After their meeting of the Fortieth League, my parents and I convened in our front room when my mother blurted, “Our bubble is about to burst.” She rose from the couch and carried the remnants of her alcoholic beverage into the kitchen.
Dad lowered his gaze as the familiar sounds of liquid splashing and ice cubes clinking against glass reverberated. “Your mother has had a long, hard day.”
Our bubble about to burst? Hardly the biosphere we inhabit. Over the past millennium it had enlarged to accommodate population growth, but none of my data indicated a limit to its surface area. Of course, my specialty is Twentieth Century movies and literature back on Earth when self-contained habitats were merely a concept. Yet, I sensed increased headaches when I ventured more than two or three levels below the fortieth floor where we lived. Something seemed amiss.
A forgotten thirteenth birthday dominated my thoughts, but I continued a random stare to indicate full engagement in mind reading from my tutorial. Mother returned to the couch after handing my father a glass of foaming home-brewed beer, and the oppressive silence of the evening returned.
Disheartened, I escaped to immerse my body in a scented bubble bath after adding a double dose of relaxant. A rush of pleasurable sensations arose through the core of my body as I lowered myself into the water and contemplated the experiment my friend, Albert, and I had discussed. We’d have to execute our plan before my mother discovered I had experienced my first period.
I caught the sweet aroma of vegetation that distinguishes my agronomist father and opened my eyes. He loomed over me, his face all scrunched like dried fruit from the orchards between and around our buildings and the vines that cling to their outside walls. With his extra body density, he’s able to descend partially into the tangle and bear increased levels of gravity long enough to manage the droids who harvest our grain.
“Ariel?” he asked, as if unsure I was his daughter. “Your mother and I need to talk to you when you’re finished with your bath.” I concentrated on his shuffle back across the front room until he plopped onto his favorite chair, each expressing familiar complaints of creaks and sighs. Had my parents remembered my birthday after all?
As I toweled my face and hair, I caught a whiff of my mother’s perfume blended with gin. She stood in the doorway fastening her necklace with her gaze intent on my upper body, no doubt checking for signs of developing breasts.
“Max and I are waiting.” Her tone expressed no hint of anything pleasant.
Not that long. I restrained the level of sass I had recently developed in my responses to her. “I’ll be right there.”
I stalled to quell my anxiety. What could be important enough to delay their leaving for an evening of adult entertainment? Certainly not any birthday present, as I had already scoured their bedroom for a hidden treasure.
Dad beckoned me to the couch alongside my mother where she slouched fingering her pearls and sipping her beverage. He cleared his throat. “Families residing on the fortieth floors of all ten buildings have been selected for an expedition within a new environment currently being developed in the extreme tangle.”
Yikes and double yikes. Mother’s prediction might have merit, but the extreme tangle? No human ever ventures down that far. Yet, I conjured a vision of Tarzan and Jane, or possibly Adam and Eve, creating a new society. Albert and me?
Dad seemed serious, not like the time he reprimanded me for lying naked with Albert out on our balcony. We had been gazing at the twinkling stars as they began to appear in the darkening sky. Mother demanded an explanation. Albert misunderstood her intention and described how the Milky Way creeping across the night sky proved that we, not the stars, were moving. She sent him scurrying back home like a monkey clinging to vines and branches across the space between our balconies. She directed me to my father’s office where he had been crunching numbers. I had never seen my mother become so riled over nudity. Optional swim wear in and around our rooftop community pool had been a common practice. However, Dad considered my behavior normal for a curious adolescent, and he mumbled his usual complaint that I should have been a boy.
Did he regret fathering a girl, or had there been a mix up of XY chromosomes at the Stork? Later that night, when my parents hailed a robot-cab to the gravity free zone above our building, I broke into our family’s genealogy database. Not only did I validate my gender, but I also traced Mother’s and my DNA back to July 1, 2137, an interesting date as it coincided with the sighting of Halley’s Comet from Earth. I wanted to learn more, but I had already exceeded my data parameter for which I could be reprimanded. I hadn’t realized his computer would log my research, and I made up my first fib ever. I told Dad that my specialty had been increased to include genealogy. I doubt he believed me, but he had no authority to question my instructional program.

