FM System increases phonological awareness in dyslexia

Comments on “Listening Aids May Help Boost Dyslexic Kids’ Reading Skills”

Joan Mele-McCarthy, D.A., CCC-SLP

In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (September 4, 2012,  www.pnas.org), and reported in a condensed version by HealthDayNews (www.healthday.com), September 6, 2012, Dr. Nina Kraus, and her colleagues, Drs. Hugh Knowles and Dena Klein, reported very interesting and promising research pertaining to technology and students with dyslexia. The researchers designed and executed a study to explore the benefits of using FM listening devices for students throughout the school day at an independent school for students who have reading problems. The study included an experimental group of students with dyslexia and a control group consisting of students with dyslexia from the same school. The students in the experimental group wore blue tooth microphones that responded to FM transmitters worn by teachers. Students in the control group did not wear the device.  Instruction was not changed during the course of the study – the techniques traditionally used by teachers in this school for students with dyslexia were used for both groups of students. Both groups of students were assessed on a measure of phonological awareness, the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, and reading subtests of the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement, Third Edition pre- and post-study.  After one year of study, the researchers reported very interesting and promising results. Many of the children in the experimental group demonstrated marked gains in phonological awareness and reading achievement, while children in the control group did not demonstrate comparable gains. 

What are the specific findings revealed through this research and what are the implications for continued work in this area?

Dr. Kraus reported that when the brain’s responses to speech sounds were measured in all children prior to the implementation of the study, the students who improved in phonological awareness and reading also demonstrated improvements in consistent response to the rapidly changing elements of speech sounds (i.e., transitions from one sound to another) and also demonstrated consistent response to speech sounds in general.  Statistical analysis revealed that the gains were specific to consistent responses to speech sounds, and not to amplification of the overall signal/noise ratio in general.  Dr. Kraus and her colleagues concluded that the improved stability of speech sound processing was linked to reading improvement.

A review of the work of Dr. Kraus and her colleagues demonstrated that students who improved their consistency of response to speech sound stimuli the most  post-research  were the students whose response to speech sounds pre-study were the most discrepant (i.e., very inconsistent) from typical learners and listeners. The students in the experimental group whose pre-study response to speech sounds mirrored typical learners (i.e., consistent responses) did not demonstrate change in their response to speech sounds post-study; their response to speech sounds was measured to be consistent before and after implementation of the study. The results of this study revealed that the students who improved from highly inconsistent response to speech sounds to very consistent response to speech sounds demonstrated marked improvements in phonological awareness and reading skills. The question not addressed by this study concerns instructional strategies and use of FM listening devices. Would students with dyslexia in a mainstream environment who are exposed to instructional strategies used for the typical learner benefit from use of an FM listening device? The results of this study, although exciting and promising, are specific to a subset of students with dyslexia in an independent school designed to meet the needs of this population of learners.  Further study is warranted with respect to understanding subsets of students who present with dyslexia and have inconsistency in speech sound processing, replicating results of this research with greater numbers of subjects, and manipulating instructional strategies.

Is research on the use of FM listening devices new scientific inquiry?

The use of FM listening devices has been included in research literature for several decades, but mostly as they relate to the education of students who are deaf or hard of hearing.  FM listening devices provide amplification of the acoustic signal (speech loudness) of the speaker (e.g., teacher in a classroom) to enhance the speech perception and discrimination of the listener (e.g., student).   In the 1960s and 1970s, FM listening devices were called auditory trainersand were used to help students who were deaf or hard of hearing learn oral speech and language and to receive academic instruction orally.  In the 1970s and 1980s, there was research interest in using auditory trainers, or FM listening devices, for students with attention deficits and for students with auditory processing disorders.  Amplification of the speech signal was minimal since this population of learners was not deaf or hard of hearing.  These studies were based on the premise that slight amplification of the speech signal would improve the student’s ability to attend to and benefit from verbal instruction.   Results were promising for this population of students, but there were many limitations to the practice of using FM listening devices.  The FM listening device technology of yester-year either used sound-field technology (i.e., speakers in the classroom that picked up ambient noise) or individual units that tethered student to teacher (the devices were not wireless, blue tooth devices).  Students and teachers alike did not feel that the benefits of this device outweighed the challenges.  In addition, the cost and acoustic design complexities for equipping classrooms were great. Measurement of skill/academic improvements were not neuro-biologically driven (e.g., neuroimaging technology did not exist as it does today), so that actual neurobiological changes were not able to be demonstrated in response to instruction in an acoustically enhanced instructional environment.  Furthermore, the research base for phonological awareness and phonemic processing was not established and therefore not used as a measure of foundational reading skill. Thus, measurements of specific skills related to speech sound discrimination, sequencing, and manipulation as precursors to reading development were not obtained.  Consequently, widespread use of FM listening devices in classrooms was not embraced by the general education, special education, and speech-language community for students who struggled in school but had normal peripheral hearing.

What contributions can this research make to the field of dyslexia?

Naturally, this line of research is very exciting and provides a great deal of hope for parents, teachers, and students who have dyslexia.  We know that for individuals with adequate hearing acuity, listening skills are essential for the development of oral communication skills and academic progress. Children acquire oral language through listening, beginning with attending to and recognizing discreet speech sound differences, moving to sequencing speech sounds to form words, to linking meaning to individual words and words in sentences. This early and very discreet interaction with and knowledge of speech sounds forms the foundation for later reading development. The ability to process oral language quickly and accurately allows for the development of conversation and the ability to comprehend and respond to verbal instruction in school. This line of research has the potential to provide us with a rich foundation of knowledge related to the discreet components of listening at the level of the speech sound and how these components not only affect the development of oral language and communication, but also how these components relate to facile and efficient ability to learn the alphabetic code (phonology + phonics + orthography) as a precursor to strong reading achievement.

Scientific inquiry that uses neuroimaging to measure speech sound processing in individuals who have dyslexia has provided the field of reading with a wealth of knowledge for understanding the nature of dyslexia and application of instructional methods appropriate for teaching individuals with dyslexia. The use of FM listening technology evaluated through the use of neuroimaging techniques will undoubtedly open up new opportunities for research that expands our knowledge of listening skills at the most discreet level of language, and for understanding if, how, and when to use assistive listening devices for students who struggle with reading and perhaps, other academic skills. Future research may demonstrate the benefits of using FM listening devices in inclusive classrooms to help students with dyslexia, as well as students with attention difficulties, central auditory processing, and oral language processing deficits.  

How can practitioners blend this new information with what has currently been established by sound scientific inquiry?

In the meantime, however, what should we do, as educators of individuals with dyslexia?   Let’s look at the strong evidence we have to date. The research community has established that dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder affecting the language areas of the brain, especially speech sound/phonological processing, that is manifested by difficulty in acquiring foundational skills for reading decoding and spelling. There is a wealth of well-respected and accepted research that shows instruction in phonological awareness, phonemic processing, and multi-sensory, structured language teaching improves the reading outcomes of children with dyslexia. It is important to note that the use of FM listening devices in the study designed by Dr. Kraus and her colleagues was conducted in an independent school for students with reading difficulties, and that instructional practices for the students were most likely tailored to improve reading achievement in this population of learners. Therefore, at this point in time, we can be encouraged that the use of FM listening devices in classrooms serving students with dyslexia is a promising practice and may show that this is an important ancillary therapy to be used in conjunction with the scientifically-based instructional practices we, as educators of students with dyslexia, know and use with our students. However, further research needs to be conducted to provide a body of evidence that supports this practice as effective with students with dyslexia.

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No Other Way

There’s five of us here, on some godforsaken river somewhere in Nevada. Correction. There’s five of us and my roommate’s twelve-pound toy poodle, Merlin. Poodles are supposedly good water dogs, but all Merlin does is whine and shiver. I told Scott to tell Shelly to leave the dog home, but Scott’s a wuss. He lets Shelly walk all over him. He’s been like that since they first hooked up in junior high, almost ten years ago.

