My Soul, and With the Sun

by Duke Kimball

The new gods are dead. Their corpses shine down on the streets of Chicago, watching; waiting for something, anything, to move.

Wiklund doesn’t look up. He skulks along the rooftops, too-tight black hoodie pulled up to shadow the faint lavender glow of his searching eyes. He moves quickly, and with purpose, hiding his face from the Seven Fathers.

It wasn’t the Fathers themselves you had to worry about, of course. Slinging their way around the earth in their lifeless orbits, out of reach, hunks of rock and metal and complex laser systems crisscrossing in their choreographed sweeps. Just moons, Wiklund reckons, just moons. You don’t have to worry about the Fathers.

You have to worry about what they’ll send your way.


Betsy had taken him to the river when he was five. She’d tried to make him understand, but the process scared him. “Do I have to go all the way under?”

“It ain’t strictly necessary,” Betsy admitted, begrudgingly. “But it’s how it was done in the old days. In a river. It’s how He had it done.” They both knew who He was without having to say it aloud. They were listening. “And without a p—without a good father figure to make the right water, I believe this is the best we can do.”

Her voice was kind, as always, her eyes the warm and loving ones that he’d grown to trust over the last year or so. Nobody had looked at Wiklund like that since his Momma. Before. Betsy was good to him, he knew that, he had no reason to think she had anything but his good in mind.

But still.

“I don’t want to.” He felt his voice quavering and it made him mad. He wasn’t scared of water, he wasn’t scared at all, he wasn’t scared of anything. He was just mad, that’s all, at least that’s what he told himself as he yanked his hand free from Betsy’s.

She frowned. Not meeting his anger, just vaguely sad. “You wanted to before. When we talked about it. Why change your mind?” He purposefully didn’t look up, avoiding her eyes.

“I just did, okay?” Wiklund pouted. “Can we go home?”

“No,” Betsy said, matter-of-factly. “We’re going for a swim, remember? If we leave without swimming, it will look very strange.”

“Nobody swims in the river.” Wiklund made a face. “It’s brown.”

“Never you mind that. Some do. And we will. Even if you don’t want to. Can’t go around looking suspicious now, can we?”

Wiklund glanced around. “Nobody’s here.”

Betsy sighed, a heaviness there that Wiklund felt rather than heard. “Remember Lord Leo. And Lord Locus.” She whispered, a playfulness in her tone that never quite made it to her eyes as she motioned ever so slightly overhead. Then, louder, “Let’s sing a song while we walk? Remember the song I taught you?”

She was talking about the Seven Fathers.

He did remember the little rhyme, of course. It was clunky, and the tune was repetitive yet somehow seemed to wander, and it was so unlike the polished sanctioned programming they got on their Feed that he had asked Betsy if she’d made it up herself. She had just laughed.

“Lord Leo leaps above the west,
Lord Lethe loves the eastland best,
Lord Lyre sings his song so mild,
Lord Lamia will keep the child.”

Her voice was soft but clear, and the slight wavering imperfections in it brought comfort to Wiklund, like always. But this time he thought about the words. Lord Leo, the white unblinking dot that Betsy could point out without fail on clear nights. And Lord Lamia, which you could not see but Betsy assured him kept track of how many people lived and died and were born and knew where he was, no matter where he ran to or where he hid.

So he stopped complaining and followed Betsy to the river. But his heart rose to his throat as she sang the second verse.

“Lord Locus, he will chart his course,
His eye roaming both south and north.
Lord Lyssa’s mighty fingers curled,
His fist brings peace to all the world.”

He always focused on the line about Lord Lyssa, the terrifying image of a giant, divine fist crushing enemies always made his blood run cold. But somehow, today, with Betsy’s cheerful warning fresh in his mind, Lord Locus and his always-open eye felt more present, more threatening. Betsy reached down and took his hand.

“Lord Luna rules o’er each nightfall,
The other Fathers in his thrall,
And they shall beckon to his call,
To kindly Lord over us all.”

