Tag Archives: Novella

“For Use in the Apocaypse” Novella version

Hey all, just wrapped this up. If you read the short version I’d reread the first two sentences(changed a tiny detail), and then skip down to the first bold line, that’s where the story continues from before.

Trips to the city were dangerous. Old relics of the time, almost 18 years ago, from before the world apart could be found, but the finding was dangerous. Some of the relics might be worth the risk. Old guns were useful, and some books were still in good shape if you could find one with something helpful in it.

Thom did not view them worth the risk, he stayed on his farm and kept largely to himself. He planted. He reaped. He lived. Thom’s parents hadn’t survived the downfall. They had left him on this farm when he was barely old enough to remember, and then they had abandoned him. Until one day his shovel struck something metal. He got curious and dug it out.

It’s one of those time capsules! On the side of it is written ‘For Use in the Apocalypse’. Someone must’ve stashed something useful inside it. Thom runs back to his cabin to grab to knife to pry it open. As he dashes back he wonders what could be inside.

There had been rumors of ruggedized electronics with instructions on how to rebuild modern society. No one had found one of those, so Thom didn’t get his hopes up. It wasn’t likely that he would be so lucky, but the thing was big enough for a pistol, or maybe a chemical book that had useful recipes like gunpowder or dynamite. He would even settle for an agricultural book about crop rotation or what native plants were edible.

As he opened the capsule he found that it was filled with letters. Letters, who would leave letters? Maybe they had blueprints or something on them. Thom reached for a bright blue one and opened it, thankful that he had traded with someone early on for reading lessons.

“Thom, we know that you would reach for the blue one first. It was always your favorite color, and you no doubt think it contains a blueprint. If you’re reading this then your mother and I are dead, and we want to take this first letter to apologize. We wish we could’ve stayed and helped you grow into a fine young man, but we have to try one last time to save a little piece of this world, for you. Things have gotten bad, but we believe there is one last trick we can try to fix things. It’s too dangerous to bring you, and it’s a long shot. If you’re reading this, clearly it didn’t work, and you are now an orphan. Always know that we loved you, and that we have faith that you would survive. If you’re reading this clearly we were right. There isn’t much time so we’ll just say one last time that we love you, and that the rest of these letters contain plans for basic blacksmithing, gun smithing, medieval farming techniques, and other skills you’ll need. Love, your parents.”

I held in my hands the tools of civilization, perhaps not a modern one, but more than the scraps I had for myself, and those scraps had been wearing out. The bows my parents had left me were losing their strength. The arrows were broken, and all the farming tools had rusted almost to the point of uselessness.

The slow economic crash had left all the stores stripped bare. There hadn’t been any great war or plague that had wiped out most of humanity, it had been dwindling resources. It was useless to try and loot some of the old ruins, a decade of slowly deteriorating infrastructure had picked clean the stores.

I hadn’t had any plans for long term survival until now, and here before me was the key to lasting another thirty years. The only problem was, these plans required not just a teammate, but a whole village to make them work. As I sorted through the blacksmith plans it became obvious someone would have to dedicate most of their working hours to this. Something I couldn’t manage between farming, hunting, foraging, and doing what little I could to maintain my cabin and equipment. There would need to be a village to make this happen.

The trouble was, I hadn’t spoken to anyone in years. Whenever I came into contact with another human we just pointed our weapons at each other and slowly backed away. I didn’t think anyone had roommates, much less a whole family or group of friends living together. We had all been strong independent survivors, and people had tried to take advantage of our resources. We knew that other people usually only came to you when they wanted something, so we kept to ourselves.

Now, I had something I wanted to give, to work on together. I wanted to give knowledge and get someone to help me build something. The trouble was, going to get them to believe me.

I knew generally where my neighbors were. We kept very wide spaces between each other to avoid running into each other, but we knew where to find each other. I had stalked through the forest like I was hunting a deer, and found my first neighbor stalking right back.

We both saw each other at the same time. He was a middle age man, probably ten years older than me, and instantly drew his bow when he saw me. My hand went for my own bow, even though I had left it behind, and I tried to play it off as raising my hands to show him I meant no harm.

As he had drawn his bow he had started backing away. I had run into him a couple times before, and this had been the procedure. Draw bow, back away, walk a mile in the opposite direction as soon as you can’t see them anymore.

This time I took a step forward. He glanced at his arrow. It hurt your fingers to hold a bow drawn, especially one meant to hunt larger game like deer, and he normally would’ve started letting some slack back into the bowstring, but I was making him nervous. His fingers started to shake a little with the effort of keeping the string taught.

As I walked toward him I became nervous as well, we weren’t really closing the gap, and I wondered if his fingers would get just a little too tired, and let go. You had to have good aim to survive this long, and those arrows looked sharp.

“I didn’t bring any weapons.” I call to him to try and get him to stop. “Look me over, you can see that I’m not carrying anything.” He didn’t slack out his bow, but he did stop walking.

“Back.” He guessed, indicating where he thought I had a weapon. I didn’t have a weapon on my back, and turned around slowly to show him. There was an open exposed feeling as I showed him my back. He could shoot me any time, it was like jumping off a high die and hoping that you would survive hitting the water.

“Boot.” He called out again, letting a little slack into the string. This guy was really paranoid, but I took off both boots and showed the insides to him.

“Shirt.” Was his next guess in this game of hide and go seek. Thankfully it was still warm, so I had no issue losing my shirt to prove a point. He lowered the bow, but kept the arrow on the line as he gave me a thorough look over.

As he looked at me I wondered what it might be like to get hit with an arrow. Those things could knock you off your feet, I had seen what it could to large deer. Would it be like getting puched? Would there be a stabbing pain? Would my body be so shocked I wouldn’t feel anything at all.

“Hands on head.” He said. I obliged. This man sounded like he might’ve worked in law enforcement before, that could be useful. If he didn’t put an arrow or three into me first.

“What?” He asked. It was a question that would require a lot of explanation.

“I’ve got plans for a blacksmith, and I need help.” It was a short explanation, but it felt odd using more words in that one sentence than the man with the bow had used in his whole interrogation.

“Where?” He asked. He had taken the arrow of the string, and put it on his back quiver. I felt a moment of relief, until he drew his knife. Well, it was progress. At least he didn’t have his ranged weapon out anymore.

“I’ve hid them a few hundred yards from here.” The man nodded and took a few steps toward me, assuming I would led him to them. He had assumed wrong.

“Give me your knife and I’ll take you to them.” I said. He stopped walking, but he didn’t draw an arrow.

“Why?” He asked. I sincerely hoped if we started working together he would develop larger sentence structure.

