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Lump Sum Love

Aliya Whiteley has written over one hundred published short stories that have appeared in Interzone, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Black Static, Strange Horizons, The Dark, McSweeney's Internet Tendency and The Guardian, as well as in anthologies such as Unsung Stories' 2084 and Lonely Planet's Better than Fiction. She also writes a regular non-fiction column for Interzone magazine.

Her novels and novellas have been shortlisted for multiple awards. Her latest SF novel Greensmith, and a collection of her short fiction, will be published in 2020.
You used to say I overcomplicate things, but this will not be one of them.
I forgive you, and I love you, and I hope you are happy. I hope they pass this last letter on, and I hope it makes you feel better to receive it.
When you signed the form, your finger trembling on that square screen the administrator wore around one of its necks, I saw you were thinking of what this might cost you in guilt. Guilt, hot and heavy, sitting on your shoulders, its claws in your back--does it weigh you down, now? Do you feel it breathing on your neck?
I would have made the same choice, my love.
If I had been the young one, with many good years still ahead, and you had been the older, wiser one, I would have sold you out in a heartbeat. When the administrator for our region came to the door and said, through the screen, "Shall we take her now, or later?" and you said, "Now, please." Ahhhhh, that please, it makes me love you all the more. Your desires and your fears are all wrapped up together. You want to live a good life, whatever that means. You want to forget me, and yet remember the decision you made as the right one. So let me help, and give you one last piece of advice.
Find someone young to share your life with. Someone younger than you are now, who carries no guilt yet. A lover to bring you energy, and passion. To help you to forget the invasion, and the terrible things that cannot be changed because it won't occur to such a young mind to try. To make your days and nights so vivid, so delicate, like a dream in a fever that you know must break.
They're turning on the grinder. It won't be long now.
I wonder if you bought that speedboat you wanted with the lump sum. I hope so. I like the thought that, once I've been processed, I could become part of the fuel that you feed into its tanks, and when you head around the cape I could be there with you, powering you on. Go get life, my love. Go enjoy every second.
And when the time comes, and an administrator comes to your door and asks your new love if they want to sign the contract to trade you in for a substantial lump sum, watch them put their trembling finger to that screen, and don't be angry. Let them know that you understand. There's no place in this new world for regret, and I don't regret a moment I spent with you. Put fuel in your tank and travel far, my love. Travel as far as you can before you realize you've spent all of your most precious currency: your youth.
That isn't too complicated for you, is it?
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 20th, 2020


This was one of those stories where you just start writing and see where it leads you. The voice popped out pretty much fully formed, and I tied it to a plot that I'd had kicking around in my head for a while, but hadn't managed to get right, I think because I was approaching it from a more impersonal angle. Then it became a challenge to see how far I could delve into this relationship, portraying one emotion while making it clear to the reader that there was a whole other set of (less forgiving!) emotions going on underneath.

- Aliya Whiteley
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