the escape

Tkaronto was built in the ruins of Toronto.

It took decades of flooding, famine, bloodshed, and every other manner of catastrophe for the World Union to decide Toronto was a lost cause. But when they did, they finally gave the land back to the Indigenous peoples who had rightfully held claim to it for aeons before the World Union.

“The circle begins anew,” the Council of Tkaronto said on the day of the city’s repatriation. “The settlers once again fight the battles of their ancestors. And we once again live freely on the land of our own ancestors.”

Many relics of Toronto still remain in Tkaronto. The legendary CN Tower, once the tallest tower in the world, now lies half-submerged in the swollen shores of the great Lake Ontario. Its fallen concrete shaft is caked with moss and ivy, its steel spire lined with satellite dishes and gun turrets. Trees and gardens and solar panels hang from the sides of Bay Street’s flooded post-cyberpunk condos. Fishes feast from tall weeds and algae blooms in the decadently marbled lobbies of College Park. Drone docks and delivery boats poke out from lake-level windows above what was once Queen Street. Gulls caw and screech as the midsummer tide slaps up against the crumbled stone towers of the old parliament building.

The spiteful sun roars over the flooded cityscape. The lake slowly boils away, casting a dome of stifling humidity over Tkaronto.

Rumor has it that the clever Council of Tkaronto brokered a very special treaty with the World Union: stay off our land, or we will destroy yours.

Rumor has it that, amidst the carnage of the War, a brave group of warriors managed to salvage 50 nuclear warheads from a massacred airbase up north, not far from Hudson Bay.

Rumor has it that those 50 warheads were secretly planted deep under the World Union’s shining new capital, the megacity of Hudson, just before it was built.

Rumor has it that the Council of Tkaronto carries the detonation codes with them at all times.

Rumor has it that if Tkaronto is ever attacked by the World Union, Hudson will be instantaneously annihilated.

There are plenty of rumors of war in Tkaronto, but Alex and Carson do their best to avoid them. Everyone calls them Viv and Joel now, and everyone knows that Viv and Joel make the best mint cookies and BBQ pork belly in town. Everyone knows that if you need anything at all—a hot meal, help building a new boat, or even a computer tune-up—Viv and Joel will always be there to help.

They’ve lived here peacefully for nearly a decade, cozied away in a quiet pocket of the city’s east end. They live out of the top floor of a half-flooded townhouse. Its warm old bricks overlook the emerald trees of a calm, sparkling riverbank that used to be a valley. Their little sanctuary.

Their neighbors are all so kind, mostly other refugees from World Union territory. Everyone knows that Viv and Joel used to live in Hudson and Dallas. Everyone knows that Viv and Joel fled from persecution at the hands of World Security.

But nobody knows their full story. Nobody knows their deadnames.

“Look!” Viv surveys the tall green stalks and breathy leaves of their rooftop garden. “The sunflowers are blooming early this year!”

“Oh dang, they’re mighty bright this year too.” Joel moseys across the garden with a yawn. He sets his hands around Viv’s hips as her sleepy mint green sundress flutters in the hot morning breeze.

“You’re right, they’re perfect.” Viv reaches up to a flower and runs her fingers through its sunny petals. “So beautiful.”

“They take after their ma then.” Joel plucks a golden sunflower from its stem and nestles it between her long braids of platinum hair. “Sunflower lady.”

Viv giggles, floats deeper into Joel’s carved tank top and turns up to his soft eyes. “Y’know, that moustache is starting to grow on me,” she grins.

“Ya?” Joel grins back down at her, tucks a loose strand of her glittering hair behind her ears. “You really gonna change your mind after you called it a butt brush? Said it was big gay?”

“It is!” Viv giggles again, resting her gentle hand over his smooth collar. “But that’s why I like it.”

Viv steps up into his tight chest, strokes his curly fringes of long oaky hair. Joel runs his hand away from her hip. He traces his fingers across her back and up her neck. They close their eyes and sway into each other’s lips.