“Because I need to know I can trust you.” I told him. This wasn’t just some resource trade. This was about forming a team, and if we were going to be on a team, there had to be trust. He looked at the knife in his hand.

“Could shoot you.” He said, but he still didn’t reach for his weapon, and his construction of a semi-intelligent sentence gave me hope for working with him.

“You could, and you could steal my gear and my plans. But I can see the rust on your knife from here, do you think my gear is in better condition? In a few years both of our sets of equipment will fall apart, and you’ll need these plans to make new ones.” He picked at the rust on his blade. I continued. “I’ve already looked over the plans. They need a group of people working together to make them work. If you’re going to want to still be breathing in a few years, you’ll need me.” He walked over to me as I said this, and when I finished he was close enough to take my life with the knife. I forced myself to look at his eyes and not the knife. Even if my peripheral vision told me that the blade was still in his hand, and still pointed towards me.

“You go prison?” He asks me when I’m done.

“What prison?” I asked, wondering if he proposing a supply raid on a local prison. It would be useless. Any prison would be picked completely clean of supplies.

“Incarcerated, serve time.” He asked again. This guy wanted to know if I had been to prison? That was a very strange question to ask someone after civilization had fallen.

“You a cop?” I asked. I saw the knife twitch out of the corner of my eye.

“Yes.” He replied. The knife was still twitching.

“I never got so much as a speeding ticket.” I replied. He didn’t need to know I was never really old enough to commit a crime. I saw the knife flip in his hand so that the hilt was pointing towards me. I looked down and took it.

“Thanks.” I said. He gave a sweeping gesture with his hand that said ‘lead the way’. My first friend, and he was practically mute. I suddenly wished I knew sign language.

After retrieving the capsule, which I had hidden in a patch of thorns, he pointed back where we had first met and asked. “Food?” I was touched. My plan had been to take them to his house to look over, and he had freely invited me into his residence for a free meal.

“Yes.” I said, beginning to slip into his habit of speaking in one word sentences. I slipped the knife into my belt and proffered the capsule to him.

“Here.” I said, he nodded, took the capsule, and then turned to walk towards his cabin. It was an odd trip back. I spent most of it trying to think of conversations to have.

“Nice trees.” I offered. He nodded and said nothing. Of course the trees were nice, we’d both been staring at them for almost two decades.

“Favorite berry?” I asked.

“Blackberries.” He responded, and then said nothing more.

“I like the wild straw berries myself.” I prompted. “There’s a nice patch by my house.” He nodded.

“How much?” He asked. I had to think about that one. Was he offering a trade? Blackberries for strawberries?

“I think one strawberry is worth about two blackberries.” I responded. It was an odd time to be trading, but I guess that’s what these meetings were usually about on the rare occasion that they happened.

“No.” He responded. “I’m asking how much do you think you get in strawberries every year. I’m trying to calculate how many people would be required to sustain a smithy and in order to do that I need to know about how much each person can contribute. So let me ask a more direct question, how much excess food do you obtain each year, and about what percent of your time do you spend obtaining it.” Wow, you just needed to find the right subject I guess.

We spent the rest of the trip back talking shop. He was quite prolific on the subject. His highly detailed descriptions of his crop rotation, bird migration patterns, wild berry preservation techniques, and numerous other practical matters were quite passionate. Whenever I tried to change the subject to something more casual like what he did with his spare time he merely shrugged. I tried to get him to talk about any books he had scavenged, they were all manuals or guides of some kind. I myself had a large fantasy collection, but he didn’t care to hear about it. Which was a shame, I was missing the last book in the Lord of the Rings and had hoped that he possessed a copy.

After attempting to get him to talk about any hobbies he had or musical instruments he used to play I gave up focused on the practical matters of how we were going to go about making a village.

We stepped into a corn field, over the top of which I could just see a log cabin, much like mine, with a pillar of smoke rising from its chimney.

He gestured again and said. “Welcome.” Followed by. “Watch your step, don’t squash the corn.” It was my turn to nod as we walked through a narrow path that worked its way through the tall stalks.

I was in awe for a few moments. Corn, my diet consisted of potatoes, berries, and wild game. I never tried to grow plants besides potatoes because I thought it was too risky. My mouth was open as I stared at the green leaves and the golden fruit they hid. I reached out and touched a piece, and it gave me the shivers. He had mentioned corn was a part of his crop rotation, but hearing that and seeing it were two entirely different things.

“Crap a few. We’ll have corn and deer for dinner.” I nodded and plucked four ears before we entered his cabin. Like me, he only had one chair at his table, and a modest fireplace. That was about it. There were a few stacks of supplies laying around. He lived very simply.

“I guess I’ll have to bring over my own chair some time.” I joked. He nodded.

“Yup, that’ll be good. We’ll be working closely, and communal living will allow for more efficient use of team resources.” He said. This guy really was all business.

I made myself a seat out of a chest that he said he stored his books in, and spread out the letters on the table. He took the ears, set a pot of water over the fire that was smoldering in his fireplace, and went outside to get something.

It wasn’t long before we were eating deer and corn stew, which wasn’t bad at all really, and discussing our plans for the future. First we went through the letters, opening them carefully one by one, and discussing the supplies and time required for each thing the letters explained us how to create.

We didn’t have any paper or anything to write with, so we both just had to memorize them as we go. It was a lengthy process. We had to recite the whole list to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything as soon as we added anything to it. It took us the rest of the day to get through the letters and memorize everything we need.

As the light became too dim for me to read I began to pull the letters into a pile.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“Getting ready for bed.” I responded. “It’s getting too dark to read so I figured we’d make a fresh start tomorrow. He gave me a sly smile and said.

“Open the chest you’re sitting on.” I looked quizzically at him but complied. Inside were several dozen candles.

“Something I learned as kid.” He explained. I was impressed. I lit one in the still smoldering fire of the fireplace and set it on the table.

Having memorized the list of supplies we would need, and having discussed how much excess food we each produced we began to discuss what we would need in order to setup this village. There would need to be at least two people who were primarily dedicated to non-food-production tasks. One of them would be a blacksmith, and the other would be a seamstress, all the other tasks could be completed in our spare time. We calculated that for every dedicated person there would need to be two non-dedicated persons.

“I’ve run into four other neighbors besides you.” I said. “That makes six in total right there.” He nodded.

“I’ve run into three others besides you.” He replied. I ticked off on my fingers the people I had been sharing this patch of woods with.

“I’ve seen the girl whose a bit younger than me. There’s the old man with the long beard, the dude who just turns and bolts as soon as he sees you, and the really short man.” The cop had been holding up three fingers, and had ticked off one when I mentioned the girl.