Luna, always present but sometimes fickle, was the Moon of Moons. Betsy had told him, once, long before she was born, he had been the only Moon. He was made to shine over the Earth by night, and to pull and push the tides. But men got greedy and claimed him, filled him with computers and equipment, had made the other Fathers, and now. Well.

Wiklund suddenly felt tied down. Trapped. Nowhere to go. He yanked his hand out of Betsy’s frantically, a part of him flinching from her wounded expression but his little heart pounding in his chest as he tore away from her and ran. Ran obliviously and blindly in the opposite direction, away from Betsy, too old and too slow to catch him, her pained calls growing fainter as he ran, and ran, and ran.

Wiklund was good at running. He was fast. And it was the only time he felt free.

He didn’t look to where he ran. He knew he was moving toward the Lake, but he didn’t really care. Didn’t care about anything other than the in-out burning in his lungs and the jarring pat-pat-pat of his feet on concrete, occasionally dulled on grass, the world rushing past him in whirls of gray and green and brown. He wanted to howl. He decided in that moment that he wouldn’t stop. Not ever.

Until he did.

Betsy had never taken him to the Battlegrounds. He knew they existed, knew why Betsy had told him to stay away from Uptown. The troublemakers were there, there with their signs and their guns, and it wouldn’t do either of them any good to get mixed up in all that.

But now he was there. And he suddenly knew that Battlegrounds wasn’t the right name for the spot he overlooked from the garbage-strewn hill. There wasn’t fighting. That wasn’t the word for it.

Above the gray blue of the massive Lake, and the looming skeletons of charred towers in the distance, Lord Lyssa’s black obelisk hung in the sky like an ominous tear, drones pouring from it like a swarm of vengeful red hornets. Here, beneath the hovering obsidian moon, there was no battle. Once upon a time, it might have been called a protest, one which had gone on for years now, in designated zones in every major city. The troublemakers would come, with their promise of a humanity unified against America’s oppressive martial law, and stand against authority.

And every time, without fail, authority would respond.

Wiklund had remembered his father’s strained whispers, trying to convince Betsy of the importance of taking a stand, back when she had just been Wiklund’s kindly neighbor. “The world needs to see.”

But the one-sided war didn’t seem to be winning the minds and hearts it was designed to. Their blue banners waved between bunkers, ragged with bullet holes, heralds of a bloody, pointless gesture. There was no great awakening from this perpetual sacrifice of civil disobedience. There was just… dying.

The crimson drones flew overhead, picking off the stragglers with loud, staccato bursts. Adding more detritus to the sea of bodies and burning signs. Wiklund stood panting, the acrid smoke of spent gunpowder and charred flesh searing his lungs and his heart. He couldn’t look away no matter how much he wanted to.

Wide-eyed, he fully witnessed the might of Lord Lyssa’s red and wrathful fist.


It wasn’t the first time Wiklund had bought contraband, of course. But he’d usually planned better. Tracked the Seven Fathers (the six that functioned, anyway) and picked the right route, the right time. Even as rushed as this run was, Wiklund was careful. No streets, no predictable routes, no bright colors and no looking up. Stay on the rooftops when you could, alleys when you couldn’t. Stay out of sight. And for God’s sake, stay moving.

He jumps cortex from his first sight to his third, avoiding the second sight, the eyes he was born with, altogether. Never saw well out of them. His sight jerks from the lavender of UV to the crimson of IR.

He pivots, slow, at the edge of the roof. Scanning the horizon, all movements measured. Looking for telltale signs.

There. Flitting shapes in his peripherals. There they were. Of course. Too far away to see the Human Family logo, but he can tell even from this distance that they aren’t cargo drones. Nope. These were seekers, or (he considered with a shudder) collection models.

He ducks down below the edge of the roofline, cursing his aging knees. Move like a rat, he tells himself, trying his best to scurry. A big fat rat. If they don’t recognize anything unusual, they won’t scan for bios. Or try to sweep for implants.

After a few long and painful moments crawling along the roofline on his hands and knees, he rocks back on his heels and peers out over the ledge, in time to watch the drones whirr past and on, and he lets himself relax a little. Close. Too close.

