That was the first thing Solo had asked when he'd set his eyes on Duo's tiny body, but his mother had merely told him to hush and leave the baby alone, as she'd always done, despite Solo's best attempts to befriend the creature. But his mother insisted that the baby was not his new brother, and they weren't going to keep him for long. "It's business," she said to the four-and-a-half-year-old. "Mommy stuff."
Mommy Stuff, as Solo had learned to dub it, usually involved guns, smuggling, and scary men with fuzzy teeth that leered at him and his mother in horrible ways whenever she wasn't looking. Even young, Solo knew two things about Mommy Stuff that he was sure his mother didn't even realize he was aware of—she was a highly sought after smuggler within the Black Market, and she was good at it because as a single mom with a kid, she managed to pull off harmless like no one's business.
Still, drugs and other scary stuff was one thing—babies were quite another.
"But mama, where did he come from? Did the stork get lost or somethin'?"
"No, the stork didn't—uh, I am the stork, sweetie. The other stork was sick, and I'm going to deliver him to his mommy."
Pretty lame, even for a child his age. He knew perfectly well there was more going on, and he didn't like it one bit. "But mama, what if—"
"Don't worry your little head about it. Go watch your cartoons, okay? And don't touch the baby."
She'd simply come home with him one night, his tiny little form wrapped in a grimy blue blanket, as if he'd dropped out of the sky into her arms unawares. For the lack of reaction she'd had, he might as well have, Solo figured. It was like the baby just happened with no explanation at all. No matter what his mother said about it, he couldn't just leave it be.
So later on, when she was drinking the smelly stuff that she never let him taste, which always made her tongue loose and eyes very droopy, he glanced at the basket the baby was sleeping in, and asked, "Does he have a name?"
She'd spit out the stuff she was drinking in a wet spew that made his nose wrinkle. She glared at him, but he just looked back at her with perfect innocence, bouncing quietly on his heels.
His mother's face shadowed with a sort of bitterness—and he knew that word, because she was always very bitter—and she wiped her mouth with the back of her wrist. With a grimace she said, "No. He doesn't."
"What kinda baby doesn't have a name?"
"This baby." She gestured for emphasis, but the baby only curled sightly in his sleep, oblivious.
"That's sad. He should have a name, mama."
"He doesn't, okay? Can you just drop it now? Go to bed. He's being delivered tomorrow."
"Is his new mommy gonna name him?"
"Err... yes. Okay? Bed. Now."
He didn't sleep very well. He dreamed his mother had feathers and a long, pointy beak, and she was pecking at him, calling him bad names that him cry. When he woke, his mother didn't come to soothe him, and he didn't go to her because she was still drunk and she was never very comforting when she was like that. So Solo grabbed his blanket and peered into her bedroom nervously, aiming for a specific target. The baby was still in the basket right beside her bed, cooing softly and kicking around randomly, as if being stuck in that bedding all day was getting rather annoying. Solo imagined it was.
Sneaking very quietly—he'd learned how to be quiet from a very early age, because his mama was always into dangerous things, and it was important to be quiet, to survive—he crept to the basket and very gently lifted it from the bedside table. His mother turned in her sleep, muttering something about a doctor and the letter G, but then she sighed herself back to sleep and Solo relaxed. He managed to take the baby into the living room, and when he looked down, relieved to be out of the bedroom, the baby's eyes glistened with an odd sort of amusement and giggled loudly at him.
Solo put one finger before his mouth and hushed him. "Shh! Can't wake mama."
The baby just giggled again. Solo bit back a nervous groan. He set the basket on the sofa and leapt for his mother's bedroom door, closing it as quietly as possible, and cursing their squeaky hinges. When he turned around again, the baby was climbing precariously out of the basket, and Solo's heart lurched. He dove before the baby could fall from the sofa, but the little creature just gave him a raspberry and tipped over the side, landing on the cushions with an 'oof.'
"Not having a mama doesn't bother you much, does it?"
The baby plopped down in his bum and stared at Solo like he was the most fascinating thing the world. Solo tilted his head and sighed. "I don't get it. Everyone's got a mama. S'not right."
The baby mimicked tilting his head and Solo had to laugh before he forgot himself. He winced and stared at his mother's bedroom door again, until the baby patted him on the arm and demanded his attention.
Solo bit his lip. The baby crawled forward and grabbed at Solo's t-shirt, making tiny little whining noises.
"What? Whadaya want?"
The baby pulled Solo further toward him with surprising strength and Solo had no choice but to obey. His face inches from the baby's own, he stared with wide eyes, one brow lifted in confusion.
The baby leaned forward as far as he could and pecked Solo wetly on the noise. Then he giggled again.
Solo wiped furiously at his nose and groaned. "Ew! Baby spit!" Solo had his arms raised to smack the disgusting little thing, or shake it, or kiss it back, or something, when his mother's voice rang clear from the doorway.