“I’ve seen the girl too, an older woman who carries a crossbow, and a middle aged man with a slight limp.” So we had someone in common.

“So since we’ve both seen her we should go persuade the girl first, and then work from there. My vote would be for the guy who just bolts next. He sounds the least threatening.” The cop licked his fingers and then snuffed out the candle with his fingers.

“Sounds like a plan.” He concluded. “I don’t have beds so you’ll just have to curl up in a corner with a book or something.”

“A book? You haven’t scavenged any pillows or anything?”  It was hard to tell in the dark, but I think he shrugged.

“I don’t mind.” That was lovely, I was going to have to swing by my place at some point to pick up a few things if I was going to stay here on a long term basis. He propped up the chest against the door to keep any animals from coming. The lock had long since rusted off.

I expected him to say goodnight or something about nice to finally talk with another human being, but he just rolled himself up in a jacket that was laying around and nodded off.

It had been a good day. I hadn’t been shot. I was sleeping under a roof with another human being, and we had made plans on the next step. We, it felt really good to say we. Now there were two.

Upon waking I found that the cop had made some more of that delicious deer and corn stew. He was eating quietly while looking over the blacksmith plans. I stared at the bowl that was meant for me for a minute. I had forgotten how good it felt to have someone cook for you.

Normally a meal meant stoking the fire and adding fuel, waiting for that to heat up. Then you added the water to boil, while the water boiled you cut up whatever you had scavenged that day, and meat if you had gotten lucky and made a kill that day. That was to say nothing of the fact that eating at all meant your food stores had been depleted a little bit. This meal required no effort on my part, and didn’t deplete my stores at all. To say nothing of the fact that someone made it because they valued me enough to deem me worthy of a bit of their food stores.

I knew better than to say anything as I took my time eating and looking over the plans.

“Ready?” He asked. I cleaned up my bowl and put it by the fireplace.

“Ready.” I said. He picked up his bow and arrow, and I slipped my knife into my belt.

“We should ditch these when we get close to her land.” I said. He agreed and we set out. On the way over I couldn’t think of anything practical to talk about, so I just admired the landscape.

I was enjoying the new landscape. I was boxed in on five sides by neighbors, so I made sure never to venture further than a few miles from my house, and knew ever rock, river, and tree as if it was written on my eyelids.

A couple times I stopped to marvel at some new plant that I hadn’t seen before. Different colored flowers in particular amazed me as I had only seen blue and yellow ones in my part of the woods, and here there were red ones.

When I picked one up to smell it and inspect it closer, the cop gave me a sideways suspicious look.

“I know it’s useless.” I told him, knowing what was on his mind. “But I’ve never seen one before, and we are going to meet someone new. Maybe it will make for a good peace offering.” Cop didn’t respond to this. He just turned his head and kept walking. I plucked a few and then ran a bit to catch up.

“You think she’ll be as talkative as you?” I asked my friend. He gave me a sly look and before he could respond I heard a thunk and he fell backwards.

I was confused for a moment, until I saw the arrow sticking out of his shoulder. Something primitive in my brain kicked in and I dropped to the ground. I was afraid, then I thought to myself. Wait a minute, we hadn’t done anything wrong. In a moment of enraged stupidity I stood back up and turned in the direction I thought the arrow had come.

“What are you doing!” I shouted. I saw the girl, she was about thirty yards off and had knocked another arrow and was drawing a bead on me. When she heard me indignantly shout at her she lowered her bow.

“Sorry!” She shouted back, shouldering her bow and now jogging over to help.

“This could get infected you know!” She was hanging her head and running over as fast as she could.

“Sorry, sorry, I’d never seen two people in a group before, and I thought maybe you were a gang or something. Sorry.” She was wringing her hands.

“What kind of gang walks around with their weapons holstered, and only brings one bow?” I demanded. She shuffled her feet.

“Sorry.” She said again.

“Help.” The cop said. “You know, whenever you’re done talking.”

“Right.” The girl said, kneeling beside him. “Sorry. Do you have any water on you?” She asked me as she looked at the wound.

“No.” I said, intrigued by how quickly she had taken to seeing to his wound.

“That’ll be a problem. How far is it to your house from here?” She asked. I could see the arrow had gone straight through the upper part of the shoulder. “Let me see your knife.” She added before I could response.

“About two miles from here.” I told her. She cut off the part of his shirt around the wound, then cut off a strip from her sleeve and pushed into onto the wound. The cop, to his credit, didn’t even wince. It was probably not the first time he had experienced such a wound.

“I’m only about a mile and half. We’ll have to get him to my place. Can you walk?” She asked the cop.

“Yes.” He responded. “I don’t usually use my shoulders for walking.” The girl winced at the silliness of her question.

“Sorry, I thought maybe you were in shock or lost blood or something.” The cop stood up.

“I’ve lost way more blood than this before. Which way?” He asked. The girl stood up and for a second tried to prop up the cop so he couldn’t walk, but he just stared at her until she apologized again, and we set off.

“Sorry, I’m really not used to seeing people. I guess this is why I haven’t made any friends yet.”

“Yeah.” I responded dryly. “Flesh wounds are not a form of greeting I’m familiar with.”

“It’s alright.” The cop said before the girl could apologize again. “I nearly shot him when I first met him. If there were two men armed men coming at me I’d probably shoot first and ask questions later.”

“Thank you.” The girl said, and tried to hug the cop. She wrapped her arms around me, but he just looked at her like he had forgotten what a hug was. After several seconds had passed she let go in a painfully slow way. I wanted to say something to berate her about shooting my friend, but as I hadn’t been shot myself, and my friend had already forgiven her I couldn’t very well say anything.

As we walked on she tried valiantly several times to make amends with the cop by starting a couple of casual conversations about the weather or how did he like the flowers that were in bloom right now. When she discovered that he stuck to one word sentences when he felt the conversation wasn’t important she came to walk by me instead.

“So how did you two meet?” She asked me. She had quite gotten over the shame of having shot a man and her eyes were wide and sparkling at the prospect of having two people to talk to. Well maybe just one and a half people to talk to.

“About the same as we did.” I told her. “Yesterday I was walking through the woods, he saw me. I took a minute to convince him I wasn’t going to stab him in the back, and then we set off for his cabin.”

“So you two just met?” She asked. “That’s exciting. It’s like everyone’s getting together. Gosh, that’s wonderful. Are we going to meet more people? Oooh, if we meet someone with a guitar or something we could have a dance! I love dancing, don’t you? Do you have a guitar?” Her speech was now coming fast and furious and I had to blink a few times to let all that she had said sink in. The parts of my brain that processed spoken words had not been used this much ever, and it lagged for a few seconds.

