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Freedom - short story

So when I redid my Atramento series I pulled all the short stories that I peppered at the start of the chapters. They cluttered up the story and it was back when I thought you had to write 50k novels for it to be considered a novel. The short stories were fillers and though interesting, really didn't need to be there. So I thought I would post the short stories here, along with some images that influenced the setting.

This story is set before all the books and explains where the weather shields came from.

Freedom: June, 2052

A hot wind blew off the desert.

“Get down from there, Professor. You’re going to kill yourself.”

Professor Green—who wasn’t really a professor but had somehow got stuck with the title when she had moved to the small community of Freedom. She looked at Mr. Harold. “I just need to connect the panels up to the membrane.”

He took off his hat and fanned himself in the hot weather. “Shouldn’t we worry about charging the batteries?”

She waved to the small shed that held Freedom’s collection of batteries, all set up in a daisy chain. “Already done, it is a real sunny day.”

They had weeks of sunny days. Too many sunny days. The one reason this community survived was that it had a pump to an aquifer deep within the earth.

Professor Green wiped the sweat off her face with the bottom of her T-shirt and connected the panels with a long cable to the tower above Freedom. At the top was a platform. Home to her baby. A living membrane of bioengineered material. She could send electricity to it quite often. With the sunny days, it had grown substantially.

It grew like a pale green umbrella above her. She had only been growing it for a week. From the models, she had thought it would take longer.

Finished, she stood and stared at the dust cloud in the distance. She squinted and saw it was a boat sailing on the flat ground, kicking up dust as it moved.

“Mr. Harold, we have company.” He turned to study where she was looking.

They didn’t get many visitors this far inland. Most people now lived on the coast to have access to guaranteed water even if they had to treat it before they could drink it.

Mr. Harold set his hat back on his head. “All are welcome here.”

They had certainly taken her in. The Professor had arrived half dead after the battle; her face cut up with shrapnel. It became infected when she missed some. She had lucked out to arrive here as there was a biochemist who experimented with different ways of growing penicillin.

Professor Green hadn’t thought it was lucky then. She had come out here to die. It had taken the forgiveness of complete strangers for her to realise she could make a difference and maybe gain forgiveness for all the lives she had taken.

Freedom: August, 2053

“What do you have there, Professor?”

She glanced up at the new arrival, Dave, and smiled at him. He took that as an invitation and came closer.

She waved to her worktable. “I’m testing my latest work.”

He studied the dome-like structure that took up most of the table. He glared at it.

“What is it?”

She said, “I’m not sure. We found the beginnings of it years ago when the people here at Freedom went looking for water. This is a distant cousin to that organism, though. I hope one day it will protect this place from the extremes in weather.”

Dave went to reach out and touch it, only to look at her to see if it was all right.

She gave permission with a slight dipping of her head. “To be able to adapt to the weather, it has to be hardy.”

Dave jerked his hand back once he touched it and stared at her with large eyes, “It has power running through it.”

She nodded, pleased with her creation. “It creates it itself once it is fully grown. In its early stages, we have to provide power so it can grow. Eventually, it’s fully self-sufficient.”

He touched it again and finally put his hand down.

“I would’ve thought it would be a dome.” He meant the irregular shape of the construction on her table. It was mostly circular, but where it had interacted with the sun coming through the window, it had grown wider and faster. Giving it a more oblong shape.

“It’s a living creature, Dave. Those don’t usually grow to exact proportions.”

He peered closer. “There are things inside.”

Her greatest triumph was inside there. Not the membrane itself, but rather that there were plants thriving inside. Originally, they were just a few dying pot plants that one of the other scientists at Freedom tried to grow. When she set this up, they were sitting next to it and were now trapped inside. They were no longer dying but were now flourishing.

He pointed to something at the top. “What are those?”

“Clouds, I think.” Amusement laced her voice. A smile struggling to hide on the corner of her mouth.

“Clouds? In this, you have to be kidding.”

She shook her head, beaming with pride.

“I’m growing a larger one of these over Freedom.”

“Aren’t you worried you’re going to be trapped?” She shook her head though that had never been a worry. She would be happy to live in Freedom for the rest of her life. She had tried to explore the world and be part of the bigger picture and it had only tried to eat her alive.

“One of the others here has designed a gate that’ll grow around. That was the arch you came through when you got here.”