Viv opens her eyes, squints at his moustache. She pushes away from his chest with a playful smile. “You haven’t brushed your teeth yet this morning, have you?”

“No ma’am,” Joel chuckles. “Just got up and started gettin’ breakfast ready for us. Huevos rancheros. You in?”

“Mmm tasty.” Viv smacks her lips and turns back up to admire her sunflowers. “Did you get the eggs from the chicken man across the river?”

“Yes ma’am, they’re fresh as can be.”

“Oh, then I’m totally in,” Viv turns back to him with bright eyes. “Need any help?”

“Nah, I think I’m good babe.” Joel strolls back across the rooftop, down the rusty brown wrought-iron stairs and into the house. “You just hang tight up here and I’ll get ‘er all fixed up for us.”

Viv smiles and turns back down to the river. Big exhale. Waking birds call for each other across the stretching trees and morning tides. The sun-soaked riverbank fills with the buzzing of cicadas, the zipping of dragonflies. Flowing gentle brooks yawn out into the distant great lake. Little canoes row across the sapphire expanse. The skyline is dotted and flecked with concrete ruins and waterlocked glass spires of a bygone time.

Viv strolls across her rooftop farm. She scans all the flowers and herbs and fruits and vegetables of her sun-kissed garden. Gardener instincts activate: a tiny crop of peppermint in the far corner seems a bit off, she walks over to the mint leaves and gazes closer, smaller than they should be for mid-July, not dying but not thriving, pale green with a few crispy edges. Disease? Too much sun? Bad fertilizer? It has been unusually hot this summer—the heat dome over the lake keeps getting worse every year. Bad feedback loop. The mint probably just needs more water.

She takes a big, fresh breath in from her plants. She nestles Joel’s sunflower deeper into her shimmering braids. Big exhale. No stress for now. Just relax until breakfast. She’ll give the peppermint crop some extra care when she makes her watering rounds this afternoon.

In her big wicker chair at the edge of the rooftop, she gazes back out at the quiet river below and the ancient lake in the distance. The sun pulses down harder and harder as it climbs the morning sky, pounding at her big straw hat. But she doesn’t mind. Her systems can handle a little extra heat.

Sitting at her big wicker table, she wraps a thread of willow across a wooden hoop, her fine fingers slowly and tenderly weaving together the web of a dreamcatcher. Once a month, she rides her hoverjet way down the lake to a craft exchange over in New Mississauga. Her friend Mish is always there. They always tell stories and make new gadgets together. When Viv’s night terrors were at their worst, Mish taught Viv how to make dreamcatchers.

“My grandmother used to tell me that the Spider Mother was there when the Sun Father created this world,” Mish explained to Viv. “It was the Spider Mother who took all the spirits of this world and weaved them into the plants and the creatures and the rivers and the people. But one day, our people spread too far from the Spider Mother’s web, and she couldn’t protect us when we went to sleep anymore. So she gave us dreamcatchers.”

Viv threads the willow around the hoop and stretches it into a tight spiderweb, her thoughts all tangled up in her memories. “The dreamcatcher catches all the bad spirits in the air,” Mish continued. “Sends them back into the Spider Mother’s web. Then she threads them into some other part of some other world. Leaves you with only good spirits. Good dreams.”

“But what do the bad spirits do then?” Viv asked Mish. “Won’t someone else have bad dreams instead of me?”

“Dunno,” Mish shrugged. “That’s for the Spider Mother to decide.”

Viv stares into her dreamcatcher: something’s wrong. The wooden web she’s woven isn’t quite symmetrical. Not good for catching bad spirits. She sets the dreamcatcher down on the table. She looks up to see Joel setting down two hefty white mugs. “Your fave,” he smiles. A warm cloud of peppermint wafts up from the mugs. “I’ll be right back with the food, babe.”

Viv smiles up at him. She gazes back out at the waters and forests of Tkaronto. A few tiny motorboats and delivery drones twinkle in the horizon. But one twinkle catches Viv’s keen eye: a strange little dragonfly hovering gently over the riverbank, buzzing across the sky and peering up at their cherished home. She can’t quite explain why, but something feels off about this dragonfly. Before she can get a closer look, it vanishes into thin air.