You could sneak, but once you’re caught there’s nothing you can do. A while back, he’d heard tell of a madman in Detroit who’d jury-rigged an EMP drone killer out of an antique film camera, a contraband shotgun firing homemade blank cartridges, and a shitload of copper wire. He’d only managed to take down six before he was swarmed. All rumor, of course. Even if it happened at all, Wiklund doubted anyone could take down more than one before they seized control of his body’s implants, no matter what weapon he cobbled together. A man just ain’t a match for an army of all-seeing satellites and drones that can stop your heart as quick as look at you.

As if to confirm his suspicion, he suddenly feels his implants ping. Damned Lord Locus must be arcing in range, curse his luck. If it registers an unreadable user nearby those drones will be on him like—

Hears the warning bells in his head, sure enough. Not s’posed to be here, chimes were saying, best look up and let the Fathers guide you home.

Seven moons it takes to track us. Betsy’s voice comes to him. Wiklund curses. Keeps his head down. Fathers can’t read the biometrics if you keep your head down.

But the drones can. He clutches the beads in his right hand a little tighter.


Every night (even years later, after the Victory Launch, when the protests had ended and the new Executive Gregory Lapointe had turned the Battleground sites into memorial gardens), Wiklund would close his eyes and see the horror. Smell it. After he was old enough for implants, the “complimentary upgrades” that were forced on every Human Family member to assist the Fathers in tracking them, he dreamt about it in the full spectrum of light. Betsy said it was best to just forget and move past it, but he couldn’t. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the mass of bodies in their cobbled-together body armor that hadn’t been any real protection from the drones. From the Fathers. He’d hide under that week’s scratchy, paperfabric blanket and beg for something, anything to keep the memory at bay. But still he heard the gunshots, the whirr of droneblades, the wailing of the fallen, hopelessly waiting to die.

He might never have slept again if it weren’t for Betsy’s incessant singing. It drove him crazy sometimes, it truly did, and he often snapped at her to be quiet, which was always met with a good-natured rebuke that he had “no business trying to silence my joyful noise.”

But at night, the melodies were the only thing that soothed him, that kept the visions of death at bay.

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”

“Thou flowing water pure and clear, make music for thy Lord to hear…”

“I am a poor wayfaring stranger, traveling through this world of woe…”

Always she sang in her light, airy way. Just loud enough for Wiklund to hear, never quite loud enough to carry past the thin walls to others. Second nature, effortless, sometimes she repeated the same line over and over as it suited her, sometimes the song was abandoned halfway through and a new one struck up. Almost always the songs were about Him, songs that she warned could never be sung outside the apartment, secret songs.

He had asked her once why she sang the songs if they were against the rules. After all, the Feed programs all said you had to follow the rules. Betsy herself made rules and said that good little boys obeyed them. So why could she sing bad songs?

Betsy’s face had lit up with amusement when he’d asked her that, and she scooped him up in a big hug, pulling him off his feet despite his giggles of protest. “Wikki, sweet child. Bad songs? These are the best songs! There’s songs with life in them, you know. You won’t hear those on that—that feed.” The last word was filled with a contempt that surprised him. It felt out of character for the loving Betsy. “Imagine. Can’t sing my hymns because I can’t pay some fee.”

“But aren’t they bad if they’re against the rules?” Wiklund squeaked in her swaying embrace.

She chuckled. “There are rules, boy, and then there are Rules.” She set him down, and carefully knelt to his eye level. “Nations come and nations go. There are rules that have been around longer than they have, and will go on until He calls us home. Most people know that. If some of those good, God-fearing taxpayers… or subscribers, whatever they’re called now, saw what they did to us who can’t afford—” Abruptly she cut off, taking a deep breath, holding her anger at bay. She sighed. “Do you understand what I mean?”

He hadn’t. But he loved Betsy and wanted her to be proud of him, so he nodded. And she had nodded. And he never questioned her secret songs again.

His favorite, the one that always helped him sleep, had surprised him by being the same tune as the song about the Seven Fathers. But Betsy’s voice felt sweeter when she sang the different words. The ones about Him.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below…”


He keeps moving. Nothing else to do. Just needs to get out of range, hope they get put on something with a higher threat register before they get to him. Jumps to the next roof, and the bells grow louder, more insistent. If he doesn’t stop, they’re gonna get loud enough to break him. But he can’t stop. Not yet. Betsy, she needs him.