The first ten miles of the East Fork Carson are pretty tame and most people break the trip into two days. After four hours on the water, we camped right next to some hot springs and my girlfriend, Alys went skinny dipping in the springs with the other girls, Shelly and Gretchen. Scott and I hung back at the fire and drank beer. It was a nice night. The only thing I missed was the fireflies we used to have back East every summer. Nevada’s either bone dry or flooding. Even when it’s wet, everything seems grey or brown or yellow. Whenever I’m in the high desert, all I can think about is how much I miss seeing green.

Around midnight or so, Merlin started howling, just as I’d finally gotten tired enough to crash on my Thermarest. Shelly and Scott had disappeared somewhere in the woods and the dog flipped out. He started tearing at the tent and whining and barking and then started into a full-fledged howlfest. He even got the coyotes started on the hills. We’re in the Eastern Sierras and while there aren’t many wolves here, there sure are a lot of coyotes. And, yeah, they’re small – half the size of a normal dog – but in a pack, they can tear someone apart. And they especially like to eat household snacks. That is, housepets.

I finally took the poodle into my tent and it was pathetic. Shivering, whining, its whole body nearly vibrating. At first, I just put it Aly’s sleeping bag. She was hanging out somewhere near the river with Gretchen and I figured she wouldn’t mind. She’s a sucker for animals, though she’s allergic to almost everything. Except poodles, of course. Nearly no one is allergic to poodles. Doesn’t mean I like them.

This morning we woke up early and scarfed some snack bars and used our gas burners to boil up some coffee. I’m a total ass until I get some caffeine in me and a can of Coke just isn’t the same as my Joe. When we put on the river, Gretchen told us to be careful of the first rapid. It’s the only hard rapid on this run. They call it Snake Bite and that’s because it likes to puncture rafts. We picked up our rafts from Walmart and they’re pretty sweet. Bright yellow with rope all around them. Shelly tied Merlin to the rope but I told her not to be an idiot. Poodles can swim, but not if you keep them on a leash!

Gretchen is the only one of us who’s been on a river before. She went with her twin brother to the Grand Canyon as a high school graduation gift from her folks. The two of them spent most of their time hanging out with a bunch of college kids who were majoring in geology or archeology or something like that. They showed Gretchen and Tim where the old hieroglyphics were and told them what to expect from each of the rapids. By the end of a couple weeks, Gretchen was pretty pro on understanding how to raft. Of course, the raft guides never let her steer, without close supervision, but they probably were scared of being sued. Typical.

It was still cool out when we got through Snake Bite. Somehow, we didn’t lose a raft, which is a good thing, since we had three and no spares. Most of the river went around a sharp bend and slammed into the rocky bank. Although we all avoided being pulverized on the shore, Alys’ and my boat got stuck on one of the fang rocks and wrapped around it. Alys got out of the boat and managed to pull it off. She nearly got her foot caught under a rock, but Gretchen was able shift her foot free, but only just barely. Then, we got the quick and dirty lecture on keeping our feet off the riverbank and not swimming near rocks where the river poured underneath. Normally, I would’ve shrugged it off, but Alys was pretty shaken and her foot was sore. There was no way I’d ever want to be anchored to the floor of a river and pulled under by the current!

Nothing much happens for awhile. We meander through a labyrinth of twists and turns in the canyon and pass a parking lot, which, apparently was our takeout. We figure we’ll catch the next one, which can’t be too much further off.

The water pools and it seems just like we’re in a desert lake, surrounded by moving scrubby hills and a blinding sky.

Merlin’s constant whine goes silent and the river’s voice begins to roar. I can’t make much sense of what I’m hearing until I look out in front of us and see where the river ends. There is a clear line where the water’s reflection and whitecaps stop and where the rocks disappear. Just beyond that, there is a spray of water misting into the air. “Paddle!” I yell at everyone. “Paddle into shore! There’s a waterfall!” But our rafts just spin in the current and every time we nearly make it into the calmer waters, they hit an invisible wall and ricochet back into the main current.

I dig harder with my flimsy plastic paddle. A child’s beach toy might have worked better! We’re only fifty yards from the drop off, then twenty, then ten. I do my best to at least aim Alys and I away from the sharpest of the boulders and try to aim for the brown water I see rushing below us. And somehow, our boat hits just the right rock on the drop. We spin on a ledge, which breaks our fall and then drops us into an eddy on the side of the falls. Then I look up and see what it is we just survived.

It’s a dam, a broken-down dam which has been partially shattered into a rubble of concrete and wire and trapped logs. Scott and Shelly are nowhere to be seen. Merlin is floating. No, Merlin is swimming right towards us, his blond fur soaked through, but still visible in the frothy brown water. I extend my arms and he jumps into them, shaking like an animated toy. He has a cut on his nose and blood is seeping across his muzzle, turning it a ridiculous shade of pink. I nearly laugh, then think better of it.

Scott and Gretchen emerge on the other side of a control tower. They see us and start paddling across the boiling current towards us, but I wave them away and point to their side of the shore, hoping they won’t be idiots. Then, as I glance back in our direction, I see Shelly. I can’t tell if she is swimming or drowning. She’s maybe fifteen feet from me and I can reach her if I crawl across the ledge we bounced off and jump into the foam. But I don’t think that’s such a good plan. There’s this weird wave bouncing off the bottom of the dam and it looks like it’s sending Shelly through a rinse cycle again and again and again.

She is swimming, I realize. She’s kind of doing a dead man’s float and trying to keep her head up enough to breathe. I head towards the ledge and then hesitate. Alys suddenly notices Shelly and starts to scream that I should DO something! Unfortunately, I seem to be the type to freeze under pressure. Then Merlin must’ve caught his owner’s scent. I guess, unlike me, he knew there was no other way to deal with this situation. Shelly could be drowning! The tiny poodle launches himself off the raft, leash dragging through the water like a possessed fishing line.

Somehow, that dog got itself up and over the boils and whirlpools right below the wave and then suddenly, shwoop! The wave sucked him and he was rolling in place, the wave battering him back and forth between the drop and the rocks. But each time he was swept back under the froth, Merlin got just a little closer to Shelly. Finally, she managed to grab him and the two of them rolled up like you do when you cannonball and somehow, their sudden change of shape must’ve convinced that satanic wave to spit them out!

Shelly did ok after her dam experience. She had a bunch of bruises and cuts and a minor concussion, but apart from her vowing never to raft again, she wasn’t too bad off. Merlin also got out intact, or as intact as a neutered dog can be.

I’d say if anything, Alys and I took the brunt of the impact from this experience. I realized I never again wanted to sit by idly while someone almost died, just because I acted like a jerk and hadn’t taken the time to figure out what I needed to know in advance in a dangerous situation. Alys wasn’t even entirely shocked when I dropped out of law school to study to be an ER nurse. Oh, and also, after we got married that fall, we decided to shelve our idea of kids for a bit and instead adopted a beautiful black toy poodle. Her name was, of course, Guineviere. Her favorite thing to do? What else? Swim.

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Selective Deafness

Bane had just turned five when the grumbling started. “He’s a male and shouldn’t live here,” complained some of the Sisters. “And he always is getting in the way…” continued the others. Even some of the Sisters on the Council quietly approached his mother, Ava, to ask that he be kept out of the more private areas of the District’s Female Enclave.

“He seems to know far too much about female topics,” they explained in a series of short Net conversations with Ava. “Perhaps it’s time for Bane to join the other males on the other side of the Wall.” Ava considered her options. While she didn’t want to lose her son, she knew one thing the Sisters didn’t. She was able to keep close tabs on Bane, even from a distance. Both she and Bane were nearly Deaf to others’ Kin, but had bonded to each other so closely, they could clearly, even at a distance.