"What are you doing up—Solo! Did I not tell you to leave the baby alone?"
Solo yelped like a little girl and flinched when she stalked closer. But all his mother did was lift the baby up into her arms and leer down at her son.
"Bed," she said. The baby was squirming furiously in her grasp, obviously having too much fun to settle back down in that boring basket. She huffed with annoyance and sat the baby in said basket, forcing him to comply. Solo sighed and trudged back to his room.
The baby called after him with pathetic little whines, his tiny hand gasping for Solo's shirt again. They were all surprised when he said, "So! So!" Attempting Solo's name.
His mother lifted a brow.
Solo sadly shook his head, conflicted.
"Bed," his mother said again, somewhat firmly.
He flinched and closed the bedroom door. As he lay down, he listened to the baby sob with a loud fire engine wail. His mother started cursing, and the baby only cried harder.
The next morning, his mother called for a babysitter and said that she was going out to "deliver the baby to his new mommy." Something deep in Solo felt the wrongness of what was happening, and he knew he couldn't let his mama take the baby wherever she was taking him. So he ditched the babysitter and snuck out of the apartment, and crept into the backseat of the car while his mama spoke with the sitter. The baby was already in the passenger seat, buckled firmly in place. He heard Solo enter and craned his neck as best he could into the back.
"So!" The baby bounced and giggled maniacally. "So! So! So!"
Solo hushed him fiercely. "Shh! Mama don't know 'm here! Quiet!" The baby hushed just enough for Solo to go on, so Solo said, "Mama's takin' you to some weird place. S'not nice there. Gonna break you out."
The baby looked at him oddly, like he understood, but he didn't have the words to express it, and then titled his head. "So," the baby said quietly.
Solo sighed and dug himself best he could behind the seats. His mother came right then and opened the door, getting in. She tucked the baby back in her seat and sighed somewhat tiredly. "I can't wait to get rid you. Been nothing but trouble, you little turd."
"Yes, yes, and you're obstinate too. Cheeky little bastard, aren't you?"
"Ah, yeah. S'pose you're right, hm? Takes one to know one..."
With that, she started the car and pulled out of the driveway. It was barely a five-minute ride and then she was pulling into the parking lot of some sort of factory. Solo could see the smoke stacks from the floor of the car, pelting thick black smoke into the colony atmosphere. Wasn't that illegal?
His mother began to unbuckle the baby, still oblivious to Solo's presence. "C'mon, you little bastard. Time to meet your daddy."
"I don't care if he's ugly and psychotic, you're going, and that's that!"
"So! Soo!" Solo winced as the baby started to cry again, squirming toward the backseat where he remained hidden. His mother didn't seem to realize the baby only wanted Solo, and he wasn't resisting because he didn't want to go. But then again, maybe the poor little thing really didn't want to go. He seemed to understand when Solo said it was a bad place.
"Shut it," his mama said in that firm Mommy Voice Solo could never quite resist. "Christ, I can't wait to get you off my hands... let's go."
With that, his mother stepped out of the car with a squirming, screaming baby in her arms. She made her way to the door, which remained unguarded, and vanished inside.
Solo held his breath. What did a factory want with a baby? And why would his mother give the baby willingly to an "ugly psychopath?" It wasn't right. Solo knew his mother would be very, very angry, but he had to do something to stop it. Firming his resolve, Solo balled his four-year-old fists and crawled out of the car. He marched to the factory doors, and with only a moment's hesitation, reached for the doorknob high above him, opened it and stepped inside.
There was a man behind a desk reading a magazine with a pretty lady in a bathing suit on the cover. Solo shook his head and crept his way past, but the man never even looked up from his magazine. There was another door held open by a wedge, and he walked through it, looking up and down a lonely white hallway. Loud baby cries came from the left, and so he raced that way.
In a door cracked open just slightly, was a small white room with a sterile-looking carriage. The baby was left there, gripping the edge, and wobbling to and fro as tears streaked miserably down his face. He kept right on moaning, staring at some man out of Solo's field of vision.
He heard his mother's voice cool and professional, "I assume the payment will be wired to my account when I leave?"
"Of course, dear. I thank you for your services. I like things to go smoothly." The man's voice was rumbly and silken, like a hungry snake gliding over sandpaper. "Shall I show you the way out?"
"Of course, that would be kind of you."
Both seemed entirely ignorant of the baby's crying. Solo dashed behind the corner when his mother and the man stepped from the room. Solo couldn't hide a gasp—the man was very ugly, and very old, with a huge mutated nose as long and thick as an arm, his hair an odd mushroom shape that made Solo tilt his head in wonder. There was an ugly scar running down the left side of his face, and the boy briefly wondered what had happened to cause it before he shook his head and ducked behind the corner again, waiting until his mother and the man vanished down the hallway.
