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Final Regards

by Danielle Berggren 11 months ago in Sci Fi
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What are we, if not our actions?

The gleam of avarice in the buyer’s eyes was unmistakable as I pulled the heavy golden locket from its resting place. The leather cord looked incongruous next to its burnished, filigreed surface.

It was hot from my skin. I expected it to beat, yet it remained still, gently clasped in my upraised palm, nestled on the woolen fingerless gloves as though against the black velvet of a jeweler.

It could not have asked for better lighting, for a more auspicious time to sell. Gold was over ten thousand credits an ounce. This was worth more than just melt weight. It was priceless, and we both knew it. There were people who would kill to get their hands on it.

“Is that what I think it is?” the buyer asked. At his hushed tone, one of the two guards outside shifted, and I quickly covered the pendant. There was a flash of annoyance in the buyer’s green eyes, which lifted to mine for but a moment. “It can’t be real. Where did you get it?”

Suspicion. I was not unused to it, but it got old.

I shook back the sleeves on my left wrist, exposing the tattoo crisscrossing along the thin skin there. My mother had administered these designs herself, and the ink shifted beneath the skin as though alive.

Those eyes on me again. Assessing. Weighing.

There was a tickle in my throat. I shoved a hand into one of the many pockets of my overcoat and extracted a misa beetle, the crackling popcorn-like sound of crunching down on its dried carapace preferable to the possibility of offending my host with a sign of illness.

Social norms had changed drastically since the decades-long plague.

I swallowed the bits of dead insect and felt my mouth flood with saliva.

“I want four-hundred-thousand,” I said, canting my voice low enough not to be heard by his armed goons.

The man barked a laugh and waved a hand in dismissal.

I was not fooled. His gaze never wavered.

“Or I can go to Antoni.”

The buyers expression hardened for a moment before a wide salesman’s smile spread, exposing rows of pale, straight white teeth. I had seen smiles like that on news screens—indications of life in the Above, where The Elite had their fortresses hovering over the toxic clouds that choked the surface.

Now that I saw one sign, there were others. This man had never done proper work. Not like those who lived Under. Babes who could not even speak knew how to search for metals in the ash pits.

We bargained, the man from Above and I, he attempting never to show how much he wanted the heart-shaped locket while I tried not to show how it tore my own heart apart, to see it go. Both of us entwined in a dance of polite deception.

My mother had always told me that everything changes, but some things die a slow death.

I left the makeshift tent with more credits than I had seen in my life, the total uploaded to the account shared with Matilda through a series of transactions that the buyer assured me would stand up to the toughest Regulator audit.

It was enough to ensure that Matilda and I need never work again. It was enough to buy her the medicine she needed.

I was walking on the clouds. The news screens flickered and flared along the tunnels as I walked the rabbit warren that led to Under, securing my respirator as the floor tilted downward and the air grew warmer.

The blow caught me across the back of the neck, and I crashed against the limestone wall first before crumpling to the ground.

The next thing I knew, a boot came down on my face once, twice, and then—



White, when I woke. White everywhere.

And for one shining, stupid moment I thought—heaven?

“Ah, you’re awake.”

No afterlife—no good one, anyway—would contain that voice.

It was the one that everyone knew. Young and old, rich and poor. The man who had sentenced a billion people to death with a single shot. The one at the head of everything. The devil my angel of a mother had fought against. The monster who murdered her.

“You’re quite lucky, you know. You’re going to receive the best possible medical treatment from here on out, and it will be nothing but nutritional foods for your meals. Did you know you had a twenty-foot long parasite in your guts? The surgeon said it would have killed you in another six months. Now, aren’t you glad we have you?”

I eased my body into a sitting position, expecting as I did so that there would be some resistance. Pain from the blows to the head. But as I moved, I realized I felt better than I had in months—years! There was no stiffness from lying in that position for so long, and my head was clear but…

I looked around and covered myself.

Laughter echoed.

I was not naked as I had first expected, though the air kissed my bare arms and calves. I wore a sleeveless V-neck shirt in a glossy material that was soft as silk. It was black, unlike my surroundings, as were the loose trousers that cut off just below the knee. I wiggled my toes. They were clean, free of the grime that had coated them for more than a decade.

“Stand up and come here.”

I stood and followed where the voice led. Not because of an order, but because there was little else to do. The cell was twenty by eight, with three sides walled in white and one enormous length of floor-to-ceiling windows. A thin bed to one side and a single chair in the center of the room were the only adornments.

The speaker was on the other side of the glass, in a shaded, empty amphitheater, his hands folded politely behind his back.

I tapped the glass and swore, needles of pain shooting into the tips of my fingers and sending spasms of agony spiraling through my arm. “What is this?”