“Perhaps,” Ava thought, “Bane and I will only be a thought away. Keeping him here is unfair. He’ll never fit in with the other males if he isn’t allowed to grow up with his classmates. Here, he is loved, but he isn’t allowed any freedom to explore. Maybe he’d be better off. Maybe they won’t bully him for being different.”

The female Council Elders contacted the Men’s Council to let them know that they would be sending a new child into their School. A date was set for the following week and Bane was relieved when it finally arrived. The constant evaluation of his wings and the adapted musculature always made him feel uncomfortable. He hoped the other males wouldn’t care quite so much about the wings. They weren’t such a big deal anyway. Inside, there was nowhere anyone could really fly. And outside, the air was far too polluted to breathe. Although Bane had heard there were people living Outside, he found the idea hard to swallow. Breathing that dirty air, drinking the soiled water, how could anyone live like that?

******

Ava nearly missed the bulletin sent to her mailbox the morning Bane crossed the Wall to the Male Enclave. She had been doing her best to keep the world from crashing in on her. Her baby son was gone and she’d never see him again. Yes, she suspected she’d be able to hear his “voice” but it wasn’t the same as being able to hold him and feel his tiny arms surround her, his fuzzy wings soft under her hands.

The message read that there would be a small hospital established between the Enclave compound and the Worker’s District. Nothing else was mentioned as to the reasons for this new construction, but Ava knew why they were building another area outside the Enclave. Since Bane’s birth, more and more of the males born had demonstrated both expressive and receptive Kin, the ability to send and receive thoughts. The female Council had decreed, many years before, that any male showing evidence of ability to send Kin would be put into isolation to minimize his development of the skill. The elders spoke, at times, of creating a vaccine which could be given to all male infants, but had not yet come up with anything both safe and effective in suppressing this talent.

Bane had been the first male Ava had known and in observing her son’s careful use of his Kin, she had begun to hold a secret resentment against the ban. Why was it that males were not supposed to have this ability? Why were the most talented of the males being locked away in the Female Enclave, criminals guilty only of their own birth? Would Bane’s father, eight-year-old Jonah be one of the first to be transferred to the new facility? Ava suspected he would. And if Bane ever let on about his own ability, he’d soon follow.

******

Bane was escorted to the Male Enclave by his surrogate mother, Shari. Despite his obvious attachment to Ava, Shari was considered by the Council to be his guardian. He knew, from Ava’s thoughts, that his biological parent was considered unfit due to her inability to join the Sisters’ Community in their group Kinning. Knowing how impossible it was to keep a secret from his mother, Bane wondered if the reason the Council distrusted Ava was because they were unable to access her thoughts. As much as Bane enjoyed his closeness with his mother, at times, a bit of privacy would be very welcome! Right now, however, her absence was glaring.

He reached for her, mentally sending himself in search of her consciousness. She noticed his touch and sent him warmth and good wishes. He also noticed that she was trying to hide some fears about his leaving. He questioned the feeling and received an image of his standing with his wings bound tightly with cloth, their outlines hidden by the wrappings. “I need to do that?” he asked, as he walked through the barrier that separated the two Enclaves. But if an answer came, it was unheard. When the Sisters’ door slipped shut, all connection to Ava disappeared. Bane was left standing in a long hallway, in his Whites, his wings hanging comfortably in the loose shirt.

An older man approached him. “Bane, it’s good to finally meet you. I’m the headmaster at the School. You can call me Mr. Tutor. We’ve heard so much about you and Ava.” The headmaster did his best to keep his eyes on Bane’s face but kept glancing at the outlines of his wings.

Bane was pretty sure where this was going. He began to remove his shirt, preparing for yet another evaluation of his wings. But just as he was about to slip the shirt over his head, Mr. Tutor took hold of his shoulder, effectively trapping him in the cloth. “Put that back on, Son. No one here should see that. This isn’t the place, or the time for it.”

Leading Bane to a room stocked with bandages, tape, and splints, he handed him a few rolls of flexible wrapping. The material was rough and it had been used by multiple males, Bane could tell, seeing the various colors of body hair trapped in the fibers. Also, it smelled like it had never been washed. It probably hadn’t. In rare moments, when Ava let her guard down, Bane would get a glimpse of her image of the Male Enclave. Remembering the piles of unwashed socks and discarded food containers, Bane nearly laughed, but the stern look on Mr. Tutor’s face wiped away his mirth.

“Bane, you’re going to need to use these wrappings to keep your wings hidden from the other boys. Trust me, when I say they won’t go over well.” Bane imagined himself wound with bandages so thick that only his eyes were visible. His chest tightened. The reek of the wrappings did nothing to help. There was NO way he was going to use those disgusting things! Bane nodded in agreement with the headmaster, but decided he’d do whatever he could to keep flying!

Mr. Tutor closed the door and had Bane remove his shirt. Bane noticed a tear form in the corner of one of his eyes. “It’s too bad, really,” the headmaster said softly, “They are so beautiful and we don’t see much of that here anymore.” He looked at Bane as if asking permission. Bane stepped closer to him and extended a wing, the lightly furred surface gleaming under the simulated sunlight. The teacher reached over and ran his hand over the thin skin. “Elias,” said Bane, not realizing he’d just learned the man’s name. Unused to having to ignore his selective Kin, he listened further. “You’re my grandfather?”

“Oh my,” replied Elias Tutor. “They gave you wings AND the Kin? Bane, yes, I am your grandfather. But no one can know this! I can talk to you in private from time to time, if you’d like, but please, if you agree to nothing else, do not use your Kin with the other boys.”

“Don’t worry,” said Bane, “No one knows about my Kinning. It only works with Mother. And…you. Maybe it won’t work with anyone else.”

“Let’s hope not,” replied his grandfather, the headmaster, “I wouldn’t want you to join my son Jonah in isolation. It took me five years to convince the Female Council to send you to me and I can’t imagine a worse situation for anyone.”

********

Jonah sighed and turned over on his bunk. Another day, the fake light streaming in his “window” reminded him. He glanced at his viewscreen and realized he’d forgotten to order his breakfast. It didn’t matter, he thought wearily, they’ll stick something through the slot even if I’m not hungry.

If it weren’t for his viewscreen and the occasional Deaf visitor, Jonah would have gone mad years ago. The isolation ward housed between the Female and Male Enclaves was perhaps one of the most boring places possible, not that he’d know the difference had the Councils continued their ridiculous insistence that Jonah not be given access to the old media stored on the Net. Apart from the archives, Jonah wasn’t officially allowed clearance to explore online.

One of his caretakers, however, a Deaf male named Isaiah had taught him enough basic coding to get past some of the security. Isaiah had been so pleased to see his charge’s enjoyment of learning that he made sure to get him copies of the assignments given to the students attending the elite programming classes taught at the School. Jonah was careful enough to dispose of the paper copies as soon as he understood them. It wouldn’t do to risk losing Net access. It was Jonah’s only window on the world.

The viewscreen pinged, a clear bell-like tone. Jonah turned, slightly annoyed at the interruption to his mid-morning nap. An older man looked at him through the screen. His breath sounded faintly labored. Jonah knew that rattle, it was his father, using up precious datatime to give him an actual video call. “Jonah,” Elias said, “Jonah, please. There’s something you need to know. Your son is in the School.”

“So?” replied the eight-year old father, “What exactly do you need from me? There’s nothing I can do for you or him.”

“Yes there is, Jonah. You know what it is that we need.”

“Father, I can’t do that if I can’t see him. You know that I only can block his ability if I can touch him.”

“Perhaps,” said Elias, thoughtfully. “But maybe we can arrange for that. Did you know you’re being relocated soon?”

“So Isaiah has told me. Next to the Worker’s District, right? In a few months, when they complete construction of the new facility… But what they haven’t told me is why, Father. What is it about now that they’re finally moving us away from the Enclaves.”

“There are more of you now.”

“More? How can there be more? Are they designing the males with Kin intentionally?”

“I’m not sure. Regardless, they now have a growing number of young boys with uncontrollable Kin and they say they need the extra space to house them. Away from the Enclaves and the Councils.”

