Mr. Vainjoy's Children

Though the habitation and commercial levels of the station were crowded and teeming with activity, the engineering section was nearly deserted. No one came down here, unless something was broken. And these days, Caldari tech ran well enough that things rarely broke. So, this is where the man came, shuffled with tremendous force of will.

He settled down and let out a heavy breath. A heavy hood was pulled over his face, matching the dull gray robe draped over his body. No one would bother him here. No one would even find his body for weeks, if even that. When they did find it, it’d be perfectly preserved. The sterilized air had no microbes, and his body had been treated and manipulated so many times, outside of his own cells, there was nothing alive inside him.

He closed his eyes and settled back. He no longer had the will to go on, or the desire to put one more moment into this world. He didn’t expect there to be anything waiting for him afterwards; the afterlife was something for the Amarr to start wars over.

“Is he alive?” a whispered, high-pitched voice asked. He was slightly surprised to hear someone had come across him, down here, but he didn’t bother to open his eyes or respond.

“I dunno,” another whispered voice answered. It, too, had the soft quality of youth to it. He felt soft breathing on his face. “Ew, he sure looks dead. His skin is all see through!”

“It don’t matter,” said a third voice, this one more mature, squeaking with the midst of puberty. “Let’s check him to see if he’s got anything.”

A moment later, small hands began patting him down. They were robbing him. They wouldn’t find much, merely an electronic wallet keyed to him specifically. He inadvertently let out a rattling breath.

There were a pair of shrieks. “He is alive!” said the second voice.

“Whatever!” the third one said. “If he’s not gonna stop us from taking his stuff, I say we take it. He might have something we can use, or trade for food, or something!”

The last sentence surprised him. So much so that he opened his eyes. Standing over him were three children, all Caldari. They were dirty and wearing little more than rags. Their faces were thin. Two of them - both Civire; one boy, one girl - could barely be more than seven or eight, the third - a Deites boy - was probably around fourteen.

“Who are you?” he asked, his voice thin.

All three of the children shouted and turned to run. He reached out and grabbed the wrist of the Civire girl. She screamed and started to slap at him. “Let go, let go!” she yelled at him.

“Who are you?” he asked again. “What are children doing down here?”

“Let go of my sister!” the Deites boy said.

“Your sister?” he asked. He let go of her wrist and she scrambled away, standing behind the older boy. The other boy peeked out from behind as well. “Why are children down here?” he asked again.

“Why does it matter?” the Deites boy asked. “Why are you here?”

“That doesn’t matter either,” he answered. He saw no reason to tell them he had come down here to die in peace. With a great effort, he stood up. He towered over the children and all of them, even the bold Deites boy, shrunk back. “You need food?”

The Deites boy didn’t speak, but the Civire boy did. “Yes.”

“Shut up!” the Deites boy snapped.

“Come on,” he said. “I will buy you something to eat.” He turned and started to walk back up the corridor, toward the lift back to the main part of the station. It took a moment, but finally, the footsteps of the children started to follow behind him.

The children refused to come out of the access corridor to the main commercial district, but they agreed to wait for him there. He bought three meat-and-apple kebabs from an Intaki food kiosk and brought them back to the children. Their mouths watered as he handed the food to them. The two young Civire gobbled their food down, but the Dietes waited until the other two were finished. Once they were, he looked at them.

“Are you two still hungry?” he asked. They both shook their heads, but the Dietes boy pulled the largest two chunks of meat off his kebab and handed it to them anyway, which they both devoured. Then he wolfed down his own food.

Once the three children finished eating, they looked at him. “Why’d you buy us food?” the Dietes boy asked.

“I wanted answers,” he answered. “Since I fed you, I figure you owe me those.”

The three looked at each other, then the Dietes boy shrugged. “Alright,” he said. “What do you want to know?”

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I’m Kaden,” the Dietes boy said. “She’s Mina, he’s Cole.”

“Why were you down in the engineering section?”

“We live there.”

