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The After Times

by Chaya Steinberg about a year ago in Short Story
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An account of a Birther after the Before Times

Individuality. Family. Emotional attachment. Those things had all been long dead, or at least they were being purged from society.

When I was born, I was taken away from my Birther. It wasn’t strange to me as I grew through my childhood, that was how life had always been. I was raised with four other children, taught the skills to survive and serve society in a functional and productive manner. I have never known anything different.

But that changed that day. I was on patrol, going through a tenement.

Our instructions weren’t too complicated… Do check-ins with the tenants, see that everyone was adhering to the guidelines. I’d never found anything more than a forbidden textbook from the Before Times in my two years of patrolling… But that day was different. When I knocked on the door and the young woman answered, I knew there was something she was hiding. She tried to hold up the act, but I’ve always been good at sniffing out non-adherence on tenants. That was why I’d been allowed up in the ranks and able to patrol on my own.

Either way, I let myself into her rooms, looking for anything out of place. Even before I got to her bed-room, I knew that there was something out of place… Because there was nothing out of place. Even those that adhered to the T had small violations. It was the nature of things. But her space was perfect.

After a short while, I discovered her non-adherence. It was a small hatch behind a book-shelf in her bed-room.

I pulled the piece of drywall out and found a small pile of books, along with a small wooden box, with some engraving on the sides and top.

I confiscated everything, gave her the summons for her arrest date, and left.

-----

On the way back to the station to report and to submit the evidence, I sat in the back of my vehicle, fiddling with the small engraved box. It felt heavy, considering the size, so I gave into my curiosity and peeked into it.

Inside the box were some things I had never seen. Gold and silver, things I had only read about. Things that were absolutely forbidden in the adherence laws… They glittered in the bright lights of my vehicle. I pulled at a chain, pulling out a piece of gold at the end of it, shaped in a heart.

I pursed my lips and turned it over in the palm of my hand, noticing the small clasp on the side. I fiddled with it for a moment before it fell open, exposing a /personal photograph/.

I stared at the picture in amazement. The young woman I cited wouldn’t only be rebuked and have her wages garnished, she would be jailed and likely submitted for re-education.

I closed the heart and ran my thumb over the small shape as I thought. I pulled open the bag of books I had confiscated from her, and looked through them. There were two textbooks, a work of fiction, and a journal. I set that aside as well. I didn’t know what came over me, perhaps the innocence of the young woman had latched onto something deep inside of me, but I slipped the locket and book into a little nook next to my seat and waited for my vehicle to stop at the station.

---

In the time since, I had read through the journal to completion. It didn’t just include details of the woman’s life, it included details from her /Birther/. And the Birther before that. It dated back to the Before Times.

I wondered how the book had managed to survive all of those years, but there was never going to be a way to discover that.

The journal included everything from day to day recollections of changes to simple recipes. It was fascinating to read through the actual history of the Before Times changing into the Now, learning about the perspective of a person who had lived through it rather than the sanctioned education.

---

I kept those items close and hidden, becoming the person I was supposed to summon and cite, until the day that I was brought into my captain’s office and told that my service would be changing.

I had known this day was coming, I knew that I was to become a Birther from a young age, that I was going to carry a fetus and deliver it. And I’d never thought much of it… Until I’d read that journal.

I knew that things had changed since those days, that there was artificial insemination now, not forced intercourse. But now I knew that things used to be different. The forced intercourse was in the transition, but in the Before Times… It had been /chosen/ intercourse.

I’d never even considered that before, that intercourse could be had without a citation. That connection could be had between Birther and Inseminator. That they could have a connection to the child, and they could keep them to raise with their own choices, rather than have them taken and taught by the World.

I had read about the Before Times, the chaos that had been, the lack of resources and the lack of cohesion in the lands, but even so… I now felt something about that. There had been choice. There had been connection. Something I had never known and never known I could /crave/.

I took the slip from my captain, handed in my badge and all of my tools with it, and left.

There was no need to pack my things, everything would be replaced in my new residence. The books were well hidden underneath the floor, and the necklace… The necklace was around my neck.

Short Story

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Chaya Steinberg

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