Hard – Kate E. Lore

Kate E lore is a resident of Columbus Ohio and a recent graduate of The Ohio State University. She has written over 17 print articles for Dayton City Paper including two cover stories. Kate has been work in various literary magazines, including a nonfiction comic feature in Helen Presents. Find out more at Kateelore.com

Inspired by ‘Cold Equations’ by Tom Godwin

Hard

            “What’s this I hear about a situation?” He asks. Torrins voice is thick like a partially clogged pipe, he clears it but the sleep is still in his eyes and across his face. It is early morning, in fact if they could see the sun from here they would know it had only been up for an hour at best.

A young elfish man pushes a cup of coffee into Torrin’s hands. It is at this moment that Torrins realizes that the man seems to be avoiding his eyes. Torrin’s gaze slowly moves across the room. No eye contact from a single one of them. Several of the girls are staring off out the window, others fidget with their fingers. One man, part demon, his face green and covered in thick scales, sits staring with a face as blank as the walls which surround.

“What is the situation?” Torrid asks this more directly. With the force of a commanding officer. There is no sleep left in Torrin now, his face expression is sharp, harsh and maybe somewhere behind the eyes a little bit weary. Torrin is the oldest here. In Fatum very few people live to reach middle age. Those who do must be hard, they say you must be so hard over there will be nothing left in the middle, solid through and through like a wall.

“I’m the situation,” a young girl says. Torrin turns around to find a young girl sitting in the desk seat. She must have just spun around as he hadn’t noticed her before. No he had not noticed this girl before, she had slipped right past him, but now this unfortunate child had Torrins full attention.

“The rest of you leave,” Torrin says abruptly. The room empties quickly, it’s all lowered heads and downcast eyes except for the lizard faced barbarian. That cold hard individual rolls his eyes then disappears. The girl herself stares directly at Torrin. She stares directly into his eyes as he faces her, not with fear, but with something hard like a solid wall that had been built for some time now.

“It’s a damn shame,” Torrin sysd. He lights a cigarette and passes it to the girl, then lights one for himself. She is thirteen years old at best, her thin undernourished frame looks awkward in the oversized labor uniform. Her skeleton arm lifts as it pulls a puff from the cigarette with ease and expertise. “You strike me as a hard kid. You could have had what it takes to make it…” Her uniform matches the same uniform as all the other girls on board the ship. That must be how she was able to get this far. It is only now that anybody realizes how much more dirty and stained her uniform is, how much more ratty her hair.

“I got to ride in a ship, I got to eat a good meal…” The girl’s eyes are somewhat glazed over as she speaks.

“Didn’t you realize what you were doing?”

“I didn’t know how many check points there were…”

“How could you be so stupid?” Torrin can feel the fury steady pounding in his head like a drum. He keeps his exterior calm, because he needs her to remain calm. “This is the Sheltered Lands we are talking about. The reason this place is safe, the reason this land is so ideal, is because they rarely every let anybody through.”

“We got through the wall.” The girl says Torrin couldn’t blame her, ignorance was in abundance in this country. Like most people of Fatum all she’d ever seen of the Sheltered lands was a wall so high it kissed the clouds, and so long it touched the horizon.

“There is, as you saw, the perimeter wall this involves a paper work certification and a transport scan, then there is check point A, the immigration scanners, blood certifications, check point B, much more paper work, physicals, vaccinations and shakedowns, and then a skeletal body scan before you are truly inside the Sheltered lands… Essentially we are still inside the wall, and you will never see the other side.”

“At least I got to see the inside.” The girl says this with a growl. Her hard eyes have narrowed as she looks to Torrins face. There is something accusatory there. She knows he will do nothing to help her, as much as she knows this, and as much as she would do the same in his place, she can’t help but hate him for it.

“Hey, this isn’t my fault,” Torrin says defensively. “If we are caught carrying an illegal through the gate we will all be killed. Every single person on this ship. There are twenty seven people onboard right now not counting you, four pregnant women, and six children under five and two too young to walk. Some of these people are here because their families have slaved their lives away to provide them with this opportunity. And you would have them all killed on your account?”

“I hadn’t realized…” The girl is quiet now. She closes her eyes and looks down. She breathes in then out. “I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to get out. In any case it’ll be over… so everything… worked out really,” Torrin clears his throat to speak but the girl continues before he can begin. “I worked for demons. The same breed that had killed my entire family. So called soldiers, but really just beasts with a collars on… They made me clean up… the people, what was left of them.”

Torrin faces the window. He can see wagons lined up across from him. They have reached check point A. He watches as a girl, older than this one sitting behind him, unloads purple fruits box by box as an official with a beam light inspects the product crate by crate. The bird beast pulling her cart begins itching itself and before anyone can react an official blows it away. Yellow feathers and red blood rain down like confetti. They don’t want any pests within the sheltered lands, and they mean that in every way possible.

“The moment I saw you I could tell you were different from the others, that you were hard instead of broken,” Torrin says. The girl says nothing. “If anybody can make it I think you could.”

The girl looks up at him and for a moment he see’s something gleam across her eye. It had been there just for a moment then it was gone. This child was too hard to cry, but for some reason it pleased Torrin to know that maybe somewhere deep inside she was still capable of it.

“If you go back you might be able to buy your way out the gate the way we came.”

“I have nothing of value, besides we all know the area outside the gate is the worst. They wait to pick off the rejects,” the girl takes a deep inhale from the cigarette then stands up. Her eyes are hard as a rock wall. Too late to go out, too early to go in. “Just let me out here.” She walks to the door directly across in the hallway. The door through the door. She walks with her head held high. Torrin can’t help but mentally compare her to all the other passengers who seem to walk with their heads hanging down from fear or shame. The shriveled beaten slave masses that survive but do not live. The majority of life here in Fatum.

Torrin hits the switch to open the door, but before he can say another word the girl is gone leaving nothing behind her but the smell of cigarette smoke.

“It’s a shame,” he says out loud to himself. “She was hard enough to make it when so few have what it takes… and I’m the only one who cares.”