“You don’t have parents?” The children gave each other confused looks and didn’t answer immediately. “You are tube children,” he said, recognizing the looks from the studies he had done.

“Yeah,” Kaden answered.

“Why aren’t you with your creche?” he asked.

“We ran away,” Kaden said, matter-of-factly.


The children kept silent again and gave each other uncomfortable looks. “The matron was mean,” Mina finally answered.

“We didn’t get treated right,” Kaden explained. “There was never enough food, or enough space for us. The three of us all slept in the same bed. The matron used to punish us if we weren’t asleep when we got checked, even if we couldn’t sleep cause of the crowding. They didn’t keep the place clean either. It was - ”

He held up a hand. “That’s enough. So, you stowed away on a transport ship and came to the station.” The story wasn’t common, but neither was it rare. The condition of Caldari creches was varied, but out in the borderlands, it was more often worse than it was not. And with the lax record keeping, children could vanish and no one would notice them gone.

“That’s right,” Kaden said.

“You steal to get food?”

“If we have to,” Kaden answered. “Sometimes, we can find good stuff in the disposal units before they empty them.”

“I see,” he said. He stood there, looking at the children. They stared back at him, the younger two’s eyes wide, Kaden with a scowl on his face. “Come on.” He grabbed Kaden’s wrist and pulled him out into the open.

“Hey!” Kaden hissed. He struggled for a moment, but stopped once the two were out in the open. The other two children, faced with staying behind without Kaden or coming out into the open, scurried to catch up.

No one gave the group much attention as they headed toward the lifts to the habitation section. All four entered one of the small lifts. “Third floor,” he said, sending the lift into motion.

“What’s wrong with you!” Kaden growled as soon as the lift started to move. “If I’d yelled, you could have gotten in trouble!”

“But you didn’t,” he said, “because if the authorities had come, they would have found out you were runaway tube children and sent you back to your creche.” Kaden stuck out his bottom lip and crossed his arms tight over his chest. “Beside, I am not going to hurt you.”

The lift came to a stop and all four stepped out. The children followed him down the hallway, to a doorway. He stepped forward and pressed his palm to the lock. With a swish, the door slid open. “Come in,” he said.

The children followed him into the spartan apartment. There were few furnishings, as he had sold most everything before donating the majority of his wealth to the Society of Conscious Thought. Still, there was a small couch and a bed in the other room. “Welcome to your new home,” he said.

Kaden looked at him suspiciously. “Who are you?” he asked.

He smiled, the first smile he had made in a while. He pulled back his hood, drawing a small gasp from the children. “You can call me Mr. Vainjoy,” he answered.

They spent the next several days shopping. It took a few days, but eventually, the children came to accept going out into the open without hiding. Once they did, they were balls of energy. Cole and Mina, especially, ran around picking out clothes and toys. They were so enthusiastic, Mr. Vainjoy had to restrain them several times.

Only Kaden, credit to his advanced age, remained somewhat suspicious about the process. Because of that, on the seventh day of shopping, he took Kaden to the furniture store while Cole and Mina were left in the toy store.

“We will need two more beds, at least. And some chairs and a table,” he told Kaden. Kaden tried to pretend like he wasn’t interested. “Is there anything else you can think we’ll need?”

“I dunno,” Kaden mumbled. “I’ve never lived in a house before.”

“It’s not really a house,” he said. “More of an apartment. Still, I am sure compared to what you have known, it is a house.” Kaden mumbled something inaudibly. “We’ll go to the beds first. Do you think Cole and Mina would mind sleeping in the same bed? Or should we buy separate ones?”

“How much money do you have?”

“Enough,” he said. Even though he had been ready to die, his own pragmatism had won out, and he kept a small amount of money for himself. It was not much, especially compared to what he previously had. But it would be enough for now.

“Well…” Kaden muttered. “I guess one bed is probably good. I think Mina likes to feel Cole there. It helps her sleep.”

He nodded, that fit his observations. “I agree. We’ll find them a double bed. We can get you your own bed.”

“Why don’t I just use the one we already have?”