Spotlight hits just as the voice does. Pleasant, female, lacking any emotion or inflection, nice change from the bells. “Human Family Basic User Wiklund Susa.”

He squints, dialing his vision in past the spotlight. The blue and white drone is bulky like a cargo drone, but has the telltale cannons that peg it as a Collector. Flanked by two others. Damn.

“You appear to be outside your standard work/life perimeter. Do you require directions?”

“Yes.” He says it loud and firm, moving swiftly to the next rooftop. He was caught. No fixing that. All he could do was keep moving, act like everything was normal, and maybe trick their logic circuits into thinking he was just out for a stroll. The drones, and spotlight, follow him.

“Continue North on Western Avenue for one half mile. Turn left on W Tuohy and continue past California Avenue. Your domicile will be on the right.” The spotlight fell off him, but the drones still hovered.

“Thank you,” Wiklund says, briskly moving in the direction he had been given. For a span of two buildings, the drones follow, hovering ominous over his head. Then one of the flanking drones veers off, followed by the other. As the central one, the one scanning him, moves directly above his head to pass over him, Wiklund feels the air rush out of him in relief. That had been close—

Then the spotlight, again. “Wiklund, it appears you are in possession of a … Rosary Necklace.” The voice in his head pauses, giving unnatural emphasis to the last two words. “Roman Catholicism is a Religious designation reserved for Premium users. If you are holding this item in error, please forfeit it at this time.”

Oh, Christ.


“Do you think this actually means anything?”

Wiklund had grown from a scrawny young boy to a scrawny young man. He scowled as Betsy removed a jar of ashes from beneath her bed. She painstakingly collected all the ashes from the incense she burned throughout the year; an indulgence that confused her neighbors, since incense cost a good amount of her surplus FamilyPoints allowance to purchase.

Wiklund told her to just burn paper, after all ashes are just ashes, but she had been adamant. The ritual was good for her. Plus, burning paper might set off a fire alarm or draw attention. She liked burning her one allotted stick of incense for the month and carefully harvesting the ash into her tiny glass jar.

She ignored his comment as she took out the canister of oil from their kitchen pantry, but looked him over up and down. “Going somewhere, Wikki? Why you got your shoes on in my house?” She turned her attention back to the jar, from which she carefully spritzed a tiny stream of oil.

Wiklund shook his head. “I told you. Going out. Zuzie and me want to check out that meeting I told you about. With. Uh.” He felt himself flush a little. “Braxton’s meeting.”

Betsy looked up, sharply. “Don’t know why you and Zuzanna got yourself mixed up with that boy. You two are nice kids. You get involved with him and that new batch of troublemakers, you’re liable to get yourselves kilt.”

Wiklund exhaled through his nostrils. “Could do worse than get killed for the right reasons.”

He met Betsy’s eyes. They felt heavy. “You ain’t wrong there.” Her voice was slow. Careful. “But you better be darn sure about those reasons before you make me mourn another child, Wiklund Susa.”

He had a reply ready, a sharp and cutting remark, but he bit his tongue. The old woman was exasperating, but he loved her. “We’re careful,” he said instead. “Brax has scramblers. And they’re smart, they aren’t planning any public protests. It’s all dark web, counter intel, they’re gonna hit the Family where it really hurts.” He felt his lips curl into a bitter smile. “We’ve found a way to hijack the Feed. We’ll get the truth out there. Where it really matters. Lapointe won’t know what hit him.”

Betsy pursed her lips. “Gregory Lapointe,” she said, her voice hard, “is just another rich man. A very rich man who wanted to change things, and happened to be in the right place at the right time to do so. But he ain’t keeping us down. He may own the Human Family, but if you think hurting him is gonna make a lick of difference in our lives, I’m not sure you learned a damned thing from me.”