“There’s a lot of space here, Father. I’ve seen the schematics.”

“Yes, but there’s something else. Most of these children were born with wings.”

*******

Bane’s wings itched under the wrappings. The Whites he had been issued were based on his age and weight and pinched miserably. Perhaps, his grandfather did not involve himself in clothing selection or maybe, Jonah considered, he thought that a tighter shirt would give me better camouflage. The other boys also had relatively tight clothing. It had a degree of stretch that allowed for easier movement without a sloppy appearance.

Appearance seemed to be everything in the Male Enclave. Unlike the comfortable Female Enclave where the emphasis on comfort and relaxation often let the occasional spill or broken glass be overlooked, the Male Enclave put order, cleanliness, and function first. During Bane’s first night in the dormitories, a small, blond-pelted child managed to drop a plate of fresh fruit on the floor. He moved to sweep the soiled food into the compost, but the older boys forced him to eat it, directly from the floor. Then, they lectured him publicly on the importance of not wasting food, when those in the Districts were living on synth or starving. One of the senior boys kicked dust onto the remaining fruit and then refused to let the boy leave until he’d eaten every grime-covered piece.

In bed that evening, Bane searched in vain for his mother. He could feel the dead areas created by the Wall between the Enclaves somehow preventing his touch. He then felt around for Elias, hoping his grandfather wouldn’t mind his intrusion. Finding the presence of his relative, he reached for him. To his relief, Elias did not recoil from Bane’s desperate outpouring of need and loss. Instead, he sent him thoughts of acceptance and safety. Brotherhood, promised Elias’ mind-touch. Then an undercurrent of warning. The touch was subtle but weak. Nothing like the flow between Bane and his mother. Yet even a river must start with small streams, thought his grandfather, surprising him. “What is a river?” asked the five-year old, silently from his dormitory bed. “What are streams?”

That night, Bane dreamed of flowing water and mountains. He had never seen water or mountains Outside. He flew through the forests,

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Alone

The walls of the schoolroom shone clean and white and our Teacher frowned at me. It felt like she was, yet again, trying to shove something inside my skull. But whatever it was that she wanted me to see was blurry and I couldn’t make it out. The other students each took on satisfied expressions. They knew the answer to this unspoken question and, once again, I was left behind – the class dummy.

It was nothing new to me. Ever since all the others in my class started developing their Kin, and mine never came in, the Teachers stopped noticing me as anything more than a nuisance. I used to be thought of as having potential. I used to be seen as worthwhile. The Teacher finally despaired of my being able to take part in the class and excused me to leave. I picked up my bag and headed back to the dorms, where my roommate was waiting for me.

Shari had just gotten back from her insemination appointment and was looking quite pleased with herself. “Hey Ava, check it out! Pink plus,” she grinned at me, gesturing down at her currently flat stomach. She spoke aloud to me, since Kinning with me was useless. Even talking to the Deaf was thought pointless, but my Shari was a kind soul. Dumb as a rock, but nice enough. It was ridiculous that they were letting her breed, but all the Teachers cared about in our group was the Kin, the ability to share thoughts. No one seemed to care if we even had any thoughts that were worth sharing!

“Congrats,” I smile back. Shari wanted nothing more than to be a mother. She’d better hope it’s a female though, considering if it’s a male, they’ll send him to his father to be raised on the other side of the Wall, where the men live. Shari, of course, had never met her child’s potential father. None of us did. The only adult males I’d seen were the ones in pictures and videos. They seemed like they were all glossy hair, tanned smooth skin, and bright eyes.

When I’d interned in the Clinic, I once observed a male infant. He was being kept in isolation, as he had inherited a bit of ability to send his thoughts using Kin. They said that the only way to keep him normal was to isolate him from the mind-touches of others. Like newborn kittens whose eyes have been sewn closed, it is this early sensory deprivation that leads to a lifetime of loss. The kittens are never able to learn to see, even when the stitches are removed. In males, the transmission Kin would be unfortunate. In females, in me, the lack of this ability permanently closed me out of my community.

I didn’t bother going back to Class the following day and, instead, headed off to the Lake where the Sisters were encouraged to relax and enjoy the nutritious waters. I bathed in the still waters and enjoyed their warmth and the energy which flowed through my skin as I soaked. I did my best not to think of the classes I was missing or the disapproval of my Teacher upon my return.

The simulated sky turned pink, then darkened into a cloudy night. The projection of the moon gave off a clear white glow which reflected in the Lake waters. The real moon shone orange through the hazy, polluted skies Outside. I’d seen it once while our Teachers were rushing us past an open portal, warning us to hold our breath until we were back in a classroom.

Just as the moon lifted her face above the shifting clouds, the light was gone and I felt myself encased in darkness and warmth. Then, just as I began to enjoy the sensation, it, too, disappeared.

A few weeks passed and I continued with my routine. Going to class, walking the halls, exploring the data files in the Research Lab, looking for a project so that I could graduate and find something more meaningful to do. “Why don’t you get pregnant?” Sharie would continually ask. Her belly was incrementally outgrowing all of the non-maternity sizes of Whites. Soon, she’d be wearing a band of color around her middle, declaring to everyone the sex and type of fetus she was carrying. I wondered who the father of her child was. I wondered who my father was.

I finally gave in and submitted my query to the Insemination Board. A week went by, then another. “Rejected for insemination,” said the anonymous official note on my bed. It had been typed rather than written. Impersonal. Nothing like what we were taught in class, how we were expected to open ourselves to each other so that we bond more closely. The note was blue. I read once, in an old novel a friend had inherited, that a pink slip was a notice that you’d lost a job. Here, pink means you’ve gained one. Blue is the loss. The night is blue. The night is painted blue and the stars…the stars here are fake and the moon lies.

The Teachers have become increasingly distant to me. They nearly never even respond when I try to answer one of their verbal questions, which have become the exception during class. Our once boisterous group is now usually silent, meditating on group thought, absorbing ideas without apparent effort. I sit. The class flies while I crawl. I wonder if I have any chance of passing our finals. No one takes notes anymore – no need when you can access your Teacher’s memory.

The warmth returned one night just as I’d finally decided to crawl into bed. Shari’s blanket was tented over her fifth-month belly and she had begun to snore. I considered poking her to get her to roll over and then thought better of it. I doubted she really was capable of many other positions. Anyway, she’d never do it to me, no matter how cranky she felt.

This time, the warmth was accompanied by a feeling of floating. It was a pleasant feeling not unlike the buzzing I remembered from when a group of Sisters and I had shared some sugar wine. But I didn’t feel disoriented. And I wasn’t so sure I was alone. But where was I?

My hand traveled down my body and I felt a thin dusting of hair. Hair? I was smooth. Like all the Sisters, I was nearly hairless, my skin sheer and the veins and arteries tracing visible red and blue lines. Now my legs felt coated in silk. And then they were normal again. I shuddered in the sudden cold. A wheezing snore punctuated the silence.

A muffled groan under the blanket. Shari rolled over. I felt pressure increase against my cheek but I hadn’t rolled onto a pillow. My face was totally exposed to the air. A compulsion to move my right knee. I fought the feeling and failed. Another groan from Shari. Coincidence? Experimentally, I moved my other foot but did not elicit a response from my roommate.

The next night, floating became flying. A dark fuzzy collection of rectangles and bright edges passed beneath me in a warm rush. A slow rhythm bounced and echoed. My shoulders were tight and muscles I had never noticed pushed sharply against my skin and a pressure along my back moved in time with the beat. Beat. Beat. Wings, I was feeling wings! Careful not to lose my rhythm and tumble into space, I ran a hand along my shoulder and down my back, feeling a protrusion growing from my shoulders and out behind me.

The wind rushing past me seemed to have its source behind me. Had I been snatched by a flying monster? I gasp. The monster shudders and its fear rushed through my chest as if it were my own. “Who are you?” I called to my monster. I stare into the darkness hoping it will reveal its face. I saw familiar blue-grey eyes and as the rest of the features came into view, I realize with a shock the face is my own.

