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Inspirational Science Fiction

She looked into my eyes. Sad, wistful and sorry. Went up on her tiptoes in order to kiss my cheek. Then crossed the street. It was only once she was over there that she spoke again. Shouting to be heard, but also perhaps to emphasize her message by saying it to the world. ‘I love you.’

I was sad and mentally numb from trying to feel out solutions and finding none.

Julia picked windswept hair out of her face, and looked imploringly across the street at me. The warm wind was picking up. Suddenly the wind intensified. Dust and grit swept by the strong summer winds off the farms south of the city pelted our faces. I shielded my eyes with my hand. The wind died away, and I saw her just standing there, seeming even smaller than she normally did. She said, ‘It’s okay. I know that’s one boat you can’t get on.’

I just stood there looking confused. ‘I wish there were a way, but…’

‘It’s okay. I know you can’t say it, and I understand.’ Suddenly her frown disappeared and an impish grin lit up her face. ‘Oh, and dare I “brooch,” the subject of my birthday present?’

She knew of my recent trip to Scandinavia, and of my near-miraculous find of a brooch belonging to her great great grandmother, after much research. I opened my mouth to reply, then realized that this talking-over-the-street was a bit ridiculous for a conversation of this length. I stepped forward to cross, almost getting hit by a cyclist I’d not noticed.

‘Oh my godfathers, be careful!’ Julia said, alarmed. ‘Look, I’m taking off. I’ll see you at eleven this evening.’

Reminded anew of her impending departure I was instantly gloomy again. I watched as she put her helmet on, careful to avoid getting that beautiful light brown hair tangled in the old-fashioned chin-strap clip. Julia mounted her unpowered bike, then, after a brief take-off wobble, peddled down the road.


The boat taking Julia to the Indonesian elevator port departed at midnight. I would’ve loved to find a miraculous solution so we could be together, but realistically that simply could not happen. I turned to head back to my apartment, noticing The Stacks out of the corner of my eye as I turned. They were hills of materials removed from human structures around the islands, and neatly stacked in fantastic piles as high as large hills. The Stacks had mounted and mounted for years, not just around here, but at distribution nodes all over the planet. Cities, and everything human-made in them and between them were slowly dismantled and the resources reclaimed and packed into crates, or reprocessed into the largest 3D print-stock cubes that could be used in the standard machines, then packaged on pallets and left to mount and mount. And then, over a much smaller time-frame, now the space-port and its three elevator lines were complete – the stacks lowered as the materials were freighted to one of the lines and sent “upstairs” for use on LV2.

I guess the problem came down to the fact Julia and I were still based down here on Earth. Although the twin McKendree Cylinders that were to be humankind’s next home were still under construction, they were basically at the final internal fit-out stage, and people could easily live there. The twinned cylinders’ orbit around Earth was swept of debris and stabilized. All the safety/security, power, water, atmospheric and continuity systems were in place already. And twelve of humanity’s fourteen billion humans were already calling planet Earth "Lifeboat Version 1," and the Cylinders "LV2." And "home.”

Over half of the remaining two billion of us still down here on Earth were specialists, including Julia and I. And that meant we were passionate about our calling. So neither of us could really avoid our destinies. The thing was, we loved each other, partly, because of how passionate each of us was about our specialty. It was just that those specialties were leading us in very different directions.


Keys were an anachronism in our modern world of biometric chips and swipe cards, but I’d amassed a big key-ring full of them during my last expedition. It had a pleasing weight in my pocket, and I’d found myself carrying the key-ring with me after I’d gotten back. I hefted them in my pocket, enjoying the clinking noise they made, and turned down the next street. The city here was still bustling. It certainly seemed to be packed when I’d arrived back from the most recent expedition. It had been emotionally draining. Helsinki had missed selection as a permanent relic by a pretty narrow margin, so, unlike places such as London, Paris, New York, St Petersberg, Rio, Beijing, Sydney and so forth – which would be getting their own permanent caretaker crews – that city would be deconstructed and its materials sent to the distribution nodes, almost all of which would be sent upstairs. Only artifacts of “historic, cultural, or religious significance,” would be saved instead of being reprocessed. Artifacts could be big. Some were building sized. Small artifacts were no problem, and most of those had already been sent up. A few of the very largest, (think the Burj Khalifa, the great wall of China and the Egyptian pyramids…) would stay in situ, and get added to the route of regular Inspection/Maintenance teams. But most were to be moved up to LV2, even if it meant dismantling and rebuilding them. I headed up one of the teams with the unenviable task of assessing just what makes an artifact, “significant.” There were a lot of obvious keeps in Helsinki, with value in the range of the Sibelius monument. But there were thousands that weren’t at that level, yet had their crews of rabid supporters. The thing was, with less significant pieces, new rules did come into the picture somewhat. I mean, obviously we’re not going to chuck the Sea Fortress Suomenlinna on the trash-heap, but the Uusi Kino Engel cinema? It’s nice, and very important to many people, but if deconstructing it’s going to destroy it (without insane quantities of resources and time being spent,) perhaps we need to make our peace with losing the place, you know?