Caught between Dad’s rambling about courage to confront the challenge and Mother’s nodding between sips, I faked horror. “How will our lives be different from our present environment?”
He sighed and drew in his breath like when he attempted to blow out all hundred candles on his birthday cake, a major violation of the Realm’s ban on fire. “The harsh reality of our situation will deny children the comfort found in myths such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and God.”
“That serious?” I mocked.
In tune with my sarcasm, he shook his head and sighed. “Now that you’re a teenager, I’m quite sure you’ve already dismissed them as mere fantasy.”
He omitted the Twentieth Century myth of storks delivering babies, as it had since become reality. Sort of. It probably amused an early technician to refer to our human incubator as the Stork. The term stuck but the myth died. I discovered it while perusing the myriads of Twentieth Century radio and television signals still rebounding across space. The naiveté of those people who believed such nonsense astounded me.
Albert and I concluded that God does exist, but I kept our revelation from my parents. Propagating religious beliefs could get us into serious trouble with the Realm. Tomorrow, when fully clothed to please my mother, Albert and I will discuss how our moving to a new habitat will interfere with our plan. I glanced toward his apartment and gasped. Both balconies had vanished! When Dad told Mother they were getting much too close, I assumed he meant Albert and me, not our buildings.
I panicked. Where will we consummate our experiment? We formed a pact to deposit his sperm inside my uterus as soon as we completed puberty. What if Mother discovers I’ve reached sexual maturity before Albert can perform his part? When Mom caught us staring at the stars, we had just given up exciting his testicles to produce sperm.
I slid from the couch to the floor and demanded, “Why can’t we stay here?” I folded my arms and lowered my bottom lip, a pout that worked with Dad but irritated Mother.
My father scanned the room and settled his gaze on the miniature paper umbrella clinging to the rim of my mother’s cocktail glass. He slid the olive off the stem and opened the umbrella’s canopy. Touching the tip of each rib protruding from the paper covering, he said, “These represent the forty-story towers inside the perimeter of our habitat.” He squeezed the canopy nearly shut, the paper bulging between the ribs. “A thousand years ago families . . .,” he touched each rib and counted ten . . ., “dwelt in enclosures strung close together like . . .,” he glanced toward the couch . . ., “your mother’s pearls.”
He waved the umbrella through the air, and it opened as he rotated the stem between thumb and finger. “Continual acceleration and moderate spinning created limited gravity, enough to support biological life forms.” He glanced toward my mother. “Humans, animals, and plants,” as if she needed an explanation.
What could have been an insult directed at her limited resources reminded me of our individual need-to-know data. His primary program had been limited to agronomy, while my mother’s . . .?
He stopped moving the umbrella but kept it twirling. “When we reached acceleration of one-thousandth the speed of light, rotation became the single source of gravity. Our sun no longer needed to be tethered but hovers at zero gravity at the center of our sphere.”
A thousand years and six trillion miles from Earth, yet Dad still referred to the energy orb in the center of our habitat as the sun. Never a red and purple sunset like in the cowboy movies, because the lighted portion visible along the habitable perimeter merely fades rather than sets. Only the tangle on either side receives direct round-the-clock energy.
With his pen he drew a circle on top of the umbrella a tenth of the distance from the outer tips to the center. “Our buildings have presently risen to this line, our maximum allowable level of diminished gravity and intense solar rays. Even the tangle must be trimmed to this level, or the sun could ignite it and destroy everything. A thousand people would either burn to death or suffocate from lack of oxygen.”
He tapped each rib where it intersected his circle. “If our buildings were allowed to grow beyond this point, they would encroach upon each other, blocking energy to the orchards between them.”
“Buildings grow?” I snorted. “Like your fruit trees?”
He nodded, his expression serious. “At that diminished level of gravity, our bone and muscle structure would atrophy beyond what we’ve already experienced. You and your mother would be especially susceptible since you’ve lived at or near our present level all your lives.”
