Big Sky State


EMBARASSING TEEN FICTION KLAXON: Here’s something I wrote when I was nineteen. I only wrote awful Mary-sueish sci-fi before I went to uni, and this was around the transition period. I cleaned it up as some of it was just downright awful, but I’ve tried to leave most of the ideas intact.

Themes: Third millennium future/Family/Climate disaster/Bio-warfare/Teens being teens/Intersexuality/Queer ID/Pulp-apocalypse

The mist was coming in. Elyena stood and watched it. It swept across the sea in the distance, lacy wisps curling and tumbling over the dark water. The sun coloured it gold in places as it arced up high in the distance. It moved fast and thick towards the city.

Fastening the buckle at the throat of her coat, she shivered. A herm passed, little lights twinkling white, spinning as it navigated down into the lower colonies. She watched it dive until it became a speck and then slow down, moving inwards to one of the opposite towers, about a hundred metres beneath her. Special occasion maybe. Personal herm-sent messages were often too expensive for people living lower.

She looked at her watch-pin, attached to her pocket flap. The mist thickened near the outer towers and the warning lights in the distance went pinkish, blurring in the wake. Elyena breathed in deeply. The air was too sweet. She turned on her heel and ran across the tower’s metal roof, back to the square trapdoors that hid the short flight of stairs leading down to the lift. As she opened the hatch to the stairs, the herm flashed past above her, returning, lights showing blue.

 “They could have been swept off.”

“Elyena’s alright on her own.”

“I was fine.” She peered at both of them from the back entrance to the flat.

“Don’t cheek me, child.”

Olsa eyed her, from his cross-legged position on the floor, his hands clenching and unclenching, attempting to stave off the stiffness of rheumatism. Elyena stared briefly in response, then glanced at the thick blue veins on his hands and the bulging knuckles and wondered what the pain was like. There was a rhythmic squeaking as her older brother turned the wheel on the other side of the room to lock the bunker tight. He gave a final push and then let go, inspecting the palms of his hands briefly.

“Should probably get that thing repainted. You got a splinter?”

“No, it’s not that bad. I sanded it down a couple of days ago.” He briefly tightened the hairband holding his bun, and then came and sat next to Elyena. Olsa grunted in answer and rubbed a hand across his stubble, then leant forward to light the little stove in the middle.

“None for me.” Elyena muttered as her grandfather lit the stove and reached for a pot next to it. He shook his head at her, questioning. The beads in his grey dreadlocks clattered.

“You should have some, we could be in here a while.” Her brother murmured.

“I really don’t like it.”

Olsa coughed slightly. “Took me a while to like tea. I didn’t really grow into it until I was about sixteen. Des?”

Her brother was rooting in a bag next to him. He pulled it this way and that, then seemed to find what he was looking for and fished out a vacuum sealed foil package. The others watched as he fumbled for his penknife and slit it open. Elyena smelt a slight sweetness, but not chemical and sickening like the mist outside.

“Dessert?” Des looked pleased with himself as he pushed it out in front of them. Olsa laughed hoarsely in approval. As the two men reached in and started to take turns to cut chunks for themselves, Elyena, picked at the crumbs around the edge, deciding whether she liked it or not. She’d seen the sweet before, but couldn’t remember actually trying it. After a second or two of trying the texture of the coconut flakes with her teeth, she took the penknife off of her brother and cut her own piece.

A radio had been playing in the background; it looked like it was Olsa’s – held together with plastic tape with a simple digital clock on the side, that didn’t even look like plasma. The music stopped and a voice faded in.

“Evening all. I’ve just received the time estimate for this evening’s pollution-fall. Warning systems record incoming mist at eighteen hours, fifty-six minutes and a wind speed at a steady twenty-four kilometres per hour, a solid four on the Beaufort scale. Calculations indicate that air should be clear by zero hours, forty-four minutes. That’s nearly five hours, folks, so I hope you’re tucked up with some good eatin’, cause it sure is nasty out there tonight. Thankfully we’ve got some great tracks coming up…”

Elyena chewed slowly. She considered putting a piece in her pocket and finding some foil to wrap it in later. As usual, she didn’t ask Des where he’d got their treat.

There had been no war. No great disaster. Just the slow melting of the icecaps and the decline of ‘groundlife’ as the seas rose. HIV had mutated into AHIV and had eaten away at the population, rapidly changing and thwarting all attempts at a cure. This was unsurprising in the end, considering that it was widely suspected now that the virus had been tampered with as a cruel attempt to curb the booming population, and those who did the tampering had also made sure that a cure did not arise. Thankfully, nature intervened and by about the year twenty-five fifty, humanity had pretty much developed an immunity, and AHIV was a word often followed by ‘Does that even exist anymore?’

