“No Duty Farther Than Her Own Heartbeat” by Aimee Ogden

“No Duty Farther Than Her Own Heartbeat” by Aimee Ogden

Letty drinks down the descriptions of her destruction as they roll out of the tinny wall speakers. There is only one newschannel, of course, whose presenter parrots the predictable response from the Angelic Assembly. An industrial accident, inflicted by the carelessness of a single worker at the lowest levels of the ruined munitions plant. “Her family has been identified.” The presenter is a woman, Letty’s age or a little younger. Her voice is tinged with motherly sorrow. She’s good. “They will be subjected to the disciplinary consequences of which she has been deprived by death. May she find what forgiveness God has to offer. Duty first, my beloved Assembly. Always duty—”

The speakers chirp when Letty grabs the handset to change the channel, a warbling hymn about freedom found in obedience. Fucking hell, that’s the praisechannel, anything but that; Letty clicks away quickly.

The statuschannel, with an electronic voice dryly reporting the weather, the air quality outlook, the wind direction and radiation risk, makes for a calming replacement. This is the monitoring and broadcast station whose maintenance room Letty now occupies, whose transmission she and Gabriel will hijack when the moment comes. When they’re ready to sign a name to their handiwork today. Letty fiddles with the handset, and puts it aside. The metal rack bolted to the wall has a sticker clinging to it, a reproduction of a painting of Jesus holding an infant in one arm and a sword in the other. Letty digs her fingernail under the edge of the sticker and pulls. It rips down the middle, tearing away Jesus and leaving the infant with a sword it is not equipped to wield.

Despite the official line, a team of the Assembly’s Protectors will be massing. Searching for suspects, and secondary targets. The comm arrays should make their list, if they’re not idiots. If Letty is lucky, the radiation rats working the reclamation zone outside won’t have reported her movement here. Seeing as how the Assembly caused the hot zone between Asheville and Charlotte, it’s not likely those rats will have a lot to report if the Protectors come asking.

The fléchette gun is comfortingly heavy in Letty’s hand, though her traitorous arm trembles under the weight. Not as young as she used to be. She settles into a comfortable position and marks a sightline to the maintenance hatch—the most likely entry point into the communications array from outside. It’s how Letty got in, after all; her contacts gave her the access code. No reason to think the Protectors can’t work their way into the same privilege.

Protectors will come from outside, Letty thinks. Protectors aren’t much for scurrying in the belowground tunnels like insects.

Gabriel is late.

The handset screen is still lit, but Letty avoids flicking her eyes to catch the time. Her contacts had the boy under their protection while Letty did the more dangerous work of infiltrating the factory, setting the charges, and making it here to the monitor station overground.

Letty doesn’t scurry under the soil, either.

She is the gun hand, the clenched fist. It’s Gabriel who’s the voice and she needs him, needs him here, to make her deeds matter with his words. They are small and the Assembly is vast, but she’d rather spend what’s left of her life gnawing at the ankles of the colossus than crawling in its shadow.

A clatter on the deck outside. Already? Letty pockets the handset without taking her eyes off the hatch or her finger off the trigger. If she can make a few corpses to briefly block the hatch, it’ll give her time to drop down the ladder and make it to the tunnel opening two stories down. Might give her time to find Gabriel, warn him, maybe even get his scrawny ass out of here alive.

The hatch grinds. Daylight spills through, and with it, a shadow. Letty’s finger caresses the trigger.

She sees Gabriel’s face before she hears the bark of her fléchette.

* * *

And so when God looked down on the nation and its depravity, He was greatly grieved, and He said, “Like the men of Gomorrah before them, they will feel My wrath.” And He sent His scourge down upon the women, so that their wombs closed against them. When the nation cried out for mercy, He wept, but mercy is earned and not freely given.

– Excerpt from the First Book of the Way, author unknown

* * *

Go back. Go back to where this all started. The boy, standing in the shelter of the farm market stands thirty miles west of Philadelphia, raising his voice to reach the back of the crowds that had gathered. The boy, whispering in the long shadows of St Louis’s towering, empty buildings. The boy, passing paper missives into open palms in the silence of freshly Assembly-occupied territory near Ottawa. He’s fifteen now but he was only, what? Nine, then? Nine years old, when they started, and all along, the words have been the same. “I’ll die someday. So will you. But our ideas will survive us. And my idea is this: it’s time to break the Way.”

