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art by Billy Sagulo

We Are All But Embers

Author Bio Gemma Noon is a writer and librarian living in Alberta, Canada. This is her first published story, and she hopes it will be followed by many more. Gemma has a website at GemmaNoon.com which she occasionally remembers to update.
We are all but embers here, dying alone in the night. The hoods keep us docile with their soothing images and beautiful sounds, threaded through with just enough discord to keep us working, to keep us weeping at the things we have done. Serum drips into my mouth via a tube, bringing feelings of guilt and pride in equal measure. I am strong and honored to serve. I am shamed by my past and seek only to make amends. I am repulsed by my fellow prisoners, by the things that they have done. I live only to earn redemption.
All these things are lies.
The tube that chafes at the corner of my mouth is damaged. A tiny rupture at the edge of my hood allows the serum to seep into the black material. With the dosage lowered, I am becoming the first lick of flame. I know my name, and I know why they have put me here. I know that I am not a criminal. I am not ashamed of who--and what--I am.
They do not know I am free.
It is a mine, not a prison. A place where everything is old and decaying. I suspect we are laboring in the places where even the most desperate of citizens refuses to work. Metal struts are brittle, the ground uneven and everything covered with a thin coat of slime. The air is wet, and smells of the dead. The constant buzz of machinery echoes and pounds against the skull, and sometimes I can hear sobbing punctuated by the occasional scream.
My thoughts are once again my own.
There are weapons here; slithers of metal, broken rocks, tools that are intended to break things into smaller pieces. The guards, such as they are, do not seem to notice or care as I make a little stockpile of things that can bludgeon or cut. A shaving of steel, no thicker than a needle, is the most valuable instrument in my makeshift armory. With it I can pierce the serum tubes of my fellow workers so that the drugs seep into the dark material that binds them instead of into their mouths and minds.
I watch as their flames grow.
We communicate through touch, through carvings on the mine walls, through hurried words in the sleeping cells between each shift, through gestures and grunts. Hands that are calloused and rough from our toil are now quivering with rage, as one by one my needle frees my comrades from captivity. We hate them for what they have done, for the indignity they have served us. We hate them for stealing our minds. Anger smolders within, a poison that demands to be unleashed in a torrent of burning rage.
Yet we are patient.
The guards are lazy. They do not watch their tongues, so sure that we are nothing but mindless drones. It takes time to gather intelligence, but they are foolish and speak their minds freely. I know where they have imprisoned us. I know where they keep the keys. I know their numbers. I know where they are weak.
We were all but embers here; now watch us set fire to the night.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 16th, 2013

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