Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams

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Fiction

Pledge Day

“Never be ashamed of who you are or where you came from,” Luke’s dad said every so often, and he meant it, but what he really meant was never let anyone talk down about the Founder, and never hide the fact that they were one of the Founder’s earliest Verified Families. Maybe not the richest, not by a long shot, but one of the first to make the choice. He said it more often as the time approached for Luke’s Hiatus, when Luke would probably do what his friends all did: Go sit in the woods for a week or do some fake-ass charity work, pretend it was a sobering and contemplative experience as the Founder had dictated it should be, then come back and Pledge, like they were always already going to have done.

Regard the miserable and the wretched with an open, generous heart—gratitude that you are set apart from them. That was a line from one of the Founder’s speeches.

The whole thing felt phony to Luke, but there was no way he could articulate that in a way that would not provoke either scorn or fury from his father. He didn’t even want to go on Hiatus—why not just Pledge and get it over with? It wasn’t like any kids of Verified Families ever decided not to. But his father made him because the Hiatus before the Pledge was an edict laid down by the Founder, and Luke’s father hadn’t worked his whole life to see his kid scoff at a Founder edict or dishonor the institution of the Pledge. “Your mother has booked your Pledge at the Cape Tower rooftop garden,” he began in his quiet do-not-give-me-any-shit Dad tone. Luke thought, of course she has. The Cape Tower was the tallest building in Maine, built so you could see it from anywhere in Portland. An ego trip come to steel and concrete life. Kind of a cool building, if Luke was being honest, but also a little on the nose. Everyone trying to prove their loyalty to the Founder’s ideals wanted to book their kids’ Pledges at the Cape Tower.

“You’re going,” Luke’s dad said, after a bunch of other stuff that Luke didn’t register. “I don’t care where. Be back in a week.”

Luke accepted this because he knew he had to. No matter what happened later, Luke resolved that he would always remember his Pledge Day with pride. Like everyone else in his family, he was going to believe in what he was about to have done.

• • • •

The last night of his Hiatus, stoned out of his mind on something Anjo gave him, watching the fog climb over the harbor islands and roll right up to the drowned waterfront. The top of the Cape Tower looms over Bug Light across the harbor. He’s spent the last six nights wading the flooded parts of Portland trying to do what the founder would have wanted, what his dad would have wanted: connect with some of the unbanked, understand their lives before he began his. But they ignored, or jeered. His father had never tried to understand them, not really. But Luke wanted to.

Hoo boy, he was wasted. Look at that fog roll in.

A memory rolls through his mind on chemical wheels.

He’s maybe ten, looking out the window of his dad’s car at a cluster of people waiting for work. One of them has a visible ragged X on his upper arm. “Whatever you do, don’t do that,” Luke’s dad says. “That guy just made sure that nobody will ever hire him to do anything except menial labor. Or something criminal. Some people don’t chip, and maybe they have their reasons.” The old man is unusually thoughtful today. “But when you just hack the chip out of your arm, you tell the whole world—the whole world that matters—you’re just saying fuck you, and Luke my son, when you say that to the world the world says fuck you right back.”

• • • •

The Founder had always admired the Amish—their simplicity, their calm resolve—so he suggested that before any new Verified Consumer Adult took the final step and rechipped, they be given a period of time among the Unbanked, the Unchipped, to experience that life in all its immediacy and fear. The Amish Rumsprigge became what the Founder called the Hiatus. A pause between adolescence and adulthood. A period of contemplation, free of coercion or influence, during which a young person could understand the gravity of choice and the fearsome liberty of being able to choose.

Although it stretched the Founder’s vital idea a bit, most kids in Portland went backpacking or some shit up into the mountains, like it was a vision quest. But since it was up to Luke and the Founder explicitly said that a young person could choose what to do on Hiatus with no judgment or pushback from parents, Luke decided to see something he’d never been able to in his life. The waterfront. The half-drowned, un-Pledged, mostly abandoned, sordid waterfront underbelly of the city he’d lived in all his life.

“People get killed down there,” his mother said.

“I get to choose,” Luke said.

“It’ll be fine,” his father said. “Everyone knows not to touch a kid on Hiatus. The lowlifes down there, if they did something to Luke they’d all be in manacles working the shrimp farms the next day.”

His mother looked at Luke’s arm, and he knew she was terrorized by the idea that soon his KidChip would be gone forever. He also knew that his father couldn’t wait. The KidChip was a tether for all of them, and Luke’s father hated tethers he had not himself knotted tight.