The words are the same. So are the hungry hearts open to receive them. Waybreaker, they murmur. Letty stands behind him, out of the way, and watches for furtive movements, the flicker of doubtful eyes, a knife or gun hidden inside a jacket or up a drooping sleeve.

This isn’t where it started, though. Not really. Go back farther.

* * *

Here is the nursery, draped in solemnity and quiet. Machinery hums and thumps, recreating the maternal heartbeat for those deprived of it too early. Here is the artificial womb, pulsating in its basin. Its thin tissues glow a faint amber in the light from the data readouts. If you peer closely through, you can see the boy-child’s delicate features: the eyelids that tremble, the soft down of dark hair.

No. Not far enough. Go back. Go back.

* * *

Letty doesn’t know the other farm worker’s name but she knows the shape of his body and how it fits against hers in the secret spaces of the Lord’s Food Production Center of Southern Shreveport. And then it’s her own body whose shape she doesn’t recognize, as it strains against the front panels of her uniform. And the Bishop knows too, and how couldn’t he, nothing’s ever truly hidden from the Bishops just like nothing’s ever outside the sight of God Himself. A pregnancy unscreened for genetic compatibility is potentially dangerous. A waste of resources.

Two guards march Letty into the Bishop’s Sanctum, a big building on Marshall Street. It used to be some other kind of church, back when there were other kinds of churches around. Out in front, there’s still a brick pedestal with the broken feet of some kind of statue stuck on top.

Once, when she was just thirteen, on her way into the Bishop’s Sanctum to be assigned her adult role in the Assembly, Letty asked her mother what kind of gods those other churches used to worship. Her mother’s face froze and she’d hissed at Letty to shut herself up before someone else took the opportunity.

The Bishop waits for her in a small office upstairs. Letty’s sweating even before she lumbers down to her knees in front of the Bishop, and the hot wet air pouring in from the open window doesn’t help the surging nausea in her belly.

Some time goes by, minutes maybe, before the Bishop gets to talking. “It’s your body that carried you into sin,” he says at last. “So might be it’s your body that’ll bear you up to salvation, too.” And just like that, he sets a Protector over Letty. Lest she do some inadvertent harm to the germinating life inside her, he says, or lest some other evil soul try to move against God’s plans for her. Straight away, this stranger becomes a fixture in Letty’s life. There’s no farm work now, only rest and healthy food and prayers for the life inside her to grow healthy and strong. From the moment she takes her vows as Vessel she can’t move without a second set of footsteps echoing her own.


The blood, the cramping pain like a knife in her guts. The gun on her Protector’s hip and the strength in her arms grant the woman no power over Letty’s birthing bed. The scarlet mass that writhes out from between Letty’s legs, and the Bishop’s voice saying, “No, absolutely not, I cannot certify this as human—”

No. Too far. Too far.

* * *

Your mother was the best friend I ever had, do you know that? When she was pregnant with you we used to walk together, all through the halls of the birthing center, in Corpus Christi, where you were born. It used to be a whole hospital once, but now it was just for pregnant women and babies.

Pregnant people, I mean. Shit. I’m sorry. Sometimes I forget how much space the Assembly still takes up in my head.

There used to be this big old pool in there, you know—that was where your big sister was born, I guess. Before I knew Renee. When the Assembly took the birthing center, they drained the pool and purified the water in case the local authorities cut off the water supply. That was before the war had really gotten going, when they just locked things down as long as they could and grabbed as many healthy babies as they could snatch.

Try to breathe, sweetheart. Stay with me. And I’ll stay with you.

The Assembly wouldn’t have kept the pool anyway. Pagan iconography, they would’ve said, everyone all naked and pushing babies out together. Birth was meant to be this private thing, personal, between God and the body He’d blessed with new life.

Well. God, the body, and its Protector.

Your mother. I was afraid I would never understand her then. Or I was afraid that I already did.

Talk to me. Ask me about her. Keep listening. Keep talking. We only have to wait.

* * *

The timer on Letty’s handset is chirping, has been chirping. She tapes another layer of bandages over the wound in Gabriel’s side. Her hands are soaked scarlet. His face is pale, bloodless. She thinks his lung might collapse. She’ll deal with that if it happens. Help is supposed to be coming.

Help was supposed to get here with him.

But his eyes are open, lashes flickering. “Letty,” he croaks.

She’s been babbling; her throat is dry and her tongue sticks to her teeth when she swallows her apologies. No way to make things right, and no time either. “Gabriel, you’ve got to get up. You’ve got to do this.” He has to live. He’s the one. He has to do this, and keep doing it, or else what is it all for?