I crossed Grosvenor Street and walked alongside my apartment, continuing on past the first couple of entries. The building was on the new edge of the city now that the outer areas had been reclaimed. I turned down Elgin Street, which ran through my building, glancing up ten stories to the ceiling over the street, reached the next entry, and went in.

Sometimes the battle was the other way around. Moving the artifact, even if it didn’t need to be deconstructed, or if it would be put back together exactly as it was, was the sacrilege. It and the place belonged together. And its supporters would offer/demand/threaten to live there and preserve it after everyone else had gone upstairs. Suffice it to say, some of our decisions were not popular. Fortunately we did have the backing of the world congress and, overwhelmingly, of public sentiment. The bad old days of partisan politics, terrorists and distrustful-of-authority anti-‘x’ers and ‘x’-deniers were pretty much a thing of the past now. The human climate of those times had led to – almost lead to – the death of the actual climate. And the survivors realized that all our problems had been linked back to an extremely corrosive form of economy – capitalism. It was so entrenched though. Other economic models, healthier models based on the common good had been designed. They were even working – in a small way, in the early twenty-first century. But abandoning capitalism, something that was engrained in almost every facet of how the human world worked? Yeah. Challenging. Yet, somehow, it was done. Doing the right thing can seem impossible. Counterintuitive even. But that doesn’t stop it from being right. The significantly smaller human population ratified a new global constitution, embedding democracy and the new form of economy around the world, and a newer, healthier, more enduring form of humankind was born.


The human population rebounded slowly after TGC, and built to a surge in the last ten years. Even now though, with a far healthier economic set-up, pressures were again being felt on the planet. Earth’s ability to clean pollution and rejuvenate the atmosphere, water and land had simply been too damaged by the ignorant second-lifers as we called them. Significant improvements had been and were continuing to be made, but a lot of that early damage would take tens of thousands of years to truly repair, so the plan was to evacuate humankind, leaving only a caretaker crew.

I was now walking through my building’s indoor atrium, a ten-storey-high fully enclosed “open space,” fed with extremely realistic light, wind and other atmospheric effects, very popular as a meeting and hanging-out area. As I reached the lifts, I passed several posters advertising a play on currently that I’d taken Julia to, called Third Time’s a Charm?, referring to the popular trope that current human civilisation was on its third and final chance, the first being everything prior to the industrial revolution, and the second going from the industrial revolution until TGC, or, “The Great Collapse,” period, when war, climate change, pollution and the resulting scarcities and mass migrations put societies under so much stress that most collapsed, and Earth’s population had gone from almost nine billion down to less than two. TGC was fortunately not humanity’s end, I reflected, as I entered the lift, and responded, ‘Fifty-seven’ to the polite voice enquiring as to my destination level. I leaned against the wall, deep in thought. We “third-lifers” based our politics and economy on democracy and ethics, and that made all the difference. No longer could wealth be hoarded by the few, at the expense of the many and of the environment. The system wasn’t perfect, and many claimed that the yearly Recommitment and Reformatting meetings of the world’s leaders amounted to mere tweaks, when increasingly large changes were needed for progress. As I stepped out of the lift on 57, I again reflected on my own position. Yup. I was still fully in the camp of the traditionalists, the CED, as they’d started promoting their position as. It just made sense to me.

