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📗 One Barbarian Boy

On the ethics of quitting pain to embrace joy

Eleanor Konik
Written by Eleanor Konik

I write stories & articles inspired by all eras of history & science... so I wind up putting notetaking software like Obsidian & Readwise thru their paces.

4 min read.
a child on a swingset in the Andean mountains
The following story stands alone and can be read without any knowledge of my prior works, although it is arguably a prequel to my other science fiction stories Recycled & Can Androids Cope with Tiny Goats?

I found my wayward empath at a playground just outside the funeral home, a faint smile on her pale lips. She'd always been small, but now she looked wasted, hollow. I worried the breeze would blow her away.

The wooden picnic table was too small for my frame, but I sat down anyway, contorting the genetically engineered height of a Peacekeeper into something less threatening. "Eisha."

She didn't so much as twitch at my presence, which didn't surprise me. Her sepia eyes clung to a tearstained teenaged girl kicking her feet into the dirt as she listlessly sat on the swing. She'd always been able to fugue deeper than any other empaths in the program.



Reluctantly, I slapped her cheek. The sharp impact cut her link with the teenager and drew the attention of a nearby man in funeral black. He leapt up, brows heavy with outrage, but stumbled back when I shifted to expose the golden lion curled across my uniform.

It wouldn't hold him back for long. Not after last week. Not with this many mourners overflowing into the streets.

I had to get Eisha out of here before the riots started.

Eisha refocused, eyes locking onto mine with dead intensity before betrayal sparked into fury. She banked it with a single, even breath. No other empath had enough control over their own apathy to induce it.

I wished I'd never taught her the trick.

"You can't hide every time something goes wrong. That's not what I trained you for." My voice turned pleading. "Damn it, we have work to do."

A bitter cackle slashed out from between the placid cracks of ennui. "Jealous, Jack?"

The hell of it was, I was, a little. When she linked with me, the force of her regard shined like the sun. I craved it almost as much as I missed her. Her sparking humor, the clever way she bartered in the markets, the brave smile she got before a jump into one of the Preserves.

But I ignored the petty accusation because this wasn't about me. I'd still be sitting here if I hated her, because the technocracy needed her. This was about the program and what would happen if she didn't return. The wars we wouldn't avert.

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