He doesn’t answer. “Gabriel,” she begs, and his breath rattles. That beloved face, so pale—the blood, the bullet—someone is screaming and it’s her—the blood and that terrible, familiar face—


—what the fuck is it all for?

* * *

Intercalaic virus (also known as the first CRISPR plague; also known as the Scourge of Heaven [archaic])

Intercalaic virus was developed between 2087 and 2088 by two dissident students at the University of Texas at Austin and released during a campaign visit by President Rachael Jennings Lennox.

The students would later explain their motivation for the disease was Lennox’s earlier remarks about the potential for a sitting President to become pregnant. Thus, the virus capsule was designed to bind to glycoproteins found in the zona pellucida on the outside of human ova, while its genes encoded for proteins that would intercalate into DNA, preventing proper folding and recopying of the DNA. Pregnancies in an infected individual were rarely viable and typically resulted in early miscarriage.

After its release, the virus proved to be much more transmissible than intended and spread across several populated counties in the American southeast before any infected individual was aware of their condition.

Though the students were identified and arrested in 2089, certain segments of the population refused to accept their explanation for plummeting fertility rates, and adopted instead the belief that the situation was a sign of God’s wrath being brought to bear against the United States of America.

* * *

Or else why are the nursery alarms blaring deep and heartbeat-steady and relentless as God’s abiding wrath? Letty runs without breathing, stolen infant cradled in one arm and fléchette gun in the other. You can never go back, the alarms scream. You can never go back go back


* * *

Or else why is Letty sitting in the Women’s Health Center as the girders groan and strain under the National Guard’s assault? Renee’s screams cut through the thunder of the bombs and the shudder of the building alike. She wraps her arms around her swollen belly and Letty wonders a little, at that. Renee has tried to do worse to herself and the child she carries. What has she to fear from the bombs?

When the storm ends, Renee’s face is wet with tears. “That all they’ve got?” she says hoarsely.

“Local forces don’t have the strength to overpower the Assembly.” Letty stands first, then holds out a hand to Renee. Renee staggers to her feet using the wall, without Letty’s help. “Not while the Army’s occupied on the Carolina front. Or coming over to enlist under our flag.” Letty’s hand remains outstretched. It flutters toward Renee’s taut, round stomach.

Renee turns away, puts her face to the wall and her back to Letty. She hates to be reminded of what grows inside her. The injustice bruises Letty. All Renee has to do is give life to her child, she doesn’t have to concern herself with anything more than that, not the bombing outside nor any duty farther than her own heartbeat.

Renee’s heartbeat—

* * *

I could never let your mother’s child be part of the Assembly. You were never for that. I knew then that you would do great things, and that I’d help you. Any way I could.

* * *

“Letty,” Gabriel interrupts. She pulls back, peeling her cheek away from his sweat-soaked forehead. “I can’t—breathe. I—can’t—do it.”

Worlds shift behind Letty’s eyes. Timelines contract and expand. She checks his pulse—so fast, so faint—and the blood perfusion in his hands—too slow. Not impossibly so. He’d live, he might, if. If. Her hand finds the hateful fléchette gun on the floor. She could carry him. All the way to their exit point, perhaps. He’s light for his age. All the way through whatever resistance awaits between here and there…Letty finds herself thinking please, Jesus and flinches.

“Be still,” she says instead, and takes her hand off the gun. Can’t risk the additional weight, if they’re going to make a break for it. “Keep breathing. I’ll get you out of here. We’ll find out what happens next together.”

His breath hitches when her hands slide under his armpits. “No!”

She lets go at once. “Is the pain too much?”

“No. We c-can’t. Go yet.” His lashes flutter; he’s looking at the discarded handset. “Has—to—be you.”

* * *

The daily Reverence broadcast to the Delmarva Peninsula is interrupted for twenty-four seconds by grainy footage of a young boy, ten or twelve years old, speaking urgently into the camera. “The Way has to be broken,” he says. “And we’ll break it together. Before we’re trampled beneath it.”

Then he disappears in a haze of static. He always disappears, just in time. Someone knows a great deal, too much, about Assembly operations.

* * *

A quiet moment, in the birthing center room that Renee and Letty share. Letty straightens up the latest mess that Renee has made: flipping the bed, tearing the TV screen off the wall. Renee refuses to clean up so it’s Letty alone who sweeps up the shattered pieces of the screen, and slides the white backing and its jumbled cords into the corner. All the actual TV stations have been blocked since the Assembly landed anyway, so this isn’t any great loss. “You’re lucky I’m here to clean this up,” Letty says. “If the Reverend Captain had seen it first, you would’ve been punished.”

