July 2007, Drollerie Press
young adult futuristic romance
Falling was first published by itself, and then in the StereoOpticon anthology from Drollerie Press. It is currently not available.
Safety is an illusion.
When the world crumbles into chaos, only a chosen few can afford the luxury of life in towers built to soar far above the pollution and destruction on the ground. Life up in the air is full of beautiful things and beautiful people. What happens when you’re not one of them? What happens when everything you believed about the world turns out to be a lie?
You fall. Or you learn how to fly…
Although Linnet could hear the city, she never saw it. If she leaned out of her bedroom window she looked down through clear air, past the shining sides of tower blocks, to the smog where it shifted around the lowest levels of the towers in slurry-coloured billows, glittering where the sunlight hit it.
Hidden beneath it were the ground and people and hideous antique vehicles gridlocked in a hot stink of metal and fumes. Up here, their roar came to her as a distant familiar noise.
She was lucky, she knew. Fantastically lucky, when you thought about it. Millions of people down there, stuck in the smog and the noise, trying to protect themselves from the worst of the poisons with primitive, ineffective breathing gear.
It took money to escape it altogether. Money to buy space in the tower blocks. Even more money to stay there. The sort of money only a few thousand people had.
Linnet let the pollution filter drop, the almost-invisible sheet snapping back into place around the window frame, and moved away to finish brushing her hair: lovely shiny stuff that poured like pale gold water through her fingers and down to below her shoulder blades. Today it was bluebell-scented.
A few minutes later, as she ate breakfast with her parents in the sunroom, a gleaming, silky strand escaped from her hair ribbon. She looked down to see where the sunlight, streaming in through the plate-glass windows, laid silver reflections over the gold. Her mother reached over, stroked the loose strand back, and smiled at her.
That afternoon after school, she and some friends caught a glider to the super-mall. Again, as usual, her hair made her normal, someone who belonged. It was a uniform, a passport.
At the mall, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirrored side of an escalator: smooth clear skin, dark eyes emphasised by careful layers of colour, silver-frosted lips. And the hair, shining like syrup, making her sweet. Making her good enough.
By dinnertime, though, it had started to degrade. In her room, she fastened it back, repairing rough edges with lacquer, twisting the broken ends to conceal them. Then sat tense throughout the meal, her chest clutching whenever her mother’s gaze seemed to rest on her for too long. If only it didn’t degrade so quickly. Of course, the technology was improving all the time—give it a few months and they could upgrade—but at the moment this was the best they could get.
After dinner the table folded itself and sank into the floor. Linnet heard the plates slide into their racks and the beep and swish as the cleaning programme clicked on. Their chairs hummed back and reclined. Her father poured coffee; her mother selected that evening’s music.
“Do you want to take a coffee with you?” said her father.
“No thanks. I’ll dial a Coke in my room. Good night, Daddy.”
“Good night, princess.”
Her mother smiled up at her, cup in hand, already relaxing into the evening. “You looked lovely today, darling,” she said, and Linnet wanted to cry.
In her room she put her hands up to her head and the lacquer cracked. Her hair broke into pieces, jagged edges, shards and flakes of synthetic dust. She dropped it into the disposal and watched it crumble and be sucked away. Good night, uniform. Good night, passport.
Without the hair her scalp felt cold. In the mirror she saw herself, no longer disguised. Freak. Mutant.