Aphelion Issue 273, Volume 26
June 2022
 
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Auntie Brit

by J. M. R. Gaines




Rita Ramirez thought that nothing could beat the thrill of her first voyage into space with her parents.  They were going to ride on the new R-12 Solar Griffin shuttle up to an orbital platform and then transfer to the liner Universe Caprice for the trip to Mars to tour the John Carter Canyons and then return via Ceres, with an excursion to the Crystal Caves.  Of course, it was a low-fare tour and her mother would not stop reminding her father that, if he had gotten the promotion he’d been working on for five years, they could have gone all the way to Saturn’s Rings.
”You know, Hank, Ivana Jones and her partner are going first class on the Rhapsody and she’ll get to wear that new see-through gown to the casino,  That’s real style!  I don’t see how you could have let the opportunity slip away and sit by while her Pete got the vice presidency and the raise and the office on the hundred-and-first floor.  Think about that while we’re in our economy cabin.”
“Hmmph!” snorted Rita’s dad, pressing his lips together as if he were holding back some details of a scene that he wouldn’t discuss in front of his daughter.  “This trip is a lot better for Rita and will help her with her Martian studies course in tenth grade next year.”

“I suppose so, but I really would have liked to get out to Saturn so we could maybe meet up with Brittany. It’s been so long and I’d love to see what her life is like.  Imagine, an officer in the Cosmarines, and her boyfriend a brigadier!  I bet they have a wonderful place with a replicator cuisine and a holo-suite and everything.  That’s what you should want for your daughter.”
Rita saw her father roll his eyes in frustration and piped up, “Mom, I’m not so sure I’d want to be a commando or the girlfriend of a brigadier.  Why can’t I work on my pottery and become an artisan?”
“No low-brow future for you, sweetie, sniffed her mother, “You’re going to Hopkins and marrying a doctor, at the very least.”
It was just another domestic argument and Rita knew it would be like this for the whole journey.  She would be lucky if Hank didn’t flush himself out through an air lock to escape from the carping.  It was always about Auntie Brit and her great accomplishments, her high fashion clothes, her exciting adventures.  A big 3d picture of Brit adorned with a medal for valor reigned over the living room back home and anyone unlucky enough to come to dinner would be battered with Brit this and Brit that, as though their entire family standing was attached to the life of her overachieving aunt in space.
Rita had to admit the Solar Griffon was impressive in itself.  It gleamed with silvery jet engines and a huge ruby-colored ceramic heat shield for re-entry.  There were at least 300 people in economy and another sixty in first class, sipping champagne.  They were seated four across, with Hank symbolically on the outside, Mom in her orbital best trying to look too important to be there beside him, Rita next to her, and a young and slightly pregnant lady on the other aisle.

After badgering Hank for another 20 minutes as the Griffon gained altitude on jet power, Mom got bored and turned to the expectant mother.  “My dear, you look radiant in that yellow outfit.  Did you get it from Nordstrom’s? You must be very confident to fly in your condition.  They say the shift to rockets can be a little jarring.”
“Oh, gawd,” thought Rita, “Can’t she ever say something that’s not snotty or awkward?”

The pretty brunette next to her just smiled and said, “I was sure to get an Ok from my doctor.  Anyway, I don’t have a whole lot of choice.  My Pablo’s an engineer on Mars and his three-month hitch became a two-year hitch.   I want him to see his baby.”

“You’re so right.  We can’t trust these men to be alone.”  She glanced back meanly at Hank, who pretended to be absorbed with something playing on the video monitor.  “Those colonies are crawling now with pros… with girls who are out to grab a conjugal settlement.  You can’t let him slip out of your hands, honey.”

“I’m sure that’s true,” said the lady, trying hard to be polite, while giving Rita a glance full of pity that silently said, “You poor kid, you’ll need courage to survive growing up.”

“Why my own sister, Brit, was sharp enough to hook up with a general and now she wears E-Gad! Originals whenever she’s not in uniform.   She mainly eats fresh lobster from the Europa hatcheries.  Wish we were having that for lunch instead of chicken.  Oh, hold on honey, I think they’re flashing that rocket thrust is coming up.  Rita, is your belt tight?”

There was not a jolt but a steady, rising pressure as the shuttle turned on its rockets to escape the Earth’s gravity.  It made Rita feel a little creepy and she was surprised when she felt the mother-to-be clasp her hand and squeeze a little, as though she were afraid and needed some support.   Rita gently clasped back.

As the shuttle approached orbit, the gravity slacked off in an even more disturbing way.  Rita’s pregnant neighbor began to look a little green in the gills, excused herself, and padded off toward the bathroom, holding onto the safety rails.

“Little fool!” remarked mother.  “That piece of fluff would never make a Cosmarine.”

It didn’t bother Hank, though.  Rita saw her father glance mischievously each way to make sure no flight staff were watching and undid his safety belt.  He floated up a couple of inches into the air, whispering “Hoo hoo! Look at this Pam!”

“Would you stop making a spectacle of yourself?” Rita’s mother hissed.  “Look at your daughter and how she’s holding up.  You can tell she inherited her space genes from my side of the family.  You’d never catch Brit clowning around on a tourist flight.”

“Actually, Mom, I think I might need to go, too.”

“At least wait till that stupid cow gets back, so you know there’s a free bathroom.”

In a few minutes the pregnant lady returned and Rita rose to leave before she sat down.  The lady whispered to her.  “Watch your step in the bathroom.  I’m afraid I didn’t make it all the way to the commode and barfed on the floor a bit.  The attendant is cleaning it up now.”

Rita opened the door and a voice warned, “Wet floor!”  An attendant was wiping up a trail of vomit with a mop.  Something funny about the way she moved.  Passing, Rita saw a metal gleam under the attendant’s cuffs.  The arms were not real.  Prostheses, the doctors called them.  Not the expensive cosmetic kind either.  The attendant’s face turned and with a shock Rita saw it was the same as the one in the living room holo-frame.  She froze and suddenly her mother walked in.  “What are you doing, Rita...”  Stunned, her lips mouthed, “Brit!”

THE END


2022 James and John Gaines

Bio: Educator Jim Gaines and his librarian son John write science fiction together as J. M. R. Gaines and live in Fredericsburg, Virginia. Their novels Life Sentence and Spy Station (Amazon, 2016 and 2017) begin the Forlani Saga series and will be followed later in 2022 by Earth Regained, and eventually by two other sequels. They have also published in various journals and anthologies a range of short stories that take place in the Forlani Saga universe.

E-mail: James and John Gaines

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