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"That's more than just an empty lot with junk piled in it. It’s home to half the barrio’s greenery, even if it is just weeds grown wild, and a place we all pass by without noticing. That's history, a time capsule. Back there," Bird said, nodding, "that's an old General Electric from before the plague, before Pan21. Audrey Steinholtz - who lived in that house behind the lot until she died from the virus - put it there."

"How do you know that?" Asked Kraut, "you weren't born when it was put there. Been there longer than any of us have been in the barrio."

"Mom. In some of her more lucid moments my mom was somewhat of a local historian. She knew all kinds of trivial stuff. Used to tell me all kinds of things. Said places like this lot had a life of their own. We’d know that, she would say to me, if we ever just took the time to look and listen. She said the same thing about our HealthPals."

She looked at her wrist where the mandatory HealthPal was embedded. Bird squinted towards the abandoned refrigerator, trolling remembered things her mother had told her.

"Mom said Steinholtz was sort of uppity and didn't want to just give it to anyone. Just left it there, thinking someone would take it. Seems everyone in the hood knew what Audrey Steinholtz was like and didn't want a refrigerator looking down its nose at them. So it just sat. All these years now and the door has fallen off and rust is eating it away. Then the whole barrio, kick-started by Pan21, just took on a life of its own and became a repository of forgotten things and people, like that old General Electric."

"Damn," said Kraut, staring.

"Way it is now in the barrio. Most needy people in the whole damn republic but they can’t get past a grudge, even to their own benefit. But that’s not half as bad as the story behind that freezer on the right." Bird pointed. "Clergy found a body in it one night, though my mom may have been strung out on Synth when she told me that story."

"Not hard to believe. Around here," said Kraut, "the dead show up every day. Hell, the clergy probably put it there."

"Now the dead show up. Not always. According to the chronicles of Veronica Karten - that would be my mom, pretty name, huh? - it wasn't a local. Some girl from Cherry Creek. And this was back when the barrio wasn’t the barrio, when the future looked different, before Pan21 showed up, before the dead became a regular part of the landscape."

"You see all of that, when you look at it. Don’t you?"

"If you are going to change something, Kraut, you have to first see it for what it is, how it got to where it is now. Otherwise, what really changes? What can you overcome, if not its history?"

"You going to change history, Bird?"

"That's the Barrio. There. Republic of Texas waste, sloughed off, rusting, growing neglected and more invisible every day, camouflaged by a bunch of lowly weeds. Things don’t like becoming invisible. A place like that festers, becomes angry and then starts lashing out, inviting worse things - just for attention, if nothing else."

Bird turned, looked at Kraut. "We aren't going to change history. We’re going to change the future. We’re going to turn that lot into a museum and tell the Barrio’s story so we never forget and never let it happen again. So we can build something here. Something that gives life. Doesn't take it."

"How are we going to do that? How are we going to change the world?"

"We change the world by changing ourselves, Kraut."

"And I get to be a part of this? I can do this?"

"Life is change, Kraut. And you and the rest of us are its agents. We can let things go and effect change, however minimal, by ignoring the place and pulling our heads back into our shells and becoming like the discarded appliances over there. Or, we can make the place in our own image, demand more, better, imagine the life we want. But this is where it starts. Right here."

Both turned and looked towards the rusted history in front of them, the forgotten shards of existence, the everyday detritus of lives once lived. Somehow, from the wreckage a vastly different future was forming, growing, demanding attention. Who better to make it happen than them?

A quad hovered close by, drifting a bit on the breeze. It’s propellers a quiet hum, a bit of background noise in the modern world. Like the HealthPal the quad was a constant reminder that everyone was expected to stay in line and that everything was connected. Though in the barrio those connections were flimsy at best. Bird rubbed her wrist, contemplating.

Softly, with an eye on the quad, Bird said, "We don’t have to live the lives they tell us to. We don’t have to be slaves, cogs in their machine. The barrio is like the wild west. We can write our own rules. We don’t have to live by theirs. You can cover a lot of ground, Kraut, just taking small steps. Our revolution begins because we decide we want flowers instead of weeds."

A new short story from the Pan21 / Oligoi universe. This is another writer's group story.

in category Fiction

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