He said, “I thought it was just decorative.” He stared at her and their eyes met for a second. Heat sizzled.

Freedom: March 2054

Mrs. Harold stood with a load of washing on her hip and asked casually, “Is it supposed to look like that?”

The Professor looked to where Mrs. Harold gazed and swore. There was something wrong with the membrane. The Professor dumped the wet washing back in the basket she worked from and rushed to the tower.

Dave saw her running and ran with her. “What’s wrong?”

She waved a hand at the tower and said, “It’s dying.”

The Professor stopped at the tower and wrenched open the door at the bottom. She blinked to get her eyes used to the sudden darkness. Dave clicked on a light and she thanked him softly. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong. She checked the pipes and then went outside to see if the panels were connected. She didn’t think they were. Maybe the membrane needed more power.

Dave boosted her onto the roof of the shed which had the panels on them. Amazed to see the panels were already connected. Some others had collected by the tower when they saw her running past.

Mr. Harold asked, “What is the matter?”

She waved at the tower. “It’s dying and I don’t know why.”

She hopped down off the roof and Dave caught her. She ran a hand through her hair.

“It isn’t like it needs much. I mean power and water are it.”

She glanced up when she saw Mr. Harold’s young boy shift. Eventually, he came forward and asked, “Does it always have to have water? I mean, the plants in the greenhouse don’t.”

She glared at the boy and asked, “What did you do?”

He made a circle in the dust with one of his feet. “Dad was complaining the other day that if we weren’t careful, we could run out of water. That the aquifer wouldn’t last forever. I thought—” his voice trembled, “I’m sorry Professor. I thought I was helping. I turned the water off yesterday. Sorry, I thought it would be fine.”

Mr. Harold came up behind his boy and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“It’s alright son. It isn’t something we can’t fix.”

She went into the tower and saw what the boy had done. The tap leading to the platform above was turned off. She turned it back on with a sigh. She would watch the membrane for a few days, hopefully, it would recover. When she came out of the tower the crowd had dispersed except for Dave.

He asked, “Is it going to be all right?”

She nodded; life was resilient.

Freedom: September 2054

Mr. Harold’s son had taken to following the Professor around when she went to inspect the membrane every day. Since the scare, she took more care in making sure everything was as it should be. He asked, curious, as she crouched on the ground and poked at the membrane with a rubber-tipped pole, “Do you really think it’ll last? I mean—we haven’t had a storm yet.”

He had a valid reason to ask. When there were storms, they were violent and extreme. They lost people every year to flooding and hypothermia if people were caught outside when a storm hit.

“That’s why we started growing it when the dry season came, though the tower was built last year.”

She pointed with the pole where the membrane touched the ground. “See here, it has grown roots.”

This was astonishing as the original organism, they modelled this one from, hadn’t had any root system at all. It must have come from one of the other strands of DNA they added.

“It should be stable now in any storm. We’ve tested the smaller one and it can take quite a bit and it can give as well.”

She motioned with the pole she used. “Once we figure out how to connect to it safely, we will be able to draw power from it.”

Once it reached the ground, it hadn’t needed the boost from the solar panels at all. It could now collect its own from the sun. She hadn’t thought of this when she had proposed growing it, but it was a pleasant side-effect of creating the organic biosphere.

They were already seeing benefits. The plants they usually grew inside in hydroponics tubes could now be grown outside. Also, it was much cooler than it used to be, despite the heat outside. It was muggy, but nothing they couldn’t get used to. The surface of the membrane collected water, and grass of all things was growing at the base of the membrane but only on the inside. Outside the grass struggled to grow and was almost instantly killed by the harsh heat and sunlight.

She looked up when Dave called out to them. Mr. Harold’s son asked, “Do you like him?”

She stared at the boy wondering why he had asked such a personal question, but he turned shy and shook his head. He excused himself and left before she could answer.

Dave approached. “A bit shy, isn’t he?”

She just nodded her head. Going over her answer in her head.

Freedom: November, 2054

The patter of rain on the roof woke Professor Green. She lay awake for a while and tried to identify the sound. When she realised what it was, she scrambled out of bed and woke Dave as she did. She careened out of her small room off the side of the lab and then outside. Completely soaked through she laughed as she twirled in the rain.

Dave stood at the door and yelled, “Get inside Professor, or you’re going to catch your death from cold.”

She ignored him and laughed hysterically. He came out and grabbed her and headed her towards the doorway.

