~5,000 words, approx. 30 min reading time
15 December 2050
Thio knew what he had to do, even if it scared him so much that he finished the last of his Benzos just to get through his work shift. He was watching a ReConned Worker today. It was easy work, much easier than dealing with a screamer or a cryer, but ReCons made his skin crawl. Especially now.
She was around the age his mothers would be if they had lived. Her eyes had some brightness and didn’t seem quite as vacant as the eyes of other ReCons he’d watched. But like the others, she had shuffled to her Play station rather than walked, her feet scraping slowly across the floor as she moved, and spoke in monosyllables, like a child. ReCons weren’t violent, since most of their individual impulses had been stripped away, but they had enough sense that they could complete simple tasks like unloading boxes, digging trenches.
Thio wondered what the woman had done to get ReConditioned. He’d been told it happened only when there was no other way to help them, but now he knew that wasn’t true. That information was blacked out on a Worker’s file, but ReCons had a large red RC at the top of their records. A green RC meant that the Worker was in line for ReCon. Thio had only seen that once, a few days before. He never wanted to see it again.
The ReCon touched the small flat screen in her hands carefully, tenderly, as if it was a pet. Thio glanced at her vitals on his dashboard that floated out from plastic rods attached to his waist. Her pulse quickly rose from 75 to 86. Hopefully, it would smooth out soon. She was watching a video of a man mountain-climbing, his eyebrows caked with ice. He wondered if she understood what she was seeing. When her mouth stretched slowly into a thin, childish smile, Thio thought of Tara, and wondered if his plan was going to work.
When his shift was over, Thio handed his gear to the next Watcher and walked towards the Play Room exit, past other Watchers observing other Workers. Some Workers sat in pairs, screen-sharing before they went back to their workstations: Recycle or Solar, Harvest or Water. Though the Water workers were probably too busy for Play right now, with the heavy rain they’d been having. Thio used to screen-share with Tara alone, then later with Tara and Marcus. It seemed like a long time ago. Thio swiped his pass to open the exit. As soon as the door slid shut behind him, he saw her.
Tara, her eyes glinting like tiny shards of black glass.
“Thio.” Her slender frame was as tense as a coiled spring. Waiting. He was surprised to see her, but glad too. He had wanted to talk to her, but they’d locked her in her room.
“Do you need something, Worker 5223?” Thio tried to keep his voice light. This wasn’t the right place for the conversation they needed to have. They seemed alone in the long corridor, but there was a camera in the ceiling, and voices drifted towards them from around the bend.
“We need to talk, Thio.”
“Now’s not a good time, Worker 5223.” He kept his voice formal, distant.
“Quit this Worker-Watcher shit.” Tara’s dark eyes seemed to drill into his as she stepped closer. “You need to help me.”
Thio almost caved and told her everything, right then and there, desperate for their old closeness, but that would give them both away, and his plan would be ruined.
And then, the lights went out, suddenly and without warning. Another brownout. They’d been happening several times a day, all week, just like the previous winter. It was like this during rainy periods, which was good for the water supply but bad for the solar reserves. And bad for the security cams, which couldn’t pick up footage in the dark. This was his chance. Thio leaned towards Tara, grabbing her shoulders.
“We shouldn’t talk here. Your room. Just follow my lead. Trust me.”
“I have to know—are you really one of them now?”
“What are you talking about? We don’t have time, the lights could come on any minute. Let’s go.” Thio tried to pull her away from the Play Room door, but she resisted, and it was too dark to see her eyes and gauge her reaction. And then, as suddenly as they went out, the lights came back on, the low whir of power filling the air. Thio’s mind snapped back and forth between what he wanted and what he should do. The latter won. If they tried to talk now, they would be heard, seen. As his training had taught him to do, he reached for the blue Call button on the wall just outside the Play Room door.
“Next brownout,” he said in a low voice, but kept her in his grip to make it seem like he was trying to control her.
“What did you do? Thio—”
Just then, a black-shirted Driver came out of the room in answer to Thio’s call, his bat-like Safety Stick ready.
“Worker 5223 is supposed to be in her room,” Thio said, shoving Tara towards the Driver, who quickly slid the stick against Tara’s body, pulling her tight against his burly frame. Tara yelped in pain.
“Thio! You vendido piece of shit!” Her voice cracked as she kicked at Thio’s shins, but the Driver jerked her away. Thio gritted his teeth, swallowing I’m sorry. He would apologize later.
“Let’s go, Worker 5223,” the Driver said, and took a screaming Tara down the hall towards her room, leaving Thio behind.