Waking up, covered in sweat, I realize I hadn’t gone anywhere. Shari was still sleeping. My legs shone hairlessly in the light. My shoulders are still tight. I reached my hands back to them and cringed. There was a definite bulge along each shoulder blade.

The medics confirmed there is something truly unusual about the growths on my back. Cancer? Perhaps some mutation from radiation? They tell me none of this, but I’ve done my reading in Health. I know the risks of living on this dying world. They decide not to remove the growths, but do not tell me why. I hear whispering sometimes, and the pain increases bit by bit, the sharp edges of the growths stretching my skin taut; a pointless ‘ pregnancy, of bone, sinew, and tendon. They lowered me into the warmth eventually and the wetness temporarily eased the constant agony.

Occasionally, when I woke, the pain seemed less, as if it were at some distance. They fed me soft foods and liquids when I was alert enough to swallow. For some reason, no one offered me medicine for the pain. The pain, when it awoke, chased away all other thoughts. I stifled my screams as best I could. My skin was tearing. My back was on fire.

At first, I lay face up in the fluid filled chamber. Eventually, my body no longer fit easily in the narrow dimensions. They fitted me with an oxygen mask and a feeding tube to go along with the catheter and set me back in the chamber, with my face immersed in the fluid and my enlarged back to the air. I started to feel convinced that this change, this metamorphosis, had been expected.

The medics made sure to keep my back moist through a constant regiment of fluids and moisturizers. They explained the nutrition from the chambers fluid would help my body grow the extra skin it needed and leave me without scarring. By then, thankfully, my only discomfort came from my phobia of drowning and the chafing of my various fittings and tubes.
About a week after I was finally allowed into a specially outfitted bed in the infirmary, Shari came in, right on schedule. She told me the last three months, since I’d been taken into the infirmary had not gone as easily as her previous two pregnancies, both to unremarkable females. This baby was not only oversized, it kicked constantly. Also, he was entirely unresponsive to his mother’s Kin, something unheard of in at least a generation. A Deaf infant! Shari was beside herself. If the baby was totally unable to respond to Kin, it would never be allowed to reproduce. It was a genetic dead end, just like me, with my physical deformities and Deafness.

Shari’s labor went smoothly. Despite the impotency of my ability, I visualized safety and light and love and sent it to her and her child, just as I’d been taught to do. I had my bed wheeled next to hers for the delivery of a baby boy. As the medics lifted her son up to the light, I noticed the graceful shape of wings folded tightly to his back. I felt the sudden need to stretch my own wings and extended them out to their full span. Suddenly, I heard a lightness and a joy from the child, as he too had opened his wings and was beating them happily, his tiny body hovering above Shari. He looked right at me, his newborn eyes unfocused and as brown as the fine male pelt that covered his body, and slowly glided away from his mother, landing on my lap, where he promptly fell asleep.

Bane, as Shari named him, entirely refused to leave my side, despite Shari’s and my best efforts to discourage his attachment. Anytime we managed to get him away from my sight, he’d cry inconsolably and send streams of sadness through my Kin. Shari was a good sport about Bane’s preferring my company. She was just pleased to see that I finally got to at least play Mommy for her child.

No one said anything when I didn’t return to Class. I guess my new form had somehow excused me from the requirement to Graduate. Also, Bane disliked the buzz of constant thought chatter and would protest vehemently whenever we got too close to a group of Kinning Sisters. I just said I preferred to work on my own and was given a private view screen to access the Class materials. I had to study hours for each assignment. As I was unable to access anyone else’s memory, I needed to actually memorize all of the facts. I was still Deaf to everyone but Bane.

Meanwhile, the medics constantly harassed me to exercise my new wings. A flight chamber had been erected just for Bane’s and my use and we spent hours each day together. Bane was a natural acrobat, despite his baby clumsiness on the ground. I had become increasingly adept in taking flight from a standstill and changing direction in flight. I often marveled how my fortune had changed so drastically.

On Bane’s first birthday, one of the lab workers, one of the few who had stayed consistently warm to me, handed me a sheet of paper. It was a record of Bane’s parentage, listing Shari as a surrogate, me as his biological mother, and the male infant I had observed, now three years old, his father. It also listed that Bane’s father was still being kept in isolation. “Kin transmission positive, despite male gender,” stated the comment by the child’s entry. “Kin transmission ability resistant to suppression, despite precautions. Social isolation required until further notice.”

Next to my name and Bane’s, the entries read: “Trait for flight – positive.” Next to Bane’s name: “Wings present at birth.” Next to mine: “Full metamorphosis on schedule. Generalized Kin inactive to date. Further breeding on hold for subject if Kin does not develop further.”

My thoughts naturally shifted towards my beautiful son. Noticing my sudden mental focus on him, he toddled over to me, fuzzy wings outstretched for balance. I desperately hoped that no one knew that he too, was gifted with the ability not only to receive, but to send Kin. I knew full well how it felt to be alone.

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Lanie and her Kin

The enormous billboard went up a day before my eleventh birthday. At first, there was only one of them, set up near the front entrance of our Districts’ biggest arcade. Then, a few more sprouted up around town. The billboard read: Wanted: Children and Citizens with Good Genes! Possible upgrade to Enclave Living! There was an all white mansion set on an autumn hillside. The colors of the leaves and grass looked nothing like the dismal browns and yellows I’d seen, even at a distance, from our Workers’ District. Perhaps the Enclaves were better than here. There wasn’t much to here. Just Work and the arcades and the bland food. Just waiting to Retire and go somewhere better.

I had a real birthday celebration! My parents somehow managed to scrounge some actual flour and sugar and along with the last of our ration of cooking oil, baked me a small cake at a neighbor’s home where they had a working oven! They put my name on it in a thin ribbon of frosting: Lanie. Short for Melanie, but no one ever called me that.

Real food was worlds better than the synth we ate at home. The synth paste was dispensed through tubes that ran from house to house. It came in a few flavors, which rotated monthly. All of them were putrid. Tasteless was the most we could hope for in the rations the government sent us through the public tubes.

Most families used whatever they could to supplement the synth. Constant shortages in sugar, flour, oils, chocolate, and any form of produce meant that families had to come up with other things to trade. We tried to be creative. My parents ran a thriving tutoring service which was meant to boost kids’ scores in the computerized school programs. They promised parents that their kids would be twice as likely to pass the exit exams and be allowed to stay in the Worker’s District, rather than failing to graduate and being shipped out to live in the slums of the Entitlement Districts.

My parent’s tutoring program also made sure my brother, Eli and I not only excelled in School, but that we had enough clothing and good enough food to live reasonably well in our District. The tutoring program was technically illegal – as it gave an unfair advantage to the more prosperous students – but the officials had yet to say anything about our home business.

Even if we Graduated, Eli and I both knew what lay ahead of us. Factory jobs made up the vast majority of employment in our District, the remainder being janitorial or construction-related jobs which were hard on the body. Eli and I both had the misfortune to have inherited a form of lung sensitivity from our father. Exercise exacerbated it to the point that we often were breathless and gasping after even a short run.

My lungs were in better shape than my brother’s. My parents attributed this to my having spent my early childhood near the Docks, where the sea air was far cleaner than the sooty winds which blew through our current neighborhood. Eli’s breathing at night was raspy and his chest rattled when he exhaled. The local nurses told us that they weren’t sure what to do with the condition, other than having us relocate further from the Factory. We’d been on the relocation roster for five years now. Perhaps next year, we’d be allowed to move. Meanwhile, Eli and I stayed indoors most of the time, breathing filtered air through cloth masks our parents sewed for us. I suspected that Eli might not make it to Graduation if we stayed.

