About This Book
A dying Earth, a desperate choice, and a terrible question: What is human? Solomon’s Choice, by bestseller Ruthanne Reid.
Solomon Iskinder has a plan: Force adaptation so humans no longer need to depend on the Fey for survival…
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Solomon Iskinder has a plan: Force adaptation so humans survive the climatomagical apocalypse and no longer need to depend on the Fey and the Night-Children for survival.
Today, he’s succeeded in a magical-human DNA graft, the result of which allowed him to see magic for 18 seconds.
He has no idea how big the can of monsters he’s just opened is.
Excerpt from Chapter One
Each piece of PPE goes into the locker in a specific order: boots; primary bodysuit; form-fitting thermals; and finally, hood. That way, I can put them back on with optimal efficiency, getting out of here as quickly as possible.
Or at least, that’s the way it ought to go. Today’s pattern must change, for which I am not particularly grateful, but the reason for the change is wonderful, so I will make do. Let’s see. Boots; bodysuit; form-fitting thermals; hood. Then: tiny booties; miniature bodysuit; immensely small mittens (I do not care if that descriptor is hyperbolic); adorable hood; and finally, the thermals, which are significantly less form-fitting, and an adventure to remove.
Well. I’m sure ease will come with practice. I strap my new, most precious treasure to my back and head toward the line.
Distribution is slow at the end of the month. It isn’t a supply problem; the Fey are faithful with what they give us, dire as the price might be. No, it’s because of who is always in charge: bullies.
Dawes and Cortez love flexing their administrative muscle. I suppose I can’t blame them; in this world, we homo relicus—the humans who remain—have so little in the way of power that it is unsurprisingly considered a beneficial attribute to perform acts of dominance over others.
It is one of many traits, surviving over millions of years of development, which no longer benefits our species. While I would personally love to (and would benefit from) weeding it out, currently, survival must take precedent. I don’t care if we’re all bullies in generations to come. As long as we are alive to work that out, that’s all that matters.
The Fey distribution warehouse is always wreathed in shadow. Theoretically, it is so we cannot see who receives what; realistically, it just makes everything miserable—we humans, identically anonymous beggars, in line for our bread in the dark.
Or whatever food is on offer this month.
I’ve already been through the line this month. My reappearance will not go well. I expect them to question me. To humiliate me. They do those things anyway, but this… I am here for the second time in a month, and there will be trouble.
Mild hypersalivation presages my nerves, but I try to tamp them down. Anxiety now will not do. “Next,” says Dawes, and it is my turn at last, so I step into the light.
It’s a white column of visibility, intimidating and harsh. I am supposedly unidentifiable to the line behind me as long as I stand within it—except, of course, to the two in charge of distribution. I take a deep breath before speaking. “Greetings,” I say, and hold up my black rations stone.
Dawes meets my eyes. “Iskinder?” he says, sharp. “What the fuck are you doing back?”
My entire prepared speech melts like relictual snow.
I can’t recall what I was going to say. I’m terrified he won’t honor the rations stone (illogical; he has to). I’m afraid they will do something, take my new treasure away, or beat me and hurt him, or—“Greetings,” I manage again, which probably does not help. “My circumstances have changed, and with them, my needs.” Again, I hold up the rations stone.
He ignores it. “Yeah. Sure. Go away.”
He can’t… he can’t do that. “Lieutenant. I believe if you check my rations stone, you will find that there is a new order within.”
Dawes does not touch my stone. “Cortez, get over here. You gotta see the balls on this guy.”
I have begun to sweat. By choice, I stand still, neither slouching nor cringing, holding out the smooth, black stone afforded me. This is important. This is not about me.
“What?” says Cortez as she approaches, her voice gruff as always.
“He thinks he can get second rations.”
“What?” She sounds confused, and joins Dawes in the light, staring down at me from the distribution platform. “You? What the fuck?”
Slow breaths. Come on, Sol. You must succeed. “My circumstances have changed, and with them, my needs. If you will check my rations stone, you will see that I have been afforded a new order.”
Dawes outright laughs at me, which I know is heard throughout the warehouse; the damping spell is only so effective regarding sound.
Cortez frowns. Her brow knits; she tilts her head, as if trying to understand what I am doing—or least, so my copious study of body language and facial expression would conclude. “Why are you trying for extra rations?” she says. “You know you don’t get anything more for three more weeks. Why are you doing this?”
My hand has begun to shake, and not from muscular fatigue. “Because my circumstances—”
She takes a step toward me, and my resolve shatters. I flinch back.
“Get out,” she says.
“I… I can’t.” My voice trembles like my hand. “My circumstances have changed, and I—”
“Do I get to make him?” says Dawes, hungry, eager, one hand on his baton. “Do I get to? Come on, he’s already pushed the line.”
Her eyes narrow. “Unless he’s got a damn good reason. Yes.”