She caught him and spun him around. “It's raining Dave. Rain!”

He frowned, then looked up. He went still and she went out of his still grip and danced through the rain. She sang the few lines from ‘Singing in the rain’ as she jumped in small puddles. There were tears on her face that disappeared in the rain. Dave yelled over the sound of the rain.

“How is this possible? We are inside that dome of yours.”

She nodded vigorously. “I knew it was possible, I just didn’t think it would happen this quickly.” She spun around. “We are a complete environment. We don’t have to worry about the weather outside, at all.”

She went up to him. Water plastered her hair against her head and she had to blink rapidly to dislodge droplets from her eyelashes. “This is going to save us all, Dave. No one will have to die because of the weather ever again.”

His eyes sparked and he pulled her in for an embrace, “You are a genius, Professor. A genius.”

Freedom: December, 2054

Professor Green reached up to hook the line of lights up. She jumped when Dave came behind her and put his steadying hands on her waist. She looked down at him with a smile. She finished and he picked her up and put her down on the ground. He gazed up at the string of lights she had just finished putting up. There was a bit of green foliage as well next to it and he asked, “Is that mistletoe?”

She shook her head and looked up to where he looked. “Holly I think, close enough to make no never mind.”

Waving to the decorations she and the others had put up in the large communal room. “What do you think? Does it feel like Christmas?”

He kissed her lightly and said, “Close enough.” She smiled and he put his arms around her. “This is as close to Christmas as it has been in a long time. There is even snow outside.”

She blinked in astonishment. “Really?”

Pulling from his arms, she grabbed her coat before she went outside. It was cold, but nothing like the previous cold seasons. This one had also started much later in the year and was almost in sync with old traditional seasons. Dave was right. There was a light dusting of snow falling. She could make out the blizzard outside the membrane, but inside it was just soft eddies falling gently.

Reaching out her arms, she watched as snowflakes landed on her clothes and when they hit her hands; they melted instantly. Like when she was a child. She opened her mouth and tried to catch a snowflake.

Dave chuckled at her attempt. “Shall we say this is my Christmas present to you?”

She turned to him. “I didn’t expect anything.”

She was used to not receiving presents when usually at this time of the year people were desperately trying not to freeze or starve to death. The war had taken a toll on the people, but here starvation was the real bogeyman. He motioned to her and she went into his arms.

Dave looked down at her and she let a smile touch her lips. “I would give you the world if I could.”

He kissed her and said, “You already have.”

Freedom: January, 2055

The Professor found Dave working on his sand runner in the shed they had put it in months ago. Leaning against the doorway, she watched him for a long time. When he looked up and smiled, she returned the gesture.

She asked, “How is it looking?”

He said, “A little neglected. I thought I would put sleds on it so we can use it in the cold season. Maybe go look at the scenery.”

She said, “Oh, I see. A wind-drawn sleigh.”

He chuckled. “Yeah. I thought we could take a picnic.”

“And a lot of blankets. It is well below freezing out there still.”

He said, “Maybe next month. It’s going to take me that long to figure out how to convert this.”

She came up to him and lightly placed her hand on his shoulder. “You can do anything you put your mind to, Dave. If you want to make this fly across the snow, then I know you can.”

He brushed it off. They were silent for a time, then she asked, “Are you going to come in for dinner? The Harold family should be here any moment.”

He hesitated, then dusted himself off and stood up. “Sure, I’ll come in now.”

She watched him carefully for a while. “You don’t like the Harold’s?”

He said, “That kid just looks at me funny all the time. Like he has steel in his eyes or something. I think he honestly hates me.”

She laughed and put her arm around his waist. “I think he is jealous. You see, I think he has a crush on me.”

Dave snorted at the idea and followed her back into the lab and into the kitchen where she had already mostly finished preparing dinner. She finished the salad and asked casually, “Were you in the lab today?”

He made a non-committal sound and helped put the plates on the table. She stopped and glanced at him. “Some things were moved and I’m sure I didn’t move them.”

He said, “I’ve been out in the shed. Are you sure it wasn’t that boy who always follows behind you?”

She frowned down at the salad.

Freedom: January, 2055

The wind howled as Dave struggled with his sand runner. He finally pushed it through the large gate made in the side of the membrane. He looked up stunned when she said, “I’d hoped it wouldn’t be like this.”

