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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

New Housing Starts Increase For Twenty-Second Consecutive Year

S.A. Barton is about halfway through his 40s and lives in Norfolk, Virginia with his wife, teen stepson, two toddlers, and demanding cat (as they all are). His path to wedded bliss was a strange, sometimes harrowing, and winding one; you may find this reflected in his stories. He has appeared in the pages of Penumbra magazine, has self-published a number of short stories and collections that can be found through sabarton.com, and tweets far too much as @Tao23.

"Of course they do," Daniel said. He punched the Power Off key on the remote so hard the knuckle of his thumb turned white.
"Dear," Rosetta said, warning.
Daniel took a deep breath, eyes closed.
"I thought we could go out together tomorrow," Rosetta said. "There's a new house going up on the next block. Iris is getting old enough to see."
"Of course she is," Daniel said, grumbling.
"Dear," Rosetta said again, a little more sharply than before.
"I know," Daniel said. He sighed a small harassed sigh.
"I'm old enough to see what?" Iris asked from just inside the hallway that opened into the living room. She had taken up the habit of lurking there around Christmas, trying to catch them talking about her presents.
"Daddy was just saying a five-year-old girl is old enough to start learning more about houses," Rosetta said.
Daniel scowled. She sounded like a salesperson, bright and chirpy and too enthusiastic.
"I like houses," Iris said. "They keep us dry when it rains."
"And so much more," Daniel said.
"When you're like this, my love, it would be better if you waited until you felt happier before you talked," Rosetta said to Daniel, then rose to gather Iris up in her arms. "Who wants a bath?" she asked Iris. "Who needs more soap, Mommy or Iris? It must be Iris, I still see some egg behind her ear from breakfast...." Giggles retreated down the hall. Daniel sat in the empty room, brooding.
There was so much he couldn't say. Didn't it bother her like it bothered him? Was she just better at covering it up?
That night, with Iris sound asleep in the next room, they relieved stress the way couples have for as long as there have been people. They moved together, skin on skin, drawing closer, breathing faster, embracing harder.
"We go go. Tomorrow," Rosetta growled in Daniel's ear, teeth gripping his earlobe, as they reached the peak.
"God! Yes!" Daniel threw back his head, crying out, the pain in his ear mixing sweetly with pleasure. "Please," he added as he collapsed next to her, spent. "Oh God yes please," he sighed, eyes closed, imagining the ceiling opening on the stars above him. "I don't know how you work your miracles, honey." Hating the need to speak in subtext, each hoping the other understood, even in pillow talk, the hate staining the afterglow.
"One day I'll tell you all about it. For now, just be happy."
He fell asleep. When he woke, he realized his jaw wasn't sore. He couldn't remember the last time he had slept without grinding his teeth.
"After we see the house being built, we'll go to the beach," Rosetta told Iris as they got ready to leave. "So we'll all pack a change of clothes for after we swim. Bring a couple of keepsakes, I think we'll build a pretend house in the sand for them while we're there. Do you remember what a keepsake is, Iris?"
"It's something you want no matter what house you live in. Something you really really like that makes you happy," Iris said.
"That's right," Rosetta said, leading Iris down the hall to her room to pick out clothes and keepsakes.
"Can you grab my--" Daniel said, and stopped.
"Grab your what?" Rosetta said, voice raised to carry back to him.
"Never mind. Iris is the keepsake I want in our... beach house," he said.
"Daddy!" More giggles.
Whatever Rosetta had planned, Daniel hoped it would succeed. He hated to think of the day Iris realized what the houses really were. More than shelters.
The construction site of the new house was close enough to walk to, so they walked.
"What beach are we going to, Mommy? The lake?" Iris asked as they walked.
"No, honey. We're going to a bigger beach. The biggest. All the way to the coast and maybe just a little farther. If you don't mind getting wet," Rosetta said.
"Do we really have enough money to take a semiballistic all the way to the coast for a day trip?" Daniel asked. They lived smack in the middle of the continent. But Rosetta made most of the money; she was one of the small minority who had a job other than building houses. She was a mortgage lawyer, paid well to make sure people could keep living in their houses. Daniel was part of the majority, he just built houses when they wanted to be built.