The billboard’s promise of a possible life in the clean air of the Enclaves was doubly enticing. Not only would it give me a chance to be something other than a Factory Worker (or worse), it could let us escape our contaminated neighborhood. We might even meet a real doctor! But what exactly were “Good Genes”? What were we risking by letting the Council’s medical staff examine us?

Being nearly eleven, I knew better than to ask my parents. I searched for information on my phone and when I didn’t find anything there, I asked some of the neighborhood kids. Not too many though. I didn’t want everyone applying to go to the Enclave!

Most of the kids, as usual, didn’t know anything. That was pretty typical. They spent most of their time at the Arcade, training for their adult life in the Entitlement District. I didn’t have the heart to let them know there weren’t arcades there. My father went there from time to time, helping some of the residents repair a broken shack or carry the dead to the crematorium. There was easily twice the population the land should have held and new viruses and infections broke out regularly, culling the old and the weak. Without even the rudimentary access to sanitation, the Entitlement Districts were easily able to maintain open spaces for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t Work elsewhere.

Rebecca, a thirteen-year-old, told me quietly that her older sister, Naomi, had gone with the first group of potential Enclave recruits. She’d gotten a few notes from her – written on clean, white paper. The handwriting was awkward, but improved with each note. Naomi, like the rest of us, had always used voice input on the computer rather than writing. Paper was far too expensive to waste with on us kids! Naomi described having clean clothing and classes where they had real, not computerized, Teachers. She said they got fresh fruit and vegetables most days and that they were issued new white clothing every day. Everything there was so clean, she’d gushed to Rebecca. When was Rebecca going to join her?

I had visions of the old days: cows being washed before heading to slaughter. But what if it were true? What if Eli could get better and we could get to choose to be anything we wanted? As if I knew what that would be! What would it be like to even have a choice?

Eli and I have always had a close bond. I guess we’re tighter than the typical sister and brother. Maybe it cause he’s been sick most of his life that I’ve been a bit more aware of him. I just keep an eye on him. In case he needs, me, I have to be sure I’m there. Sometimes, when he’s feeling particularly awful or thinking about something that’s really important to him, I can tell. I’m not saying I can hear him thinking or anything weird like that. That would mean I was mental! If anybody thought I was like that, like that kid Jordy last year, the one who thought he could heal the old man who fell in the street…. Well, anyway, he was gone the next day and we never saw him again.

Mental. Just not a good idea to say anything to anyone about it. Other than Eli, that is. He knows about me and the one time we talked about it he told me he always feels safe since I’m there for him. “Just don’t leave me, Lanie,” he cried, that day, after he’d been house-bound for almost a month due the bad air from the Factory. “Don’t leave me here to suffocate all alone with everyone else Working and me just a mouth to feed.”

I swore to him that if I ever went anywhere, I’d be sure to take him along. And that was why I woke him up that morning and told him we were leaving for the Enclave. I suppose I should have told our parents but if they’d stopped us, we’d be stuck with rags over our mouths and noses, hiding from the skies. Or just as bad, Working in the Factory making whatever the Council wanted. Whatever the Council wanted, perhaps they wanted us to Work for them in the Enclaves. Anywhere had got to be better than here!

“Eli! Wake up!” I whispered to my kid brother. He was eight and snored like a Retiree. His chest strained under the blanket and he muttered to himself as I pulled off his thin blanket. He was sleeping in his spare coverall. Like most kids, he’d been issued one each year, but he grew slowly enough that he was able to keep wearing his old one. The new one had been fit based on his age and typical weight charts and was ridiculously baggy. He had to keep it pinned up so it didn’t drag on the floor.

Eli’s chest’s curve was pronounced, like a bird’s, due to the pressure he needed to inhale past his constant layer of sticky phlegm. My father had told us that there once was a condition called cystic fibrosis that caused terrible breathing problems in kids. We didn’t have it, since it had been cured nearly a century before. Our problems were much more like the Black Lung that miners caught from breathing coal dust. The Factory gave off all sorts of toxic dust and smoke, so it was tough to know exactly what was causing the problem. Surprisingly, most kids didn’t mind the air. Apparently, the human body can adapt to nearly anything. It was too bad we were such sensitives.

Eli pulled himself out of his cot and ran some water through his hair. We grabbed a few tubes of synth paste for the road. It wasn’t until we made it outside our Neighborhood and past the lights outlining the Factory that Eli finally turned to me. “Are we finally getting out of here?” Brave kid. Eli knew if he didn’t get away from our neighborhood that he was going to die. He heard our parents talking about it and our mother was crying when they got the latest Relocation rejection letter. “We sincerely regret,” the letter read when I pulled it up on my parents’ account, “that you have not been approved for Relocation at this time. Please apply for the following term to renew your application.”

Knowing he had an expiration date, literally, wasn’t enough to keep Eli from trying. “Maybe we’ll get to see a Doctor, Lanie,” he’d say to me hopefully, watching me type in request after request for medical attention. “Maybe this next time, they’ll write back!” He read up on lung exercises on his phone and practiced them religiously. And when he was too tired physically to exercise his body, he sat with our parents and worked with them on academics, reaching studies far beyond his age group, and eventually beyond most of the Graduation requirements.

I wasn’t such a good student as Eli, but I never enjoyed School. The computerized Teacher grated on my nerves and the lessons were often painfully obvious. I did as little as I could to keep on track for Graduation. I didn’t see the point of excelling. We’d all end up in the same jobs, regardless of our class ranks. Instead, I much preferred spending my time volunteering in the community daycare or with the disabled who were kept hidden by the Community, lest they be moved to hospitals housed in the Entitlement Districts.

The only thing worse than living in an Entitlement District, it was said, was being incarcerated in a hospital or prison in the Entitlement District. Once in, the rumors continued, the only way out was in a bodybag. I often imagined Jody in one of the psych wards of a Entitlement District hospital. But without anything else to fuel it, I was unable to imagine anything further. Somehow, though, I was sure he was still alive and unhurt. I wished I was as sure of Eli’s and my future.

There are tons of ways out of the Workers’ District, but only one official way. The Gate is set up at one of the farthest points from the Factory. It is, or it was, white. There is a large brass Seal, showing the emblems of the Tri-Districts: The Enclave, The Workers’ District, and the Entitlement District. My father said it looks a bit like a “peace” sign, with pictures in between the legs. I suppose that’s fitting as we have had our current Peace now for a long time, longer than anyone alive who isn’t already Retired and at Rest.

When we finally got to the gate, the night was nearly over. The sky was lightening to a dusty orange and I could see the sweat that had darkened Eli’s shirt during our long walk across the District. His cheeks and forehead were also shining in the faint sunlight. I handed the water bottle to him and pressed him to drink. “But we’re nearly out of water,” he protested.

“Better in than out,” I argued. “If you get dehydrated, you’ll pass out and I can’t carry you too far. Besides, you’ll look like an abandoned cat and they won’t want you.” He drank the bottle dry. I felt my own throat becoming increasing parched and did my best to hide my discomfort.

During night shift, the Gate was manned by only its guardian computer. The computer shone a beam of light on us and stared down at us through its scratched Eye. “Place your palm on the glass and state your business,” it said in its robotic male voice. So much for small talk, I thought inappropriately. I helped Eli reach the scanner and then did the same myself. “We are here to apply for Enclave citizenship.”

“Welcome Elias and Melanie Tutor.” How did it know our secret last name? It should have called us Stevens. “Please enter the holding area and help yourself to refreshment. The next Enclave guide will arrive within twenty minutes.” We walked inside the Gate to find a small door leading to a room where the air was considerably cooler than outside. The inside of the room was spotlessly white and I suddenly felt ashamed of my patched grey coverall and my brother’s greasy hair.

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Marriageable Age

Our pairings were decided even before we quickened in our test tubes. Each of us designed as the perfect complement to the other. We were never alone. The brothers were born first, designed as the warriors and hunters to protect us, their fragile mates. While they roamed the Ship, we remained semi-conscious, our bodies still undergoing the final transformations we would need upon our Landing.