The curse word caught Wiklund off-guard. He could count the number of times Betsy had used stronger language than “heck” on one hand. “He owns everything. Everything. All of the Fathers, the drones, every scrap of data about the world—about us, Betsy! They dole out our allowance. They tell you what you can do, where you can go, what you can believe! How can you say that he ain’t keeping us down?”

She sighed. When her answer came, it was quiet. “We always want to blame the captors.” Standing at the counter, she stirred the oil into the ashes with her finger. Wiklund watched her, trying to make sense of her comment. So he stood in silence, watching the old woman form a paste in the little jar. “Egypt. Babylon. Rome. America. The Human Family.” The last was dripping with undisguised disdain. “We just so persecuted, ain’t we? If only we could just get this yoke off our necks. Just this once. If we only get a little freedom, things will get better.”

“You don’t think we’d be better off free?” Wiklund scoffed.

Betsy raised a gray eyebrow. “Now, I never said that. But since when has getting out from under the oppressor really made us free? We get rid of one, and we just find ourselves another one. And another. And another.” Suddenly her eyes were hard. Fierce. All sign of age gone, there was a fire that Wiklund hadn’t seen. Or perhaps hadn’t looked for. “You think sneaking around with your little friends, playing your little games with your little computers—you think that’s gonna overthrow the real oppressor?”

Wiklund seemed to feel himself grow smaller. But he stood his ground, jutting his chin out as he looked down at the old woman. “Braxton has a device. Calls it a Key. It can broadcast a live vid across the whole feed, for at least thirty seconds. They can’t scrub the records fast enough. Word will get out. We just need to show the Human Family for what it is. Tell the Premiums what it’s like here for us on Basic. The Family don’t have the support to endure a full-fledged resistance effort. We just need to send a message!”

“And they’ll believe it when they hear it? After years of listening to that feed, you plan to undo that in thirty seconds?” She glared at him, and Wiklund blushed. “You gonna drive evil from the hearts of men? You gonna post your little manifesto to the rich folks and that’s gonna make everything right?”

Wiklund stiffened. “I’m gonna do what I can.”

“I’ll tell you what you can do, boy. You can die. That gonna bring about the change you want?”

He shrugged. The gesture seemed childlike, and he resented it. “If I die bringing down the Family, it’ll be worth it. We gotta make sacrifices, Betsy!”

She eyed him for a moment. Then sighed. “You gotta do something about that hate, Wikki.” The age returned to her all at once. “You’ll burn yourself up and do something stupid. Like—”

She thought better of finishing what she had started to say, and shook her head. But Wiklund knew what she meant. He felt something raw burning in his gut then, something with a cutting edge. He swallowed.

He watched her take her small jar, turning to the wall with their tiny mirror. “You know that the Human Family ain’t the ones who killed your folks, boy. Deep down you know that none of these nations, these princ-i-pal-i-ties, they ain’t the reason for our loss. We’re hurtin’ because we’re people. There’s something broken in us that we gotta fix. The Human Family, they’re just made of people too. And the change we need don’t come from wars. Or riots. Or zealots like your little Braxton plotting little schemes from little caves.”

She broke off to mumble a small prayer, under her breath, and Wiklund knew the words even if they were too quiet to hear. Betsy, her hand shaking slightly like it always did nowadays, took her ashes and made the mark of the cross on her forehead. And when she turned, the light gray cross against her dark, wrinkled forehead felt… big. Wiklund had been about to scoff, to ridicule her for her empty ritual, performed in secret, but balked under the weight of the moment. He bit his lip, and she just nodded. She curled her finger at him, and he approached.

“That change,” she whispered, poking a still ashen finger into Wiklund’s chest, “has gotta come from here. New nations mean nothing without new people to live in them.”

Wiklund felt one last bubble of resentment rise up through his chest. “So what?” he blurted, “You want me to keep my head down and hide? Aren’t you supposed to go out and spread this Good News of yours? You want to keep hiding like rats in the walls? Don’t you wanna fight?”