Pumped water was a luxury of the late third millennium. Nowadays, collection tanks sat at the top of the great towers and water was boiled before use. Rainfall was regular enough and the sea far below was pretty much off limits where domestic use of the water was concerned, due to the salt and the risk of catching a polluted tide. North America was a barren spread of islands, having poisoned itself to death with the overuse of chemicals and the carelessly researched disposal of waste, including reprocessed nuclear fuel. As the seas rose and the land changed, inevitably, these disposal sites had leaked.

The air was relatively clean in the last few years, even though the ocean was still avoided. Humanity had evolved to cope with its environment, but also had changed inevitably from the effects of the current and past environments. Elyena was being taught by her grandfather to become a Voyesp, a spiritual doctor. He’d made the decision to tutor her when she was born, rather than her brother, after the standard scans had shown her to be an itan – narrow hipped, and without a womb or other tissue, but fine featured – the third sex. It was an old fashioned idea that iten were better suited for community or spiritual roles, but the stereotypes persisted. Olsa always referred to her proudly as ‘the child’ or ‘they’, but once she had graduated into the upper tier of her school, Elyena had told her friends to start saying ‘she’ when talking about her. She didn’t mind Olsa’s preciseness, but it just suited her more, in her head.

The corner of the room snored. Olsa had wrapped himself in blankets and eventually fallen asleep. Now Elyena was watching her brother play with the radio. He switched it to a different frequency and the sound of a violin suddenly pierced her eardrums.

“Turn it down! You’ll wake Grandad…”

“Shit. Sorry.” Des grinned idiotically and spun the volume control to almost off, then bought it back up again slowly. Elyena opened the pot of tea leaves and sniffed it carefully, watching her brother tune it into another station.

“Take it back to NI2 a second; I want to hear the weather report.”


The radio squealed and fizzed, then levelled out.

“…President Williamson commented that action would not be taken against the rebel groups. Anyway, the time is now zero-zero-forty-six and I’ve just had the weather report handed to me. Seems we’re ninety-seven percent mist-free, guys, and that last three percent is rapidly heading off on an eastern wind. So it looks like there’s still a good portion of the evening left to enjoy. Now, tonight, we’ve…”

“Sweet.” Des stood up quickly and started to open the bunker. He swung back the door and stalked into the rest of their tiny apartment, one room and a little offshoot into the galley-style-kitchen. Picking up his coat, he snatched a piece of paper off of a pad on the table and scrawled MIST CLEAR, OUT. BACK SOON.

“Where are you off to?” Elyena leaned against the doorway, her tone accusatory.

“Got some friends waiting.” Des hovered near the front door, rummaging in his pocket for something. He didn’t face her.


“Dunno. They might not be out tonight. Depends.” Des flicked back the latch on the door and disappeared with a “Later.” The door banged and didn’t close properly. Elyena listened to the radio chattering in the background for a second, mixing with Olsa’s snores, then grabbed her boots from under the table and threw a shawl over her head, covering her soft tight curls, wrapping it over her nose, and tucking it into her collar. Lots of people would be covered up tonight anyway – the recent approach of a mist, even though they’d had a solid all clear, still made people edgy.

She stuck a little knife in her boot just in case. She probably wouldn’t need it.

“So is this Kerna pretty?” Jan fingered her cigarette and blurred Elyena’s vision with a breath of smoke. They were leaning against the side of a flower stall. Paper flowers were popular – they were easy to make and as colourful as the real thing. It was the thought that counted.

“I have no idea. I’ve never seen them.”

The night had become chill after the sunset. Elyena had tailed Des as far as the edge of the Blood Market and then managed to lose him on a bridge. The market was named so because of the large amount of fresh meat vendors who congregated there. Fresh meat was big business in North Island, as with many of the ‘tower cities’. It could never usually be eaten in large amounts, since there just wasn’t the room to breed big animals. It had become big business in the last few hundred years again, as fresh vegetables became harder to come by. People mainly ate preserved foods and dried pulses that were bought in from farms out west. Eggs came and went. Bird populations were climbing, though they were large and aggressive, so egg gathering was more seen as a sport then something practical. Elyena still had a scar on her neck from such an escapade when she was younger.

At night, the Blood Market became more a social event than a trading post. It was spread across the top of one of the largest towers in the city and had since spilled over on to smaller ones, connected by metal bridges that had been built on to the original structure of the skyscrapers. Both siblings met up with their friends there as often as they could.

“We could try and find them.” Jan suggested, smirking.
“Ugh, I don’t want to look like I’m following Des around, trying to ‘get’ with his friends.”
Jan laughed. Two older, tough-looking iten caught their eye from a stall and tried to get them to come over, and Elyena and Jan pulled up their hoods in response. Wolf whistles came back.
“Lets leaaaave…can’t be doing with this right now.” Elyena grabbed her hand and pulled her friend around behind a row of stalls, back towards the bridge where she’d last seen her brother.