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[Vignette 2/2011] Keep Love Alive (Harrier)

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Freedom League Oral History Project

Murdock, former Omegadrone

Let me tell you a story of the days of life on Nihilor, the hearthworld of the Terminus. In the days before I was taken by the armies of Shadivan Steelgrave and forever broken by the Omegadrone forges, I lived in the alleys and streets of the Black Ghetto with the other proles, fighting for every scrap of food and every moment of warmth. We cowered in fear when Omegadrones flew overhead on their endless patrols, we raided the homes of Annihilists to take what we could from their larders, we hunted the rats and vermin of the Terminus itself for our meals. It was a harsh life, a life in which there was no living. I remember the children taught to never scream lest they be heard and torn to pieces before the eyes of their mothers, lest one infant's wail betray a whole cowering community to the grim deaths of the pits, the forges, and the games. I remember their hollow eyes and thin bones. I was a child of the streets myself, born to once-favored slaves cast off by Shadivan Steelgrave himself in a last gesture of contempt to the children of the world he had delivered over to the Lord of the Terminus. So many like me died in infancy of a thousand diseases cured on the civilized worlds, or fed to beasts the like of which have never been seen in the worlds of life.

I was one of the lucky ones, as were those I knew. All of us who survived with soul and body intact were one way or another. This is the story of one who I knew. I must have been sixteen when I met January, the red-haired girl with the deep blue eyes and the so-sad tale. She'd been born in a free world, a world with heroes like so many, but it had fallen before the power of the Terminus just a few months earlier. Her lover had betrayed her to the Omegaforges, buying a few moments with some elderly relative whose name she spoke of as a curse, but she had escaped those forges and fled to the pits of Nihilor even as her world crumbled to ash and fire around her. She was a remarkable young woman. She saw something in me I did not see in myself; she was simply another new arrival I was doing all I could to protect from the horrors of the Black Ghetto so that she might learn to live, as my parents had done for so many before. I must have looked a savage rat to her.

But she lay with me anyway on those cold nights, the two of us in each other's arms in the cargo container I had once made my home, the two of us promising...what? We were children, children made to grow too old by the horrors that we had survived, forced beyond adulthood by the realities of survival beneath black skies and with the screams of millions in our ears. There was no future, but we had a present, and we lived it together in a domesticity that was our half-remembered dream of the world we'd left, the world of our parents that had died in the ashes and fire of the Terminus. I slew rats for her, she cooked them; I helped steal whole canisters of food, she made sure that the children of the neighborhood had some scraps to eat.

She grew distant from me after a few months. We would squabble over foolishness and she would sleep in her own corners, by now looking as much a prole as I did in her tattered clothes and with her knife in her sleeve just as I had. I saw her speaking to some of the elders who lived here, hardened old men and women who'd lived in the alleys for some twenty, thirty years, and wondered if she planned to leave me. She was quite lovely, even after all the horrors she'd seen and had to commit to survive, and she might have made a handmaiden to one of the less powerful Annihilists. (The more powerful ones could of course choose among the captured women of fallen worlds directly, not simply take them from the streets.) I doubted her. I should not have doubted her, but I did, because all others had left me.

She had already taken the poison when I returned from the pits that night. I dropped the meal I had gathered for us and took her hand, gazing into her eyes as she smiled at me and told me what she'd done, and why. She was pregnant. She'd chosen for herself that her child would never live in this Hell, that she would go with him out of this nightmare world to a bright and shining world of heroes, where neither she nor the life inside her would ever suffer the want and pain she'd known in her life. She offered me the vial as well. Should I have taken it? I spent my time trying to persuade her to purge herself, or take something from our carefully-hoarded stock of medicine, but by the time I had forced open a bottle, she had simply slipped away with a smile on her face and a hand on her belly.

I burned their bodies afterwards, stoking the fires myself so that no predators could be attracted to the scent, and scattered the bones and ash as far away as I could. At the time, full of youthful valor, I thought she had made the wrong choice; how could she have run away? If she had lived, if the child had lived, both of these only possible by the greatest of chances, they would have been cold and hungry all their lives. They might easily have died in the raid that took me, or worse been taken and broken themselves in the fires. Would I have made a father? Would she have made a mother? I can never know. But I know that I am all that is left of those days, of those cold alleys and dark nights. The proles who walk those alleys are many, many generations removed from the survivors I knew, and they tell tales of lost worlds and dead heroes, not of their predecessors in the Ghetto.

I am the last who remembers January. I am the last who remembers what would have been our child. I would have named our baby Hope.

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