Chasing Freedom by Marina Fontaine
Length: 223 pages
Genres: SFF, Dystopia, Action
In 2040s America, civility is prized above truth, conformity above free expression, and “green” living above basic human needs. Most have given up, too busy trying to survive in a country where life is cheap and necessities are scarce. Yet even in the midst of drudgery and despair, unbroken spirits remain.
A Dragon Awards 2016 Nominee, Best Apocalyptic Novel
They had it all planned out. The car shop was an easy target, a stand-alone building next to a dilapidated strip mall long ago emptied of tenants. The owner was either too cheap or too trusting to even wire it with an alarm and usually went home well before dark. They would get in, grab whatever parts they could and be back home in no time. Joey had already arranged to trade the parts for a crate of strawberries and several portable players pre-loaded with illegal music.
Randy was not entirely comfortable with the idea of stealing, but decided to go along with his friends. The boredom of school-mandated community service activities was getting to him, and there were only so many thrills available from video games.
There was something else, too. He had finally asked Julie to go out with him on Saturday. Surprising her with an exotic treat of fresh strawberries—the real thing, not the dry flecks found in Good4U Bars—would be an impressive way to start the date.
The four of them were clustered around the large worktable in semi-darkness, filling their backpacks with parts and discussing what they would do with their share. Ric had just finished making fun of Randy’s dating plans—the guy was still a jerk, even if he stopped openly harassing Randy after Joey told him to lay off—when the lights came on.
The owner must have entered the shop through a side door because they did not see him until it was too late. Having caught them red-handed, the man looked surprisingly mild, almost amused. He waved at them dismissively, pointing towards the exit.
Randy, relieved at the chance to get out with no further trouble, headed for the door. The rest of the group dropped the backpacks with visible annoyance, but also started moving out. Joey, the last in line to leave, suddenly changed course, closing the distance to the owner in a few quick strides. The man saw the coming attack and was able to partially twist out of the way. He took a punch to the ribs rather than the solar plexus and wasted no time hitting back. Ric turned away from the door, eager to join in the fight. Tim rolled his eyes at the obvious stupidity of the situation, but went over to help nevertheless. Randy just watched, not joining in the beating but unable to stop it.
From what Randy could see, the shop owner could hold his own in a fight, but the attackers were about two decades younger and had the advantage in numbers. Within minutes, the man was down on the floor in surrender, curled up in an attempt to protect his stomach and face from further blows. Ric and Tim grabbed their backpacks from the worktable and left, unwilling to linger at the scene, but Joey was not finished. He bent down and reached for a heavy wrench on the floor.
Randy found himself jumping on Joey from behind without even making a conscious decision. Joey lost his balance, falling, with Randy still on top and holding on to his right arm to keep him from taking the wrench.
Joey threw his left elbow back, and Randy, keyed up as he was, heard the crunch a split second before he felt anything. Pain, once it came, was literally blinding. He fell backwards and was still trying to blink tears out of his eyes when he saw Joey grab the wrench. The shop owner was still down on the floor, groaning softly, a helpless target. Randy was in no position to stop the attack, but…
“It’s not his fault Maggie’s dying!” he screamed, and that was precisely the right thing to do because Joey froze in his tracks.
It was also precisely the wrong thing, Randy belatedly realized, as his friend, instead of coming to his senses, simply re-directed his rage.
“It’s not his fault, Joey,” Randy repeated, tears flowing freely, no longer only from pain, “It’s not my fault either. I’m sorry.”
He wanted his last words to be more meaningful, somehow, but it was the best he