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Short Stories

Freedom

A dark short story following no one – that is, no major characters, nor even anyone we see again in this universe. If you ever wondered what happens to ordinary folk while heroes are off doing great things, this tale may answer that question. (No spoilers. A side-story from the bestselling science-fantasy novel, THE SUNDERED.)

Why didn’t she leave?

Here we are at the end of all things, her and me—my sister, who didn’t take the only way out, and me, who never earned it. We sit together and watch the world die as the last of its life slips away.

Food’s gone. All the water is gone or poison. The air outside the space-walls is deadly. Nothing grows out there anymore.Sometimes, I think I see stars falling, but with the gasses and shit I’ve inhaled in the last week, I’m probably dreaming it. It’s just us in the universe who’s dying, just our human Earth. Everywhere else is okay.

“You’re an asshole,” she croaks out, using some of our air to insult me.

I use more to laugh.

What was it the Fey representatives said? “The core is dead.” They were talking about our Earth—not theirs. They have some parallel world that’s just fine. Could they fix it? Probably, but they didn’t. No, they were just letting us know so any humans who were worthy could apply for asylum.

I didn’t qualify. I also didn’t qualify with the human escape method: a ship designed to take the best of us away, in search of a new home.

Again, I didn’t qualify. But my sister did.

Why did she stay here? Why would anybody stay here? She earned her place on the Hope. She could have left this place, gone away to the stars, to some safe planet where she wouldn’t have to die choking on stale air and bad breath. The best of the human race should survive, right?

She still said no.

Why? She wouldn’t tell me, of course. “I’ll die free,” she’d said when I told her she was an idiot, but that was all. As if suffocating slowly is freedom at all.

So whatever. We’ll die together, and it’ll be the only thing we’ve ever done together. I think we’re the last humans left alive.

“You shouldn’t have stayed.” I’m wasting air. I just have to waste it, making my point. “Should’ve gone.”

She makes a noise. “Know how many women they had on that ship? Twenty-nine. Twenty-nine out of five hundred and forty-two. You think I want to be a broodmare?”

“You’ll die not a mare, I guess.”

“Ha.”

The best of humanity, everyone. That conversation was totally not worth the air we wasted.

Darkness falls – maybe in the sky, but I think it’s just behind my eyes because I’m starved for oxygen. The sky looks beautiful, the way the space-walls catch the last day’s light when everything else has darkened.

It’s finally over. Maybe I’ll just go to sleep and won’t wake up.

I guess I see her point sometimes. The humans pretty enough to go to parallel worlds are servants or slaves. The ones who went to space have to rebuild everything, all the weight of our species’ survival on their heads.  They’re alive, but they’re not free.

I’m free. Maybe she was right. I’m dying my own man, free, like her.

I just wish I’d been given the choice.


Have some science.

  • The “space-walls” are actually photovoltaic electrolyzers, built around small communities in an attempt to coax oxygen and energy from sunlight. “Photovaltaic electrolyzer” does not slide off the tongue, so people generally call them space-walls because they reach so high into the atmosphere.
  • As for how they’re built, the plans for space elevators were scrapped in the wake of the understanding of just how little time was left, and all that technological development turned toward these space-walls.
  • At the end of the world, these space-walls bought a few extra years of life for human-kind. In fact, Iskinder and his son live inside one such compound in The Twins.
  • The involvement of the Fey and the other Seven Peoples (that’s a wiki link) is a story for another time.

By Ruthanne Reid

Ruthanne Reid is one of those pesky fanfiction authors who made good, and thus eschews most labels. Except for being a Generation X-er (or maybe Xennial, according to some guy’s webpage), a musician who loves music but also carries a ton of baggage about it, a self-taught graphic artist who designs her own covers, a spoonie who wrestles Fibromyalgia not unlike yon Hercules and the Nemean lion, a Christian who hesitates to use the word because too many of them are crazy but Jesus is pretty great, a rabid shipper who’s too smart to lay out precisely which ships because of the wars, and an avid reader when she isn’t busy caretaking for some pretty ill folks.

You know. Unlabelable.

Currently a resident of Long Island City and a loving mommy to one current cat and numerous future ones, Ruthanne is happily married to a fellow geek who loves good stories and great games as much as she does. Between the two of them, they own a lot of things that need to be plugged in.

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