He smiled a little, though Kaden couldn’t see it under the hood. “I need to sleep there myself.”

Kaden frowned. “I didn’t think you slept. I’ve never seen you sleeping, and I don’t think you could fit in that one bed with all three of us in it.”

“I’ve been sleeping on the couch. And I don’t have to sleep as long as you. Only a few hours a night is enough for me.”

“Oh,” Kaden said. He shuffled along, mostly staring at his feet.

“Why don’t you find a bed that you’ll like? I’ll look for one for the other two.”

“Ok.” He watched Kaden nervously walk off. He shook his head at the child, then began inspecting the double beds. He wasn’t quite sure what children would like in a bed, though none had complained about squeezing into the small single bed they shared back at the apartment.

As he peered at the pricetag on a bed with an adjustable mattress, Kaden’s voice rang out, “Hey! I wasn’t doing anything! Let me go!” He spun and looked around, trying to spot the child. After a moment, he saw an older Caldari woman dragging him by the arm.

“Excuse me,” he said, walking up to her. “Is there a problem?”

The woman stopped and peered at him suspiciously. “Who are you?”

“I am his caretaker,” he said. “What is wrong?”

“She said I was trying to steal something!” Kaden protested. “I wasn’t stealing anything, I was just looking at it!”

The woman continued to stare at him, looking at his robe. She probably mistook him for an Amarrian, which did not bother him. “Yeah right! I’ve seen you before, stealing food from the vendors! Don’t lie to me!”

“What do you think he was stealing?” he asked.

The woman held up a small remote device. “This! He was trying to take the power source out of it! He had the back open and everything!”

“I wasn’t trying to steal it, I was just looking at it!” Kaden whined. “I wanted to see how it works!”

The woman almost looked like she was about to slap Kaden, but she stopped after glancing at Mr. Vainjoy again. “Yeah right, like a brat like you would really be doing that! Tell the truth!”

“I am telling the truth!” Kaden squealed.

He reached out and took Kaden’s hand, pulling him away from the woman. “If I may ask,” he said, “what exactly is that for?”

“It’s a remote for one of our adjustable mattresses.”

“What size is it?”

“A single.”

“Then I will buy it. Along with that bed over there.” He pointed to the double bed he had been examining previously. “If that will not be too much trouble.”

The woman narrowed her eyes. “You got the money?”

“Of course.” He reached into his pocket and retrieved his credit stick. He held his thumb against the scanner and it blinked three times. “Please, take the cost out of that.”

The woman took the credit stick and stared at it for a moment. When his identification picture came up, her eyes went wide. “Of… of course,” she stammered. “Where do you want them delivered?”

“My apartment. The information is on the stick.” She nodded quickly and ran off to get things prepared. He looked down at Kaden, who was doing his best to avoid his gaze. “What were you really doing with that remote?”

“I guess I was stealing it,” Kaden muttered without conviction.

“I asked what you were really doing.”

“I was just looking at how it worked.”

He stroked his chin. “I see. Are you interested in how things work?”

“Why are you doing all this?” Kaden asked. “Buying us beds and stuff.”

He paused, not anticipating the question and unsure how to answer. Finally, he deflected, “I asked my question first.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I like taking stuff apart and putting it back together again,” Kaden said. “I used to do it back at the creche, when the matron wasn’t paying attention. Then she caught onto me and started paying too much attention. Sometimes, I took stuff from the shops and took it apart too.”

“Well, I think I can teach you all about that sort of thing,” he said. For the first time since he’d found them, Kaden looked right into his face and smiled.

“No, the capacitor shouldn’t be connected to that!” Kaden yelped, grabbing the circuit away from Cole. “That’ll make it explode!”

“Really?” Cole asked with a little too much excitement.

“Go away!” Kaden snapped, slapping at Cole’s reaching hands.

“Yes Cole, go play with your sister. You haven’t touched those remote control drones your brother built for you yet.”

Cole sighed. “Alright, Mr. Vainjoy.” He ran off into the other room and, moments later, Mina’s protesting shrieks rang out.