Elias Swift, a short, lean man in a shimmering maroon suit, pressed so fine that the creases could cut like paper, gazed at me from only a few feet away. Close enough to touch, if not for the painful barrier between us. He tilted his head to the side. “This is your new home. Your forever home. We’ve been looking for you for some time, Jarryd. The death of your mother and the rest of the resistance forty years ago may have been enough for some, but never for me. Yet, I never imagined how far you might have fallen.” The billionaire-turned-emperor clicked his tongue. He reached into his jacket and pulled out the locket.

Without thinking, I lunged for it, and was rewarded with a searing fire along one side of my body. The clothes did nothing to prevent the pain, and I choked out a gasp as I staggered back, cradling my left arm.

“It’s based on the stinging nettle,” the ruler of the world said. “Hypodermics that break inside your skin to inject their toxins. You'll be fine. Yes,” he went on, looking at the locket as though I had not moved. “I’m sure your mother would weep with shame, to see you now. Selling her prized possession to the likes of Silas Crane. I’ll admit he has his uses—he brought me you, after all—yet to sell him this much history?” He clucked his tongue and fiddled with the lock. “How does it open?”

I bared my teeth at him, tasting blood, and said nothing.

His dead gray eyes met mine. “Oh, right. I forgot.”

The white walls behind me came to life with images of cells, a view from the top down. Each cell a square box. Each box, a member of my family.

There were eight of them. Matilda, the kids, and the three grandchildren. One wasn’t even two. I could hear nothing, but I saw her mouth moving in silent shrieking.

I whirled. “What is the meaning of this?”

“This?” Emperor Swift nodded toward the walls showcasing my tormented kin. “Insurance. You’re going to be our newest and most prized exhibit, Jarryd. You’re going to tell us everything you remember from the years of the resistance, and anything else we want to know. You will answer any question posed to you, by anyone. Do you understand?”

I scoffed, and Elias lifted a slender white hand.

“I’m not finished. This,” he said, tapping a spot on his wrist communicator. “Is what happens when you disobey.”

“What? I—” I stammered. On the wall, a horror show. “I didn’t disobey!” I screamed, voice cracking. “Stop! I did nothing—she did nothing!”

I ran to the wall showing Matilda. Clawed at the image as though I could dig through plaster and plastic and get to her in time.

Smoke filled the chamber, and she was coughing, her body bent over.

“My apologies,” Elias said from behind me. “I’ll unmute her.”

Sound filled my chamber.

Wracking sobbing, choking sounds came from my wife. Her poor lungs were so fragile to begin with. I knew the sounds of a bad one without needing to be told. Instinctively I cast about for her inhaler. But, of course, it was not to be found. And she too far away to reach.

“Stop,” I begged, tears clogging my throat. “Stop, please. She did nothing. I’ll do whatever you say, just stop it.”

Laughter cut through the sounds of her sobs, her wretched last attempts for breath. I watched her face turn from red to plum, her tongue swollen and black.

He left the sound on long after she died. The hiss of gas filled the room.

I watched until Elias cleared his throat. “How does this open?”

“Press the ruby in the front,” I said, the words falling from numb lips. I’m so sorry, everyone. I never meant for you to get caught up in this. But they were. Of course, they were. The Elite were thorough. For all my dreams of my family living out the rest of their lives as they saw fit, secure for once in our miserable existence, that was not our fate. “Twist the lock four times counter-clockwise.”

I turned just as Elias made the last turn on the lock with a self-satisfied grunt.

I got to see the moment the cover opened on well-cared-for hinges.

And the moment the shrapnel, coated in a deadly neurotoxin, tore through his neck and cheeks.

Holes poured blood as Elias cursed, still not aware that his fate was sealed.

This was it. I was glad I was alone with him. That I got to see this. I wish you were here, mother.

The hissing of gas grew louder and I looked up to see that it was flooding my chambers just as, with a look, I noted it filling those of all the rest of my family.

Grief, enormous and crushing, pushed me to my knees before the coughing could.

“They’re all dead,” Elias gurgled at me through the glass, his emergency call watch blinking red. The distress signal had been sent out. “You killed them.”

“I killed you,” I choked out. “My mother left you a message, in the locket.”

Elias groaned and closed his eyes before he breathed his last. He did not look.

But I knew what it said, and even as the gas stole the breath from my lungs, I smiled. I smiled and knew that, perhaps, this was enough to help all those in Under have a better life. Help to cleanse our planet and create equity where there was none.

The words in the locket were writ large in my heart. My mother had whispered them to me every night before bed.

What are we, if not our actions?

Sci Fi

About the author

Danielle Berggren

Writer. Artist. Enviro-Hippy.

Author of The Five Realms





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