The rules were simple: one child per family. Only one. With more than ten billion people on the planet, it seemed the only fair way to reduce the population.
But how does one define a family? It was a question debated for a while and ultimately the answer was mother and child. Not father. Only mother could be easily identified unless a database of everyone’s DNA was created. No politician wanted his DNA stored on a database somewhere, of course. Then people might find out just how many affairs and illegitimate children they had. While most knew these men had their own small harems, no one dared say it out loud or even publicly acknowledge it.
So mother and child it was. As long as each woman only had one child, everything was fine.
Unless you were the child of someone’s harem.
And that someone made sure all of the women in his harem worked for him.
Andrew sighed as he sat waiting in the lobby for his mother to finish turning in the last of her paperwork. He was fourteen tomorrow and the second youngest of the children. He was also the only one not wanted by his father. Mom tricked his father into it and used him to get out of the low income district. He’d met his father only twice and both times involved glares and no words. Andrew was a pariah, the unwanted one.
Across from him sat the youngest child, Lindsey. She missed being second youngest by only a couple days. She was listening to music and coloring something in a sketchbook on her lap. She didn’t even look up at him. Mom warned him never to talk to Lindsey unless he really wanted to feel his father’s wrath. He had no idea why she was there, and he didn’t dare ask no matter how badly he wanted.
The elevator bell dinged. Both teenagers looked up.
It wasn’t Mom. Instead, it was Aris, one of his older brothers. Aris worked here, like all the mothers and all the children old enough to. With striking red hair and dark eyes, he looked very much like their father only a lot taller. He stepped out like he owned the place, gave a nod to the woman at the front desk, and was about to walk out when he spotted the two teenagers.
Aris gave Andrew a sneer, then walked over to Lindsey. He peered over her shoulder. “What ch’you coloring there, princess?”
Lindsey looked up briefly, then back down at her work. “A picture, obviously.”
Aris leaned leaned against the wall next to her. “Cute, but you should be working on school work or something. You know, something practical that’ll help you when you start working here.”
“Art has it’s own value.”
“For what? Wasting time? You’re not even any good.”
Her hand paused. Her blue eyes looked up at Andrew, then back down at her picture. “I don’t do it for your amusement.”
He snorted and smirked. “Oh, I’m sure you don’t, princess. I bet you get told all the time how wonderful and special you are. Daddy’s perfect little girl who can do anything she wants. Except you’ll be just like the rest of us, working here someday.” He shot a dirty look at Andrew. “Well most of us. The good ones anyway.”
Aris reached out a hand to rub her on the head.
Her pencil shot up, nearly stabbing his hand before he could touch her. “Doesn’t your mom work for mine?”
Aris’ eyebrows shot up. “Uh, yeah, I think so?”
The pencil lowered. “So if my mom, say, felt really angry about something I said you did or said, couldn’t she, say, take it out on your mother?”
For a moment, Aris’ eyes went wide. Then he glared at her and snorted again. “See you around, princess.”
Andrew watched his brother amble out, still acting like he owned the place.
When he was gone, Lindsey looked up at Andrew. “Ignore him. He’s an asshole.”
Andrew stiffened up. Should he say something back? Mom said not to. What if he didn’t and it made Lindsey angry and Mom was punished for it?
Lindsey sighed and shook her head, then went back to her coloring. “At least he’s not afraid to talk to me.”
“I’m not afraid,” Andrew blurted out before he could stop himself.
She glanced up, then back down. “Good. Dad will never like you. He doesn’t like any of us.” She looked up again. “So if you want to get anywhere here, or somewhere else, you can’t be afraid, because if you are …” She looked towards the door and shrugged. “Well, you end up like him.”
Andrew stared at the door, trying to figure out if he should say more. This was his half sister and his mom’s boss’ kid.
There was a shuffling across from him and before he could do anything, Lindsey had gotten up and flopped into the chair next to him. “Want to see my drawings?” she asked.
His heart pounded. Yes or no? Which was the right answer? He couldn’t mess this up or Mom might pay for it. Sure, she was on the lowest pay rung and the only reason she’d moved up was because he couldn’t justify not promoting her longer.
“Sure,” Andrew said and relaxed into his chair. It was probably the wrong answer, but he was already hated. It wasn’t like it could get worse.