He took a deep breath. This hadn’t been part of his plan, but there was nothing he could do about it now. Next time there was a brownout, he would go to her room and tell her his plan. He hoped she would listen to him, hoped she remembered their promise. He just wanted to take care of her as he always had.
Tara and her father had been friends with Thio’s family in a tiny town in the foothills. Once green, forested land when snowmelt from the Sierras was steady, it had grown brown and brittle, easy tinder for the wildfire that killed Tara’s father. No one could find her next of kin, so Thio’s mothers took her in. A decade later, Thio’s mothers died when the tornado of ’47 tore through the solar factory they worked in, leaving him and Tara alone in a refugee camp full of orphans. Tara was eighteen, a depressive diabetic; Thio nineteen with anxiety disorder. But doing things for other people, especially Tara, helped him stay calm, gave him something to focus on besides the speed of his heartbeat and the tightening of his chest. It was why he’d gone to Watcher training, and why he was the only one who could help Tara now.
Right after the tornado, Tara fell into a deep depression and kept ‘forgetting’ to take her insulin injections, which made her loopy and shaky. If she went without it for more than a day, she could slip into a coma and die, which, Thio knew, was what she wanted.
“I don’t want to be here anymore. My Daddy, now your Moms,” Tara said between sobs.
“Remember our promise,” Thio said, his heart racing as he took the syringe to inject her. When Tara acted more normal after the shot, it calmed him. A few days later, when she ran out of insulin, Thio went to the medical tent to get more, but they had none left.
“But she needs it,” Thio said, his pulse quickening at the idea of losing the only person he could call family.
“There’s a place called the Collective, eighty miles north. We’re driving there tomorrow.”
“What is it?”
“Sort of a hospital. They make medicine, but you can stay there too. That’s where we get all our insulin.”
There were few other options. The closest Cities were closed to newcomers, and they had no family or friends who could help. Everyone was badly off; just doing their best to survive. So Tara and Thio got dropped off the next day. The Collective had everything they needed: three meals, ninety minutes of outdoor Sunlight each day, two hours of Playtime once their work was done. And most important, meds for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and diabetes. Tara got her insulin and SSRIs; Thio was given Benzos to keep himself steady. It was a good place.
Workers made up the bulk of the population and did most of the labor. Watchers and Drivers were less numerous but kept things steady, safe. Watchers used their voices and psychological training to de-escalate situations, while Drivers used Safety Sticks to keep things under control. The first time he saw a Watcher talk a Worker out of a crying jag without using meds, Thio thought, I want to do that.
The Collective was a warm, dry place for Thio and Tara to sleep and be together. They were placed in the same room; everyone assumed their closeness meant they were brother and sister. Thio made sure Tara took her insulin and ate enough, and Tara made him feel less alone now that his mothers were gone, and the only home he’d ever known was almost a hundred miles away.
Their second summer at the Collective, a roommate arrived for them. Marcus, or Worker 5400. He had a brilliant smile that made others perk up and warm brown skin that older Workers called cinnamon, though Thio didn’t know what cinnamon looked like, only how it tasted, because it was sometimes added to their rations. Tara and Thio’s complexions were the color of eucalyptus bark, but Tara’s straight, blue-black hair made her striking while Thio’s wavy brown hair made him common, forgettable.
Marcus arrived at the perfect time. Tara had been talking more and more about going back Outside to find her mother, and Thio was getting tired of hearing about it.
“I can understand wanting to know her, but you don’t even have a picture.”
“I can describe her to people. I just need to know if she’s out there.”
“There’s road-gangs out there too, and it’s almost wildfire season again. What would you do for food?”
” I won’t have any peace until I try, at least.”
“And what about your meds?”
This was where the conversation ended. Tara had no plan to keep her insulin refrigerated on the road, even if she could steal enough of it to leave the Collective. And they had no idea where another lab was. For all they knew, the Collective was where all the insulin in the state came from. The Collective didn’t allow people to watch news or have unscreened outside communication, said it was too destabilizing. And from what Thio remembered of the news reports from Outside—freakish hurricanes and heat waves, of the coast getting swallowed by the sea and inland valleys becoming deserts—he knew they were right.