The Professor was dressed in all her winter gear so was warm. She’d waited here a while as Dave prepared to leave. He must have thought she would sleep the night through from the amount of alcohol the two of them had consumed. Except she had expected something like this and knew what the wine bottle had meant over dinner. Especially when there was no special occasion to celebrate.

Dave came over to her and said, “I’m sorry, Professor. It is just—well, the world really does need your weather plant,” he gestured to the dome over them, “I know you. You’d just sit here with it and you wouldn’t do anything.”

Tears blurred her vision. “You are wrong, Dave. Wrong about me, just as wrong as I was about you. You were just going to sell it. How much did you take?”

“Just the one sample. The one you left in the lab.”

She had known he was going to steal it when she had noticed it was moved the other day. It was a slightly different strain that she had monitored to see how it dealt with less light compared to the others.

She reached out her hand. “Give it.”

He hesitated, but he brought out the sample and put it in her hand. She knew he also had a digital copy of all her notes, but she would let him have that.

He asked, “What is going to happen now?”

“I think you should leave. Just go, Dave. You aren’t suited for Freedom and I’m not suited for your world.”

He hesitated. “I really did care for you, you know.”

She doubted that but appreciated that he tried to minimize the hurt.

She turned away. “Just go.”

She heard him jump in his runner and she closed the gate behind him.

New State: June, 2056

The classroom was empty except for a man in a faded coat. She cleared her throat to get his attention. “Excuse me. Are you Professor Nasser? Is this the College of Fairfield?”

The man looked up and squinted at her. “University. We don’t use the word ‘College’. That is a word associated with the oppressive and defunct nation that once pestered these shores. Who are you?”

She crossed the classroom and said nervously, “I’m Pro — sorry my name is Elisha Green.”

It felt strange to use her name after so long.

He frowned at her and asked, “Do I know you? The name sounds familiar.”

She shifted nervously. “I used to work for that defunct nation you just mentioned.”

He swore softly. “You’re the butcher of Auckland.”

She blushed. It hadn’t been her alone, but it was the virus she had made that had swept through the people of Auckland and wiped out over half of them. When she had confronted her superiors on why they would release such a dangerous virus, especially after she had told them how dangerous it was. They had said there were always casualties in war. She had realised then she was sick of war and she had left for Freedom.

She swallowed a lump in her throat and said, “I have something to show you, Professor. I think you’ll be very fascinated in what I have to show you.”

He said, “I’m a botanist, not a virologist.”

She shook her head and placed one of her small domes she had made for this trip. It was the size of a cake tin and she placed it on the table.

“It’s a biodome for people to live under.”

He dug out some glasses from a pocket and leaned in closer. “Is this plant matter?”

She said, “We found it in an aquifer. It’s capable of resisting any kind of weather.”

He looked up at that. “It’s alive and it can survive winter.”

She nodded again. “And a desert climate as well. You do have to feed it water and power to grow it, but once it is matured, it creates its own power from the sun and wind. And it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere regardless of whether there is rain or not. It has been successfully used to make a dome that has its own atmospheric conditions separate from outside.”

He breathed out in awe. “Stunning. How big can it get?”

She said, “I’m not sure. The biggest one I’ve created is over a kilometer in diameter.”

He gazed up at her and grinned.

“So what do you think?” She brought him back to the biodome though she had a tint of pink to her cheeks. She wasn’t immune to the flirting.

“I think with some experimentation; we can change the world.”

She smiled. She knew she had come to the right place. Nasser had a reputation of honesty and principles.

Whatinga: June, 2061

Elisha winced as she heard the fighting in the distance. The site manager didn’t even flinch as he laid out the plans for the tower. “The men are working in three shifts. One on-site and the others at the prefabrication site.”

He glanced at her and smiled. “Nothing to worry about, Professor. We’ll have this up and ready in no time.”

She glanced out to the rest of the city and asked, “Aren’t your men worried about the fighting.”

He said, “We’re used to it. In any case, it’s almost over. The last of the gun runners and the bandits will be blasted out of that neighbourhood and the city will be ours.”

She frowned. The city was a new entity risen out of the ashes. The city itself had been here for more than three hundred years, but in the last few decades, it had only been a ghost town inhabited by the desperate and the greedy. But someone had built a water plant and now the city had water.

Water was the main thing she had needed. They could get power from generators, but without water the Weather Shield was impossible.