“Yes,” says Renee, curled up atop the remade bed. “I feel very lucky.”

Letty straightens, hands curling and uncurling on the broom. “Is there anything you need, Renee?”

“I need to see my husband and daughter again. I need this thing out of me.” Renee huffs a laugh. “But you won’t let me have what I need. Because you think you deserve what I have.”

* * *

Your mama had a way with words. Just like you. A way of saying things that made me listen with my whole body, in a way I’d never had to listen before. The Assembly wants you to say all the right words but they don’t want you to stop and chew on them a while, just swallow ’em down and puke ’em right back up. Your mama’s words had barbs and they stuck in your throat, made you pull them out and look them over. I learned to listen from your mama.

You’re listening now, aren’t you? Really listening?

* * *

The handset crackles again—not the timer this time, but their local contact, their voice electronically disguised. “Broken Blade, you there? Did the Waybreaker make it to you?”

Why did you send him outside and alone? Letty rages, but cool logic cracks through the anger. She grabs the handset and transmits back. “He’s hurt. If you sent him overground I’m guessing that means the tunnels are locked down between us and you.”

“Six or eight Protectors. Don’t worry about them. We’ve got a lookalike leading them astray. We’ll get to you in time.”

“A lookalike?” Letty’s teeth grind. “You’re endangering a child for this tactic?”

A hiss of static. Then: “Is the Waybreaker going to live?”

Letty looks down at Gabriel. His eyes are on her face and his chest rises and falls: shallow, but steady. “Yes.” When she says it out loud, she can very nearly believe it.

“Is he going to be able to do the broadcast?”

Will this be a random act of violence after all? Or will there be words to mold it into some kind of meaning? She silences the handset. “Gabriel,” she says. “You know the words. I don’t. It’s not me, and it’s not my place.”

“The words—” He closes his eyes, breathes again. They stay closed when he presses on. “Are yours. Always yours. Letty.” His fingers twitch and she seizes them in hers. Her grasp is sticky with his drying blood. “Forgive you,” he says.

“No.” She bends forward, places a kiss on his forehead. In case it is the last one. “Not yet.”

* * *

Ordinance 18.73 Additional Heretic Terminology

From the office of Reverend Superintendent Quincy Breslin

The use of the term Waybreaker is interdicted in all territories provided for by the Angelic Assembly. Upon first offense, the accused will submit to a period of five years of Penitent Service.

If a second offense is incurred, the offender will be obliged to seek further consequences at the hand of God Himself.

* * *

Go back and here is Letty, hunched at the back of a refugee camp in Free California with a little boy on her knee. He’s small for his age, almost five years old now, big-eyed and dark-haired. He clings to her constantly, seeking a hand, a ragged coat-hem to hold onto. When she speaks, she does so into his ear. Her accent invites enough questions as it is; what she has to say would invite far more. “Your mother died,” she says, “because the Assembly saw her as a thing and not a person. A cog in their machine, made for just one purpose.”

He blinks, and his smooth brow creases in a frown. “Having me.”

“Yes. Her, and others. I’ve seen so many bodies broken beneath the Way. If God’s real and He favors the Assembly—” Her voice has grown too loud. She lowers it again, for Gabriel’s hearing only. “Then Him and His son aren’t worth your worship.”

She licks her lips. His dark eyes are so steady, watching her. Waiting. “They can kill me,” she says, “but they can’t kill an idea. If we spread it far and wide, it’ll grow bigger than us. It’ll devour the Assembly from within.”

She fills him up, that night and the next and the next, with visions of horrors: screaming parents torn away from their wanted children, then dragged back to the breeding-halls to produce another litter on demand. Swelling and hemorrhage and blindness. The secret language of poisons and wires that the pregnant ones learned to speak, behind their Protectors’ notice. Infants birthed and discarded, never certified as human, for some want of perfection as the Assembly stretched out its grasp and learned greed to replace its former need. Birthing beds stained scarlet with a mother’s blood—

The bed, stained scarlet with Renee’s blood—

(she tells him anything he wants to know but she does not tell him everything)

Go back farther.

* * *

Renee and Letty walk through the dark tiled halls; the generator is running and patchy fluorescent lights bleed through only here and there. Renee’s hand is tucked into Letty’s elbow and her weight is on Letty’s arm. Her ratty fingernails keep snagging on Letty’s sleeve; she’s taken to biting them. Letty helps her keep them filed down as best she can.