So Marcus was a welcome distraction. At first, Thio resented how Tara couldn’t stop staring at him and would giggle whenever he said something even remotely funny, but Marcus was charming, with a contagious laugh. The three of them began eating meals together, screen-sharing during Playtime, even having sex together in their off-hours. Thio relished being held by not just one but two familiar bodies, and it didn’t take long before he learned the most pleasurable ways to mold his limbs around Marcus’s rough angles and Tara’s smooth curves. Though Thio and Tara had slept with other people together before, with Marcus it felt more natural, relaxed. Thio didn’t even mind when the two of them slept in the same bed while he went back to his own. He’d never liked sharing a bed with anyone, but Tara had always craved it. Win-win for all.
Thio wasn’t too choosy about sex and learned early on that the Collective looked the other way when people traded it for favors. Like the piece of roast chicken he found in his room after he’d gotten a Driver off during Sunlight one afternoon. Or the Watcher who gave him printouts of his, Tara’s, and Marcus’s files after they had sex in a camera-blind hallway. It was also how Thio’d gotten a backdoor login, once he became a Watcher himself, that could access files beyond his own Workers’, and how he found out that Marcus wasn’t lying when he said he wasn’t on any meds, didn’t need them.
“Lucky shit,” Thio said.
By the time the searing heat of summer gave way to the more tolerable fall, Marcus and Tara were spending more and more time together without Thio. Their conversations centered around going back Outside despite Thio warning them the Collective would find out.
“So what?” Tara would reply. “We found a cooler in Recycle and hid it from the Drivers. We could stockpile enough insulin to last a month, and ration it so it lasts longer.”
“You’re loco,” Thio said, watching the two of them snuggle on Marcus’s bed.
“Is this what you want for the rest of your life, Thio?” Marcus said, gesturing around the sparse, blank-walled room. “It’s just a pit stop for me.”
Tara kissed Marcus when he said this, and it turned Thio’s stomach.
“We’ll find my mom, a place to live. Have kids,” she said, resting her head on Marcus’s shoulder, her eyes settling on Thio.
“Where? Do you know a place that will take both of you? You can’t survive without your insulin, Tara.”
“You think I don’t know that? I’m the diabetic, not you. You just need to find someone, Thio,” she said authoritatively, as if she knew something that he didn’t. Thio left, suddenly wanting to escape Tara and Marcus’s wet kissing sounds, and their private laughter that excluded him.
Not long afterwards, Thio requested a room transfer. He received it and was invited to apply for Watcher training. By then he was a supervisor in Solar, and the Collective said he showed leadership potential. He felt a swell of pride as he read the invitation. Being a Watcher was a way he could help people. Taradidn’t need him now, anyway.
“You don’t have to go,” Tara said tearfully a few days later as Thio packed his things–a few plastic-framed pictures of his mothers and of him and Tara, an old blanket, some books the Collective had let him keep. His new Watcher uniform was waiting in his new room.
“I’ll see you during Sunlight, and at dinner sometimes.” Thio looked up at her, saw her red-rimmed eyes and her trembling lower lip. It was the first time in months that she’d shown she needed him.
“I’m sorry,” she said, squeezing his hand so hard he winced.
“This will be good for you, for us,” he said. He liked that it made him sound mature and understanding, but underneath it all he enjoyed her tears, hoped that her missing him would be enough to shake her out of the delusion that she could leave the Collective and make a life for herself without him. After Thio moved, the only time he and Tara were alone together without Marcus was during Sunlight, when they got to go outside if the weather allowed. There were no cameras since they were too valuable to be left to the elements, just a few Drivers to keep things safe. Thio would tell Tara about his Watcher training, how he was learning about brain chemistry, yoga, and breathing techniques.
“Dopamine helps us feel pleasure,” he said, his mind full and buzzy. “Meds help keep the happy chemicals floating around in our brains.”
“I can’t believe you’re falling for it,” Tara scoffed. “They just want you to be one of their spies.”
“Do they give you real food and not that slop they make the rest of us eat when they tell you this stuff?”
“Yes, but that’s just to help us stay focused. It’s hard work learning all this stuff.”
Tara rolled her eyes and changed the subject. “Marcus said he heard about someone finding their parents. In Sacramento, they have records of all this stuff. Can even tell you where people live.”
“How do you know your mother’s even alive?” Thio didn’t mean for the words to come out as bluntly as they did.
Tara’s eyes softened with hurt. “What a shitty thing to say.”
Thio wondered if her meds were making her delusional. Sometimes meds stopped working, or had unintended side effects.
“I’m sorry,” Thio said.
“You should come with us.” Tara lifted her chin towards a tall man who stood on the other side of the yard by himself, facing a corner of the fence, staring at it like it was a screen, head tilted to one side. A ReCon. “You don’t want to end up like that, do you?”
