“Nowhere Fast”

by Christopher Rowe

Luz could see the future, or at least her future. It looked just like the present. The Saturday market was slow. This early in the spring, the only produce for sale was green onions and early lettuce, which most of the people in town grew in their own kitchen gardens. Even the stalls selling jars of canned vegetables and preserves from last year weren’t doing much business.

She sat in her family’s stall, waiting for someone to stop and buy some of her grandmother’s canned salsa. At seventeen, Luz had spent every Saturday morning she could remember doing the same thing, and unless the worst happened and she was drafted into Federal service when she turned eighteen, then she imagined she would be doing the same thing on all the Saturday mornings to come.

Her grandmother sat quietly beside her, knitting a cap for one of Luz’s countless cousins. The old cigar box open at their feet had just a few more coins and Federal notes than had been there at first light, when they had rolled up the tarp and set out their jars of salsa and tomato sauce and last year’s green beans.

Luz heard a clattering noise in the distance and idly glanced past the low buildings of the square to where the coal balloons were tethered just outside the town limits. Federal treaties with Localists like the townspeople kept the government’s flying ornithopters from the sky above Lexington, but Feds observed the letters of their agreements, never their spirits. Clusters of canvas balloons strung with thick hemp hawsers hung in the colorless sky. A brass-winged ornithopter had just landed in the ropes and clung there like a fly on a cow’s tale. Someone below, out of sight, set a pulley to working and skips full of coal began to rise up to feed the hungry machine.

If she did get drafted next year, at least there was a small chance she would fly in one of those machines, though it was more likely she’d wind up working in the mines. Or, given all her father had taught her about tinkering and her mother about scavenging, she might wind up in the machine yards that were said to spread for hundreds of miles across the eastern states.

“There’s better ways to fly,” said her grandmother. Luz started, and realized she had been staring at the ornithopter for several minutes. Her grandmother continued, “Like on that bicycle there you’re always sneaking off to ride.”


About the Author

Christopher Rowe’s short stories have been nominees for the World Fantasy, Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Sturgeon, and Seiun (Japan) awards, and have been reprinted and translated around the world. His first novel, Sandstorm, was published this spring. He lives and works in a century old house in Lexington, Kentucky, which he shares with his wife, the writer Gwenda Bond.