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Book 1 of the Running Out Series

By Donald J. BinglePublished 8 months ago 9 min read
Breathe by Donald J. Bingle

Chapter One

Nobody can hear you scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.

Of course, that’s a lie or, at least, misleading to the maxstax. Certainly not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the “so-help-me-God” pravda, capital T, truth.

The Truth is that nobody goes up into space anymore. Nobody, not even trillionaires or governments with their own printing presses, has that kind of unlimited resources. Think of the energy, the effort, and the chuffing greenhouse gases it takes to fling rockets into space.

And, even when there were astronauts and cosmonauts and Elonauts still defying gravity before the Cascade, 'nauting about was serious business for the most part, with techs and geeks and spies and hackmasters all listening in to every chuffing word anyone said. So, if you were scared enough and amateur enough and foolish enough to waste good oxygen doing something as pointless as screaming, everyone would hear in a matter of moments. It would be on all the vids and post-its and wham-wham feeds before you could take another freakishly expensive breath.

Sure-sure, musing about why nobody screams in space is probs not the smartest thing to do when in a scream or fight or flight situation, but concentrating on not wasting air is something Kara had to spend way too much gray matter on every single, chuffing day. But the f’reals thing about musing about whether to scream is that it almost necessarily means you’re not going to—I mean, screaming’s a startle response, not an actual strategy. Best to set it aside and do the fight or flight analysis.

Here's a true fact. a thought she should have thunk before cutting through the woods to get to Mutual Insurance of Dayton High School today. Even though there’s more good air in the thick foliage, there are no vid-cams. That’s why high-guys with more money than gray matter sometimes come here to hang and inhale whatever chuffing fumes are the most recent cause of bad behavior and parental anxiety.

Only two of them, but both bigger than her and, being guys, with the upper body strength, testosterone, and impaired hormonal judgment to do bad things if they grabbed her, no matter how many self-defense vids they made girls watch in mandatory Body Ed classes. On the good side, both high-guys were into retro styles, which meant their baggy denims were well on the south side of their belly buttons. That would allow easy access to their dangly bits if they grabbed her, but meant they probs couldn’t chuffing run worth cheap mascara.

That decided it.

She ran.

She ran and it felt … fantastic.

She ran, fast and free. They pursued in their clumsy high-guy way, one hand hooked in a belt-barren belt-loop to keep their drooping pants up and the other held at a right-angle in front of them to keep leaves and branches from whacking them in their stubble and acne pocked faces.

They were faster than she’d thought they’d be, so she kicked it up a gear as she hit clear terrain, ripping around the vine-covered corner of MID High’s assembly hall and skirting the bushes along the front perimeter, then reaching out to use the metal flag pole in the front to pivot her into the crowded entryway. She tried desperately to stop before colliding with, well, everyone, but lost her footing on the worn linoleum flooring, falling back, hitting her head, and sliding into the table in front of one of the metal-scanning archways.

She might have blacked out for a few clips, ‘cause when the pinprick stars at the edge of her vision cleared, she saw a ring of faces staring down at her—most laughing, but at least a few concerned. A couple were even wrinkled-forehead worried.

“Stand back!” ordered a deep, male voice. Probably Principal Dohetny. “Give her some air. Let her breathe.”

The wrinkled-forehead worried face closest to her—Cheruyn, she suddenly realized—whipped around to where the male voice came from. “Don’t tell her to do that,” she hissed. “Look at her Regulator; she won’t make it until replenishment if she keeps sucking up air at this rate.”

“There’s an emergency carbon dioxide credit in the box on the wall. Just break the glass, take it out, and sync it to her Regulator,” urged the second concerned face. This voice was her friend Margo.

“Do you know what it costs to replace one of those after you use it?” asked Cheruyn. Auburn tangles shook on either side of Margo’s dark, but still oddly indistinct face. “No, of course you don’t,” continued Cheruyn. “Your mother works at the Ministry. Well, I do. And there’s no way Kara’s mom can afford it.”

“She can’t just hold her breath,” argued Margo.

“Sure she can. That’s what poor people have to do. Hold their breath until their next allocation kicks in and they can afford to exhale again.”

Chuff. Chuffing chuff. Her thoughts were still fractured, but one blinding pravda permeated to the maxstax. Running had emptied out her CO₂ allowance, which had already been way too close to critical when she left the house this morning. She couldn’t see her Regulator in this position, but she felt the staccato vibration of the device against her sternum warning that her allocation supply was empty. Sure, it replenished incrementally during the day as her mom worked maintenance at one of the local high-rise office towers, sharing her allocation payment. Sure-sure, she could breathe in—the Supremes had voted 15-2 that taxing the intake of oxygen was an unconstitutional curb on the right to life. But the same Bozo black robes had voted 9-8 that taxing the “output” of carbon dioxide was within the power of the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to curb global greenhouse gases.