• • • •

He’s maybe eleven, fooling around at a construction site with some friends. None of them were supposed to be there. One of them got hit in the head with a piece of broken concrete. A chip, really, triangular, about the size that you might throw like you were skipping a rock, and then watch in dumb shock as it ricocheted off a pile of rubble and hit Oliver Zinke square in the side of the head. Ollie screamed like he’d been shot, and it wasn’t like there was even hardly any blood.

Only other part of that memory that matters is the dark anger on his father’s face when the distress signal from Ollie’s chip brought all the other parents running. Luke doesn’t want to remember anything after that.

• • • •

When the tide is high it pushes up over the armored footings of the old pier, swirling a foot deep around the benches in the old park past the ferry terminal. Perched on those benches, visible all at once as the fog briefly swirls away, are several young people, Luke’s age plus or minus a few years. They are the kind of people his father would never let him speak to if he wasn’t on Hiatus when all things are briefly permitted. They don’t look threatening. They don’t say anything. They just watch him.

This is my city, Luke thinks. I grew up here. Maybe I’m going to see what it really looks like at least once before . . .

“We’re all unchipped here, amigo,” one of the bits of human flotsam says, just as Luke was going to say something himself, but now he would never know what. “Some of us since we were like twelve. There’s a lot of money in people not being able to find you.”

Luke looks around at the group. He knows he’s pretty sheltered, and they’re deliberately challenging him, but his dad always said that true suffering inevitably makes itself visible on the face of the sufferer. That might be a Founder quote, Luke isn’t sure. The faces at the edge of the firelight look like they could tell stories that Luke wouldn’t want to hear.

“That’s right, rich boy. You’re just slumming down here, but for some of us it’s life.” He can’t tell which of them spoke.

“I’m not slumming, I’m . . .” He fumbles for the word. “I’m just trying to figure it all out.”

“Shit, let me know.” The girl who spoke that time gets up and sloshes over to the edge of the pier to piss.

“You’re one of the,” another kid says, but he doesn’t have the right words.

Luke knows what he’s talking about. “Yeah. I’m on my Hiatus before I Pledge.”

“You get a week, right? To figure all the shit out?” That’s a third kid—no, adult. Maybe as old as thirty. Weatherbeaten, a few gray hairs already showing in his beard. He sticks out a hand. “I’m Anjo. I don’t know what it is about you Founder types, but you sure seem to like this park.”

“Others have come down here?”

“Oh yeah,” Anjo says. “Confused and scared and pretending they’re more confused and scared because when you’re rich all your problems are worse than everybody else’s, am I right? What’s your name?”

Luke tells him. “Nobody else would talk to me.” It’s true, he’s been down here six days and nights, and the only words he’s exchanged with other human beings in that time have been transactional. Turns out the people down here have all the same drugs Luke is used to at school.

“Lukey-boy, I am at your service,” Anjo says. “This is a strange time for you. Probably you are trying to figure out a bunch of shit despite the fact that your upbringing has specifically denied you the tools to assess shit and figure it out, because the capacity for critical thought makes you unfit for a role as a useful cog in the world-spanning machine that’s killing us all.” He sits on a bench. Waves lap just under his dangling feet. “So. Hit me. What’s on your mind?”

• • • •

He’s nine. They’re driving past a park. They never walk anywhere if they can help it, because the wrong people might interact with them and it’s a damn shame, his dad’s saying, but people judge you on that stuff, Luke, and we just can’t take the chance. A million people are going to starve to death in the next month. A million more will die in heat waves. For Christ’s sake the National Guard is shooting people for pirating water in Phoenix.

His dad sees Luke watching a group of kids playing soccer in the park. Luke plays soccer too, in a league on fields under strict supervision by approved coaches who adhere to a specific curriculum of drills and exercises. If his KidChip ever pinged his location from this park, his mother would have a heart attack and his father would say what he always says: How can you waste this chance we’ve given you?

“Look, I could let you play with those kids,” his dad says. “They’re probably nice kids in their way. But there’s no forgiveness in this world, Luke my boy. Those kids have their path and you have yours. You take a step off it and you could lose everything. Every chance you might have. Ruined. Gone.”

Luke doesn’t say anything, but he pokes at the little lump in the back of his arm where his KidChip nestles between deltoid and triceps. He wants to play with those kids, but also he wants to be them. He wants to be anything but already decided.

