If I Could Stay
The flume deployed from miles away, shooting up into the sky and dispelling a trail of smoke in its wake.
Another flume went up. Then another. Dozens more appeared, until the sky was a blue patchwork full of intersecting lines which rose and fell.
“But where do they go, Ami?” Carlan pressed her face against the window.
Her small hands splayed on the glass surface. Occasionally, her palm opened and closed, grasping at nothing.
Ami could see her faint outline in the window. Red flecks floated in her eyes, but when she blinked, they were gone. She hoped Carlan hadn’t noticed. There was precious time to spend together before she called on the Corp.
She considered Carlan’s question. There were many parts involved in answering, and she didn’t know how to fully explain the flume’s destinations, as she wasn’t sure.
“They go nowhere.” Ami paused. “And everywhere.”
As they spoke, the flumes continued departing, disappearing into the clouds and beyond. Ami and Carlan stayed at the window to watch. Each deployment lasted seconds, but the total deployment lasted an hour.
Hundreds of white shipments carried into the void.
Out of sight. Out of mind.
Ami’s eye itched, and when she wiped at it, her hand came away smeared with red. She used disinfectant to clean it off, trying to appear casual. Her demeanor betrayed none of the panic, none of the despair cresting inside.
A small gray button blinked slowly on the wall next to where they stood. Ami’s hand hovered over the button. Discreetly, she pushed it. The blink went from slow to rapid pulses. Everything would happen quickly now, and she was glad for it. She didn’t want to risk Carlan’s safety.
After the deployments ceased, Carlan crawled into Ami’s lap. She told her child comforting, familiar stories. Anything to forget what the flumes contained. What the flumes would soon contain, she reminded herself.
“We’re lucky to have been relocated near a deployment station.” She said.
Carlan nodded, her brown eyes opened wide in a beautifully brown face. She glanced from their sleeping mats to the cooking area. She struggled to form words.
Finally, she spoke from recovered memory. “Because the number of denizens lessens with each rotation?”
Ami kissed Carlan’s forehead. “That’s right.”
A chubby hand caught her face and turned it down so that they were looking into each other’s eyes. Ami willed herself not to cry. It wouldn’t do to get blood-tears everywhere.
“And you’ll not become a denizen anytime soon?” Carlan was expectant, small, and vulnerable. But the child was smart. Strong. The Corp would take care of her, make her stronger.
Initially, Ami’s instinct was to lie. A lie was alright, as long as it protected, right?
Despite her intentions, she answered, “Not anytime too soon, lovely.”
Soon was relative.
She hugged Carlan closer, watching the smoke trails dissipate into the air.