They sat on a cloud and watched the city below. Each hugging their knees to their chests. Connie was thirteen. His body, however, was twenty-six with strong muscles, short but shaggy hair, and crystal blue eyes. Beneath the stained shirt and patch-worked jeans was deeply tanned skin littered with scars. He was born for labor in the metal factories and had been doing so for eleven years knowing nothing else. He met Brendan by chance.
Brendan was a year younger. Twelve years old, but biologically her body was twenty-two, and male. She had strong muscles made for heavy lifting. Her skin was pale due to working the night shift loading the ships headed off-world. She first saw Connie by chance after her work day ended. She was exhausted and making her way back to her room when she saw him heading toward the shipyards. He had just woken up, hair disheveled, and groggily walking through Lexington Park. His eyes were what caught her attention. They seemed sad, but also caring. She knew him in that moment to be someone who longed for a connection. Just as she had.
For the next three weeks, she would come to call him “the boy with blue eyes” because she was too afraid to approach him. She would linger in the park after her shifts to see him. He always walked the same path and his hair always seemed to be disheveled in the same pattern. He would also have a burrito hanging out of his mouth most days. She almost believed him to be a machine like the rest of the population did. Bred for a purpose and treated like property. Not born but grown. But she knew his habits were his own despite being trained and regulated at every moment, because she was created his equal. She had her own habits outside of her parameters.
Her walk home had slowly changed course the previous weeks to coincide with his, albeit in reverse. Two men. One walking away from a hard day’s work, the other walking toward one.
“Hi,” she said in a voice she always hated. It was deep. Fitting for her body, but torture for her self.
“Hey,” Connie replied.
The interaction was brief as they quickly passed each other and headed toward their destinations. Brendan went home and thought about it the remainder of the night. Connie worked his ten-hour shift then went home to bed.
They repeated their hellos the remainder of the week. The next day started the weekend and the park had a few more citizens around in the morning when they passed each other yet again. Brendan’s body grew less exhausted as she saw Connie come into view.
“Hi,” she said, her voice a tad higher from her excitement.
“Hey,” Connie said. Then, just before they passed, he stopped. “What’s your name?”
Brendan’s surprise halted her stride. “Me?”
“Yeah, I’ve been seeing you a lot lately. Seems only right to know your name.”
“I’m Brendan,” she said. Her heart threatening to rise further into her throat and prevent further speech.
“Connie,” he said and extended a hand.
“Nice…nice to meet you.”
They’d perfected their routine within a few weeks. Every morning they could spend one hour together before their monitors warned them of breaking curfew. Connie would often have to sprint to work while Brendan wandered to her small cube. The room was the same as every other. Furnished with only a bed, a microwave, and a small screen in the ceiling. She hadn’t turned hers on since meeting Connie.
She would wake up a little early to meet up with Connie as he got off work. They would spend an hour together, just talking, before their monitors called them away. They tried not to talk about work, which was hard at first as it defined their lives, but they soon began asking more intimate questions. Learning each other’s quirks. The things that set them apart from the thousands of other workers that lived hidden in the city. Forced to their cubes when not working except for the trips in between.
They found the cloud a few days after they noticed the citizens using them. During the week, the park was usually empty, but on weekends a handful of citizens decided to enjoy the only small patch of nature within one hundred miles of the coast. The cloud was an older installment meant to increase use of the park. It was a novelty that died quickly, but it became their safe haven. They would rise into the cloud and sit for their stolen hour before returning to the ground and parting ways.
They grew close. Shared secrets they didn’t know they had. Desires destined to go unfulfilled. Connie wanted to learn music. Brendan wanted to travel off-world. Every night, she loaded ships with containers. Never knowing what was in them, but knowing it was something valued more than she was. Meant for people who lived lives above the labor she performed. She wanted to go out into the universe with what little time she had left. She contemplated hiding in a container but knew she would be found and returned, if not retired.
“You could do it you know.”
“Do what?” she asked.
“Get off world. Find a life out there somewhere.”
“I’d be lucky to make it five minutes before getting caught.”
“But what if you weren’t?”
“You know how to get these off, smart guy?” she asked, lifting the monitor.
“I have a few ideas.” He said it jokingly, but a seriousness settled with the words.
“Real funny,” Brendan said. She tried to force a laugh but Connie’s face stopped her. “You’re serious?”
“I’ve been sneaking shards of metal from the yard-”
“You know what they’ll do if they catch you.”
“Just listen. There is more for us outside of these.” This time Connie lifted his monitor. “We may have been bred to work, but there is a life out there we could live. Even if they caught us in five years, ten, or even one, it would be better than staying here until they throw us away. Any amount of time away from this life is worth it.”
Brendan agreed with everything Connie was saying, but she realized she valued his life too much when weighed against the risks.
“Think about it,” he continued, “We could build something for ourselves. We have to give ourselves this chance. You’re the only family I’ll ever have. You’ve become like a brother to me.”
He’d been holding these feelings back from her. Now that he had finally said them, he seemed more open about the idea and spoke freely as the weight lifted from him. She noticed how he grew more animated, but the weight he threw off had crushed her. Suppressed her own weight that she struggled with. Solidified the fears that prevented her from speaking her own feelings. From telling him her truth.
“What do you say?” he asked.
“I say…. it’s risky.”
He looked at her, waiting for an answer.
“But…” she finally added, “not impossible. We would need to plan it very carefully.”
Everything was in place. Connie would remove his monitor while in his cube where it would look like he was sleeping. Then he would meet Brendan as she finished her shift. She would have two containers ready with the necessary supplies to survive the deep space travel in the crates. He would remove her monitor and place it along her usual route home to reduce suspicion before they took off. Her monitor would get noticed once the two-hour time limit passed and she wasn’t back in her cube.
Connie arrived as planned and Brendan had him climb into the crate she’d set aside out of sight of the foreman. She sealed it and carried it onto the ship. She loaded two more crates before grabbing her own crate with supplies. She stacked it on top of the pile of other crates and hopped in during a brief moment when no one was looking. She sealed the crate as best she could from the inside and hoped no one noticed her absence.
A half hour passed before she heard the ship bay doors closing. The containers vibrated slightly as the engines came to life and an excitement flourished within her stomach and chest. She let it escape into a smile as she lay in the dark. She smiled despite the immense fear still gripping her. The fear that someone would open her crate and find her indiscretion. Find her trapped within the small space that was her entire life. She smiled through the fear at the life she was dreaming of in that moment. Of the life she was escaping to.