• • • •

“Hiatus,” Anjo chuckled. “Yeah. The programmed dissent makes them all feel like they’re giving you a choice. I mean, you really think it makes any fuckin’ difference at all which bank brands the little bit of silicon you stick in your arm? You think the universe cares which social harvester you give first crack at your browser history?”

“No,” Luke says. “I mean, we’ll all be dead in a million years, and also fuck you. Sanctimony sucks, dude.”

Anjo laughs. A fog was coming up over the water, creeping into the harbor from the bay, swallowing up the low constellations of lights on the islands. “Day Seven, huh?” Anjo says.

Luke nods.

“So, tomorrow you’re gonna rechip? Or should I say Pledge?”

“Yeah.”

“And you didn’t decide yet what you’re gonna do.”

“Nope.”

“Well, then. What’s it gonna be, Lukey-boy? A classic like Chase or HSBC? Credit Agricole? ICB China? Or do you go with Amazon or Apple? Pegged to fiat or crypto? Stay clear of people who don’t want you to Pledge. They will attempt to beguile you with pernicious ideas such as independence and uniqueness, individuality! So they characterize themselves, but when you peel away the sweetness of the rhetoric you are left with one plain truth: They are jealous because they cannot become Banked; because they are not Banked they cannot truly choose. They are not Verified Consumer Adults. Do not be swayed from the path to your Pledge.”

Anjo sits back and rubs something on his gums. He holds the tube out to Luke, who accepts a fingertip’s worth of whatever it is and smears it across the inside of his lower lip. “That’s pretty good,” Luke says. “You sound like the counselor at my school.”

“That’s because my counselor sounded the same.” Anjo clocks Luke’s surprise and says, “That’s right, I had one too. But I was borderline, you know? I could leverage low expectations and get the fuck out. But you? Shit, you can’t get out. I mean, none of us get out, not really,” Anjo went on, drunk enough to be untroubled by contradiction. “We just decide our price.” He raised a bottle and Luke raised the bottle of whatever he had. Necks clinked. “Lukey-boy, you can’t say no to your demographic destiny any more than I can fly to the fuckin’ Moon,” Anjo said.

• • • •

He’s seventeen. His father is looking at him with pure slack-jawed disbelief that is at least three-quarters genuine. “A credit union? Seriously? Why are you doing this to me?”

Riding the tide of his idealism, Luke forges ahead. “I mean, wouldn’t it be good to keep our influence close to home? Like, to work with people we know? Maybe have some real influence over what our money is going to do out there.” He means in the world, but the vagueness of his experience of the world becomes vagueness of expression when he tries to talk about it. He remembers driving past a park where kids were playing soccer. Maybe they should have a real field. Maybe everyone should have more of what they need, and how’s that going to happen if everyone keeps grubbing after status relationships with trillion-dollar banks?

Why can’t he just say that? To anyone but his father he could.

“We went through all this Buy Local shit when your grandfather was a baby. The Founder knew, Luke. He knew that the idea behind a credit union was sound but in this world you gotta scale up. You pick the right bank, the sky’s the limit. You pick a credit union . . .” He trails off like the potential consequences are too flabbergasting even to enumerate. “I just don’t want to see you handicap yourself like that. You’ve got too much potential, Luke. I mean, you don’t have to go Santander like I did. That was the right choice for me, but you’ve got all those years of my work to give you a leg up and shoot higher.”

“I know, Pop,” Luke says. “I appreciate it.”

“Ah, it’s just what you do when you have kids,” his dad says.

Three days, Luke thinks. Then I go on my Hiatus. He’s heard from older friends that the Hiatus is either terrifying or liberating or clarifying or confusing. All Luke wants from it is a week to think about something without his dad bulldozing his way into Luke’s thoughts.

• • • •

“How come you won’t say his name?” Anjo asks.

“Who, the Founder?” Luke shrugs. “We just don’t.”

“Jackson Chopra,” Anjo says. Luke feels uncomfortable. “Yeah,” Anjo goes on. “Just a guy with a big idea he got people to believe.”

There’s more to it than that, though, as Luke has been told his whole life. The Founder transformed the relationship between Verified Consumer Adults (a status he defined and whose universal implementation he oversaw) and their banks. Everyone understood that now, or at least everyone Luke had ever known. He was from one of the old families who followed the Founder, bought in early as the chip tech matured. They were now the elders, keepers of the Founder’s legacy since he had left no children of his own, although in a way everyone who Pledged was the child of the Founder’s mind. Everyone did it now, even those who had never heard of the Founder and wouldn’t care if they had. His great accomplishment had changed the everyday lives of billions through one simple act: the Pledge. One person, one bank. Forever and ever.