I swiped the entrypad and my apartment door opened. Community, Environment, Democracy. They were the fundamentals of how we had rebounded as a species, and I felt confident that they were the principles we could and should rely on, moving forward. I knew many felt the allure of the modern Excellence movement. I could see the appeal. But to me, it was just the same old capitalism that had once sent the world to the brink, just with a different name and a couple of not-very-reassuring safety valves built in. I sat heavily down in the chair by my workstation, stared at the on button for a while, then swiveled my chair to face the floor-to-ceiling window, and gazed out at the edge of the city and The Stacks, beyond. I got back up angrily and walked over to the water dispenser, and punched the button for a glass of water. All this thinking about my project and about politics was just a way of distracting me from the reality I was facing. Julia was going upstairs, up to LV2. And I was not, and there was nothing I could do about it. I wished I could tell her how I felt about her. But how could confessing my love for her help when we were destined to be apart?

I lay on my bed and looked at the ceiling. White, and covered in tiles that yielded a pleasing continuity despite the fact they were asymmetric. Julia. Beautiful. Kind. An amazing educator. Her skills would be needed on LV2. LV2 was a good next step. Earth could probably support a thousand times our current population, at least now that we’d developed a healthier culture of kindness, strong work ethic, appreciation of diversity, and basing decisions on good science and good morality. But once the report had come out that, advanced as we now were, we simply didn’t have the science to solve some of the major ecological problems facing the planet, we worked collaboratively to solve our own next step. And came up with LV2. Carbon nanotubes could now be reliably produced in quantity, so the McKendree Cylinders, massive twin cylinders in Earth orbit that produced spin gravity inside, were realistic. They could house twice our current population in relative comfort. Many considered them humankind’s greatest achievement.

Julia. I loved the way she picked hair out of her face in the wind. The way she’d stopped that kid in the park from throwing stones at the ducks, and how she’d handled it so well that he hugged her before racing back to his mother. The way she yawned to deflect compliments. I laughed a little to myself just thinking about that. That she’d cried when looking at a picture of the dog her family had had when she was a kid. How she always put other people’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. We’d been introduced to the severely disabled daughter of the hosts of a party we’d been at a couple of weeks ago. My first reaction had been sympathy. Julia’s had been: this girl has real value.


The building’s AI sounded a series of rising tones and said, “Sorry to wake you sir. The time is five minutes to seven. Dinner will be served in the community dining room in five minutes.” I rubbed my eyes, chucked my shirt in the freshener for 20 seconds, and went to dinner. But I was still in a pensive mood. I ate little, and chatted with my neighbours far less than usual. After I got back to my apartment I realized there was little point in kicking around there, and headed over to The Portage café, where I was due to meet Julia a few hours later. I’d have a coffee and probably play some backgammon with the usual crowd to take my mind off my situation until she arrived.


I’d lost the first couple of games to Joss pretty badly. She knew this was my last evening with Julia, so whispered, ‘Good luck,’ as she got up to head off. Then, louder, ‘You’re going to have to step it up my friend. Look who’s comin’ over.’

I swiveled my head and saw Amphai heading in our direction. I nodded him over to the seat Joss had just vacated. He had a couple of 0% beers with him, one of which he put down in front of me. ‘Hello there mate!’ he said with characteristic chirpiness, in his slightly unusual grasp of Kiwi mannerisms. Our conversation turned, naturally enough, to the Excellence vs CED question, Amphai himself being firmly in the first camp. At least it got me out my funk enough to take a couple of games off him, though we had to agree to disagree on the question of philosophy. I mean, even if he was right when he posited that allowing a more uneven distribution of resources was a focusing mechanism for brilliance – which I was unconvinced about – how could the imbalance be stopped? Wouldn’t it just turn into a negative feedback loop? And wasn’t there a danger of minorities missing out in terms of resources and opportunities? And wouldn’t that lead back to the racism and sexism that had been so prevalent and so destructive pre-TGC?

‘Hey! Julia,’ Amphai shouted as he noticed her diminutive form making its way through the crowded café towards us. She waved a greeting at him and leaned down to kiss me. Amphai said, ‘I will just going. I see you, mmm, upstairs in a couple of months, yes?’

She smiled and nodded, and the two swapped positions. Amphai had turned to go, but suddenly turned back and gave Julia a big bear hug. She squeaked, ‘Oh my godfathers Amphai!’ but he just looked concerned.

‘Take care,’ he said, surprisingly sincerely. Then he headed off, leaving the two of us alone.