“Um, yes we are going to meet more people, at least three more people. I think I might like dancing, and no I don’t have a guitar.” She practically bounced when I said we were going to meet new people.

“Can sing.” The cop said.

“That’s marvelous!” She said, actually making a small jump in the air. “We’re going to have a whole village. It’ll be like in a book or something! Which three people are we going to meet? Have you met anyone else? I’ve only met about six other people. They’ve been pretty nice. They didn’t shoot me or anything.” She looked over her shoulder at the cop. “Sorry.” She turned back to me, and kept talking before I could get a word in. “Where are we going to make the village? We should have it by a river. River’s are nice you can fall asleep to the sound of running water. You ever fallen asleep by water? It makes for a frightfully good night’s sleep even if it means you have to sleep in the open.”

The cop, having heard some logistical details being mentioned, took this moment to enter meaningfully into the conversation.

“We had not finalized any discussion about the ultimate location of the village. We had determined we should all live close together, if not in one house, and that perhaps my current residence would make for an ideal location as it is very near to a water supply, which, as you so elegantly put it, is necessary. Although I find it’s more useful for drinking from than to listening to.” The girl fell into step beside the cop now.

They began to babble endlessly about the village plans. The girl in a child-like state of wonder detailed all the wonderful parties we would have, and how we could make all the houses in the village in a nice circle, just like where she had grown up. The cop nonchalantly detailed his plans for clearing the woods and planting new crops, as well as his idea for a possible irrigation system,

The two got on remarkably well. I would’ve thought the cop would be irritated by the girl’s rapidly jumping from one subject to the next, and I the girl should’ve found his slow deliberate and to the point way of talking boring. On the contrary, the cop seemed to be energized by someone who was so eager to listen to him talk, and the girl was excited to have someone to tell all of her ideas to.

The two balanced each other. The cop seemed to value the more social touch of the girl. She turned the village into a series of homes, rather than a place where we all slept. The girl in turn valued the cop’s plans to keep their stomachs full, and their homes warm. They made quite the pair.

I myself just enjoyed listening. I didn’t have to take part in the conversation at all. The two carried on for the entire walk to the girl’s place. I was relieved to not have to think about topics, or try and steer the conversation in a direction that the other person would find amiable. I remember hearing that parent’s calmed their children down at night by just talking to them sometimes, or reading a story. It made a good deal of sense now. Just hearing other voices talking in positive tones made me feel like I belonged with these people.

When we arrived at the log cabin I was surprised to find that the girl had no visible crops planted.

“No crops?” The cop asked.

“Nope.” She said. “I don’t need to eat a lot so I just scavenge what I need form the woods and go hunting once in a while to mix things up.” She opened the cabin door and ushered the two of us in.

I was surprised to see that unlike myself and the cop, the girl had four chairs at her table.

“Come in, sit down, and I’ll have you all fixed up in a moment.” She patted the cop on her shoulder and bounced over to the fireplace to put on some boiling water.

She stuck the knife in the hot water to sterilize it, and went to a chest she had nearby to take out some old strips of cloth to sterilize them too.

“I’ve got some grain alcohol up on that shelf, would you fetch it for me…..” She paused looking funny at me. “Sorry, I’m afraid I haven’t caught your name.”

“Name?” I realized I had been thinking about these two people as ‘cop’ and ‘girl’ and this was not the polite way to speak to humans.

“Oh right, I’m Thom, and this is um.” I had started to introduce the cop hoping at some point last night he had mentioned his name and if I started to introduce him it would come to me.

“Johnathan” The cop told the girl.

“Right, Jonathan and Thom, nice to meet you, I’m Lily. Now Thom there’s some grain alcohol on that shelf. Would you be a dear and grab it for me?” Lily asked me.

“Of course.” I said

“Thank you Thom.” She said, and then took the sterilized knife and cloth from the now boiling water, and put the knife directly on the fire for a few seconds before walking over to Johnathon.

“Now Johnathan, can I call you John?” The cop nodded. “Now John, as I’m sure you know, this is going to hurt. Would you like something to bite down on?” The cop valiantly shook his head and tilted his head to give Lily better access to the wound.

“Right.” Lily said, and then pushed the red hot flat of the knife into the wound Thom frowned and grunted loudly, making a new noise every time Lily worked the knife to get at a different part of the wound.

“Alcohol.” Lily said. I handed her the bottle and she poured some on the wound. John grunted again, and Lily layered on some of the sterile pieces of cloth to finish the job.

“Now then, if I had my sewing kit I’d have stitched you up, but I lost that years ago.” She put her hands on her hips and examined her work. “Still, that’ll do nicely. So where’s the capsule?” She asked me.

“What?” I asked. I had lost my appetite watching Lily work on the wound, and didn’t expect this change of topic.

“The capsule, the thing with all the instructions on building a village silly.” She said.

“Oh, right.” I said unslinging the thing from my shoulder. I had strapped it on when we had left John’s cabin and had quite forgotten about it as soon as he got shot.

“Here, let me lay it out on the table.” We cleared away the improvised medical supplies and used our shirts to dry up the blood and water that had accumulated on the table. That night was another night of planning and laughing. John had brought some candles so we continued late into the night, talking about the future, who we would go see next. Making dinner was the highlight of the evening as we all pitched in and used different techniques we had learned throughout our years.

As we lay along one wall of the cabin for the night Lily once again demonstrated her difference from John and decided to stay awake and talk for a bit.

“Do you remember being put to bed by your parents?” She asked.

“Yeah.” I said. “I actually thought about that on the way over here. They would just sit up and talk in the same room as me. It was comforting just knowing that they were there, and that everything was fine.”

“I know what you mean?” She said. She was talking slower now. Much less trying to fit everything into one sentence as possible, and much more just taking your time and enjoying the conversation. “My parent’s would sing me to sleep.”

“Oh yeah?” I responded. “What would they sing to you?”

“A bit of everything, but the one song they would sing all the time was an old 90s tune about not losing your way. Would you like to hear it?” She asked.

“I sure would.” I told her. As she sung me to sleep my thoughts turned to the letters, and what my parent’s had told me. I was following their directions, and it was kind of like they were around. My last thought before I drifted off was ‘Now we are three’.

Man Out of Time

“I do not hesitate to impose upon the defendant the following sentence. For the murder of Rebecca Marerro for which I have found you guilty of aggravated murder in the first degree you will serve a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of early release or parole. This sentence will run consecutive to the 48 other sentences already imposed upon you under king county superior court case number 011102070-9. You will have no contact with the family of Rebecca Marerro for that same period of time. You will be required to pay restitution to that family to be determined at another time.”