Kara did the only thing she could; she sucked in a long, open-mouthed breath deep into every nook and cranny of her lungs, down into the clean recesses rarely used in day-to-day respiration, then closed her throat—holding it in.

The first few moments were blissful—her consciousness sharpening with the oxygen intake. But, it wasn’t long before the air in her lungs gave up the easy oxygen and, instead, took up accumulated carbon dioxide. Still, she had to hold her breath until her Regulator chirped to inform her she had capacity again. She couldn’t afford—Mom couldn’t afford—a pollution penalty. She held, waiting, praying for that chirp to come.

Margo frowned, adding cheek wrinkles to her forehead wrinkles. “She’s turning red in the face. She’s not going to make it. Why hasn’t she gotten an incremental credit?”

“Her mom only works minimum wage,” snapped Cheruyn, glaring at Margo. “There’s only one thing to do.” She turned back to Kara. “Sorry, hun. We’re gonna have to lip-lock.” Cheruyn leaned in. “No tongue, okay?”

Then Kara felt Cheruyn’s open mouth engulf hers and felt her nose being pinched shut. After a brief moment of confusion and panic, she realized what was happening and exhaled into Cheruyn’s open, willing mouth, sending the toxic CO₂ in her searing lungs into her best friend, where it would be counted toward Cheruyn’s account when exhaled. Kara felt the fingers pinching her nose shut release and breathed in another deep, cleansing breath. As Cheruyn pinched her nostrils shut again, she heard a boy in the crowd yell “Get a room!” but she ignored the jibe. Sure, this was exciting, but not in a sexual way. Her best friend was saving her chuffing life, letting Kara exhale into her so she wouldn’t be docked for the carbon dioxide. On the fourth breath, she finally heard the chirp of her Regulator and started to pull away, but Cheruyn held her tight, until Kara finally had to exhale on more time.

The boy in the crowd applauded. “That’s right. Don’t stop now.”

Kara gently pushed her best friend off. When they parted, Kara’s head was clear, though her emotions were still awhir. “Uh, thanks.” She glanced down at Cheruyn’s Regulator, which was glowing yellow. “I’ll have to pay you back those breaths.”

Cheruyn reddened as she stood. Kara couldn’t tell if it was from embarrassment or exertion. “If you wanna liplock again, you’re gonna have to buy me snacks and a first-run vid first.”

Kara grinned as she pushed her way up, then tilted her head toward the applauding boy. “Could probably score a day’s worth of heavy breathing from boy-incel just for letting him watch the payback.”

Cheruyn chuckled. “Nah, he’d start demanding some under-the-shirt action. Besides, I’m betting he does plenty of heavy breathing on his own time watching his basement UltraDef.”

“Eeeewww,” whined Margo. “Don’t make me ill.”

With that, the crowd broke up and Principal Dohetny came over to warn them against further PDA’s, as if saving someone from financial ruin simply because Kara had to run away from some high-guys with hard-ons in the woods was an equivalent “Public Display of Affection” to letting someone feel you up between classes. School policy was totally chuffed up.

But, then so was society in general. The crackdowns on “non-essential” greenhouse gases were getting tighter. Pets weren’t just discouraged; you could score a pretty good CO₂ bounty for slaughtering the neighbor’s cat and turning it in at the neighborhood protein recycling plant. And, things would only get worse come winter, when the Northern Hemisphere would be even lower in oxygenation. Sure, the rich could go to oxygen bars and suck down pure air, while they talked about hooking up with OxyWhores desperate for credits, but for people like Kara, every month was harder than the one before.

Besides, her flight through the woods today only served to remind her that all she really wanted to do was run. She knew she was fast. Back before Physical Education was replaced with Body Ed, a coach had told her she could be an Olympic-caliber runner if she trained regularly. But there was no way that could happen. She couldn’t afford it.

No, today simply solidified in her mind what she’d been thinking of doing for a while now. She needed to go down to the local power plant and get an after-school job as a glowgirl.

Dangerous? Nuclear plants were being put up so fast they didn’t have the radiation safeguards they did back before peak oil and the Cascade. Nuclear power wasn’t passive, like solar. There were lots of moving parts needing maintenance in places with plenty of rems of radiation. It was the most deadly job she knew of.

Chuff, yeah. But lucrative, for as long as you could do it. And, it would let her run on someone else’s tab. The faster the better. She might glow in the dark, but she would be a blur.

A blur who could chuffing breathe.

fact or fictionfeaturefuturehumanityliteraturescience fictiontech

About the Creator

Donald J. Bingle

Donald J. Bingle is the author of eight books and more than sixty shorter works in the thriller, science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, steampunk, comedy, and memoir genres. More on Don can be found at www.donaldjbingle.com.

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insight

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

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Comments (1)

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  • Made in DNA7 months ago

    Wild concepts roaring for more attention. Hope there's more coming. New favorite words "Elonauts" and "OxyWhores". I'm dying. Nice work. All the best! Subscribed and hearted!

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