Title: Paradigm Shift
Author: Harper Kingsley
Genre: mm sci-fi
“If I wasn’t a Third,” Gregor said, and it wasn’t bitter at all. He’d given up the dreams of Competition a long time ago.
“Yes,” Park said, because it was true.
Gregor’s status as a Third precluded him from any form of Competition. After the Plague, he was considered too important to risk. Not that it meant much to him now; his time when he could have feasibly Competed was over. At twenty-eight years old, he was considered past his prime and that was simply reality.
Sometime while he wasn’t paying attention, he’d gotten too old. It was strange to think about.
“It was quick,” he said. At Park’s questioning look, Gregor shrugged. “Sorry, just realizing my own mortality.”
“Ah.” Park crossed his hands together on the round table. “I remember when the Instructor told me I was too old for Competition. It felt like the end of my world.”
“You used to Compete?”
Park nodded. “Fencing. It was my passion all through my teens and early twenties. I was all set to go to the Battle Arena until I hurt my shoulder. By the time I was healed enough to Compete again, I was past the age requirement. It was the end of that career.”
“Do you miss it?” Gregor asked.
“Sometimes, when I let myself dwell on what was and all the medals I could have won. Most of the time I don’t think about it. Competing was something I did a long time ago in a different life.”
“And now you’re a Magister, all power for the State.”
Park chuckled, a low sound. “It’s not like I could stop living just because my athletic career didn’t go anywhere.”
Gregor liked the ease o sitting with Park by the pool. Even talking about his failed dreams didn’t seem so bad when he could share them.
He wrapped his towel around his shoulders and leaned forward to rest his arms on the table. “What if I’m Bound to Zero and we end up hating each other? Will your Family keep my children?”
Park gave him a regretful look. “You would have visitation rights.”
“I don’t know if I want children.” Gregor sucked in his lower lip and stared down at the skin of his arms. “I don’t know anything. I’m stumbling around and I don’t know what I even want. Yet I’m expected to fill a quota with little people I don’t know if I’m going to love. It bothers me.”
“Because you’re human,” Park said, “and a good man.”
“Not that good. A good man wouldn’t wonder if he was going to love his hypothetical children. He would know that he will.”
“No,” Park shook his head, “that’s why you’re a good man. You’re worrying about those children and how you’re going to receive them. You’re not just blithely assuming that everything will work itself out.
“You care. That’s why I think you’re a good man and you’ll make a good father. Because even if you choose not to be in their lives, you’ll have cared enough not to just make them and shove them out into the world. You would make sure they were somewhere where they would be cared for and kept safe.
“You’re not blindly making babies to save humanity. You’re thinking about whether those babies are going to be happy and cared for.”
Gregor hated his out of control hormones and the way they made him sniffle and gasp. “I don’t want my daughters or my Thirds being traded for politics. I don’t want them to grow up knowing that someday they’ll be bought and sold ‘for the good of humanity.’ It doesn’t seem fair!”
He dug his chin into his arm and hated every tear that trickled down his cheeks. “To be born and know that everyone expects you to do something, even if it’s not something you’re sure of. How can I bring helpless children into something like that? Where my daughters and my Thirds will know that the only reason they were born was because the State mandated it, and they’re expected to have children of their own and bring them into the same helplessness? How can I do it?”