“They only do that to people who can’t cope otherwise, when there’s no other solution,” Thio said, repeating what he’d been told in Watcher training. Tara laughed so hard that a group of Workers standing nearby turned to stare.
“You believe that? Then you are lost.” She got up and left him by himself, with the hot October sun bearing down on him, making his flesh feel liquid.
9 December 2050
Two months later, in the middle of the night, the soundless alarm went off in Thio’s room, its bright flashing light and vibrations pulsing and waking him and his roommate.
“What do you think it is?” Thio asked as he got dressed.
“Escape, has to be. Didn’t you hear the chisme?”
Thio shook his head. Hummingbird wings beat in his chest, so he took half a benzo. He only had a few more left and had to make them last the rest of the week. Then he headed to his alarm station outside the Collective office. He stood and stared at the black door, his breath slowing as the medication kicked in.
Blue-shirted Watchers and black-shirted Drivers went in and out of the office. Soon, night shift Workers walked by, transitioning to their rooms. Thio searched for Tara amongst them. This was her shift, but he didn’t find her. One Worker, noticing that Thio was a Watcher and not the usual Driver posted outside the Collective office, asked what was going on.
“Running a drill,” Thio said. He could tell that the Worker didn’t believe him. When a Driver came to relieve Thio, he asked what was happening but only got silence. Thio made a bee-line for Tara and Marcus’s room, but two Drivers stood in front of the door. Thio kept walking, eyes down. When he got back to his own room, his roommate pulled him inside.
“Five of them! All but one got out.”
“Worker 5400 for sure. Crazy-loco, you ask me. What’s out there besides fire and a shit-ton of grief?”
Thio’s chest seemed to squeeze in around his ribcage. He rubbed hard circles over his sternum, willing the benzo to last, to loosen the tightness.
“You all right?” his roommate asked.
“I just need to lie down.”
Thio lay on his bed, wondering, is she gone? He blinked furiously, not wanting to cry. Crying just made him feel tired and shitty afterwards and never brought anyone back.
10 December 2050
The next day, Thio was called into the Collective office. He’d only been inside once before, for his Watcher interview. A Driver had hooked Thio up to monitor so they could check his heart and brain activity in response to images flashed on the screens across the room. Justin had looked a lot like Thio, but prettier, though Thio had only seen him onscreen. The Collective members were rarely seen IRL, so no one knew what they really looked like.
Now, as back then, there were six screens on the wall facing him, and a table with a square hole in the middle in between him and the screens. Only half the screens were on since power reserves were low, displaying different images: furry calico kittens climbing over each other in a box, their cat-mother sitting nearby; a nighttime fire burning, orange-red flames licking black trees; the view from the main gate, the empty road leading towards it slightly hazy through the steady drizzle of rain. The videos were soundless.
Thio’s eyes flicked back to the wildfire for a moment, then to the kittens, then back to the fire. His heartbeat quickened. Kittens, he decided. He settled his eyes on the fuzzy creatures, waiting for his pulse to smooth out. Soon, a melodic voice filled the air around him.
“Watcher 302. I’m Shauna.”
On the fire-screen, a woman’s head materialized, oval face above bare shoulders, skin the color of pale sand. Her black hair was tied back severely, her green eyes gazed down at him. She appeared to be naked, but Thio could only see from her shoulders up. The suggestion of what was offscreen made him sit up straighter.
From the square hole in the table popped up a glass of water. Thio picked up the glass, sipped. Clean, sweet water. Everyday water was gritty, metallic-tasting.
“We have your favorite, Watcher 302. Real chicken and greens.”
A metal plate piled with food emerged from the hole, and Thio dug in without hesitation, his fingers tearing the meat away from the bone and stuffing it into his mouth. Shauna stayed quiet while he ate. When he was done, Thio pushed his plate away, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Thank you,” he said, savoring another sip of water.
“Watcher 302, what can you tell me about Worker 5223?”
Thio tried to keep his face slack, blank, but he could tell by the way Shauna’s eyebrows lifted that she sensed a change in him.
“She used to be my roommate. She’s my friend.” Friend wasn’t the right word, but he didn’t know how else to describe his relationship with Tara. Sweat broke out in his armpits, and he hoped that the dim light of the room would keep Shauna from being able to see the damp circles that must be darkening his shirt.
“Do you know why she would want to leave us?”
Thio wet his lips with his tongue. “She tried to leave?” He attempted to put a surprised lift at the end of his question. If he’d had electrodes on, Shauna would know he was lying.