He spun the umbrella like a top. “We exist inside the rim of a wheel enclosed in a bubble.” The umbrella parachuted to the couch, and my mother replaced it in her glass.
Wheel? I winced at Dad’s Twentieth Century reference. I countered with one of his harvesting terms, as if our buildings actually were plants. “Can’t we lop off the top floor and move into the expanding lower apartments?”
He responded, but his gaze followed my mother as she teetered out of the room. “Our buildings have reached three maximum dimensions. All expansion must cease.”
My brain seemed to burst as I tried to cross-reference his explanation with my acquired data. When the need-to-know arises, the information will be available to you. My virtual-tutor might as well have added and not before. The weight of information brought droplets of sweat trickling down my back, and I stood to shake loose my robe, wishing I were back in my bathtub.
Dad continued as if required by some stage direction, and he added another visual to illustrate his point. He stood, cupped an energy field with his hands, and formed the hologram of a transparent sphere with a tiny speck of light in the center.
He said, “In the beginning, our sun was much smaller and glowed day and night to create sufficient energy for survival.”
He traced what could have been the sphere’s equator. “Ten families dwelt along this narrow band, and vegetation filled the remaining inner surface of the entire habitat, orchards in residual fields of gravity near and around the buildings, and tangle elsewhere. Fed by the sun’s energy, the growth of extreme tangle pressured our entire habitat to expand, and our population increased accordingly.”
The hologram began to spin, and I leaned back as its size increased. Attached to the inner rim of the wheel, a row of ten teeth-like structures emerged to simulate buildings. As they grew wider and taller, vines as thick as tree trunks crawled along their outer walls.
He traced his finger along the lower levels of each building shaded in blue. “An aquifer has filled to the level of each tenth floor, rendering those units uninhabitable except for marine life. This trough of water is continually purified and held in place by the sphere’s rotation.”
Tiny red lights blinked atop each building. “Any structures taller than forty floors would present too little gravity and too much radiation for human habitation. Of the nearly mile-wide diameter, humans are restricted to the upper thirty floors of a ring of ten pyramid shaped buildings four hundred square feet at the base. A jungle of vegetation covers the sphere’s remaining surface area, and the massive space between us and the sun contains atmospheric pressure similar to Earth’s at sea level.”
I tried to reconcile Albert’s theory of the star’s movement across our sky with Dad’s description of our habitat totally enclosed in tangle. How are we able to see stars? A question for Albert or his engineer father. I needed to probe as much as possible from my father’s data to share with my friend.
“How does our sun maintain its energy?”
Dad breathed a deep sigh, as if he had just weathered a storm. “It just does, I imagine.” He beckoned to my mother who had been standing in the doorway and pulled the three of us into an embrace, the weight of his arms heavy. He said, “Our family has outgrown its habitat. We will represent our ancestors with courage and discipline.” His voice relaxed following his memorized presentation, his warm breath pleasant on my neck.
“Are we related to everyone in our building?” I had never bothered to dwell on that possibility or asked about it.
“Sort of.”
“Sort of?” I slid from his embrace, and he dropped his hands to his side.
“A man applying for marriage must be mated with someone within a range of three levels because of their similar gravity exposure.” He flashed a glance toward my mother. “Martha and I needed a special dispensation, because her family resided twice that many floors above my family. As a result of the differences in our body densities, sexual intercourse is restricted to the gravity free space overhead.”
Mother nudged him and he blushed. This was Saturday night! No wonder she appeared eager.
Dad puffed up his chest. “My body developed additional size and strength to hazard the extremities of gravity a few levels into the tangle, if just for a short time.”
Mother’s expression brightened. “When a couple qualifies to have a child, the woman’s genes are screened to preserve a lineage back to one of the first ten families.”
I should have guessed her specialty from her assigned duties as a technician at the Stork.