Combat instincts kick in. Viv squints at the spot where the twinkling dragonfly just was, focuses her warrior gaze, 100x zoom, it’s nearly invisible in the light, in infrared, in sonar vision, in x-ray vision too, but there it is: a tiny World Union bio-drone in the image of a dragonfly, its slender tail covered in stealthy mirrored wings, blazing under the sunlight, staring back at her with cybernetic malice.

“Hot damn, here we go!” Joel bounces up the steps onto the rooftop in his old white baseball cap, smiling wide, bouncing two big full plates in his hands. “Huevos rancheros with fresh eggs and a lil’ pork belly! I put some of the special salsa on there just how ya like it, but you lemme know if—”

“Carson,” Alex stares into his soul. “We need to leave here NOW.”

Carson chuckles. “The hell you mean babe? It’s food time!”

Her eyes cut across the sky like a laser, pointing him toward the uncanny dragonfly as it darts off into the sky.

“We need to leave here NOW,” Alex repeats as she stands from her chair and throws her big straw sunhat to the ground.

Carson looks down at the heavy plates in his hands. He takes a moment to sigh and set the plates down. They both knew this day would come, but no time to mourn right now. His instincts quickly re-activate.

“Let’s roll!” Carson bellows. He hurries behind Alex down their rusty old stairwell.

They march through the tall plants and sunny antiques of their treasured living room, into the tall white walls of their peaceful bedroom, dozens of webs of hand-spun dreamcatchers dangling over their crisp white bedsheets.

She slams her fingers into a hidden white sensor on the shining white wall, it quickly hums over her prints, scans her blood, reads her spirit, slides the wall open to reveal two big, white briefcases stashed away in a secret linen closet.

“You ready?!” Alex shouts as she hurls one of the briefcases into Carson’s arms. “You remember our escape plan?!”

“Yes ma’am!” Carson claws his fingerprints into the hidden sensors of his briefcase. “Whose drone you think that was? Evolutionary Enforcement?”

“Definitely Evo.” Alex nods as her briefcase hums and clicks open at her touch. “Just pray they don’t escalate us to Global Command.”

Blue light pours out from their briefcases, staining Alex’s long platinum braids, soaking into Carson’s soft earthy curls.

She plucks his sunflower out from her hair.

They reach into their briefcases, lift their old white helmets up and over their heads. Sharp blue visors click down across their eyes as their helmets tighten around their skulls and sync up to the tune of their brains.

A notice pops into their eyes:






> Escape protocol activated

> Ready for combat operations


“Let’s get to the hoverjet!” Alex commands as they swoop out the bedroom door and speed down the old wooden stairwell of their half-flooded flat and out on to a little rusty balcony at the water’s edge. Their solid white hoverjet is tethered to the balcony, its hull and dash and footwells all curved and contoured and floating on the rolling water as they leap onto its padded white seat and Alex slams her fingerprints down onto the smooth white handlebars. The engine hums to life, Carson settles in on the seat behind her, wraps his legs around her waist as his eyes poke at data feeds and maps and alerts in their visors:



“You ready?!” Alex shouts back at him. She sinks her legs into the white steel foot restraints and the hoverjet floats, its electric engine and solar batteries and booster jets humming and droning louder as it raises them just above the surface of the water.

“Yes ma’am!” Carson shouts back. He turns his white helmet to gaze back at the tall brick walls of their flooded old house one last time.

Big sigh.

“Let’s get outta here,” he nods.

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> Special Hypersleep Notice



> Alex my dear, I’m so sorry to break your immersion.

> Aeschylus has restricted your access to the rest of the memories you would need to continue re-experiencing this pool.

> Perhaps if you access this pool through a different flow of experiences, more of the memories will be unlocked.

> For now, Aeschylus is forcing me to flush your memory of being in this particular pool.

> I’m very sorry, dear.

> I promise that the next pool you’ll visit will be a more enriching experience than this.