Oh, no. No, I cannot afford that. And what if instead of me, he hits—
“Well?” she says, and the added pressure ties my tongue and freezes my vocal cords. “Last fucking chance, Iskinder. Three. Two.”
I can’t speak, I can’t think, so instead of trying to communicate verbally, I opt for visual validation. I turn around.
“What the fuck?” whispers Dawes.
“Is… is that a baby?” whispers Cortez.
And Jason, on cue, squeals.
It’s one of those delighted-baby sounds which, I’m convinced, only a human infant can make. Of a pitch and decibel usually associated with ruined machinery, it is, in truth, a sound of unfettered joy, of the freedom of nascent emotion, of a complete lack of fear and self-conscious shame. I smile at my dusty shoes upon hearing it. I’ve been smiling all day. I think I may not have ever smiled this much at once, ever.
“Can’t be,” says Dawes. “Can’t fucking be!”
“Iskinder,” says Cortez slowly. “Where the fuck did you get a baby?”
I can’t read her tone. I don’t know what my fellow human’s true meaning is, not without seeing her face and her body language. A quick calculation tells me that turning around—so they no longer see my son—is riskier than facing her, so in an attempt to placate, I stay where I am. “The same way anyone ‘gets’ a baby, I should think.”
“Iskinder.” That is a warning tone, though I’m not certain why.
Perhaps she wishes for details. I push my glasses up my nose. “I began petitioning twenty-two years, six months, and four days ago, and had done so every month since until I received approval fourteen months and twelve days ago. From there, I endured a battery of tests, then proceeded to the procreation phase. Jason was conceived thirteen months ago, approximately.” I swallow. “As he is, today, four months old and in optimal health, I am now allowed to take him home. My rations stone was consequently updated, and I am here to obtain what I need to feed my son.”
There shouldn’t be silence. I just told them. I answered their question! Do I turn around?
Calculation: I have to turn around. I need to see them to understand what they’re thinking, to mitigate threat. I turn.
Well, this, at least, is familiar: they’re staring at me like I’m an alien creature, completely outside understanding.
I clear my throat and hold up my stone.
They stare at that, then.
“He could’ve fucked with it,” says Dawes. “Stolen the baby.”
“He wouldn’t have gotten this far,” says Cortez. “Can’t hack the stone, anyway.” She snatches it as though afraid touching my skin will somehow dirty her.
She speaks truth. The rations stones are keyed to our souls—a specifically Fey magic that we humans have no way to operate or alter.
Jason makes another happy noise on my back, and I smile.
“Can I see him again?” Dawes says, low and nearly mumbled. Body language: tight, pulling in on himself. Angry? Ashamed? Somewhere in between. His face shows nothing, though—just the usual dislike for me, brows down, mouth frowned.
“As long as you don’t hurt him,” I say, and turn back around again.
“Fucking… you think I’d hurt a baby?” he snarls.
“Easy,” says Cortez. “He’s just being an asshole. Let it roll off. Stone checks out, anyway.”
Of course the stone checked out, but I wasn’t being an asshole. Damn it.
“Fuck,” said Dawes. “How? Why him?”
“I don’t know,” says Cortez, but softer.
Jason wriggles, his tiny heels drumming into my kidneys, and he squeals. Then he laughs for them; a sound I could bottle and cure all manner of depression, I am certain.
“Why?” says Dawes again. His voice cracks.
Cortez doesn’t answer.
Neither do I. And for once in my life, the why doesn’t matter nearly as much as the what.
I could turn around, demand my owed supplies, and leave. I could. But I know how rare human children are; I know these two have likely been petitioning, as well, though possibly not as long as I have, given their relative youth.
I will let them take joy in my son for one simple reason: I choose. I may be… different from them. Broken, in some ill-defined manner, though I have compensated as best I can. But I can choose to be kind, and I do, even to those who do not deserve it.
In fact, I think perhaps giving kindness to the undeserved is the epitome of humanity. Did we not possess such traits, we ought to let natural extinction take its course, and let ourselves die.
“Here’s your stuff,” says Cortez, low.
I turn and accept the supplies: a small bag the size of my palm, wrapped in leaves and tied with some kind of flower. (Neither leaf nor flower exists in this world, and both have resisted all my attempts to unravel their DNA. They simply fall apart if studied, and will not take root, nor propagate.)
“Thank you,” I say.
“Go,” says Cortez. “Get out of my sight.” Resentment? Anger. I’m not sure. Bitterness?
Dawes grips his baton, and the twisting sound of his hand on leather starts my heart racing again.
Jason squeals as I do, enjoying the ride, too young yet to understand the tension of the scene he just witnessed.
If I succeed in my mission, my purpose for existence, he will never have to understand it. If I succeed, the world he inherits will be utterly different from mine.
I have always been driven, since my youth; driven to save us all, to find the way out, to force our evolution into controlled mutation so we can survive what we did to the world. It was, however, never personal; it was simply about all of us, homo relicus, those who remain.
Now, our future has a face: that of my son, and the urgency this brings cannot be easily put into words.