She continued. “It’s like having ancestors who aren’t dead but inaccessible by virtue of living in different environments. Of course, we also have many deceased ancestors.” Her voice faded and she touched her forehead, breast and each shoulder, a gesture I had never seen before.
“No one has ever lived beyond two-hundred years.” Dad put his arm back around her. She winced but clutched his fingers resting on her shoulder. “You and your mother reach back across a millennium.” He focused on me and added, “And continue with increased mental capabilities to compensate for your reduced body strength. That’s why your mother’s intelligence exceeds mine.”
I would have thought the opposite, but memories of my headaches while visiting at lower level jarred my attention. Have I a frail body but an advanced brain? I would have preferred the opposite, considering what Albert and I intended. A jolt of realization rocked my complacency. What were Albert’s programmed capabilities he’d been unwilling to share? Why was his family recently given the top floor of the building adjacent to ours? Why are ten families privileged to have apartments with windows? And why do we have to leave our habitat?
A leak of information broke loose from my stored memory much like when, as a child, I released a tiny squirt of urine to put off going to the bathroom.

Children with developing skeletal structures are encouraged to play and attend school at one or two lower levels from their family’s residence but are restricted from going higher. Adults are able to venture down four or five floors before the increased gravity threatens their acquired skeletal structure, and they are permitted to float in gravity free space each morning and evening, when the energy orb is dimmed to reduce sunburn. Socialization occurs in the gravity-free clubs and gyms, but sexual activity is limited to motels and brothels after the lighted portion of the sun is reduced visually to the brilliance of Earth’s moon surrounded by a simulated Milky Way.

My question about star’s movement had been answered. Each evening streams of robot-cabs transport adults to an area free from gravity as well as from their inhibitions. My parents, too, every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Sundays, they mostly slept.
The strobe from a passing patrol cast a beam around and between our buildings. Dad glanced out the window and said, “I see the droids have already detached our balconies. In the next few months they’ll be removing the entire top floors.”
I squinted as the beam splashed across Albert’s window. He stood naked touching his genitals. He mouthed the words, “They work.”

Later while Mother primped in her bedroom, my father and I sat at the kitchen table nibbling on cookies and sipping juice. A robot-cab descended to the roof of the adjacent building opposite Albert’s, and we watched through the window as a couple entered. The cab lifted and disappeared from view.
Dad commented, “Tom and Helen are off to fun in the sky.”
“I know what goes on up there, Dad.”
He blushed. “Adult entertainment isn’t just sex. Your mother and I . . .”
“I know, Dad. Different body densities.” I skirted the issue. “Why don’t they have a child?”
“Our neighbors.”
“They’re waiting for permission.”
“All the other couples on our level have a child.”
“All those children are younger than you. Bob and Helen will be next. They’re not too old to raise a child—still in their sixties, I believe.”
Mother peered in and said, “I’m ready, Max.” She threw me a kiss and headed across the front room to our lift. Dad bussed my cheek and followed.

I waited a few minutes and then entered my parents’ bedroom to prepare for Albert’s and my tryst. Sitting at Mother’s dressing table, I applied red lipstick, brushed on rouge, and dabbed perfume behind each ear. My budding nipples made an impression through the soft sheen of her evening gown, but no cleavage. Stretching a width of adhesive tape from one armpit to the other, I gathered loose skin across my chest and created a crevice. A small metal trinket shaped like the letter “t” dangled from a chain around my neck, a piece of Mother’s jewelry I had never seen before. I wondered if she even remembered owning it. Letters forming an inscription were so badly worn that I couldn’t make out the words.
I glanced toward the window hoping to attract Albert’s attention. A gnarl of leafy branches, their growth no longer hindered by our balconies, partially obstructed my view. A humming bird, its beak powdered with pollen, prodded its head into and an array of petals on a flower about to burst into a full bloom. The image created a longing, and I yearned to have Albert enter my body.
I slid the doors open, brushed leaves aside, and came face-to-face with Albert, his eyes wide saucers. He stood naked and pointed to his crotch. “I did it again!”
