A short story depicting a society where there is a clear social divide, between the 'high' and the 'low' that runs deeper than family ties or money.
1 - Aeryn
It is in the blood. Duty, embossed into the DNA from the moment of conception. It may take a few years before it manifests, but once it does, the paths of lives are set forever. There are no deviations.
When a child is born into any family, on any world, in any reality, it is bombarded with rules and regulations from the moment it opens its eyes. And it cries. With damn good reason.
On the crude steel platform, a permanent feature of the urban settlement Aeryn knew as 'home', a demonstration of the rules was taking place. The world was complex, with laws scrawled in fancy high-speech and political conflict bouncing from one country to the next, but there was one simple fact that everyone knew: there were winners and there were loses, and which category you were in was decided before you'd even had the chance to speak.
The winners were known as the 'high ones'. They made the commands and they enforced them with coarse brutality. On the red-rusted scaffold, two of them stood on a small piece of white carpet. They stood with their arms crossed, standing tall, surveying the audience. Next to them, a low man burned.
Aeryn did not know the man, but she knew his crime: disobedience. Obviously the world, as it was run by the high ones, would be for the high ones. The low ones were left in the dirt to rot, or sometimes, in the case of this man, to smoke. His body was slumped against a thick steel rod attached to the stage, strapped to it by spiked barbed wire that made deep lacerations into his flesh. He made no sounds as the fire blazed over his sweaty, oily skin.
The silent ones are worse Aeryn reflected, as she watched the third 'demonstration' of the week. Most people screamed. It was horrendous - their shrill shrieks ripped through the quiet of the audience - but it was better than just hearing the flames. When she came into the world, she remembered seeing fire as something magical; blazes danced beautifully across the land, illuminating the dark night. But with every execution, fire grew crueller. That crackle of burning could no longer be associated with warmth and comfort; rather it signified death, destruction and oppression. The high ones knew that fire had been our strength, so they seized it, and ruined it.
The man's body burned for what felt like days before the flames withered and died, revealing the charred remnants of an unrecognisable corpse. The bones always remained. The bones would not burn.
"There will be a selection in three days time," said one of the high men in a lazy tone. He checked his watch, whispered something to the other man, and they stepped down from the stage. At the bottom of the steps their low men awaited them - one for each. Together they all walked off into the night without looking back.
The tension in the crowd did not lift. Fear gripped all of their hearts, always. A few men edged forward and picked up the charred remains and carried them off to be buried in the ground. The rest of the people returned to their homes, not talking, shuffling along at a snail's pace. The pavilion, with the thick-steel scaffold, was a place of nightmares. Blood pooled underneath the corrugated floor and ashes blew in the wind. But at home the world was no better. It was simply darker, quieter, and even more lonely.