Luke’s grandparents had been BNP on one side and Deutsche Bank on the other. Luke’s father exercised a tiny degree of rebellion, of which he was still proud, when he chose Santander, but that put him in several of the same social circles where Luke’s mother also moved, having also rebelled in a socially condoned sort of way. One thing had led to another, which had led to Luke.

Now he had a decision to make. Family said Santander, BNP, or Deutsche Bank. Farther back in his father’s family, many of the men had chosen Bank of America. On his mother’s side, there was a strain of Mitsubishi Financial. None of them had ever chosen a bank with less than a trillion in holdings.

By the time he explains all this to Anjo, Anjo has a knife out and is pretending to cut his own throat. Then he bursts out into hysterical stoned laughter that seems swallowed by the fog but then comes echoing back from another direction. “Fucking Jackson Chopra was just a banker who wanted to lock in access to generational wealth, you fucking dumbass.” He chunks the knife into the bench near Luke’s leg. “Take that so you can kill yourself the next time you have the impulse to tell that story, ‘kay?”

• • • •

The Pledge ceremony is less than an hour away. Luke is trying like hell to keep himself on an even keel, but his dad keeps looming over everything. Like now, he’s coming back as if he wants to rehash the credit union thing, which Luke only said to fuck with him in the first place because everything was already fucking with Luke and if he didn’t give some of it back he was going to lose his mind. It wasn’t just the world. Luke could say fuck you right back, too.

“You want to rebel?” his dad asks, rhetorically. “Knock yourself out. Get a hologram tattoo, gene-splice yourself some gills or a tail, whatever. Pierce your fucking brain stem if you want, I don’t care.” His father sweating, casting nervous glances around at the assembled witnesses to his only son’s singular rite of passage into Verified Consumer Adulthood. “This is already hard enough on your mother. She’s popping Xanax like Skittles over there because she can’t take the idea that she might not know where you are at some given moment coming up real soon. You want to add to that by fucking everything up for me?”

Luke chokes out a question that’s been on his mind for, oh, six or seven years. “Why is this about you, Dad?” Even the performative worry about his mom is just a way for Luke’s dad to rope her into his emotional arcology of self-doubt, hunger for validation, generally what you might call a martyr complex.

“Because I busted my ass for thirty years. Because my back will never be the same and my eyes are fucked up and I never had a hobby all because I wanted to make sure you and your sisters had the best leg up in this fucked-up world that you possibly could. I don’t do that, you’re right out there in the world, kid. The overheated, thirsty world. Not a rooftop garden looking down at . . .” The old man breaks off, his face bleak and confused. “Do what you want. Just . . . honor that a little.”

He walks away. Luke feels twisted, and it’s not just the minidose patches he’s been pasting onto his skin since he got up that morning. Anjo set him up and Luke is making them count. There’s a trickle of unease in his gut, like his conscience is a physical thing.

Who asked you, Dad, he thinks. I didn’t ask you. Deep inside he knows that no matter what happens today, in thirty years he’ll be giving his own kid that same sick, frightened look.

From the rooftop garden he can see across the harbor to the little park where Anjo and his crew are probably sleeping under a tarp strung from the rotting hull of a boat to the tangle of lilacs and beach roses along the old narrow-gauge railroad tracks. At least they can do that at low tide. Then the ocean will swell over it again.

• • • •

“Although,” Anjo admitted later, as the tide had crested and begun to recede, “Some kids don’t do it.”

“I heard that.”

“It’s true. You’re lookin’ at ‘em.”

“But how am I supposed to . . .”

“Yeah. Seems impossible, right? All you been told your whole life, how are you supposed to stand up against it all by yourself? Specially when if you go along, you get the chip, the bank, everything that goes with it. How many generations of Verified Consumer Adults you come from, Lukey-boy?”

“I don’t know. Four?”

“That’s great-great-grandparents. Seriously? You’d be talking about some of the first CA’s who ever got that status, like back in the 2040s or something. Shit, that’s far.” Anjo finds something in his pocket and tucks it into his lower lip. “Seriously? Five? What, your family rich?”

“No,” Luke says even though of course they’re rich, that’s the only reason he has the confidence to have a conversation like this with a person like Anjo. He wears his status like a sorcerous aura that attracts things like bank recruiters and resentment from non-Verified Consumer Adults, and he knows it. Mostly he ignores it, once in a while it comes in handy, and then there are the times like right now when everything is laid bare and Luke wishes he had been born at another time, another place, with different decisions to make.