As those words are spoken by the judge I feel relief wash over me. They can’t bring themselves to say my name, Gary Ridgwy. They hide behind words like ‘defendant’, because to say my name would be to humanize me, and to them I am an animal.

Paperwork is now being filed before the trial concludes. The words of the family of Rebecca Marerro, victim number 49, ring in my ears. She says she doesn’t think they should spare my life. I’m going to serve 1680 years in prison, and she doesn’t know the only reason I went for a plea deal, was because death would be too quick for me.

I was the worst and darkest kind of addict. I knew what I was doing, but I just couldn’t stop myself. I needed to be locked away, and now I would be. I would no longer have to worry about the urges striking me again. The world would be safe from me, and I would have time to suffer for what I had done, 1680 years to suffer. It wasn’t enough time, I had destroyed 49 lives, all of them worth more than mine. They should’ve locked me up for 5000 years, but what did it matter? I couldn’t possibly live long enough to make up for all that loss.

“Cryogenic freezing is the term.” The man in the black suit from the FBI tells me. He’s with a NIH consultant, one of those scientist types. The scientist mostly just stares at the ground. People who don’t work in law enforcement can’t usually bring themselves to talk to me.

“It’s a new technology. It hasn’t been tested on healthy human beings before.” The FBI man informed me.

“Why me?” I asked, knowing little about what he was talking about.

“Because you’re never going to get out of here alive anyway.” The FBI man responded.

“This procedure will halt the progression of your age, if it doesn’t kill you.” He went on. “So we will freeze you now, and wake you up just a few days before your release. It will be like no time has passed. If you survive of course, which is why we are asking you, because you’re basically dead anyway.” The black suit man looked briefly at the scientist to confirm everything he had just said. The scientist nodded.

“So I will be released then?” I asked. The FBI man nodded. No, I thought to myself. No, I had to stay here, this was the only place that was safe for other people. Unless there was some other benefit, there had to be some reason they would be willing to give me a free pass

“You told me what good it would do me, but what good would it do you?” I asked the FBI man. “I would think you were just doing this to kill me, and I don’t blame you. But there’s no way the NIH would go along with it if there wasn’t a good reason. So what’s so great that you’re willing to risk letting the green river killer go free to get it?” The FBI man looked to the scientist for an explanation. The scientist shook his head back and forth vigorously. Civilians really don’t like talking to me. The FBI man gestured in my direction and whispered something about willing test subjects. The scientist sighed, and then took a couple of deep breaths. When he spoke his voice was stuttering

“Because we c-could save people this way. If a disease isn’t c-curable, we can freeze a person until a c-cure develops. If someone is deemed highly important to s-society, we can freeze them during a time of prosperity, and thaw them ag-gain in a time of desperation.” His stuttering stopped as he began to get caught up in what he was saying. “Long missions to other planets could be made possible by freezing the passengers until they arrive. This could open new worlds for us.” For a moment the scientist was looking at me excitedly, like he was actually happy to talk to me. Then he remembered who I am and he went back to staring at the floor.

“I’ll save people?” I ask the FBI agent. The man nods. That’s enough for me. Hopefully I’ll die during the testing. My life will go towards saving others. I had 49 life debts to pay, and if this testing saves at least that many, I will have paid that debt. I needed just one more assurance before I consented.

“If it works, thaw me out 100 years before I’m to be released.” I pause for a moment to think. “As long as that won’t interfere with the testing.” I add on.

The scientist and the agent look at each other. They huddle briefly and exchange a few words. “Why?” The FBI agent returns my own question to me when the huddle is concluded.

“So the world never has to deal with me again.” I tell him. The scientist looks up at me, and without a stutter in his voice responded.

“It will not interfere with the testing.”

“Then do it as soon as you can.”

“He’s waking up.” I heard someone call. The voice was distant and muted. I couldn’t see much, just an iced over plate inches in front of my face.

There was a hissing sound, like gas escaping from a sealed beverage. I was alive, that was unexpected. I had hoped it would be over, but at least I was still in prison.

The hatch covering me pulled back and revealed a small room with a couple of scientists and a couple of men with guns. Men with guns, that was good. They were still taking me seriously. The guns weren’t really necessary. I wasn’t skilled in combat. I was just willing to kill. All of my victims had been defenseless. I never would’ve been able to take them down if they hadn’t been so much smaller and weaker than me. It stung to think of them again. A few violent images popped into my imagination unbidden, and I had to force them down.

Hands quickly pulled me out of the chamber and threw me onto a nearby gurney. That was good, get me cuffed quickly, and put me back in a cell. Except they didn’t. They were rapidly strapping on various monitors and shining things in my eys.

“Pulse is good, internal temperature normal, brain function nominal, no freezer burn.” They pulled the devices off and stepped back. Confusion painted their faces, this was not what they expected.

“He’s…. fine.” One of the scientists commented. They exchanged glances, and began double checking their equipment. One of them pulled out a photo of me, and began comparing it to the real thing.

“No damage whatsoever.” A different scientist commented. “That puts the final survival rate of the program at what, 0.5%?” He asked his compatriots. They all nodded. “So he’s the only one.” They were crowding around me now, looking at me like I was the world’s biggest diamond.

Why weren’t they cuffing me? Why didn’t they look afraid? I looked around the room some more and none of the men with guns seemed to be paying much attention. In fact, they weren’t even looking at me. They were looking at the scientists. What? I was the danger here. Why would they think the scientists were a threat?

“Alright labrats, you thawed him out, now it’s our job to see him safely out of here.” The armed men began escorting the scientists out of the room. “You’ll finish your diagnostics later when he’s had time to rest.” Rest? Who cared about me getting rest? They seemed to think I was some kind of important person, not one of the world’s worst serial killers.

“You’re taking me to my cell aren’t you?” I ask the guards. One of the guards laughs.

“Cell? You? Of course not! We wouldn’t put someone as valuable as you into a cell. You’ve got an apartment laid out for you nearby. We’ve already checked out the neighborhood and taken every precaution for your safety.” I felt a note of panic. No, no, no, they had to keep me in here, away from everyone else. Another violent image flashed. This one takes a moment to shove away. It stays long enough for me to recognize the face. It’s Cynthia Hinds. I remember the name. I remember all their names.

“But I’ve still got 100 years left in my sentence, you’ve got to keep me in here. It’s the law.” I start to sound like I’m pleading.

“Um, your crimes are over 1500 years old sir.” He called me sir. No one should call me sir. “I don’t think anyone still cares.” Nobody cares? How could they not care? I felt like I was going even crazier than I already was.