Her smile was surprisingly warm. “Now, now. You ain’t being fair. I might think you ought to give Caesar what he’s due, but I ain’t telling you not to fight. You just ain’t fighting in the right place.” She reached down and took his hand, seeming to envelop him like she used to when he was little, even though his hands were so much larger than her own now. He met her eyes, and she seemed more like herself. “You gonna make yourself a sacrifice? Make it one that matters. Come on now.” She tugged, and he felt himself going down to his knees. He looked up at her while she reached her fingers back into the jar.

“Remember, boy, that you are dust,” Betsy said as she drew the ashen cross on Wiklund’s forehead, “and to the dust you will return.”


“I bought it legal.” Wiklund mumbles to the drone. Tries to move to the next roof, but one of the secondary drones flanks him and blocks his path.

A pause. “Wiklund, Roman Catholicism is a Religious designation reserved for Premium users. Would you like to upgrade your Human Family membership?”

“Yes.” The word leaves his mouth in desperation. He can’t afford it. He knows it. He won’t get away with tricking them on it either, not with his account pulled up. They know everything about him by now. Omniscient fucks.

They think they’re gods. Betsy said it once. Gods that can tell us what to do, and charge us for the privilege. But the real God won’t stand for it.

And neither will we.


Braxton. How he’d stoked the fires of rebellion in Wiklund’s and Zuzanna’s hearts. Wiklund had loved him, carried a powerful yearning for his visions of freedom, his bright, vibrant spirit, his bright blue eyes as he spoke of liberation from the Human Family’s tyranny. Classes, Castes, or “Tiered Payment Plans”—all were instruments of inequality, Brax would proclaim, blonde hair under the LEDs shining with the purity of his rhetoric.

“America First, for all its faults, was at least honest. They ruled us with an iron fist, but they didn’t pretend like they were our saviors.”

Wiklund and mousy little Zuzie had both mooned after Braxton, and became his staunchest allies and acolytes. Wiklund suspected that Brax accepted his attentions with the same breezy acquiescence with which he accepted hers. Or anyone’s. He certainly didn’t think that the time Brax spent alone with Zuzie was chaste, but they never talked about it. Zuzie was his best friend, and Brax? Well. Brax had made Wiklund feel special. Special to the cause and, more importantly, to him.

“Lapointe organized his pointless protests for years, throwing poor revolutionaries to the drones by the hundreds of thousands. Cannon fodder to buy him time while he made business deals behind closed doors, paying off more and more corporate interests until America finally handed him the keys. Now he pretends to be a benevolent billionaire, bringing all the needed services that America withheld for years. But if you can’t afford to be a member of his Human Family, what then?”

It was only luck that the Family had struck their little cell when Wiklund wasn’t there. Cruel fate, or perhaps the answer to Betsy’s prayers. But the loss was great. Not just Braxton, and Zuzie, and the rest of his friends and comrades in the fight against the Human Family’s oppressive Terms of Service. When the coast was clear, months later, Wiklund had sifted through the burned-out husk that had been Braxton’s basement apartment. He found nothing but ash. Nothing to remember him. Or Zuzie. Wiklund hadn’t just lost them. He’d lost any remnant of the Good Fight.

“Everyone in humanity is equal, but everything is monetized. So if you have money, you’re even more equal. But the algorithms keep us from seeing it. If you’re well off enough to afford your premium subscription, you have no idea what the rest of us live like. Because on your feed, everything is just fine for everyone. And we only see the basic feed, because if we saw how the other half lived, we’d be back to the Battlegrounds.”

Except the Key. The hijacking device, the size and shape of a ballpoint pen, which Brax had given to him for safekeeping. Wiklund had been so proud at the time, thrilled to have earned Brax’s trust with such a crucial element of the resistance plans. But for months after, he flinched any time he touched it, as though it burned him.

“We need to break the algorithm. We need to show the truth. Even for a moment. Just long enough for everyone to get angry.”

He didn’t know what to do with himself, after. He’d gotten sullen. Kept his head down. Worked with what he could, scrounged what he could find. Learned how to run a still, which Betsy disapproved of, but the little trade he got from his neighbors kept them from starving as the FamilyPoint rations began to dwindle. Took to sampling the product more than he probably should have. Maybe one of the reasons he’d managed to put a little weight around his middle despite the meager allowance.