“I gotta go, man. Day Seven.”

“I know you think you do.”

“What, should I stay here? Stand around a barrel fire and thumb my nose at all the other assholes who have a job and a place to sleep? I mean . . .”

“No, you got it figured out. Go on, Lukey. Your daddy’s waiting for you to do the right thing.”

But Luke isn’t quite ready to go yet. Technically he’s supposed to stay until sunrise ends the seventh night, and he’s determined to do things right. Anjo’s knife is in Luke’s back pocket. His Hiatus sojourn to the periodically flooded land of the unchipped will end with a relic, to be venerated when he looks back on this time later in his life. He’s never had a pocketknife before.

• • • •

Cape Tower, forty stories tall, looks down on Portland across the harbor and the older South Portland neighborhoods surrounding it. Ferry Village, Willard Beach, Knightville. A hundred years ago they were fishermen’s neighborhoods, rough around the edges. Anjo and his crew might have lived there, worked on the waterfront. What was the world like then, Luke wonders. How could it have been so different? He turns away from the view when his mother drops a hand on his shoulder and pulls him in for a hug. She’s skinny. Luke worries about her. When she steps back from the hug, her face shines with stoned pride. Luke wonders if his own chemical alterations are as visible. He thinks no, because his dad would have lectured him about it.

Everyone in the rooftop garden, forty stories above Portland Harbor, gravitates toward the rows of chairs facing a lectern and dais. They sit, all these colleagues of Luke’s mother and father, relatives from far and wide, some of his friends’ families. Luke stands off to the side of the dais. He’s itchy and he can’t get his eyes to stay still.

The celebrant steps up onto the dais. He’s a Chase, but also an old friend of Luke’s mother. This rankles Luke’s father a bit, but he believes himself to have a canny understanding of which battles are winnable, so he let this one go. Really what that means is he didn’t want a fight with Luke’s mother.

Beyond the celebrant the sky is blue and infinitely empty. “This is a big day, huh?” he says, professionally jovial. “Man oh man, it sure is. Every kid has to decide on Pledge Day. We tell them about it for years, they watch other people do it, they’re bombarded with the images of it and the idea that everything in their life depends on what they do at this moment. And you know what? They’re right.” Luke can feel his father’s gaze boring into the back of his head. “But you know what else? Everything in your life depends on what you do at any other given moment too.” Hear that, Dad? “The point is that every choice matters, and Pledge Day is both about itself and about the larger point that as a Verified Consumer Adult, each of us has to understand the value of choice.”

• • • •

“Is that, like, a thing?” Luke asks, pointing at the X-shaped scar on Anjo’s left arm. “I saw a guy with a scar like that once and my dad said he’d cut out his chip, like it was some political thing or something.” In the fog Anjo and the others are indistinct, their voices floating without origin. Luke realizes how little he’s slept these past six, now seven nights—and how much he’s drunk, how many little patches he’s slapped on the insides of his arms.

“Might be,” Anjo says. Luke can’t see his face. “Me, I never had a chip. I did it to make people think I had. Long time ago. Now it doesn’t matter. Scars tell their own story, Lukey-boy. Don’t matter what you want ‘em to mean.”

• • • •

The celebrant beckons Luke over. “Ready, pal?” he asks quietly, with a little grin and a wink. I’m not your pal, Luke thinks. He returns the celebrant’s little grin, though, because to do otherwise would be disrespectful of him, of the occasion, of Luke’s father, of the Founder himself. The celebrant does a take to the crowd—ain’t this a great kid?—as Luke shrugs out of the robe. He’s in good shape, but still all those eyes on him make him self-conscious. Good thing the patches are small and transparent. The celebrant holds up a long thin knife. “Luke’s ready,” he says, beaming. “Is the world ready for Luke?” A few chuckles from the audience. The celebrant strokes a thumb down the back of Luke’s left shoulder, finds the right spot, and cuts into Luke’s upper arm, where his KidChip has been since he was four years old. Blood trickles down to his elbow and then his wrist as a hush settles over the witnesses. The blood isn’t necessary—the entire ceremony could have been done with a cool laser to destroy the old chip and a subcutaneous injector to install the new one. But without blood it wouldn’t be a rite of passage, and the Founder wisely understood that the relationship between a Verified Consumer Adult and a bank should be ritualized. Therefore blood. Luke watches it stick in the hair on his forearm, already beginning to clot and dry.

The KidChip comes out with a little tug that’s more painful than Luke wants to show. The moment hits him harder than he expected. Unchipped for the first time since he was three years old.