“Besides, you’re the worlds oldest man. You’re a living historical icon. We’ve got to keep you safe so we can learn about when you came from.” He leaned in close to me with a boyish smile on his face. “You obviously couldn’t know this, but you’re kind of famous, and there are a lot of ladies who are into that kind of thing.” He winked at me.

That was too much, maybe if they kept me only around men it would be alright. I could control myself around men, or at the very least they could defend themselves from me. Several more images flash in front of me, painting the last moments of Rebecca Marerro. She was my final victim.

I grabbed the guard’s his collar. It was a mark of how true his words were that he didn’t try and defend himself, and none of his buddies came to his aid. I couldn’t be around people, but women in particular were completely out of the question. I had been near too many women, at least 49 too many. There would not be a 50th. I would not let my debt get any higher.

“You’ve got to put me away.” I demanded. The guard didn’t even looked scared by the serial killer grabbing his collar. If anything I’d describe his expression as awkward.

“Easy Gary.” He said, trying to calm me down. He was talking to me like I was a friend. “We’ll put you back in your cell if you really want us to. I mean you’re the boss.” I released him and lay down on the gourney. I closed my eyes and felt relief course through me. It would be okay, I had at least 100 more years where I wouldn’t hurt anyone. Maybe future medicine would keep me alive for a while, but I had been an old man when they froze me. I couldn’t have much time left. I would die in a cell, just like I had planned. It would be okay.

“Gary Ridgway, you have dutifully and responsibly served your 1680 year term. During that sentence you have contributed greatly to the medical knowledge base of humanity by your volunteering for cryogenic experimentation. As such this court eagerly releases you, and in recognition of your efforts and sacrifice restores to you your right to vote, your right to carry a firearm, and cleans your record of any criminal activity.” A bowed to the judge, and a couple of armed guards escorted me out, not because they were afraid I would harm someone. They were afraid someone was going to harm ‘an international treasure’.

There were so many things wrong with this. They shouldn’t be releasing me. They shouldn’t be patting me on the back. They shouldn’t be making me a normal member of society. I must be cursed. I had been given a sentence of almost two millenniums. I had volunteered for a medical experiment which killed all of the other participants. I had forced them to keep me in prison for another 100 years, and yet I was still alive.

That last part was my fault. Medical knowledge had progressed greatly in the last 1500 years. The average life span was about 250 years. I should’ve anticipated that and had them thaw me out earlier. 100 years had seemed like a long time back then. Now, being almost 200 myself, it had passed in the blink of an eye. Now here I was again, about to be put back where I could indulge my addiction.

At least they had given me good guards. As we arrived at the gate I heard a crowd outside, and there were several heavily armed men waiting for me. The prison guards exchanged salutes with these men.

I felt a little comfort by their presence. This new set of guards looked like they could overthrow a small third world country if they wanted to. I don’t recognize any of the weaponry or armor on them, but it looks far more expensive than the stuff my last set of guards had. I didn’t know how long they would be watching over me, but at least the world would be safe for a little while.

Then I see her. “Sarah Maxwell at your service mister Ridgway.” I didn’t see her behind one of the guards. She steps out and extends a hand.

I take a step back, look away, and throw up a hand. The last time I had Denise Bush flashed before my eyes. I winced. It had been decades since the last time I had seen one of my victims.

A woman, they sent a woman? This one didn’t even look remotely dangerous. She was unarmed, carrying armor that didn’t look nearly as impressive as the stuff the gun toting men were wearing. Were they crazy? Why was she even here?

She looked at the guards who shrugged. “He’s been away for a long time.” One of them said to her.

“Right.” She said, putting her hand down. “Mister Ridgway, you’ve refused to learn about the outside world for some time. Your doctor’s tell me that you think the less you know, the less dangerous you’ll be.” I look back to her, maybe she understands? Maybe the dangerous men are to protect her, not to protect me. I start to relax a little. Then when I meet her gaze I see she’s smiling. That conjures up Terry Milligan’s face, and I wince and look away again.

“It’s alright Mister Ridgway. I’m here to bring you back into the world. I’ll bring you up to speed on modern technology, politics, and anything else you need to know.” They were giving me a personal assistant, a female personal assistant. Had no one told people those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it?

“For starters, we’re about to head to Mars. You have an interview there with a major news outlet.” That caught my attention. I didn’t follow space exploration, but when I was being put under the thought of colonizing Mars had been lunacy. Now we had done it? That snapped me out of my self loathing long enough to not make eye contact again, but to look curious.

“Mars?” I ask her.

“Yes Mister Ridgway. Your FTL motorcade is waiting just outside these gates.” She tells me. For the first time since I was put away I look around. Over the walls of the prison I can see there are floating houses, flying cars, and people jetting around between buildings.

Sarah sees where I’m looking and smiles again. “The population of the earth is over 70 billion; we had to resort to extreme means to fit everyone. The bottoms of the oceans have been colonized, and we’ve spread out to just about every celestial body in our solar system.” I get a sense of wonder that calms me down. I’m distracted enough that I don’t think about all the horrible things I’ve done for a few moments. I look back at Sarah and the guards. The guards are well trained I’m sure, this will be alright, at least for a little while

“Glad to have you with us mister Ridgway.” She touches my shoulder and gestures to the gate. It opens and there’s a giant crowd stretching as far as I can see. I notice there are no buildings or streets on the ground, just one giant mass of people.

“You’re a celebrity mister Ridgway.” Sarah shouts over the din of the crowd roaring my name, along with several nicknames. I catch man out of time, father time, and several other nicknames.

“Don’t worry.” She tells me as the guards clear a path to the cars. “These are the emperor of the Earth’s own bodyguards. They’re the best in the solar system. You’ll be fine.” She’s concerned for my safety. She’s really concerned about my safety. “Besides, The Emperor has decreed that you’re not to be harmed. Anyone who inflicts bodily or psychological harm upon you gets to serve the same sentence you did, complete with cryogenic freezing.” A death sentence, harming me now carries the death sentence.

We reach the cars and I’m shuffled into the back seat of one, along with Sarah. Two guards occupy the front seats. Good, they’re not leaving me alone with a woman.

“How long are the guards with us?” I ask Sarah.

“For six months, or until your notoriety dies down a bit.” She responds. “After that you’ll be switched over to a private contractor for several years, until your celebrity reaches more normal levels. Then, seeing after your own personal safety will become your own responsibility.” Several years, maybe in that time they’d remember who I was, and decide to lock me back up. “I’m sure you could hire a local security company with your vast wealth.” Sarah says.

“My vast wealth? What do you mean vast wealth?” I turn towards her, confused. “I haven’t had a penny to my name in centuries.” Sarah shakes her head.