There are discolored patches on the paint where once posters were hung, showing the stages of labor, uterine anatomy, what numbers to call if you felt unsafe with your partner. There are no new posters but there is a hand-drawn piece of artwork on old accordion printer paper, a series of youthful faces shaded in all color of markers and highlighters. JESUS LOVES THE LITTLE CHILDREN, it says in block letters.

“I’m a person,” says Renee, “and you are too. Not just fodder in someone else’s plans.” She grunts. Her hips have been hurting her for the past week or so. She’s, what, nearly thirty weeks along now? “I hope you remember that before it’s too late.”

Letty doesn’t know yet how to remember something she’s never learned, but too late to matter, she will. Too late, too late: the background radiation of her life. Go back farther. Go back, even though it will never be far enough.

* * *

Go back to Gabriel’s face, haloed in the doorway, his blood staining her vision scarlet. Go back to Letty’s finger kissing the trigger. Go back to Renee, the blood between her legs, and what’s this dangling from her limp fingers: an illicit wire torn from the damnable TV screen. The blood between her legs, and on her chest too, spreading, spreading slowly from the tiny black hole over her heart. How can something so small hold so much power? Renee’s face, disappointment still written in its slackening lines. Gabriel’s face, taut with shock.

Letty’s finger, on the trigger.

Too far back. Not far enough.

* * *

The blood and amniotic fluid still haven’t been cleaned from Letty’s bed and body. The less-than-human fetal remains wait, forgotten, in a plastic bin on the table. “What if,” says the Bishop, and takes Letty’s hand, “there was another way for you to serve? There’s other vows than those of a Vessel. The sweat of the birthing-bed isn’t the only way to wash sin away.”

From her seat beside the bed, Letty’s Protector looks up.

* * *

Letty’s service weapon sits on the desk between her and the Reverend Captain. The taste of her own vomit clings to her tongue; its odor suffuses her clothes, her hair. “I can’t do this anymore,” she says, and her voice shakes. She squeezes her hands together, like a prayer, but she can’t remember just now who it is she’s supposed to be praying to.

“There’s nothing you could have done differently, Letty.” Unfamiliar gentleness suffuses the Revered Captain’s voice. Letty winces away from it. “Some people can’t be turned away from their own destruction. No matter how we try to show them a better Way.”

Letty’s hands twist in her lap. She has picked the cuticles of her fingers raw and bloody. “Did her baby survive?”

“The baby’s still with us.” The Reverend Captain’s correction does not escape Letty’s notice. Her voice softens as she reaches out and lays two fingers on Letty’s service weapon. “Maybe what you need, Sergeant, is just a change of pace. Have you considered nursery duty?”

Letty’s breath catches.

The Reverend Captain smiles. “Another chance, Letty. To protect the child where you couldn’t protect the bearer. To set his feet on the Way. To do what you couldn’t do before.”

Go on, then. Go on, go back, and finish what was started twice over. What was started in early birthing-beds, in blood and shredded tissue and tears.

Or else what is it all for?

* * *

When Letty picks the handset up, it shrieks static for a moment before calming into her grasp. Her fingers are steady as she dials in the code given by their contact. The dull rumble of words from the statuschannel cuts out, leaving her in silence but for Gabriel’s shuddering breaths.

Ten minutes or less before the Assembly locks down the signal and restores whatever official channel she’s breaking into now. She exhales shakily, and her breath echoes back to her on a half-second delay from the speakers in the wall.

She doesn’t know what to say. Nowhere better to start than to admit that. “If you’re hearing this, you ought to know it was me that set the bombs beneath the munitions plant. That dust-up wasn’t any kind of accident.”

She surfaces on the crest of her own speech, a drowning woman coming up for air. “You expected the Waybreaker. I’m sorry I’m not him.” The rise and fall of Gabriel’s chest makes a hypnotic rhythm with the doubled words tumbling out of her and the speakers; the crescents of his eyes glint between his lashes. She has been sorry for fifteen years. Sorry is not enough. “I’m his fist, tearing down your factories and bases. I’m his feet, smashing your walls into gravel. I’m his teeth, tearing the throat out of the war-beast you’ve built.”

Her throat is dry. She chokes down the cough that threatens to rise, for fear that a sob is hiding behind it. “I have to be. Because before that, I was their fist, that bruised Texas and Oklahoma and Missouri. I was their feet, meekly following God’s Way as they set it out and never looking around to see that there was another path. I was their teeth and I can still taste the blood I spilled.”