The baby was still crying when Solo made his way into the room. Solo clicked his tongue sadly and hushed him. The baby reached out, tiny fists clawing at the air in desperation. Solo lifted him out of the carriage and held him to his chest. The baby grasped onto his shirt and hiccuped miserably.
"Shh... what'd he do to you, huh?" Solo grasped at tiny arm holding his shirt when he saw a little red puncture mark. "He gave you a shot? What'd he put in you?"
But the baby's lips just wobbled again with another loud cry and Solo shook his head, hushing him further. "Shh! We gotta get outta here. Gotta be quiet, ok?"
Instead of with joy, this time the word was spoken with misery. It had a fine whine to it that made Solo's own eyes tear up a little, but then he shook his head again.
"Can't cry. Boys don't cry, ok? Boys're tough. You gonna be a lil cry baby girl or a man?"
The baby stopped all sniveling at once and stared at him in wonder. He tilted his head and fisted Solo's shirt tighter, drawing close.
"Thought so," Solo said with more confidence than he felt. "You ain't no girl, an' neither m'I."
The baby giggled and nuzzled Solo's neck. Solo sighed and forced himself to leave the room before someone found them.
The hallway was still oddly deserted, but he didn't press his luck. He crept back the way he came, and stopped dead when he turned the corner for the exit.
His mother was standing at the door with her arms raised, a barely-concealed look of terror and fury in her eyes. The guard from behind the counter had a gun pointed at her chest.
The man with the huge nose had his back to Solo, and he was saying, "You didn't seriously think I'd let you go with this much confidential information, did you? You might be well-respected, but you can't blame a guy for being paranoid."
"You sonuvabitch! What about my son? You can't just—what about my father? He'll be right pissed if you—"
"What Howard doesn't know won't hurt him. You two had a falling out, did you not? I bet he won't even attend the funeral."
Solo's heart clenched.
The gun fired. His mother stared in horror. She said his name, and then she fell forward, her shirt stained an ugly, wet red. Solo ran for his mother in desperation, but then the gun was aimed at him and he ran away. The bullet just barely grazed his arm, but he didn't notice. The man with the huge nose was yelling after him.
"Do not shoot him! In no way is anyone to harm Oh Two!"
Oh Two? Solo briefly glanced down at the baby while dodging bullets. The baby's eyes were wide with terror, and he was clutching Solo's shirt for all his worth.
What a crappy name. "We're gonna rename you," Solo huffed, dodging a guy in a white lab jacket. "No way are you gonna be called some stupid number."
The man with the huge nose was falling behind, but Solo was getting tired—the baby was very heavy. "And you're gonna lose some weight, kid! This is ridiculous!"
He knew he was just talking to hide the horror of his mother's death. It was locked down firmly in a place he couldn't reach, and he wasn't going to allow the sorrow or the shock to hit him now. He was going to get the baby away, and they were going to disappear. It was the least he could do. His mother had died for this. His four-year-old mind knew it, and ran as fast and far as he could.
He crashed through a glass door, stumbled, his vision blurry with tears and pain. But he kept right on running, his feet leaving no other option.
The shouts behind him were furious. Solo pelted into the streets, huffing, and the baby remained as quiet as possible, trying not to distract away from the dangers. They wound through alleys, behind buildings, through a park and out into the bad sections of the colony. Finally, Solo had to stop, but the yelling was still chasing after them. He set the baby down, panting, his legs burning as if they were on fire.
The baby crawled toward a manhole that led to the sewers, poking at it.
Solo stared, shook his head, and pulled on the cover as hard as he could. Normally, he probably wouldn't have been able to lift it, but the adrenaline pumped through him like slow-burning acid and he managed to get it off, grabbed the baby, vanishing inside.
The men passed by up above them just in time, oblivious.
Solo slumped against the cement wall, catching his breath and sobbing only marginally. He stared miserably at the baby, who stared back with his head tilted, rubbing at the tear tracks on his own tiny face with a little fist.
Solo palmed his eyes dry. Boys didn't cry, right? They were tough. They could survive this... piece of cake.
"We can do this," Solo said. "You 'n' me. Buds, yeah?"
There was a little, baby-like smile.
"Guess you an' me have somethin' in common now. No mama's between us. Orphans, we are."
The baby crawled toward him and squirmed his way into Solo's lap. He laid his head on Solo's chest and yawned.
"Yeah, me too, buddy. Me too."
Despite the horrid smell of the sewer, they both managed to fall asleep, cuddled in each other's arms. Solo tried not to think about tomorrow. He tried not to think about his mother. He tried not to think about anything.
He only managed just slightly—he thought about the baby. Gradually, the tiny unnamed creature became his entire universe. His mama had died for it, for whatever messed up reason—Solo would too. He'd do it in a heartbeat.