“You had a 401K when you were put away, that has now matured to a very sizable fortune. On top of that, news outlets like the one we are going to will be paying you millions for your stories. To say nothing of the book deals, advertising spots, and endorsement deals.” She gives me a sly look. “You are a made man mister Ridgway.”

Advertising spots? Endorsement deals? “You’re telling me people will actually buy a product just because I tell them?” I ask Sarah. “Does no one remember I killed almost fifty women in cold blood?” My voice starts to rise against my will. “I’m one of the world’s worst serial killers! Does no one know that? Didn’t you look up my profile when you agreed to this job?” She looks taken aback, but she doesn’t shrink away.

“I read every file we have on you, and the consensus has been you’re a hero.” That word was physically painful to hear. It was as if someone had punched me in the gut. I couldn’t think of anything to say so I looked out the window. Sarah said something, but I didn’t catch it I just now realized where I was.

Outside the window was entirely black with little white stars in the distance. I jerked my head around and there was nothing except the sun visisble, no Earth, no Moon, no Mars, as far as I could tell the entire solar system was gone except for the Sun.

“Where are we?” I asked Sarah. I had cut her off, but she didn’t seem to mind. They had said something about FTL vehicles. I didn’t know that meant they could go to space! FTL must stand for flying something or other.

“In space of course, we are about halfway to Mars. The Faster Than Light drive on this is pretty good so we only have about three minutes left to go.” Oh, that’s what FTL stood for.

“Is this your first time in space?” She asked me. It wasn’t a sarcastic question, she genuinely didn’t know. They must really not know about the twenty first century.

“Um, yes, very few people from my time have ever been to space.” I responded. I had begun examining the car’s windows. They looked like regular glass, could normal cars survive in space?

“Really? See that’s the sort of stuff that you should talk about during the interview.” Hadn’t this person thoroughly researched me? Didn’t any of that internet stuff make it through? “We have had limited storage space, so a lot of the data from your time has been condensed and trimmed down. We kept a file on you, so we know some medical stuff, and of course the terms of your imprisonment, but beyond some sit coms that we really don’t know a lot about people from your time.”

“Limited storage space?” I asked. “I’m not a big computer person, but I had thought the amount of data that a single computer could store was enormous.” She shrugged.

“When everyone in the world is recording their lives in higher definition than the human can perceive things get filled up, and old files corrupted or just run out of power and forgotten.” That still seemed a bit far fetched to me.

“You gotta realize, you are from a time that’s 1500 years before almost any of us currently living were alive. I mean, how much information did your generation have on people from the year 500?” It was a fair question. There were not many manuscripts from that time even before I was frozen. Something still didn’t seem right about the limited storage space. I remembered talking to a cell mate about how much information he put on his computer, and even if it had been 17 centuries, more should have survived.

I didn’t have time to analyze it further. Sarah pointed forward. “Look, we’re entering Mars’ atmosphere now.” I followed her finger and gripped the seat tightly as we entered the atmosphere.

“Good evening ladies and gentleman of the solar system. You are joining us for a very special edition of The Facts. Here with us tonight is The Man Out of Time himself Gary Ridgway!” The host was a plucky young twenty something girl with a pig tail. The studio audience applauded. I waved sheepishly to the crowd. Were stage lights this bright back in my day? It felt like I was on a surgeon’s table. That was a thought I quickly squelched. It was best not to think of places that had a lot of knives.

“So mister Ridgway.” I had missed something, Sarah had been talking. I was doing a lot of missing conversation recently. Must be because I’m old. “How was life back in 2000? What did you do for fun?” I took a second too long to respond because I couldn’t tell if the second question was a joke or a personal attack. I decided it didn’t matter so I answered her question honestly.

“I think a lot of what you might do today. I read books, watched TV, went on dates.” I paused for a second to see how the studio audience would respond to this. They were leaning on the edge of their seats waiting for me to go on. They weren’t the slightest bit concerned about what my dates usually resulted in. “Took walks in the park, and I had a few hobbies.”

“Well mister Ridgway, I think you’ve missed a lot. We in the 38th century don’t have books anymore. Tell us, did you have to write on reeds with a quill, or had paper been invented?” She asked.

“No, we had paper. Some people had begun reading electronically, but most of us were still dead tree readers.” An excited ‘oooooh’ came from the audience. It was like talking to a five year old, they found the most mundane things exciting.

“Now about these dates mister Ridgway. You had them in person yes?” This was getting weird. Once again the strangeness of the times overrode my concern that these people didn’t find me dangerous.

“Yeah, you’d meet a girl out some place, maybe a bar, and then you’d exchange numbers and have dinner some time.” The audience gasped. How had they thought I had gotten my victims?

The next hour was full of plenty of personal questions about every day life. There were some similarities, dental hygiene hadn’t changed much at all. While others had changed drastically. I had spent an hour discussing dating because how people found ‘The One’ in this day and age was by putting your name into a database, waiting six months, filing the appropriate paperwork, and then showing up at a courthouse to fill out more paperwork when you finally met the other person. More casual encounters were achieved in a similar way, but with less paperwork and much less waiting.

After the interview the woman shook my hand and I was escorted back to the car after signing some autographs. Sarah was waiting there for me, and boy did I have some questions for her.

She told the driver to take me to my apartment on one of the moons of Saturn. I had a great view of the great red spot this time of year. She informed me.

“Sarah, earlier you said that there wasn’t enough storage for people from my time.”

“That’s right.” She responded.

“Why couldn’t you just take a couple dozen computers with large drives, and save a bunch of information from that year, and then lock those away. It could only take a couple hundred thousand computers to cover all the time from when I was frozen until now.” Sarah looked at me like I had just suggested rolling down the windows to catch some nice cool space air.

“Because we don’t have the resources.” She explained. “There are 70 billion people on earth alone, almost a trillion spread across the solar system. Every single resource has to be carefully measured out so there’s no waste.” When I didn’t respond to what she believed to be an obvious statement of fact she continued.

“I mean, physics only goes so far. There are limits to how much data a computer can hold, or how fast a ship can fly. That’s why we haven’t spread out further into the galaxy. It takes almost 4 hours to reach Pluto, and would take over a year to reach the nearest star. We can’t afford to squander the resources necessary to terraform a planet if it won’t help with the population problem.”

“The population problem?” I asked.

“She.” She said, getting mildly exasperated that this took so much explaining. “The population proglem, the ability of the planets to support the population of the solar system maxed out at about the turn of the last millennium. Recycling and energy production both got much more efficient, but we still had to start allocating resources. Vital supplies like rare earth metals that computers need. We couldn’t just use them to keep data we didn’t need for research. We have to be very careful about what we use. It’s why we have a culling every couple of years.” Even before I asked what a culling was, I knew the answer. It explained why everyone wasn’t bothered by my murder spree.