He chuckled, while Kaden was too engrossed in the circuit to pay attention. “Now I just need to figure out how to bypass the router without overloading the capacitor.” He’d been working on the circuit for several hours, reconstructing it from only disassembled parts and a description of what it was supposed to do. The final product looked nothing like the original, even lacking a few of the original pieces. But it was only a few steps away from working.

After a few minutes of staring at it, Kaden let out a frustrated groan and pushed it away. “I can’t figure it out!” he whined. “It’s too hard.”

“You’ve almost got it,” he encouraged. “And you’ve almost done it without using all of the original pieces, which is very impressive.”

Kaden ran his hands through his hair. “How can you tell? Were you some sort of scientist or something?”

“Yes, I was. But I was a behavioral specialist, not an engineer. Still, everyone back home learns the basics of engineering when we are young.”

“You were young?” Kaden asked.

He chuckled. “Of course I was. Everyone is young at some point.”

“My teachers back at the creche told me you all didn’t have children.”

“We don’t,” he sighed. “Still, we aren’t made knowing everything. We have to learn, just like everyone else.” He smiled and pushed the circuit back in front of Kaden. “And you’ve learned in three months what it took me a year to learn. Now, just give it a little more thought. You’ll get it.”

Kaden frowned and stared at the circuit. At that moment, a drone buzzed into the room and smacked into Kaden’s head. The drone was small and lightweight, so it only stunned him. But he immediately jumped up, forgetting all about the circuit, and ran screaming into the other room.

Soon, Kaden, Cole, and Mina were all screeching and yelling and laughing. Mr. Vainjoy made no move to stop them. Instead, he watched as Kaden and Cole wrestled over the remote control. Soon, he was laughing too. He suddenly realized he was happy and felt alive. That made him laugh even more.

While the children slept, Mr. Vainjoy met with two other men covered in robes. “I need money,” he told them.

“Money?” one asked.

“Yes. I am afraid I have run out.”

“Our records say you donated everything to the Society of Conscious Thought.”

“I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

“Neither did we.”

“I know, that is why you are here, after all. Waiting for me.”

“Yes. But we can provide you with the money you need.” The man pulled out a credit stick and handed it to Mr. Vainjoy.

“Thank you,” he said.

“We will be waiting.” The two men left. Mr. Vainjoy lingered for some time before returning to his apartment.

“Are you sure these are the right parts?” Kaden asked, staring at the shipment. “Mr. Vainjoy said they’d be new.”

The cargo manager he was speaking to rolled his eyes. “Look kid. This is the shipment. I don’t know what’s in them, I don’t know anything about them. I just do what the captain tells me to do.”

“Well, they’re supposed to be new! Can I talk to the captain?”

“The captain’s a busy man, kid.” The cargo manager scratched his stomach and snorted. “And you’re the last delivery we’re making here. So either take ‘em or leave ‘em.”

Kaden grumbled. He was going to be building a working ship capacitor power relay for his next project. Mr. Vainjoy had ordered all of the parts from a supplier and had them shipped to the station, but they were supposed to be new. These parts had obvious signs of wear and corrosion. But it could take days to get different parts and there was no guarantee they’d be new either.

Reluctantly, Kaden pressed his thumb against Mr. Vainjoy’s credit stick. It blinked three times as he handed it to the cargo manager. “Glad to see we have a deal,” the cargo manager said, giving a smile that missed a few teeth.

“Whatever,” Kaden said, snatching the credit stick back once the transaction had finished. He grabbed the lift that held the parts and began pushing it through the station’s docking ring. As he walked, he allowed himself to forget his annoyance as he stared at all of the ships. There were dozens that he could see, hundreds that were in other rings or obscured from his view.

He marveled at the thought of building a part that might fit on one of those ships. As he walked, he noticed a Bestower-class industrial with a panel removed from its left side. Wires and circuitry were exposed and no one was there guarding it.

Kaden slowed down, staring at it. After a moment of contemplation, he let go of the lift and walked over to the ship. He peered into the open panel, examining the wires.