The truth is a blade and she wields it carefully, from long experience. “I took my vows as Vessel, then as Protector. I did my duty as the Way would have it, both on my back in the birthing bed and then with a rifle in my hand.” Her gorge rises. “And if someone like me can learn to do differently, to be better, then you can too. There are, what, five hundred thousand of them? There’s millions of us. Help us break the Way.”

The speakers belch, and then the loop of tomorrow’s radiation outlook picks back up again. The handset drops from Letty’s hand and she looks at Gabriel.

The truth is a blade and her wounds are self-inflicted.

* * *

Your mama was brave. I killed her. I’m sorry.

* * *

Letty and Renee move through the halls of the health center: Renee a ghost in softly slippered feet, Letty’s boots crashing down in a steady rhythm. “The Assembly was chosen by God to thrive and grow. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you learn to love the duty He gave you and join us walking His Way, the happier you’ll be. You understand that, don’t you?”

Renee’s hair is a tangled knot that hides her face. She doesn’t let Letty touch it with a comb or brush. “How is it you think we’re fixing to have a productive conversation while you’ve got a gun on your back?”

Letty trips, and the steady rhythm of her gait shifts. She doesn’t see them yet but there are cracks in the Way beneath her feet.

* * *

Go back to the nursery, one last time. The taut pull of the artificial womb over a tiny cheek. Born three months early and still clinging to life. So small, but what a great future lies ahead: one built from the sturdy bricks of duty and sacrifice. The same things that brought him into this world will also lead him through it.

Letty’s knees give way, and she finds herself on the floor beside the womb. She can only just see the soft indentations that hide tiny, newborn-blue eyes. Soon enough the sleeper will wake and she’ll pour into him all she has to give. More than that. He’ll have to learn things she doesn’t yet know.

“I’m going to tell you all about your mama,” she whispers. But when she opens her mouth, the window of word slams shut, and all she can muster is a half-forgotten lullaby. For now. For now. There will be so many more days to come, worlds of time to change and build and shape to better fit. She sings the lullaby anyway, and the child stirs fitfully against the womb’s tight grasp.

* * *

Gabriel doesn’t object when she pulls his shoulders onto her lap. His hair is plastered to his forehead with cold sweat; she sweeps it away from his face and tries to make out the meaning in the arcane loops and whorls. “Don’t know,” he whispers, in between harsh gasps, “how to—forgive you.”

“Oh, my darling.” She presses her lips to his cool, sticky forehead. “I’m not looking for forgiveness.” There’s none to be had. There’s only the hope that, in the slow turn of the world, some things will not be too quickly lost or forgotten. She lays one hand on Gabriel’s cheek as he closes his eyes, resigns himself to silence. Gabriel’s face, still but for the aftershocks of pain that still roll through him.

Renee’s face…

A thump resounds through the floor, jarring Letty’s legs. She scrambles her feet back, pushing herself and Gabriel into a corner, as more blows ring out. The sound is coming from below—Letty doesn’t dare to hope. She looks for the fléchette gun where it has fallen. Too far to retrieve without moving Gabriel.

She would rather stay here, with him. She would rather die without a gun in her hand.

The hatch in the floor rebounds with such force it knocks the forgotten handset out of its nook on the wall. Letty’s fingers tighten in Gabriel’s hair. When the hands and arms reach up out of the opening, they are open and they are empty. “Waybreaker,” someone calls, and more behind him pick up the cry. “Waybreaker! Waybreaker!”

* * *

The Waybreaker is a title assigned to as many as three dozen individuals in the Late Colonization and Collapse stages of the Heavenhold War, between the years 2113 and 2129 CE.

List of identified Waybreakers:

  • Teenaged boy (active 2113-??) disseminating anti-authoritarian literature and speeches in several occupied states including Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Ohio
  • Middle-aged woman (active 2117-??) claiming responsibility for insurgent destruction of munitions facility in the irradiated zone near Asheville, North Carolina
  • Anonymous individual (active 2116-2121) later identified as Reverend General Maurice Bachman, responsible for passing secret information about Assembly deployments and plans to local resistance movements; executed in 2121 by the Assembly for treason
  • Young woman (active 2118-??) who engineered a series of insurgent attacks in Detroit, Windsor, and Sarnia between 2118 and 2120 in order to create the state of Free St. Clair; the first successful expulsion of Assembly troops from occupied territory…

Aimee Ogden‘s work has also appeared in Analog, Shimmer, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.