern shouted. “Why doesn’t the council get a chance to vote, too? Who wrote these damn rules?”
Dr. Plummer rolled his eyes. However, the spectators shouted in agreement with the intern, closing in from all corners. The intern was a spunky young alumni of Dr. Plummer himself. He was quickly grabbed by two security guards and dragged out, but it didn’t silence him. “The ship is falling apart and half the system is rusting away. One more flight and we’re dead!” The last of his phrase disappeared in the random shouts rising from the crowd.
Dr. Rang demanded silence. Dr. Plummer got up, leaving the meeting room through a back door as calmly as possible. No one noticed his departure, save for Dr. Flint.
It didn’t take long for word to get around the Manicheel about the disastrous meeting. The generators shut down. Dr. Plummer had already beat the elevators and was on Bay 11, half running to his apartment. But from the balconies only half a mile down the hall, security guards ordered a lockdown. They were drowned out by rioters, overturning luncheon tables and chairs in the lounge. Dr. Plummer double sealed the glass door to his apartment before he poured himself tea. Someone cleared their voice from the sofa.
Dr. Plummer looked up, spotting Ur. He squinted, his eyes focusing on a big grey bundle in her arms. The cloth fell back, revealing a gold haired boy, staring back at Dr. Plummer. Dr. Plummer froze. Ur tried to recover the baby but it cried out. She gave up.
Dr. Plummer took a second cup from the cupboard. He had nothing to feed baby Nel. “If you’re asking me to help get his father out of prison, I refuse.”
Ur nodded. “I know.”
“I warned you to stay away from that boy.”
“You don’t think I’m sorry?”
Dr. Plummer opened his arms. Slowly, Ur relaxed and let him hug her before pouring two teacups. She sank into his chest, allowing him to hold her and squirming Nel.
Ur rocked baby Nel, sitting on her lap. He kicked, hitting Dr. Plummer’s kneecaps from his perch. Dr. Plummer watched them. Ur looked no different in his eyes. Older, but still cheerful. She aged a decade in only a year. “As soon as the alarms rang, he ran to help. I warned him not to go but he didn’t listen. He told me to hide. I got out as quickly as possible.”
Baby Nel stiffed, focusing on Ur with concern. She poked his toes until he giggled, quietly dying her eyes with a snotty shirt sleeve. Dr. Plummer gave her a tissue from his shirt pocket, stealing Baby Nel from her. Nel laughed at Dr. Plummer, drooling down his shirtfront. Dr. Plummer smiled. “There isn’t much room here, and I can’t work much longer. With your background, I can get you a scoring assistant job and get you back into the Institute. I’m not much of a babysitter with these eyes, but whatever you need…”
Ur didn’t fight. She kissed Dr. Plummer’s cheek as he rocked Nel to sleep. “It’s been a long day if you don’t mind. Sweet dreams. Dad.”
He checked on mother and son throughout the night. Oblivious to Dr. Plummer, Ur slept soundly, baby Nel tucked into her arms. Each time, Dr. Plummer lingered at the door until he could no longer keep his eyes open and dragged himself to his own bed.
They were gone the next morning. Dr. Plummer at last settled down. Though bleeding, he prioritized sweeping up the remains of the coffee table. When Baby and Ur returned, they would be safe. Dr. Plummer ignored his desire to find his grandson, certain Ur went out to get food for him. Babies could not live on tea and spinach blocks. Instead, he set about preparing his lecture notes for his classes.
He arrived an hour late at the Institute, although the Manicheel was without its usual hustle. In fact, there was next to no one out today. During his dash to the labs, he spotted perhaps half a dozen people at most out.
“What’s going on?” He asked Dr. Rang, scrolling through a computer at an empty receptionist’s desk. He was supposed to be in the labs, but entertained himself here instead. “Where is everyone?”
“Fleeing. All the labourers and half the Institute walked out the ship last night. I hate to bother you, but could you cover the research department one last time? I know you were looking into retirement, but I had to transfer out to cover the medical department. If it’s too much of a bother, Ray, I can ask—”
“—I’ll do anything to help.” Dr. Plummer replied with solemn, wicked joy. He was promptly freed to go clean out Dr. Rang’s things, replacing them with his setup. He was no longer a mere educator, but a researcher again! Perhaps not all things to come from the riots were awful.
It was both an exhausting yet refreshing morning. There was a sweetness filling his lungs, invigorating him with pure ecstasy.
He looked out the window at the planet, slowly disappearing below them. Dr. Plummer scoffed. He swore he spotted Nel and Ur, both shovelling dirt with a baby in a wheel barrel between them. Like half a dozen others, they were filling in the dirt around a generator. A generator labourers quickly wired together before moving on to the next. It was brand new, still wrapped in plastic casing.
Dr. Plummer fled the lab. “We have to land!” He screamed. “Dr. Rang?” No answer. There were only shrill alarms and hazy smoke. Silently, Dr. Plummer backed up into his lab and sealed the emergency lock. He took a seat at his brand new desk, cleaning his glasses before he loaded up his computer. There were few things Dr. Plummer took pride in, he went through the list meticulously as he uploaded his files to the Institute’s server over seven billion miles away. He stopped every few moments to cough up smoke rising through the floor vents but finished his work just as quickly as the Manicheel statted its nosedive towards the fledging colony 1000 miles below. Mainly, the most important thing Dr. Plummer took pride in was completion.