It looked like it had been overloaded. Some of the wiring was scorched and a circuit board was partly melted. He looked down and spotted a spare circuit panel, along with the tools to install it, sitting on the floor.

Looking around to make sure no one was looking, he grabbed the tools and immediately began removing the old circuit board. It was a difficult task, especially since every time he touched one of the exposed wires, he was given a small shock. It hurt, but wasn’t anything he hadn’t felt a thousand times before.

He had just about gotten the melted circuit board out of its housing when someone grabbed his shoulder.

“Mr. Vainjoy! Mr. Vainjoy!” Kaden yelled as he ran into the apartment.

He held up a finger and nodded his head toward the bedroom, where Mina and Cole were sleeping. “They just got in bed. What’s all the yelling about?”

“You’ll never believe it!” Kaden squealed.

“Calm down, Kaden,” he said, keeping his voice low. He pulled out a chair from the table and bade Kaden sit. He did, but the boy was bouncing up and down in excitement. He sat across from Kaden and smiled.

“Now, what has got you so excited?”

“Ok, well, I was getting the parts for the cap power relay,” Kaden said, speaking so quickly his words were almost mashing together. “But when I was coming back, I saw a Bestower with an open panel on the side of it! It had wires and everything sticking out of it!”

He nodded. “Yes, go on.”

“Well, I went over and checked it out. And it had a melted circuit board inside. And all the tools were there to replace it, but there wasn’t anyone standing there working on it!”

“What did you do, Kaden?” he asked, somewhat suspiciously.

“Well, I figured, they were just going to replace the circuit board anyway and probably throw the melted one away! So I grabbed the tools and started to take it out.”

He sighed and shook his head. “Kaden, you know you can’t just take things without permission. Give the circuit board to me, I’ll have to find this ship and return it to them.”

“No!” Kaden yelped.

That took him aback somewhat. Kaden had rarely argued with him since they started their engineering lessons. “Kaden, I won’t have you talking back to me.”

“No, I mean, no! That’s not what I did!” Kaden said, giddily bouncing in his chair.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I was going to take it. But then the worker caught me! I thought he was going to take me to security, but he took me to the ship’s captain instead!”

“And what did the captain said?”

“Well, he was annoyed at first, because he thought I was just stealing his parts. But I told him I was going to put the replacement circuit board in for him! He didn’t believe me.”

“And he’d have no reason to,” he said. “You should know better than that.”

“I know! I know! But I told him I’d prove it! So I went back and replaced the circuit board for him.”

He smiled, proud despite himself. “Very good job! I am proud of you, Kaden. I’m glad to see my teaching is working. Did he give you the melted board for payment?”

“No, something even better! After I finished installing it, the captain just stared at me. Then he called his chief engineer over, who took a look at it. After a few minutes, the engineer told the captain that he’d never seen someone hook up a circuit board like that before, but that it should work! And improve on the circuit’s access time!”

“Really?” He was impressed. It was one thing to rework a remote control to have more efficient circuitry. It was another thing entirely to do it to a spaceship.

“Yes! The captain and engineer were so impressed, they said that I could join the crew and get more hands on experience, if I wanted it! It’s just a trade runner, so it doesn’t go into any dangerous places.”

Now he had to stand. “Oh my,” he said. He paced for a few moments. “And what did you say?”

“Well, I told them I couldn’t.” He said it as if it were the obvious answer. “I mean, I can’t leave my family!”

He sighed. “You can take Mina and Cole with you, you know. I am sure they will have a school and more than enough room for them onboard.”

“But… But what about you, Mr. Vainjoy?”

He smiled, though it was a sad smile. “I’ve taught you everything I can, Kaden. The last few months, everything you’ve been learning has been all on your own. I just supervise, really. And you’re nearly sixteen now. This is a wonderful opportunity for you.”

“But… I can’t leave you.” Kaden’s face was painted with pain.

“Of course you can, Kaden. This is what I’ve always wanted for you three. To be able to make your own way in the world.”