"We can afford it," Rosetta said. "I got a good deal from a pilot involved in one of my recent cases."
"Sounds promising," Daniel said.
"It's probably a one-time favor," Rosetta said. "But we'll make the most of it."
One time would be all they'd need. Oh God, yes please.
They turned the corner and saw the construction site. The new house wasn't much more than a slab with a few tall posts rising out of it. And, of course, the base wiring and CPU.
"Is it online?" Rosetta asked a passing worker as they sat down on the lawn.
"Yeah, just booted it a few minutes ago. Why?" the worker asked, wiping thick sweat off his forehead with an already-damp sleeve.
"I have its contract," she said. "I'm a mortgage lawyer."
The worker stared for a long moment.
"Thanks so much, lady," he said. "Here's a terminal. Just leave it on the grass when you're done." He handed her a small computer tablet.
"Sorry for interrupting," she said, eyes downcast.
"Yeah. For interrupting," he said, and walked away. He chose a different way back to the house when he returned, a wide path around them. Daniel looked down at the grass as if an insect there had caught his interest, hiding his face from the worker, ashamed to be seen with Rosetta and hating it.
"House: I have secured your occupants," Rosetta said to the tablet. She pulled a memory stick out of her pocket and plugged it into the tablet.
"Good work, Lawyer Rosetta," the house said through the tablet. "I have logged a bonus for rapid occupancy to your account."
"Thank you, sir," Rosetta said, bowing her head. "Thank you very much."
"Keep serving well," it said.
"It is my honor," she said, and laid the tablet down on the grass. "Now that you've seen and heard the new house, Iris, do you have any questions? You can ask while we walk to the bus stop. We need to head to the airport now." They all stood up, brushing grass from their pants.
"Are all houses that nice, Mommy?" Iris asked.
"If you do what they tell you," Rosetta said, and she took her daughter's hand and led her away. Daniel walked behind, wanting to add more, not daring. Any of the houses along the sidewalk might hear.
The airport was crowded; a lot of people flew. Houses needed a lot of support, and people went where they were needed. Sometimes they even had a little time to just be people, a vacation day once or twice a month. Like today.
The semiballistic taxied down the runway, rose up; the engines roared and pushed them back into their seats. Outside the thick quartz windows, the blue sky turned purple and the stars came out.
"The stars are bright up here Mommy, Daddy," Iris said.
The lights flickered, went out. A murmur of distress swept the cabin, oddly orderly in the blackness, moving front to back, back to front.
"No! I don't want to be hijacked," the man across the aisle from Daniel said. The glow of a tablet flickered from inside the man's jacket, booting up, reaching out its data tendrils for Earth, for the houses. Daniel felt an impact jar his arm and he found his hand on the other man's throat, squeezing.
"Shut up," Daniel growled. The booting tablet fell to the deck and Daniel stomped the screen into trash with his heel. "I'm sure they'll send you back down if you want. Free people aren't slavemasters like the goddamn houses." He wondered how he knew that. The free people in orbit were little more than rumors. The houses didn't permit stories about them on the news, on the net, anywhere. Sometimes a hand-printed pamphlet showed up on a bus seat or a sidewalk.
It was nothing but hope, that people would be better than the houses. But hope was all Daniel had ever had, for his whole life.
Something rumbled under the floor, and the stars spun outside. Something big and dark eclipsed them. The rest of the semiballistic, shrinking, falling back to earth.
"Are we going to die, Daddy?" Iris asked in the dark, voice tiny.
One of the stars flickered, grew a tail, swelled quickly.
"We're going to live, honey. For the first time, we're going to live," Daniel said, reaching across his daughter's lap, taking Rosetta's hand in his, Iris patting their linked hands with her tiny ones.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 12th, 2014

Author Comments

My wife has observed that themes of entrapment and escape are frequent in my work. In my more pessimistic moments, I can see the strictures of society, education, economics, and other factors as walls that shut people off from each other, that trap them in situations they'd rather not be in.

In my more optimistic moments, I see the ways that people have found to rise above these strictures. I was very happy, in the end, to find an ending that set this family free.

- S.A. Barton
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