“Get dressed,” I yelled back. “We have to go to a motel.” I wasn’t sure why, but it seemed proper. I took the lift to our roof, hailed a robot-chair rather than a cab, and directed it to Albert’s building. By the time he emerged, the meter had charged my account a double fare.
Restraining a giggle, I complemented my lover-to-be on his appearance. His father’s dinner jacket draped to his knees, and the cuffs on his pants covered shoes that flopped when he stepped up and sat beside me.
The sensation as we lifted felt much like riding the elevator between floors, but when it stopped Albert and I continued to rise. We had neglected to use the seat belts. Our vehicle looped over us as we tumbled and caught us rumps first back onto the seat. We clung to the armrests and were instructed to let go when the chair came to a stop. It slowly lowered or we rose, I couldn’t tell which, and we drifted toward a scattering of revelers. Mostly as couples, they clustered around a portal to what appeared to go nowhere. The first pair crossed a threshold and disappeared inside a balloon as it inflated. It broke away and joined a parade of floating orbs that scattered like black pearls from a broken necklace.
We got in line ignoring curious stares, some expressing annoyance with children who dared to participate in adult entertainment. However, a rite of confirmation determined one’s status, not one’s chronological age. When individuals reach sexual maturity, and with their parents’ and tutors’ approval, they participate in a series of steps that include counseling, harvesting of sperm or eggs for posterity, and body alterations. Sterilization is so Twentieth Century. As of earlier today, Albert qualified, although neither of us had been approved.
The crowd seemed to dissipate into nowhere. People, usually in pairs, stepped across the invisible threshold, and occasionally parties of fifteen to twenty filed into a unit that enlarged to accommodate the size of the group.
The couple in front of us was refused entry because they appeared too young to be consenting adults. The girl scanned their marriage certificate as proof they qualified and a portal opened. A bubble emerged, broke free, and gyrated as it drifted away. I anticipated a similar problem.
“We’re on our honeymoon,” I whispered and the portal opened.
I gave Albert’s sleeve a tug and he glided across the threshold. However, his weight advantage propelled me in the opposite direction. I grabbed his fluttering pant cuff and trailed after him like the tail of one of Earth’s kites. The concept of air movement as in Gone with the Wind was foreign to us.
Albert’s momentum sent him across to the opposite surface, and he bounced back past me toward the portal. It no longer existed. We were encased in a gravity-free sphere, its surface transparent from the inside. Albert sprung his legs, and like from a trampoline, he shot across the room headfirst ping ponging back and forth. Hovering in mid space, I gave his butt a shove as he passed by, and again we headed in opposite directions. We played tag and then dodge ball using our bodies as the projectile. We rolled, tumbled, and jostled until the straps of my gown slid over my shoulders. I aimed a head dive into his mid section, and he grabbed me around my chest causing the tape across my breasts to loosen on one side. He pulled it off, twirling me like a top.
As our momentum slowed and our paths crossed, I grabbed Albert’s shoulders and reminded him of our goal. He nodded and began to undress. I burst out laughing when he set his clothes in mid air, as if dressing an invisible manikin. I slid out of my gown and stood it upright next to Albert’s creation. With the straps draped over make-believe shoulders, I shaped the front to imply a full bosom. Observing the cross from my mother’s necklace nestle in invisible cleavage, I felt a shiver travel my spine. I had a vague recollection of a Twentieth Century concept that I could not bring into focus. More research after Albert and I copulate.
Like life-sized puppets, we directed our alter egos to dance, hug, and even simulate intercourse. Gazing into each other’s eyes, we slid our underwear down our legs and over our feet. The action caused us to tumble, and when we caught each other, we were inverted, my face buried in his groin. I felt myself getting wet. Albert’s head had lodged between my legs, his mouth open. He spat out hairs. Sparse strands on his scrotum tickled my nose, and in the absence of gravity his penis floated to a near erection.
I had lost all desire to have him enter any orifice, and it was apparent he would have been unable. Hand-over-hand, we worked our bodies face-to-face. We expressed spontaneous agreement for our next move. We gathered our clothes and I pressed the exit button. Our love nest burst like a soap bubble, and a robot-chair scooted alongside. We fastened our seat belts and clung to our clothes until gravity gently settled them onto our laps.