I’d given her the brooch, smiling at how moving she found it. But that wasn’t the real gift I had planned. My guts were a mass of wriggling red hot snakes. Julia had given me her love months ago. And often since then. Yet, other than the occasional flippant distracted “…love you,” as one of us was leaving the room, all I’d given back had been, “Cool,” “You’re amazing,” “This gal, I tells ya!” And then, “I’m a lucky guy,” “You’re sweet,” and “Being with you is the best!” Maybe there’d been a couple of, “…and I like you a lot”s. I’d known we were heading in different directions before I’d known I loved her. But now… though my practical mind knew it may make things worse, I had to do it. I came and sat on her side of the booth, put my arms around her, looked right in her eyes, and said deeply, sincerely, 'I love you Julia. God knows I love you. It’s true. My loving you is so absolute it’s outside of my control. I’m sorry I waited until now to tell you. I’m sorry that we can’t be together. I wish you love and happiness on LV2. It breaks me knowing that I can’t follow you up there.' Her sobs were a mixture of joy and devastation, and that broke me at an even deeper level. But telling her had been the right thing to do.


Later, as I morosely walked back to my apartment after seeing her off at the port, I equated my situation with the question facing the devastated, yet determined to recover humanity, just when TGC seemed bleakest. Doing the right thing can seem impossible. Counterintuitive even. But that doesn’t stop it from being right.

November 21, 2022 20:51

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10 comments

Graham Kinross
01:10 Feb 06, 2023

The ideas this is built on are great. It gives you so much to work with and you can even make more of this and built it into a series.

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19:44 Feb 06, 2023

Thanks Graham. Appreciate you taking the trouble to read it and reply so long after this particular weekly competition has finished!

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Graham Kinross
21:03 Feb 06, 2023

You’re welcome.

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Wendy Kaminski
21:21 Nov 30, 2022

What a noble (if sad) ending! The new ideas in this were intriguing, and I hope you will be joining this week's prompt about the brilliant scientist's new discovery (or invention)... something tells me you have a wealth of them in intellectual reserve. :) Thanks for an interesting read!

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23:18 Nov 30, 2022

Thanks for your feedback Wendy, much appreciated. Probably don't have time to get a story together this week unfortunately, but I'll keep an eye out for similar prompts in the future. All the best, Marcus

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Emory Tales
13:29 Mar 25, 2023

Great story and world building. I liked the reclamation idea, it was well thought out and not something I’ve heard used before. The politics and heavy anti-capitalism babble was a low point though. I am curious though why was the main character selfish at the end? He placed his own desire to feel he had ‘done the right thing’ over Julia’s emotional welfare by adding a last minute tether to her. Knowing full well she was powerless to change her course.

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00:58 Mar 26, 2023

Hi Emory, thanks for taking the time to read my stories, I'm flattered by your interest in them, and appreciative of your feedback. Sorry to hear the anti-capitalism bent of this story didn't sit right with you. It reflects my own (strong) views, though I do (mostly in longer stories to be fair,) try and have an opposing position in order that characters in the story who are advocates of both sides can create tension/suspense/mystery - mostly balance. There was a little bit of this with the "Excellence," movement, but I didn't really hav...

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Michał Przywara
21:50 Nov 28, 2022

There's a huge theme here, of doing what's right, no matter the personal cost. No wonder, considering the world these third-lifers inherited. It's not enough to invent better systems, they're still stuck fixing the fallout from previous generations. This driven idealism is what makes the end acceptable - they cannot be together, because each has work to do, and they believe in that work. It's a tragic end, though of course, who knows what the future holds. You've got a rich vision of the future here, and the idea of packing up old Earth,...

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02:44 Nov 29, 2022

Hi Michał. Thank-you very much for taking the time to read my story and give such detailed feedback. Much appreciated. I've read about 8-10 other stories in this category so far (and taken the time to provide feedback, so I know it does take a fair bit of time,) and ironically, a significant amount of my feedback has been the opposite of what you've said, i.e.: too much delving into feelings, I need background and action! Doesn't make your feedback any less true though. I probably could've devoted a bit more time to the emotional contex...

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Michał Przywara
21:39 Nov 29, 2022

Heh, you're right of course :) It's a matter of preferences, and what can be fit into a short story. Now that I reflect on it again, and considering your story is sci-fi, it reminds me of the classic sci-fis of last century. Asimov, Clarke, et al. More speculative and presenting an interesting and rich possibility for the future.

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