He never forgot Brax, or Zuzie, or the cause, but he never went out of his way to remember it either. He couldn’t bring himself to discard or dismantle the Key, not when they had died for it. So he used some electrical wire and affixed it to a chain he kept around his neck. A token of the life he could have had, the future he could have helped to make.

But he didn’t change the world. He made hooch. And he stayed with Betsy. She’d tried to nudge him on over the years, tried to get him to find someone, start a family of his own, but Wiklund had had enough families taken from him. He wasn’t about to leave her.

Of course, she couldn’t stay forever. And saving enough FamilyPoints to see a doctor when she discovered the lumps was out of the question. They didn’t even have enough to keep food in their bellies. Nobody had enough FamilyPoints these days. Not with Lord Lamia gone dark, without enough money to get it back online.

The writing was on the wall for the Human Family. Everyone knew it. Wiklund kept telling Betsy, kept insisting that she needed to hang on just a little while longer, just to see it fall. But she only smiled at him with that sad smile of hers any time he mentioned it.

“I’m ready, Wikki,” she would say, every night, after her prayers. Prayers to the God that Wiklund could never quite believe in, no matter how hard he tried. What God could make all this? Could let this happen? “I’m ready to go home.”

He watched her grow weaker. Forced her to eat as she withered away. Took care of her as she grew incontinent, unable to leave her bed. Held her hand and sang to her, his now-rasping voice revisiting the melodies that had helped him sleep so many years before.

“Had I your Wings, to Heaven I’d fly,
But God shall that defect supply,
And my Soul wing’d with warm desire,
Shall all day long to Heav’n aspire.”

She would smile, and say her prayers, and, as was her way, never asked for anything.

Except one thing.

One little thing, so she could say her tiny, illegal prayers.

Wiklund hadn’t amounted to much. Hadn’t been much of a freedom fighter. Hadn’t even been much of a son. But by the God that probably didn’t exist, he wouldn’t see the only person in this world who ever loved him pass on without her one last comfort. He’d get her that one little thing, or he’d die trying.

So when she fell asleep that night, he slipped on his black hoodie and his worn-down climbing shoes. Made a couple of calls. Found a guy. A meeting place. A time.

And Wiklund Susa slipped into the darkness to break a rule.


“I’m sorry, Wiklund. There appears to be a problem with your credit account. Your membership upgrade could not be completed at this time. Please forfeit the ... Premium ... Item.”

I’ve seen governments rise and fall. They have the Fathers, for now. But this Human Family won’t stay forever. You just have to keep living long enough to see their idol topple.

“No,” Wiklund says again, moving away toward the next rooftop. He just needs to make it to Betsy, he just needs—

“Wiklund, retaining the ... Premium ... Item will constitute a violation of your membership agreement. Do you understand this warning?”

The chimes return in his skull. Wiklund sobs. He was so close. They were only cracking down so hard because the Human Family service was already losing public approval. They were turning the screws, using fear as a last-ditch effort to maintain authority. They were dead on the vine, and he and Betsy had almost made it through.

In that moment, Wiklund knows what he needs to do. Carefully, without any sudden movements, he slips the rosary over his head. And replaces it in his palm with another necklace. If this is what it comes to, he’s gonna make it matter.

Sorry, Betsy. Wiklund feels the give of the tiny, unused switch of the Key. It bursts to life, a bright staticky sphere containing his image. “I’m in curfew!” he bellows at the drone over the clanging in his head. “I ain’t done nothing wrong!” He holds up the crucifix on the necklace with his free hand. “I’m just saying prayers! I bought it legal!”

“Human Family Basic User Wiklund Susa.” The voice didn’t change, still lifelessly pleasant. “By practicing a religious designation reserved for Premium users, you are in violation of your membership agreement. Please remain still and wait for collection.”

He drops to his knees and begins to sing, a tune embedded in his head since he was a boy. The verse that came to mind is the one that Betsy sang to him every morning. As familiar to him as anything.

“Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise
To pay thy morning sacrifice.”