Many years into our voyage, we became aware of the subtle sounds of our artificial wombs and the tending hands of the occasional mute Elder, whose genes would never transcend to the new world. Our Ship-side environments had been designed by the best minds of our ancestors and our bodies enabled to live on a world where only adapted humans could survive. It was a world of fierce dark forests and windswept seas. Food would be scarce on the new world and the original frail human form could not be anything but prey to the creatures already living there.

While we Slept, we Sisters were educated in the history of our ancestors as well as in the knowledge of our parent world. My particular strengths lay in psychology and communication, while other sisters found they leaned towards biology, chemistry, mathematics, and linguistics. Our ability to kin with each other, to share knowledge with one another without speaking, allowed us to find interconnections between our areas of interest and to further our knowledge, even while lying prone in the gestation tanks.

From time to time, my Twin and womb-brother, Esau, would hover over my still form. He had been instructed to apply a pheromone lotion to my body, particularly to the scent glands along my developing wings, instructing my body to produce the pheromone upon my maturity. I knew that this scent of this substance was designed to bond us as a mated pair and Esau’s initial exposures to it would help him accept me when he was ready to Mate. As a precaution, he wore gloves while applying the lotion. The full strength of the formula could trigger an early Bonding and we were far too young to successfully Mate.

We were not, despite Esau’s belief, actual twins. In fact, we shared no more genes than any other matched pair within the Ship. It was believed, however, that raising each potential Mating pair together, for a time, in utero would perpetuate a feeling of family bonding between two very different genotypes. Our separate strengths was hoped to get us to the point where we could create a melded second generation, which would be even further specialized to thrive despite the unknown hazards of our new World. We needed every advantage we could get.

I was still a few days from my Birth and knew that Esau had come to believe that we Sisters were planning a betrayal. Somehow, he had equated our pheromone bonding lotion with our ability to fly and had convinced most of the other Brothers that they were in danger of being abandoned upon our Landing. As of yet, the Brothers had not yet come to a consensus of how to handle their perceived threat. Unlike us, they could not communally think, or “Kin”, and had to rely, instead, on their inefficient spoken language. It was no wonder they seemed so limited to us.

“Jakie,” thought a Sister, turning her attention to me. “Jakie, I can feel our Birth coming upon us and we will still be weak until we have a chance to dry and feed. What are we to do if the Brothers come upon us when we first Rise?” I echoed her question to the others, strengthening the feeling of fear and need.

I could feel the negative emotions strengthening in the Sisters’ Kin. These sorts of emotions could only lead to the actualization of the sorts of visions Esau had dreamed when he accidently absorbed the pheromone lotion into his hands. The absorption had led to an accidentally early Mate bonding and he had gained the ability to Kin with me. Unfortunately, without experience, Esau had misinterpreted the vague visions, believing we Sisters hoped to eradicate our Brothers in order to gain control over our shared computer database, the Birthright. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Our Brothers had been designed to be highly logical and analytic and, unlike the Sisters, were nearly devoid of empathy. Despite our intuitive and communal intelligence, we Sisters were unable to match their problem-solving talents and physical prowess. Without their help, we were unlikely to be able to construct and maintain the protective habitats we’d need for our first few generations on our World. Without their genetic advantages to combine with our own, our frail cloned race would likely succumb to the other predators on the Planet.

Our cross-bred children would have strengths arising from both of our groups. Within a few generations, it was predicted that we would find it increasingly easier to accept our Mates, as our two genders would become increasingly similar, once we’d identified the optimal traits to maintain and those to eliminate.

But Esau was far from the grounded typical male. He was imaginative and often believed theories he was unable to entirely prove. He was also incredibly stubborn. From the permanent bond which had accidently formed, I was able to stay aware of him and get a general Kin of his warrior thoughts.

I saw him considering the ways the Sisters could be kept from taking Flight, keeping them from stranding the Brothers in the forests. I saw him accumulating near endless bottles of our pheromone Lotion and instructing his brothers to rub it on themselves, checking their broad backs futilely for the growth of wings like ours. Even had they managed to grow, such heavy, muscular bodies could never fly!

Even though it was far too early to fully Wed my Mate, I realized it was now our only choice. My dreaming Sisters and I Called to our Brothers, we pulled them towards our tanks with longing and desire. I had the computer stimulate our voluntary pheromone glands so that they developed far in advance of our maturity.

Each Sister Called to her Brother and rewarded his arrival with projected waves of pleasure and acceptance. There was no chastisement for the misunderstanding. Even Esau had been doing what he’d thought was right. When he finally came to me, shivering and matted, days after the initial Calling, he was the last of the Brothers who had managed to resist us.

I opened my newborn eyes and squinted to see my lover for the first time. Even ragged from lack of sleep and grooming, he was beautiful in his dark, sleek fur. His eyes glittered with pain and frustration. I felt his stomach clench in self-loathing for his helplessness. I felt my body cramp in response. It was the first time I’d been aware of my separate being.

I struggled to find the words that would soothe him. Searching his mind, I familiarized myself with his guttural language. How foreign and distasteful it was to speak through the noisy expulsion of breath! But, for my Mate, for my Brother, I knew that a silent reassurance would never release him from the nightmare he’d envisioned where we’d isolated him from his community of Brothers.

“Esau,” I started, my voice raspy from disuse, “My Twin. Please accept me as your Mate. You will never be alone again.” I sent him the respect I felt for his hardy independence and for the beauty of his design. I gave him my view of his glossy, perfect, pelt, his frame perfectly constructed to lift, to build, to protect. Finally Rising from my tank, the thin amniotic fluid streamed off cloudy pink off my gossamer wings and my fragile new skin.

I held my arms open, exposing my naked chest, showing my Brother my own vulnerability. “What you saw, my Brother….what you saw when we Sisters surrounded you was not us doing you harm. It was the Celebration that takes place at a Mating. We encircle you to show that we accept you as one of us.”

Esau stilled and finally released his held breath. He gazed at me with disbelief. I felt the tension leave his body and a feeling of joy flood in to take its place. “Yes, Jakie. I will take you as my Mate. But let us wait until we are of a marriageable age. If it is not too inconvenient, I think you must first finish being born.”

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Seduction

The letter had just arrived in our inbox, the distinctive blue seal of the Counsel glowing prominently in the monitor. Without opening it, I knew exactly what it was. I’d heard that occasionally, people were asked to Mate. The trouble was: I had been with Kenneth for nearly five years now. We were naturally compatible, physical opposites, with my hair adorned with the latest feathers and beads and Kenneth’s taut athletic body and expressive eyes. Everyone said we made a wonderful couple. Everything we had. I felt the sweat form along my hairline. Everything I knew. My gut seized. Everything could change.

The letter read:

“Congratulations. You and your partner’s genomes have been selected for possible procreation. Please report to the Mating Station for Selection.”

Kenneth, upon seeing the letter, was crestfallen. “But, Jeremiah, dear, do you really have to go to this ridiculous thing? We don’t have room for a child and I sure don’t want one of those needy girls living in our flat. We’d have to move to the Mated Couples housing and the view there is supposed to be dreadful.”

Kenneth had been other-born and raised in the Enclave’s Crèche. Only a few children were born to the Enclave Citizens. To maintain variety in our bloodlines, other infants were procured Outside, from our Worker and Entitlement Districts, as well as from foreign Districts, children who were thought to have a hint of promise – enough to be studied further and possibly granted full Enclave Citizenship despite their lowly births. The news often spoke of the successes of these “rescued” children and our generosity in accepting them in our Enclave. But what of their parents? Were they told why their children disappeared?

Fewer than a tenth of the Enclave-adopted children rose to the level of Citizen and were allowed to stay Inside. The rest worked Outside or helped maintain order in and around the Enclaves. Children born Inside the Enclaves also were not guaranteed a place in Enclave society, but the majority would succeed in attaining Citizenship and would never leave the clean white cities of the Enclaves.