The foreman arrived and stuck his head inside the container that was an office. “Your husband is here. He says the plant material is here. He wants to know where it should go.”

Elisha had traveled ahead to see to the start of the building. The materials and the work had all been donated by the people of the city. She only had to advertise what she needed and it had arrived the next day. Along with the manager and the foreman, who told her they would make sure it was all done properly.

This wasn’t the first city they had done this for, but probably the last for a while. She gingerly placed her hand on her stomach. The baby was only three months along and she had only realised she was pregnant halfway in her journey so her husband, the professor, didn’t know yet.

Elisha left the container and ran into Nasser’s arms as he stood next to the truck.

He kissed her and asked, “You all right?”

She nodded her head and said, “I have news for you.”

He said, “Good news or bad news?”

Her smile softened. “Good news.”

Whatinga: September, 2061

Elisha pushed through the people standing around the base of the tower. Lights flashed and someone had managed to get a fire truck. She saw the site manager and pushed her way towards him.

She gasped out, “What happened?”

He turned around and when he saw it was her started to direct her away from the tower. “Mrs. Nasser, please. You shouldn’t be here. Think of the baby.”

She waved that off. “The baby is fine. Tell me what happened.”

He hesitated. “Someone set a bomb. We think it’s the last of the resistance. They believe if the Weather Shield is made then they won’t have a place here. They are desperate.”

She sneered. “There will always be a place for people. Has the Professor seen this?”

He nodded and motioned towards the tower. “He is with the men. He’s trying to make sure the plant matter is safe. He said something along the lines as long as that is safe the project can go on.”

She agreed and said to the manager.

“Make sure the building is safe, but don’t worry, we can rebuild.” He shook his head.

“Some of the building material is irreplaceable, Mrs. Nasser. Please, go home. We’ll assess it all in the morning.”

She placed her hand over his and said, “I’m not going until my husband is here to take me away. We have risked enough. I don’t want to lose him.”

The manager paled. “No, Mrs. Nasser, the professor. Well, he is dear to us. No one would dare endanger him.”

She pushed him a little. “Then please make sure he doesn’t endanger himself.”

He nodded vigorously and rushed off. Elisha looked up. They were so close to completion. It was one setback after another. All she wanted to do was make it safe for people to live here. The rest was politics. She wished the city would make a truce with the rest of the outsiders and just give them a place to stay. She knew what they all feared, but it was all groundless in the greater scope of things.

The fire burned up one side of the almost complete tower. It appeared like gold fingers caressing the skin of the metal tower. It curled in and out of windows. The bottom part was black and no longer aflame. Maybe they could save some of it. Maybe.

Whatinga: January, 2062

The balcony of the home had a lovely view of the half-grown Weather Shield. Nasser had come up with the name Shield. He said it would remind people of protection, but never allow them to forget the price they had to pay to have it.

Elisha looked behind her at him resting. He tired quickly as he recovered from his burns. He would live, but with scars. She thought it ironic as she bore her own scars as well. Maybe all of them would. The world certainly would.

Warren cried in the other room and she went to him. She hummed to him a lullaby her mother used to sing to her. One of the other professors at the university was collecting things like the lullaby and was, with the help of another, setting up the internet again.

Elisha worried sometimes about what was lost. She was glad her mother’s lullaby wasn’t one of them. Warren finally settled back into sleep. He had his father’s hair and her nose. She smiled down at him. Her heart filled with love. She turned when Nasser whispered, “Is he asleep?”

She nodded and followed him out of the room. They went back to the balcony. He winced as he leaned on the short wall.

Frowning, she asked, “Are you all right?”

He said, “I will be. Isn’t it beautiful?”

She smiled. “I was admiring it just before. It should be fully grown within the month. Long before the winter months. We shouldn’t lose anyone from hypothermia this year.”

He came up behind her and placed his arms around her.

“You are a wonderful person, Elisha.”

She winced. “It will never make up for Auckland.”

She still dreamed she had said no to her government and never made the virus. She wished she had walked away. Instead, mostly she dreamed reality.

The bodies left in the street to rot because there hadn’t been enough people alive to bury them.

Nasser kissed her cheek even though she realised it would hurt with his burns.

“We can try, sweetheart, to fix our mistakes. It is only when we don’t, that it becomes unforgivable.”

I have also put up the preorder for the second book.


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