His KidChip is like anyone else’s. One of his first memories is watching it go in, on the end of the little pokey thing whose name he never learned. It hurt but he sat still because he understood it was important to his parents that he sit still and be a good boy. Behave correctly. Show that he was being raised right.

Afterward his dad tousled his hair and gave him a rare hug. “We’re going places, Lukey. You’ll see. This family, together.”

His mother hung back a little, her gaze fixed on the tiny bruise on the back of his arm.

“Shells, you’ll see. I know it was a lot of money, but it’ll be worth it.”

“I know,” she said with tears in her eyes. Luke couldn’t understand why she was crying, but then again he didn’t understand why he was crying either.

“Jeez, you two,” his father said.

Now Luke looks out over the sky, the city, the harbor. Anywhere but at his dad. Instead he looks at his mother. She gazes steadily back, but her face is so tight a stray raindrop would crack it apart. Suffering is always visible on the face, Luke thinks. I could run. She wouldn’t know where I was. Nobody would. His grandparents had told him stories about running around with nobody knowing where they were. To Luke they had seemed like stories about Paul Bunyan or Lancelot or Ali Baba. How could anyone live like that?

An old question for a much younger Luke.

You can’t say no to your demographic destiny. Anjo’s voice in his head. What did that even mean.

The celebrant rests a hand on Luke’s shoulder. “You okay to go on, son? We don’t have to do it all in one day. Remember, Nine Days Quoth the Founder. This is eight. You can sleep on it.”

“No,” Luke says. “I’m ready.”

He’s not a kid anymore. But also not yet an adult.

On the table in front of Luke and the celebrant is a long flat aluminum case. He opens it, revealing a line of six chips in sterile sealed packaging. He holds the case up so everyone can see, and a murmur ripples through the crowd as various pairs of augmented glasses pick out the roster of potential banks: Credit Agricole, Chase, Deutsche Bank, Santander, BNP, Mitsubishi. All solid, respectable choices, most with some family history. Relief radiates from his parents so intensely that Luke imagines convection currents visible in the air around their heads. He wants them to be proud. He wants them to know he understands that choices matter—that being able to make choices matters.

He picks a chip, but with his head down so nobody can see that he has closed his eyes.

• • • •

“I mean, what would you do if you didn’t go through with it?” Anjo asks. “Don’t matter to me, but you should think it through, you know?” He watches Luke’s face. “Yeah. That’s not even a real possibility to you, is it? You’re like doing some kind of pretend thing, but in the end people with houses on the Western Prom don’t do shit like refuse to pledge.”

“I could,” Luke said.

“In what world,” Anjo counters.

This one, Luke thinks, but he can’t think of a way to say it that will convince Anjo, so he just sits watching the little fire as the tide rises around the pilings and the moon creeps slowly down toward the invisible horizon. Soon enough he’s alone and the fog has drifted away, receding beyond the harbor and the islands again. Light bleeds into the sky. Luke feels that he has done right by the Founder’s vision.

• • • •

The celebrant presses the injector to the skin on the back of Luke’s right tricep. It makes a sharp snap as it fires the chip into one of the deep subdermal layers of Luke’s skin, and with that snap comes a collective sigh from the audience, like they’ve all been holding their breath for minutes, hours, days, and only now that Luke has Pledged can they all begin to breathe again.

He can hear all the voices whose echoes he’s dredged up these past seven nights. It won’t make any difference. Can’t fight demographic destiny. The world says fuck you right back. Some bad decisions stay with you.

Everyone is clapping. The celebrant looks at Luke, pride shining in his eyes. The same pride shines from his father’s eyes, and his mother’s. Luke looks at his arm. X marks the spot, he thinks. I’m all grown up. He raises Anjo’s knife and begins to cut.

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Alex Irvine

Alex Irvine. A middle-aged white guy wearing a blue and orange winter coat, leaning against basalt columns.

Alex Irvine’s original fiction includes Anthropocene Rag, Buyout, The Narrows, Mystery Hill, A Scattering of Jades, and several dozen short stories. He has also written graphic novels and comics (The Comic Book Story of Baseball, The Far Side of the Moon, Daredevil Noir), games (Marvel Avengers Alliance, Space Punks, The Walking Dead: Road to Survival), and a variety of licensed projects including the best-selling artifactual “metanovel” New York Collapse. Originally from Ypsilanti, Michigan, he lives in South Portland, Maine. Find out more at alex-irvine.com or on Twitter @alexirvine.