Author’s Note: I have this story that I started, one set in a post-apocalyptic world where the population suffered heavy losses from a plague. The measures that were taken after the plague are probably too extreme, but I couldn’t help exploring the awkward situations created by something that extreme, at least a little.
This section is not about the extremes. It’s a moment between two strangers trying to find a way to negotiate their survival after coming up against an unjust policy.
In short, it’s a brief moment where they start to bond, though by the standards of their world, they are “bonded.”
He touched her arm. “I know you’re going to get annoyed by my repetition, but we need to learn how to live and work together.”
“I know. I don’t mean to be difficult, and I know I am. I’m sorry. I don’t want to be impossible to live with or work with. I’m just… nervous and upset.”
He moved his hand from her arm, holding it out to her, palm up. “Please sit down. We can’t do anything else right now. Our only option is learning about each other. That’s what we need anyway.”
“You’re too calm.”
He laughed, shaking his head. “I’m not. I… I work in the relief ministry.”
“You work for the bureau of complaints?”
He winced at the nickname, but he did not deny the truth of it, either. “I deal with thousands of people who need or want things, who make your version of impossible seem rather like waiting in the main ministry office—”
“That boring? Is that even possible?”
“I might be prone to a bit of exaggeration. I make things up in my mind—it helps pass the time. It’s not that I—I shouldn’t say it, but I hate my work. I learned, like we all do, to act as though what we hear or the people we help don’t affect us. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have any employment.”
She shook her head. “That doesn’t seem like the right job for you. The career assessment picked that for you?”
“It’s not what I wanted. I wanted to go to school. I wanted, of all things, to study history.” He smiled, looking away from her, remembering something he did not share with her. Then he shook his head. “I just… don’t have the aptitude for it.”
She frowned. She didn’t believe that. Nothing in their conversation so far suggested that he was too stupid to learn. He seemed intuitive, knowing how to help calm her despite her stubbornness and lack of cooperation, and he displayed a capacity for reasoning and even some strategy. “That can’t be it. You must be one of those people that doesn’t test well.”
He laughed. “I think that would seem to be true. After all, we’re here, aren’t we?”
She smiled. “Yeah. All right, tell me something about history. Something interesting and that no one else knows.”
“If it’s history, it’s generally known by more than one person. Still… Have you ever heard of the strangers that came to our land centuries ago? The ones that thought we must have been a part of the rainbows… or living flowers?”
She shook her head. “No. That’s absurd. They said that because our skin has so many different colors? We may have the variety of one of those things, but we are not in any way a plant—I don’t care how the light changes our skin pigment—and nothing can be a part of a rainbow except light itself.”
He took a piece of her hair and turned it over in his fingers. “You could resemble a rainbow to some strange, lost wandering folk. We were a myth to them. Some sort of living legend.”
“For space travelers, as I assume they must have been, they were fools. Who were they?”
She giggled, leaning against him. “Like I said, they were fools. Did you know that we were supposedly divided by color? Reds only married reds, blues married blues, greens married greens, and so on…”
“That cannot be true. How could you be here if that were true, Miss Pink?”
“You’re asking me that? What about you? You’re white—no, gray—no, a light brown. It shifts with the light, but there’s no name for that color.”
“I suppose you could call it that.”
“I like to think of it as that. If I were any paler, I would be like something out of those old horror myths they used to believe in centuries ago, long before the plague.”
She grimaced. “They tried every possible scientific means of creating and sustaining the lifeforms described by those myths. They searched everywhere and everything. The myths were just that—myths. Only fools believed in them then, and none of those fools exist now.”
“Are you sure about that? What if I was bred to that purpose, too? It would explain why I look the way I do and why the test results are flawed. I was supposed to be a vampire.”
“In those old myths, the males were always charming, handsome, and irresistible.”
“And I’m not?”
“Not at all.”
He smiled. “I think I like you.”
Hmmm. Very curious. I didn’t quite understand what they were, and I felt a little infodumped in a couple of paragraphs, but interesting. Intriguing.
That’s the trouble with picking an excerpt that’s some weird place in the middle. I wanted to share something from this one, and I almost put in the beginning instead, but that didn’t work well. Now I’m wondering if I need to back the beginning up a bit, give some more time between when the main part of the story and the opening of the book, just to give it some time to settle in and fill in the background without an infodump. :/ I’m not sure at this point.
If it’s just an excerpt, don’t even worry about the full-length piece. I would be just as happy to keep reading to find out more.
This was the only dialogue bit that didn’t read very smooth to me: “They tried every possible scientific means of creating and sustaining the lifeforms described by those myths. They searched everywhere and everything. The myths were just that—myths. Only fools believed in them then, and none of those fools exist now.”
It sounded like as you know, Bob.
There might be a lot of info-dumping in the first part of it as well. That’s what I was thinking after your comment on this section.
Yeah… I wanted it clear that all belief in vampires, werewolves, and other myths had died out, so I figured a society like this had weeded out that kind of belief by science. It is an awkward bit of dialogue, though, and some of it might have been better as her thoughts or cut all together.