“Workers 5400, 5494, 5495 and 5571 all left last night. Worker 5223 was with them but was detained.”
“Oh,” Thio exhaled, not realizing he’d been holding his breath.
“Anything you could tell us would be appreciated. It would help us help Worker 5223.”
“Is she all right?” Thio asked.
Thio couldn’t bring himself to ask more questions, because he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answers.
“Would you have a problem with watching Worker 5223, Worker 302?” Shauna’s voice had a pleasant lilt, as if she was just asking him if he wanted more water.
“Her Watcher? She already has one.”
“We need to reassign her. Not right away. But soon. It’s best that she’s watched by someone who knows her.”
“Sure, of course,” Thio said, though it made no sense to him at all. It wasn’t normal for Watchers and Workers to be friends or even roommates. It complicated things.
“Good,” Shauna said. “I’m sure Worker 5223 will be happy to have you take care of her.”
11 December 2050
On Thio’s next shift, he set his Workers to watch videos that were at least twenty minutes long and used his backdoor login to access Tara’s file. He’d only looked at it once since he’d become a Watcher, too worried that it might get both of them in trouble. But now, he needed to know. Why was the Collective asking him to be her Watcher? And what happened when she was caught trying to escape with Marcus? He hadn’t worked up the nerve to try to see Tara in person, afraid that a Driver might still be guarding her door, might ask questions that Thio didn’t want to answer.
He typed in her number, 5-2-2-3 carefully. When he hit ‘enter,’ her face popped up on his screen–the picture they took of her when they had first arrived at camp, more than two years earlier. Tara with her tousled, pixie-cut black hair and her dark eyes that were guarded and cautious. Her heart-shaped face. She looked plump and child-like and Thio wondered, for the first time, if he’d been wrong about telling her to stay.
He scanned her file but didn’t see anything that he didn’t already know. Her insulin and SSRI dosage. Age, weight, height. Thio saw his own number in passing but not much was attached to it. He scrolled down for more information about the escape but could find only the date of her attempt. The Collective must be storing those details elsewhere. They probably figured this part of their data system had been hacked.
Thio did find something: Tara was on light sedatives and roommate-less. Her room wasn’t being guarded, probably due to the power outage, only checked every couple hours to keep her medicated. Other than that, nothing of much interest. Thio scrolled back up, exhaling with frustration.
And then he saw it. In big, green letters at the top of his screen, of Tara’s file. How had he missed it before? RC. Reconditioned. They were going to ReCon Tara. That was going to be her punishment for trying to escape—and he would have to be her Watcher. Suddenly, Thio felt like his chest was being gripped by a giant, invisible fist. He took three deep breaths, recalling his training, but suddenly hating it. Was Tara right? Was he just one of their spies now? Thio felt the first twinges of a headache and forced himself to do what he knew would help him stay calm: he thought of home, those quiet dark hours with Tara in their room, the way the full moon hung bright and round in the big sky outside their window. Injecting Tara with the insulin, seeing how it made her feel better.
Calm, he had to stay calm.
But then there was a quick, drooping sound, and several Workers groaned in annoyance. The power had gone off again. The Play Room went dark except for the illuminated rectangles of his and his Workers’ battery-powered screens. As he checked on his Workers to make sure they were okay, Thio realized something: the brownouts could help him help Tara before it was too late. Most of the Collective’s energy went to the medication manufacturing, so when the solar reserves were low because of the rain it left less energy for non-essential uses. Thus, the brownouts. The med labs were the priority–without them, the whole system would fall apart. Maybe this was an opening, a way out, for both him and Tara.
15 December 2050
And then it happened, as Thio left the Play Room that morning with the ReCon worker, Tara waited for him outside the door. It had been too dangerous a place to talk, even with the lights off. Anyone could have come across them. So he’d called the Driver, and now he hoped that she wasn’t being guarded, that he hadn’t ruined everything. He still didn’t know why Tara had come to him. Whatever the reason, Thio knew he didn’t have much time. They had to make a plan together. They had to keep their promise.
He waited for the next brownout. It happened while he was walking back to his room from Dining that afternoon. As soon as he heard the downward whoosh, he pivoted left, towards Tara’s room, their old room. She should be resting there, alone. It would be dark. He walked quickly but carefully, knowing the lights could come on at any moment. Thankfully, the small numbers above each Worker’s door were still illuminated, thanks to the glow-in-the-dark material they were made with. When he got to Tara’s room, he was relieved to see there were no Drivers guarding it. Thio didn’t knock, just pushed the door open.