I had heard the estimate that approximately a quarter of male Citizens were invited to the Mate Selection. Of that group, about half of the them were turned away by their potential female Mates. The radiation had sterilized so many of our females, any fertile healthy female had many healthy males to choose from and competition, despite the disgusting heterosexual act, was fierce. Not every male could be a Father, so it was good that many preferred our separate existence.

I had never been Outside. Now, looking at the glowing blue Counsel seal, I realized that I was suffocating here. The air inside our flat was stale and motionless. I needed to breathe!

Kenneth saw me unbutton my top button and misread the cue. He removed his own shirt and stood there gloriously. The glass-filtered daylight streamed through our windows and gleamed off the chestnut skin and glossy dusting of black curls on his muscular chest. It would have been nice to ignore the letter and take him to bed, but the invitation was not only mandatory, it was an honor.

I glanced back at the monitor. “We have to go, Kenneth – it’s an hour’s belt-ride from here and I want to be sure we’re on time and looking clean.”

Clean was very important in the Enclaves. Children were kept in their Whites from the time they could first walk. All furniture and walls were washable. Food was kept near sterile. Daily blood and urine tests had reduced the chance of pathogens infecting and spreading through the fragile communities to the point that nearly all children had no exposure to any of the childhood diseases. Immunities had fallen drastically, despite the improvements in vaccinations, and the Enclaves were constantly on guard from viral and bacterial infestations from Outside.

Anyone manifesting an illness was quickly isolated and was not allowed back into the mainstream until they were no longer a risk to anyone else. Strangers from abroad were in quarantine for nearly a year before they were allowed to circulate, without containment suits, among us. While other Enclaves had fallen to epidemics, we were very careful to keep clean and pure. We were no commonplace group! Each of us had been hand chosen through years of testing: intellectual, physical, and genetic. Someday soon, our Enclave would raise children to head into space! It would only take one mistake in our Ship to eradicate our dream of escaping this dying planet.

Unlike Kenneth, I was raised by my parents: My fathers, Elias and Noam, and my mother Ruth. My parents had been relatively open-minded about my education and, rather than keeping me home, allowed me to attend the Enclave School for a year of apprenticeship under a Sailor named Jack. Jack, unlike most of the Sailors, had a knack with our language and we had quickly developed a bond as he worked with me in learning the guttural language used by the Sailors. I already was familiar with a number of languages from nearby trade-nations, but it was a treat to learn from an actual native. He was the first person I’d met who hadn’t been born on our side of the Sea.

Jack was a warm-hearted Sailor who usually sported a smile. He confided to me that he wished he could stay with his life-partner, a Sailor named Rose, who had been sent to live in the Women’s Enclave. He hadn’t seen her since their arrival, as communication between Un-Mated males and females was strictly forbidden. But, to live with her would mean they’d both have to return to the Islands, a manufactured holding ground for the Old. They had decided they would endure their isolation from each other so that they could be of use to the next generation.

Females and males were not allowed to intermingle outside of Mating couples. It was thought to be unhealthy, both psychologically and physiologically to be in contact with the opposite sex. Their female bodies, their thought patterns, in fact, nearly everything about them was different in a way that we were taught to consider undesirable. Jack once told me that male-female couples were the norm where he was from. I found that difficult to believe.

The clean beauty of the male form was clearly the better aesthetic and from an early age, we boys kept to our own gender to satisfy our social and sexual needs. Mated threesome couples were licensed to have and raise children and were kept safely away from us in their own childproofed area. I hadn’t seen the Mated Enclave since I’d completed my Citizenship and been given my own adult quarters in the Male Enclave.

The possibility of having the chance to watch my own children play and laugh left me feeling a new loneliness. I imagined the touch of a woman, the smooth, silky skin, the long, unbraided flowing hair, the fine-boned body curled against me in the morning. The realization that the thought was, indeed, intriguing, felt shameful. Unclean thoughts left me queasily guilty as I waited for my lover to dress for our date with a female.

Kenneth emerged from the bedroom, sharply dressed in his Whites. He’d run tea tree oil over his hair and skin and smelled wonderful. I stripped and ran to the bathroom and ran myself under the sonic shower, decontaminating my skin and hair and then pulled on my own Whites. I polished my name badge until I could see my face reflected in its black surface.

Time was running short, so we caught the first cab to the tube and showed up a few minutes before our scheduled appointment. The waiting booths were mostly occupied, their lights shining red, but we were able to find one near a window, looking down the thirty stories onto the street. The view was stunning and it felt like seconds before a uniformed guard led us to the back, where a young woman sat at a table. She had light skin and glossy hair that looked like it would feel like silk running through my hands. Her eyes were nearly black and tilted enticingly. Very exotic, I thought, I didn’t know we were ever Mated with anyone foreign. “Jeremiah and Kenneth,” said the woman, interrupting my thought. “I chose you and have traveled here so that you would consider me as your Mate.” Her tone was very formal and her speech was tinged with a slight accent. It sounded nothing like the Sailors’ speech. In fact, I was convinced I’d never heard anything like it. Her clear melodic voice was enthralling. I nearly forgot to listen to her words.

I could feel Kenneth realizing he’d lost at least a portion of my attention. He placed his hand on my knee and started running it up and down my thigh suggestively. The table hid his attentions, but I was sure the entire room was aware of my reaction. The woman handed us a sheaf of papers. “Here is my genome and the possibilities of my and Kenneth’s combination. As you can see, our potential children are likely to be highly intelligent, emotionally stable, and physically adept. They’re also inclined to unnaturally high bone density that is less likely to degrade in the null gravity of space.”

Kenneth gaped at her. He had always been the dominant one, the one who preferred to do the pursuit. Now here was someone, a female, chasing him. He was flabbergasted by the concept. “My genes?” he asked, in astonishment. “You want MY genes, not the genes of my parent-raised partner? Not Jeremiah who got everything while I was stuck in the Crèche raised by Sailors?” His shoulders tensed and I saw a tear running down his cheek. I’d thought he would be horrified by the concept of the two of us sharing our bed with a woman but he was taking this incredibly well. He was more open-minded than I’d thought. I was proud of him. My pants tightened as I envisioned the heat the three of us could generate. Together. I could already feel her breath against my skin.

“No,” she replied, “ Not Jeremiah. I’m sorry, Jeremiah, but I can’t accept you as a Mate. This is true for all Families, you see. There can only be one actual Mate in a Family. It reduces the risk of unwanted characteristics. Your psychological testing was good enough to assist us in raising children, but our genes may not combine well and I am not willing to take that risk.”

“Could I wait for another Mate?” I asked her, taking in her sweet scent. As if there could be another.

She was taken aback by my question and glared at me, speaking to me as if I were her inferior. “Men are not allowed to Choose their Mates! Considering your genes, I doubt anyone else will Choose you. However, your potential as a parent is reasonably high so, assuming you agree to the procedure, I can share Kenneth with you and allow you to live in our home with the title, Father. Either that or Kenneth and I will need to find another Third to help raise our children. ”

Third. Why hadn’t we been told about Thirds? I thought back to my own fathers. My own one father, I corrected myself. There was a reason Jonah was always so unhappy. I doubted that he longed for Ruth, although she was a beautiful woman. He must have resented having to share Elias with her. He must have hated seeing his partner’s child look so much like his mother. I was struck with sudden gratitude for the kindness he’d always shown me.

Now, after all these years of partnering with Kenneth, I realize that, had I been exposed to this unnatural inclination earlier, I might have always preferred the other sex. This nameless tiny female who will join us to the future, I can see myself eternally orbiting her sun. Kenneth will never understand what it is that I see in her.

When the two of them lie together, she will be with him, he will be thinking of me, and I, alone in my bed, will be imagining myself entwined in her arms.

And when our son looks at me through Kenneth’s eyes and calls me Father, I will keep my smile pure and clean for he is new and our future lives on only through our Family.

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