Tears started to form in Kaden’s eyes. “But you’re… I can’t. I won’t leave you, Mr. Vainjoy. I can’t leave you more than I could leave Cole or Mina.”

He sighed. “When does the ship set out?” he asked.

“Not until tomorrow.”

“Maybe you should sleep on it. See what you think of it in the morning.”

“Ok,” Kaden said. “But I won’t change my mind. I’m staying here, with you. Even if it means I have to stay on this station forever.” Kaden walked into the bedroom.

With a sigh, he went back to placing dishes into the cupboard.

“I’m not going,” Kaden insisted the next morning.

No amount of argument would convince him. Finally, he gave in. “What if I go with you, Kaden?”

Kaden blinked in surprise. “But I thought you said you weren’t allowed to serve on any one else’s ship!”

“I’m not,” he answered. “But you are more important than that. I will take the risk. Everything will be fine.”

“Really?” Kaden was clearly excited.

“Yes. Go meet with the captain and agree to join the crew. Take Mina and Cole with you, so you can introduce them to the captain.”

“What about you?” Kaden asked. “Shouldn’t you introduce yourself too?”

He smiled. “In time. But for now, it won’t do. Besides, someone will have to pack.”

Kaden nodded in excitement. “Cole! Mina! Come on, we’re going somewhere!” A few minutes later, he had pulled them out of the apartment.

Once he was sure they had left, he sighed and sat down in front of his computer. “Record message,” he said. The computer blinked that it was ready.

“Kaden, Cole, Mina. My children. This is difficult for me to say. I love you all. I love you all more than anything I have ever known. In fact, you three are probably the first thing I can say that I actually ever loved. You have no idea how happy that has made me.

“I don’t know if your teachers ever told you about the disease my people suffer from. But it is incurable and strikes all of us, eventually. It is not a sickness, it is not something that wastes us away. Rather, it strikes us suddenly. One day, we wake up, and we don’t have the will to continue on. We may struggle through a few weeks or even months… But eventually, we give up on life and quietly die.

“The day you found me, two years ago, I had given up. But then you changed things. I found you. At first, I was just going to feed you. Then, I was just going to clothe you. Then, I was just going to give you a home. But each time, I found myself unwilling to stop at just that. I realized that I had grown to care about you. I finally decided that I had to give you a life. And that gave me the will to carry on.

“I thought I could keep you forever and that I would be the first one to beat the disease. But I’ve given you all I can give and like any father, I have to let my children live their own lives. I cannot join you on that ship. It goes against everything my people believe in. If I were to go with you, I would only be putting you and the entire ship in danger. But otherwise, you will never leave me and you will never have your own lives.

“Kaden, take care of Mina and Cole. They may not be your biological siblings, no more than I was your biological father. But we are a family, bound more strongly by love than any biological ties. I believe in you.

“Try not to mourn me long. I lived longer than I ever thought I would. Just remember that I love you, forever and always.”

Mina and Cole were both crying. Kaden’s lip quivered, but he kept from crying. All their things were neatly packed up, ready to be transported to the ship. The only things left in the apartment were their beds, without any sheets. On one of the beds lay Mr. Vainjoy, his eyes closed, a peaceful smile on his face.

He’d been like that when they returned, already dead. The message started playing a moment later, set to automatically play once Kaden came close to the body. He knelt down next to Mr. Vainjoy now, looking at his strange, almost-alien face. In death, it looked just like any other.

After a while, he pulled the sheet up over Mr. Vainjoy’s face and led Mina and Cole out of the apartment. As he did, two men wearing gray robes turned the corner and headed for the apartment.

“Is he gone?” one of the men said. Kaden nodded. “Very well. Leave now. We will ensure your things are sent to the ship.” The two entered the apartment.

“Who are they?” Mina asked as Kaden led her and Cole to the waiting ship.

“They’re his people,” Kaden said.

“But we’re his family,” Cole said with a sniffle.

“Yeah,” Kaden said as he gently tugged Cole and Mina away from the room. “And that’s a lot more important.”

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