Tara was asleep, her room dark except for a dim orange glow-globe on the nightstand.
Her voice came through the dim light. “Meds again?”
“What the–” he heard her move around on the bed, trying to get up, but her body thudded down again.
“We don’t have much time.”
“What do you want?”
“They’re sending you to ReCon. Shauna told me.”
“Collective.” He inched closer. He needed to see her, but it was too dark. “I came here to tell you, if you really want to get out–” Thio took a breath.
“Fucking vendido.” But there was no malice in her voice now. It sounded like a pet name, an old joke. “Why’d you do it?”
“What, become a Watcher?”
“No,” she said, her voice suddenly thin, child-like. “Why did you leave me?”
Thio sat down and put his hand on the bed between them. “I couldn’t deal. I felt like you didn’t need me anymore “
“I haven’t changed. But you have.”
“We don’t have time to fight, Tara.”
He felt the warmth of her hand on top of his. The hand he used to hold when she cried, the same hand that used to caress his face, his chest, the flesh between his legs.
“I’m not fighting. Don’t you remember our promise?”
“Of course,” Thio said.
“What do you think happened that day, when Marcus and the others got out?”
“You got caught.” But even as he said it, a vague awareness that it might not be true came over him.
Tara let out a curt, mocking laugh. Thio tried to refocus.
“Look, the Drivers change shifts at a different time every night. I can figure out a way to distract them. We’ll have to steal some insulin, somehow. But the brownouts will help–“
“Thio, stop,” she interrupted, in the whispery voice she used when they talked back in their bedroom, before they came to this place. Before everything. It had been higher and smaller then, but somehow the same. The sound of secrets and promises. It made Thio want to lie down next to her on the bed.
“I could have left, Thio. I almost did.”
“I couldn’t do it. Our promise.”
Thio inhaled deeply and held his breath, knowing that if he exhaled, he would start to cry too.
Suddenly the power came back on, the overhead lamp’s bright light flooding the room. In the full light, he saw that Tara’s face was wet. Tears. Her face crumpled, and she fell back onto the bed and curled into a ball, fists covering her face. He thought she would start sucking her thumb like she did when they were kids, but she just cried, quietly, and Thio thought he would never be able to leave that small, familiar room ever again.
After her father died and Tara moved in, Thio let her choose the shows they watched together on the screen in their room, trying to make her feel welcome. When she would weep and say I miss my Daddy at bedtime, he put his arm around her small shoulders. He’d seen his mothers do this with their crying friends.
Once she stopped crying, Tara would suck her thumb. Then they would look at the stars and moon in the vast, dark sky outside their bedroom window and talk.
“Where’s your Daddy?” Tara asked him.
“Don’t have one. Where’s your Mom?”
“Daddy said she’s far away.”
“She’s sick, but Daddy said she loves me. Now Daddy’s gone. He loves me too. Why do people leave if they love you?”
Thio pondered this. He had not ever thought of what love could be outside of the familiar, warm safety of his mothers’ presence. Was love also tears, sadness?
Neither one of them couldn’t remember which of them said it first, during one of those childhood midnights. Eventually, it got to the point that one of them said it every night, until just saying promise, wherever they were, made them recall those hushed nightdark hours, when for a little while the whole world was unthreatening and calm.
“We’ll never leave each other. Promise?”
They hooked their pinkies together, made the most solemn vow that two children can make. Unbreakable.
Rona Fernandez (she/they) is a writer and activist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Yes! Magazine, The Colored Lens and What God is Honored Here? An Anthology on Miscarriage and Infant Loss, the first anthology of writings by Native women and women of color on this topic. Rona is an alumna of the Voices of our Nations (VONA) and Tin House workshops, and is currently working on a near future climate fiction novel set in northern California.
Author of “Watcher, Worker”
What inspired you to write this story?
My concern that we as a society are becoming too dependent on things that are much more out of our control than we think–electricity-dependent technology, pharmaceutical drugs–and that we shouldn’t take those things for granted. Living in California, where wildfires and power outages are becoming the norm even in big cities, I found myself wondering how a future society might be organized given this new reality.
What do you hope readers take from this story?
I hope it makes them think about what we feel we really ’need’ as human beings, what we can live without, and what conditions are we willing to put up with to get our needs met? And I hope they can find some sympathy for both Thio and Tara.
To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this story has been through?
I think I’ve gone through at least five major rounds of revisions of this story, and I submitted it to six other publications before it was accepted by Apparition Lit. I’m grateful that it’s found a good home.