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News & Features » June 2019 » “Walls” by Rhian Waller

“Walls” by Rhian Waller

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, social media usage determines the safety and security of a war-torn populace . . .

Walls
by Rhian Waller
Earth, very near future.

The walls divide more than inside and out: they run a sharp line between needs and wants. Before, the difference between hunger and craving was blurred—that’s why I was fat. Now, the division is clear. 

Example: I want to find my sister, but I need shelter, water, and food.

I find these in a hostel. Obviously, they scan my SoMo—social media—before they let me in. I’m neutral overall, which means I can enter. I’m unlikely to start fights with other sleepers.

There are twenty cots on my side of the partition, sixty on the men’s, with four set aside for non-binaries. I asked why that is. A staffer smiles sadly.

“Women find it easier to find a bed. They just might not be alone in it,” she says. Or safe, I think. I’ve never offered my body, but I’ve considered it sometimes.

The food comes from a vending machine. I buy a packet of ramen and go on a barefoot hunt for a kettle.

Whenever I enter a strange room, I look for Alex. The chances of finding her are miniscule. I’m hiding in Wales, and she’s off fighting running battles with neofascists and incels—if she’s still alive.

She was always the brave one, calling “Try it, Treen!” as I wavered beside the stream, rope in hand. “Just jump!”

I was always the chubby coward. 

I hope she wasn’t burned up in the Peterloo petrol attack or caught in the Manchester city center crossfire.

I pull a thin blanket up to my chin and roll onto my side. I use my bag as a pillow so no one can steal it. 

This can’t go on. I must pick a side sooner or later. I need a home. Alex found a place with the Social Justice Warriors. There’s a group in Snowdonia called Avalanche—they say that’s what happens when enough snowflakes get together. I don’t want to fight, though. I can’t even remember who threw the first punch. 

I fall into an uneasy half-sleep. 

Someone wakes me at 5:00 a.m. trying to unzip my bag. I push them away, though all that’s in there is a jumble of dirty underwear.

It’s cold and I can’t rest. 

I start walking at six, out into the foothills. I keep my phone on. The sensor will ping if I come across anyone, so I can check their affiliations. I can only do a surface scan of the things they didn’t delete, but it’s something.

The mountains grow from distant mist to solid stone. My old trainers leak and let the dew in. I spot Cadair Idris on the horizon: a grey, frozen wave. The base is somewhere beyond. 

I reach it at dusk, three hours past the mountain. I’m footsore and exhausted.

The compound, previously an eco-center, is surrounded by a force field. Two guards stand at the checkpoint, though the nearest big town is ten miles away. They pull me aside.

“Who’re you with?” asks the weather-tanned woman. Her grey-streaked hair is in a tight plait.

“Me.”

“Affiliations?”

“None.”

“Politics?”

“Liberal-left.”

“Beliefs?”

“I believe no idea is worth more than someone else’s life or freedom,” I say.

She looks at me.

“A lot of people disagree. Would you be able to kill someone who wants hurt you or a comrade?”

I decide to answer honestly. “I don’t know.”

“Okay. We’ll do the deep scan.”

I’m left in a small room with a window which looks out over charred branches. Last year’s heat wave left scars. I crane to look up the water-powered funicular. Alex might be here.

When they return, it’s clear I’ll never know.

“You liked a Britain First post in 2007,” the woman says. “They’re a prohibited group.”

“It was about stopping animal cruelty,” I said. “I just saw the picture of this poor dog. I unliked it when I realized where it came from.”

The woman looks tired.

“We let someone in two summers back. They’d followed a Daily Stormer journalist on SoMo. Then they reformed, apparently. One night, they set fire to our kitchens, crops, and orchard. We can’t risk it. Sorry.”

I nod, lift my bag. 

As I trudge into the dark, I remember they used to call it the social media “bubble.” People were fed the stories that supported their views, stoked their extremism, made them think ideas are worth more than life—other people’s lives. The thing is, bubbles pop, eventually. But walls are different. You have to tear them down.

***

RHIAN WALLER reads omnivorously but particularly loves the works of Angela Carter, Ursula LeGuin and the early writing of Jeanette Winterson. Her first published novel, Eithe’s Way, a magical realist thriller, was picked up by the Write Factor, an indie publisher, in 2014. She recently self-published the Rat Tales Trilogy (children’s books) to raise funds for APOPO HeroRATs, an anti-landmine organization. The first can be downloaded for free on Amazon. She is a former journalist and perpetual writer. She finished her first novel at thirteen. It was terrible. Sometimes she digs it out to read when she needs a giggle. 

***

Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jun 7, 2019

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,



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