While we dressed on the roof of my building, I had a Twentieth Century inspiration. I said, “Would you like to come in for a drink?”

The elevator opened to our living space, and I scanned the room to my parents’ bedroom door. It remained open as when I left, the interior still dark. Shoes in hand, I beckoned Albert across to my room and gave the opposite bedroom another quick glance. No ghostly silhouette of Mother standing in her nightgown, but Dad offered ample evidence of his sound sleep. I joined Albert and closed my door.
I led him to my bed and whispered, “Tonight you have a choice, me or Sera.” He gawked, first at me and then at my naked avatar twin as I pulled the covers back. I hadn’t instructed my body double to wear pajamas.
He pointed and laughed. “That one.”
“Maybe you could practice on her until you get it right.” I detected a frown. “That is if you still want to consummate our experiment.” He shrugged, and I closeted the playmate who has been my constant companion since she and I had been toddlers. Her sprouting pubic hairs had alerted me that changes had also begun in my body.
“Do you use it to trick your parents often?”
“I hadn’t needed to until this evening.” I caught Sera’s wink before I pulled the drapes to her cubicle and glanced back at Albert. “Do you disapprove?”
“I got a puppy when I was a child. My dad didn’t trust any creature that doesn’t eat and poop.”
“I meant disapprove of using her for deception.”
“It’s dishonest to fool your parents.”
I sensed a possible mock serious expression, and I cracked a smile. “How are you going to explain your absence to your parents?”
“I’ll tell them I spent the night with you.”
“Why would you do that?”
“To convince them I’m not homosexual.”
“That isn’t possible. The gay gene had been destroyed.”
“Like the God gene?”
“I got your point. But please let them believe what they want until we’re sure I’m pregnant.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Not really. I’ll have Sera mimic my pregnancy, and she’ll take me through the process.”
“Could she carry our baby for us?”
“Not if you want flesh and blood. I’m not even sure if she can self-replicate. That hadn’t been my parents’ purpose for obtaining her.”
His expression turned solemn.
“Are you afraid?” I asked.
“Nah. My part is easy. However, I wish I could see how it turns out.”
“Albert! You’ll be a parent just like your father.”
“Not if we get separated.” I thought he’d seen a ghost. “Disregard that.”
“What do you know that I don’t?”
“Nothing.” He stared at his feet as if contemplating his toes. “Please don’t ask.”
“Do I have to bring Sera back to bed so we can gang up on you?”
“Tell me your specialty first.”
Suddenly my extensive knowledge of the Twentieth Century paled in comparison to what Albert’s data might be. “I’m expert in the first electronic era of our former planet.” I hadn’t glorified my expertise before or even admitted my assignment to anyone other than my parents.
“I wish I’d been given a period of history. I’m most interested in the era of the Roman Empire. All I know about it comes from a movie I checked out at the data library.”
“What is your primary program?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t . . .”
“I just told you mine.”
“Can we have sex now?”
“Your body will determine that.”
“I don’t feel much like it.”
“If we undress and lay down it might help.”
“I am tired.” He yawned.
We undressed, each on opposite sides of the bed. His body showed no apparent interest in the task ahead of us. “Would you like Sera to join us?” I had been reviewing erotic literature from the 1980’s.
“Is she warm blooded? I’m not used to sleeping naked.” He shivered and pulled the covers to his chin.
“Any temperature you want. You don’t have to tell her. She can anticipate your needs.”
“Right now I need my puppy.”
“Do you want Sera to get him? She’d be undetected, unless the dog yelps.”
“He’s dead. Dad wanted to get me another, but I refused. I don’t want a dog to go through what’s ahead of us.”
What do you know? I drew blood from my lip to repress my question. “If you don’t mind, I’ll have Sera sleep with us.” Her radar might reveal his secret, if he lets his guard down in his sleep.

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