He never could quite believe, but he knew what belief looked like. He thought of Betsy and projected a perfect image of loving piety. A lovely visual for the God-fearing taxpayers.

If he was going down, he wasn’t going quietly.


He still remembers standing, stock-still, at the scene of horror at the Battlegrounds. The fury of hot air crushing his lungs as he tried to catch his breath, watching the massacre below.

The red and gold badges of the drones flashing in the sun.

The torn white and blue banners and leaflets that blew among the bodies like ghosts in the lakefront wind. The leaflets his own father had printed in the Secret Room and circulated door-to-door at night until. Well.

Betsy wasn’t that bad of a lady, he shouldn’t have run from her. Not for this.

Looking down, he sees the cauterized stump emerging from a torso where a head should have been. The smell was hot and sweet, like the hot dogs Betsy cooked him over their single burner as a weekly treat. Beside him, a clear plastic shield still had a legible bright blue, hand-painted slogan. One that he had heard his father repeat in the confines of their apartment, too quiet for the fathers to hear. Words that, for now, had the ring of Gregory Lapointe’s revolutionary vigor, but would come to haunt Wiklund for the rest of his life.


He felt the bile in his throat before he knew he was retching, falling to his knees, knowing he should run, he needed to run, he needed to go anywhere but here, anywhere.

He felt Betsy pull him up, heard her voice at first stern and then frightened but the words all blurred together. Like the tears that filled his vision somehow made everything else fuzzy too. He was screaming, when had he started screaming, it was all wrong, he had to GO, he had to, he had—

The noise from the drones began to congeal into a synchronized, trumpeting rendition of “America First, America Only,” as if by announcing the anthem of the winning side it would show this upstart Human Family that their real place in this world was here, in the Battlegrounds, in the slaughterhouse. To Wiklund, it sounded like the unrelenting howl of rockets, or seabirds, and he clamped his hands over his ears as he shouted.

Betsy pulled him close. Held him tight. Didn’t pull him away from the scene of horror and devastation below, just wrapped him up so they could face it together. We live in a nightmare, boy, that embrace seemed to say, but at least we got something to hold on to ‘til we wake up.


In his head, the klaxons sound. An infernal knocking and wailing, a herald of the end. But he can feel a rhythm behind the droning. Even as he feels his implant control being seized (first his eyesight, then the muscles in his arms and legs shutting down despite himself), he can feel the cadence in his soul.

Wiklund is smiling as he falls from his knees, collapsing on the roof. He didn’t run, didn’t fight, didn’t talk back.

The key slips from his grasp as he seizes, body jerking like a rag doll, and the buzzing sound of the collection drone descends like a swarm of locusts. But even as he succumbs to the final plague, Wiklund feels the Exodus that’s coming. Another empire, bound to fall, to prepare the way for the next. Maybe it would prove more benevolent than this one. Wiklund could hope.

But he would do his part to bring a plague to Pharaoh. He would become another sacrifice.

One that matters. A poor basic member who dared to believe in something bigger than his subscription allowed, broadcast in every spectrum over every feed. Poor and pious, a forgotten member of his human family, trodden on by the machine of authority. An image that no one could ignore.

The song in his head is dulled with cacophony and pain and strange, billowing clouds. If he could free his throat, he would laugh at the stars. Because now, at the end, with the screeching of warning tones ricocheting in his skull, Wiklund finally knows the truth.

The new gods are dead, and their oracles are screaming.

Duke Kimball likes to wear hats. He’s been a religious studies major, a grocery store clerk, and a sleazy used car salesman. He currently works in marketing and lives in Lansing, MI with his family... and a dog that's named after a cheese factory. Aside from Mysterion, his fiction and poetry have appeared in places like Star*Line, Kaleidotrope, and Strange Horizons, among others. You can find him on Twitter @capndukekimball.

“My Soul, and With the Sun” by Duke Kimball. Copyright © 2022 by Duke Kimball.

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  1. Wow!!! This is so well-written! I love the dystopia genre and you nailed it. It’s a piece of work that makes you ponder, so I’ll have to digest it and come back and read it again in a couple days.

    I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve read something written by my brother in law.
    Nice job Duke!


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