“What’s the culling?” I asked, and my gut already had a sinking feeling before she responded. It was one of the first times that feeling hadn’t been caused by my own actions.

She was slow to explain this. Even with the limited knowledge about twenty first century earth that they possessed, she knew what she was about to say was shocking. “Every couple of years we remove the bottom 5% of humanity to prevent over population and an overburdening of resource allocation.”

“Remove.” I responded, with a note of anger entering my voice. “You mean kill. You kill.” I did some quick math in my head. “50 billion people every couple of years.” She nodded. Now it was she who couldn’t meet my gaze.

“No wonder you people don’t find my kill count disgusting. You must think I was just ahead of my time.” Her silence was confirmation of my assessment.

“Fifty billion people.” I said flatly. “That’s almost the entire current population of the earth.”

“We take them from the dregs of society.” She said in an effort to defend herself. She still wasn’t looking at me, and her voice didn’t have any energy in it. “Prisoners, unemployed, homeless, people who are a resource drain. No one who is a productive member of society gets culled.”

“And that makes it better!” I shouted at her. It felt good to raise my voice. It felt good to get angry, and to get angry for the right reasons. This was genocide of the worst kind, and on a truly staggering scale.

“Do you give murderers gold stars?” I asked aggressively. “Do you pin them up as role models who prevent ‘the population problem’.”

“No.” She said meekly. “Only people who are selected by the culling are viable targets. Unsanctioned killing is still a crime.”

“I get frozen so the world will be safe from me. Now I get thawed out to find out that the world is full of people who make me look like a saint.” Disgust was clear in my voice. I, a person who had slain in cold blood more people than could be counted on my fingers and toes was disgusted. The future was shaping up to be fantastic.

We arrived at my apartment in silence. Sarah hadn’t been able to think of anything else to justify her actions. I paced up and down the apartment. I was no longer concerned with protecting the world from myself. The world was already far darker than I could ever make it.

My debt still weighed on, but my fervor had made it lighter. It was no longer something that anesthetized me, it was something that energized me. I had fame, I had money I could fix this. I just needed to figure out how.

Sarah had been sitting on a couch watching me pace up and down, and when I walked up to her with a gleam in my eyes she flinched. That was not new to me, and I ignored it.

“You said these guards come from the Emperor of the Earth right?” I asked her. She nodded.

“The best in the universe.” She told me.

“Do they have to report to him?” I asked.

She hesitated, sensing that I was up to something. “Yes, as do I. As soon as you go to bed we’re going to report in.”

“And this Emperor has a large say in the allocation of resources?”

“Yes.” She said. “What’s this about Gary?”

“You’ll see.” I told her. “Last question, where’s the kitchen?” She was visibly relieved to answer a more normal question and pointed towards a door. It was time to see if they had knives in the future.

I sorted through the drawers and picked a nice sharp steak knife. As I picked it up my anger and drive faded for a moment, and several faces flashed before my eyes. I remembered what had happened the last time I had held a weapon like this. Could I do this? Well, one more couldn’t hurt. Regaining my determination I slammed the drawer shut and walked out to where Sarah sat.

“Call him.” I tell Sarah. She glances from the knife to my face, calmer than I expected. She should’ve read my case files more closely.

“Call who?” She asks. A couple of gaurds who had been watching from doorways walk into the room, hands going to weapons. They knew what was going on even if Sarah didn’t. It didn’t matter, they were already too late.

I put the knife to my throat. “The Emperor Sarah.” The guards rushed me. I spilt a little blood to show them I was serious and they halted. “Call him right now Sarah. You’ve spent a lot of time and money on me, giving me the best guards and medical treatment. I must be valuable to you. Show me how valuable, call the president, or you get to explain how you let an interstellar treasure get destroyed on your watch.” Her face had long since drained of color and she couldn’t move. One of the guards pulled something small out of his jacket and tossed it to me.

“Stick it to your throat and hit the red button.” He tells me.

“Thanks.” I tell him. “I’ll tell people what a stand up guy you are during my next interview.”

“Who is this?” A voice inside my ear rings.

“Is this the Emperor?” I say out loud. I had no idea how this technology worked. I made a mental note to ask Sarah if I survived this.

“No, this is the head of his security detail. To whom am I speaking.” One of the guards must be eavesdropping because there’s a pause and the speaker begins again.

“Ah, mister Ridgway, one of your guards has informed me of the situation. I’ll link you to the Emperor immediately.” During the pause the guards start looking at my hand and edging a little closer to me.

“I’ve killed before gentlemen, and I assure you it will be far easier to take my own life.” I drew a little more blood and they stepped back helplessly. I’m sure they’d eventually knock me out or something, but I didn’t need long.

“Mister Ridgway, what can I do for you.” A diplomatic voice speak in my ear.

“Is this the Emperor?” I ask.

“Of course, now what seems to be the trouble. We’ve gone through a lot of difficulty to keep you alive mister Ridgway.”

I wanted to snap something about how little life meant to him, but I held my tongue.

“The culling, it has to stop.” I heard someone not very close to the microphone on the other end laugh before someone with more discretion silenced him.

“I’m sure Sarah has explained we can’t do that mist Ridgway.” The Emperor told me.

“Yeah, she’s told me you need the resources of this system, and that you can’t spread out, but I think you’re over looking something.”

“I assure you mister Ridgway we haven’t. We have had every great mind of the last 700 years look into this problem to no avail. What could you have possibly seen that we missed.” The answer was almost too cliché. I didn’t tell him straight off. I’d lead him on a bit first to see if he could guess it.

“You said it takes too many resources to send a terraforming team out of the solar system, what if that team is cryogenically frozen. They could spent the whole journey in the freezer, and then when they arrived they would only be thawed as they were needed.” There was a pause on the other end of the line as no doubt the mic was muted and some hurried discussion took place.

“Even if we could do that Gary, cryogenic freezing doesn’t work. It kills everyone that’s put under.” I’m sure he realized his mistake as soon as he said it.

“Not all Emperor.” I actually smiled. “One man survived. I’m the thing you’re missing Emperor. I’m the thing you’re overlooking. I can’t blame you. I’ve been thawed less than a day.”

“But Gary we’d need volunteers. We’d just send the people we cull, but they would never be able to terraform a plant, and Gary.” His voice lowered for emphasis. “We would need your body for testing.”

“Get me on a few more talk shows and I’ll get you your volunteers.” I lowered the knife and tossed it to one of the guards.

“Then you can have my body.” I had found a way to pay my debt.