IN SPITE OF JIM
by Lorraine Anderson
"Na, na, na, na, na, na!"
Miri looked around, her hands on her hips. Her voice rose above the chanting. "You have to come out."
"We don't come out for Grups. You can't catch us."
"Grup, grup, grup, grup." The taunt echoed off the tall buildings in the square. Dirt floated down in the breeze, and Miri ducked, in spite of herself. They were throwing mud balls at her. More taunts! Miri couldn't tell how many Onlies were around her.
"I am not a grup!" Her voice sounded thin. She looked down at her hands, her unblemished arms, her... her breasts. The Fed doctors had told her that this was normal, as well as her "monthlies," as one male nurse had called the bleeding. Yuch. This wasn't normal. But she can't be a Grup.
"I am not a Grup," she repeated lowly. She heard a beep and stared at her communicator. It was them.
Things were so simple when Jim was here. But he left with the Enterprise and left her with these... Grups. Worse than Grups. They made her do things. School. Real school where she had to read and learn things. And then she had chores and work and they were trying to get her to find... Onlies. Oh, living with these Grups was fun, kinda, and the food was better and it was so nice to be clean and wear nice things, except for now, when they made her put on her old dress and made her hair tangley.
There weren't too many Onlies left on the planet, they said. Many, she knew, had been killed in the Hurting Time. Others had been killed by accidents. Some had starved, although the Onlies were slow to starve — "due to your slower metabolism." the Feds said. She hadn't had to eat or sleep often, ever since the Hurting Time, and there were cans of stuff and every week she and Jahn tried to find an animal to kill and cook for the younger Onlies. But now she found herself doing these things – eating and sleeping – every day. Weird.
And finding Onlies. She hated this part.
It wasn't fair! Why had they come? She was happy!
But she maybe would be dead by now.
The communicator beeped again.
"Na, na, na, na, na, na!"
She shrieked, then screamed "Shut up! Everybody just shut up!" She threw the communicator hard against a building, hoping it would shatter. It didn't. It bounced.
With another shriek, she ran. Miri ran and ran and ran, and the further she ran, the freer she felt. She felt like an Onlie and the others were trying to catch her. She felt like a flier. She felt like...
She ran past the buildings, past the old stores, past houses, half-burned houses, houses fallen down, with here and there one looking so normal it made her heart ache for the much Before Time. The younger Onlies were lucky, they didn't remember. They couldn't remember. Even she couldn't remember everything.
Three hundred years. Three hundred years. What did her parents look like? Did she have parents?
She did have parents. They got sick. Sores rose on them, and they got angry. They beat her, then they kicked her out of the house, then they ran off and left her. She wandered after them. She was one of the older ones. She knew there was something wrong, and she followed them, screaming at them to stop, to stay with her, to tell her what she did wrong.
Then they stopped running and fell into the streets. She kicked at them, telling them to get up, but they wouldn't. She turned them over. The sores had covered their faces. She didn't know them.
She ran, she ran, then she ran.
She ran past other Grups. They were burning their houses, they were killing each other, they were killing... they were killing the children. She ran past children, bloody bodies, bloody faces, crying children, children staring at her with blank eyes, Grups beating them, Grups yelling, children crying. She picked up one small Onlie and ran. Ran after other Onlies, screaming at them to run! She found herself downtown. She saw Grups coming after her and scrambled into a building. They lost interest, and started killing each other, yelling it was all their fault. It was their fault the automobiles were dead and the children were naughty and all of the toys were broken and...
She hid, and she hid the little Onlie behind her, whimpering. She told it... her... to shut up. A boy dove into the shop. He looked out the window, then around, wild eyed. She opened her hiding place and told him to get in! They were going to spot him, She wasn't going to be killed because of him. More children piled in. Louise, Buddy, Jahn. All the Onlies she knew. All her friends and she protected them... she protected them...
Until Jim came.
And she ran, and ran, and she couldn't protect them any more, they wouldn't let her, the Feds had come and she was growing up.
She didn't want to grow up. She didn't. She couldn't. She wouldn't...
She slowed down. A child was on the road before her. A girl, long dark hair. Small. Looked lost. The child shrieked, but she picked her up. "I'm not a Grup, I'm not going to hurt you. I'm not a Grup." The child sobbed and struggled. "I'm not a Grup."
"Where are your Onlies?"
The child looked back on the road ahead of Miri. "They... they died. Or they went away. I'm the last Onlie."
The girl looked at Miri, looked at her face. "You're not an Onlie."
Miri's breath caught. "I am..."
"You're not. You can't be an Onlie. You're too..."
Miri sat down, still holding the child. "I'm a... I'm a... I'm a... young adult."
Miri sat, looked at the child... no more than a baby, with a dirty face. Not so long ago, she was a baby, too. She searched through a pocket, found a piece of cloth, spat on it, and started to clean the child's face. "I'm a... 'tween."
She had forgotten about 'tweens. She had friends who had 'tween brothers and sisters. All gone now. She smiled at the child. "I'm between an Onlie and a Grup. There haven't been any 'tweens here for a long, long time. What's your name?"
"Jamie. I've found some nice Grups."
"There are no nice Grups." The girl spat at the ground.
"There are." Jamie began to struggle again. "The Grups we know were sick. They couldn't help but kill. These Grups are not sick. They will protect you from the sick Grups." The girl looked up at her. Miri crossed her heart with her arms. "Hope to die."
Jamie put a finger in her mouth. "Ok. I guess." She looked tired, and Miri hugged her.
Miri and Jamie started walking back. They walked past the burned out houses, the burned out vehicles, the grass in the sidewalks. After a while, Jamie put her hand in Miri's.
Things were going to be all right. For all the Onlies, for all the Feds, for all the 'tweens. Miri would make sure of that.
In spite of Jim.