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Lazette Gifford made her first fiction sale to Jackhammer E-zine in July, 1999 (EPILOGUE TO A LOST TALE, which is available in their 'As Seen On The Web' anthology.) Since then she has sold another 20+ short stories and two ebooks. Not content with driving poor, unsuspecting 'net surfers crazy with just stories, she also creates and maintains several web sites, including those SF/Fantasy writers eluki bes shahar/Rosemary Edghill (they are the same person!) and Esther Friesner. She recently started Sff.net's E-stand at http://www.sff.net/estand to help better promote epublications. She is also the web designer and managing editor for Holly Lisle's Forward Motion: A Resource for Writers at http://lazette.net/vision .

'Those Who Reach' was published in Jackhammer in February, 2000. The publication has unfortunately ceased production.

Those Who Reach
Lazette Gifford

The smaller ones suffered first during the drought. The alpha male, his followers, females and offspring took over the best feeding areas, and the others made do with bushes already stripped bare of berries and nearly all the leaves. Their numbers dwindled. Other predators came only out of desperation, because this prey was as apt to kill and eat them.

There was one -- her short brown fur matted, her hands covered in dirt and sores -- who did not live by the rules of the Alpha male. She did not follow his laws, or the teachings of the others. She wandered to the very edge of the valley, sneaking past the Alpha camp and into unsafe places.

There were dangers beyond the valley, but there was also -- food. She could see trees high on the cliff. Scrawny, withered trees, but some with a few leaves and maybe some berries. She wanted that food.

She did what no one else of her kind had done. She reached upward and began to climb. A few were brave enough to follow.

They left the australopithecines behind.

One million years later…

"You should have married Frank," Lannie's brother said, as though they hadn't faced this discussion before. "He would have taken care of you."

Lannie sat aside her cup of thin, sugarless tea. She didn't want to have this conversation tonight.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked again.

"Because I can do better than being taken care of," she said. Mark's eyes narrowed and his face colored. "Why the hell do you think I spent ten years in training?"

"I thought you were a dreamer, and just didn't know any better. No one took it seriously, and when the project was dropped four years ago, I thought that was the end of it."

"Ha." The little laugh was bitter. "I should have known that's how you feel, considering the company you keep."

Mark looked startled and pushed back from the table, the metal legs scraping against the broken linoleum. "Company? What company?"

"You never were good with your reactions," she said and leaned back. "Powers, of course."

"You've been spying on me!"

"No, I didn't spy on you, but people I work with noticed."

"You never said anything."

"I figured it was your choice, just as this is my choice. That's the part you're going to have to understand, Mark. You never took my work seriously, but I did. I went on with my schooling for a reason. Society be damned, Mark. We're going."

"You are stealing our food," Mark said. "It's not right that you take so much when the rest of us are suffering."

"Ah, finally getting down to Power's dogma." He blushed. She could match him, statement-for-statement and with far more conviction, since her beliefs were her own. "We're taking less than ten percent of the food we would eat if we stayed here for the rest of our lives. It's a fair trade. And we did wait until this year because of the good harvests."

"We need that grain and the other supplies to make sure we don't have another failure --"

"Do you really think what we're taking is going to make a difference if there are another two bad drought years?"

He didn't look any happier and she wasn't surprised. She wished he'd just leave her in peace for her last few hours on Earth. She would rather be alone than bitter.

"It's not right that you go and leave the rest of us behind," he said, startling her, because this was not Powers talking. "If the world fails us again, we should all be here, together."

She stared at him in honest shock. "No, Mark. I'm not interested in a suicide pack with the rest of humanity."

"You don't expect the rest of us to survive."

"Not for long. Not for another two generations. We've shown you the reports. Earth cannot support life any longer. The ecology is ruined, and the climate is hostile. We aren't going to stay and watch the end. Anyone could come with us, but we can't make you wise enough to do so. And we can't make you brave."

He stood, shoving the chair back and glaring. "We know our place. We know that we belong on Earth."

"Yes, imagine that you do. But some of the rest of us don't."

He slammed the door on his way out. There was nothing either could have said to change the other's mind -- and besides, God help her, she didn't want Mark and his kind on her new world.

Lannie wasn't going to sleep tonight. She went to the window and saw lights blazing in almost every window, a conspicuous waste of power. Good for them, she thought. There were nearly five thousand in their little city. They made they're own power, they grew a lot of their own food, and they kept technology alive when the rest of the world blamed them for disasters that had nothing to do with science, and everything to do with greed.

Far across the field she could see the ship, ready for tomorrow's launch, but that wasn't what she wanted to look at tonight. The compound was far too bright to see the stars from here. Lannie grabbed her jacket and left the dingy little apartment. She walked out toward the fence line heading toward the encroaching desert north of the compound. She coded her way past the guard station and went out into the dead lands beyond.

Nothing but sand moved here, though occasionally some of the hardier life forms wandered close to the edge of civilization, looking for prey. Tonight the land was silent, empty and desolate.

She looked up and her breath caught. This was her last night to look at this sky. When she looked again, she would stand on another world, and the stars would be different.

Would they make new constellations? Would they reinvent astrology? Would they reinvent Earth, good and bad? What would they remember? What would they learn?

What made them different from the other humans?

. . . .

By dawn Powers and his people were arriving at the gate. Lannie went out to speak with them. Courtesy, nothing more.

Powers was a little man with a big ego and an enigmatic ability to pull people into his cause. He was a man of his times, his outlook was so perpetually bleak that he probably made his followers feel good about their limited optimism. He felt an attachment to the ground he walked on as though the dirt was holy.

Only it wasn't just dirt, was it? She looked down at her feet and thought about all the life that went into making that soil, and all the history that went into making this world. She was going to give it all up --

No, she was thinking backwards. Powers, Mark and the others were the ones who giving it up. She and her people were going elsewhere to continue what Earth had made of them. They were taking as much history, knowledge and culture as they could. They just wouldn't take the dirt as well.

"We won't let you go," Powers said. "You're stealing from us. You haven't any right --"

"I'm not here to listen to you," she said from her side of the gate. He looked startled and then annoyed. He wasn't going to admit that they had any rights or hopes when he had none of his own. "We're leaving within the hour, Powers. I'm here to tell you that there are others, preparing their own ships. If anyone changes their mind, they can find a ship and leave with them. We will not end up on the same world. Somewhere, we hope, at least one of the colonies will survive."

"You can't --"

"I don't know why you want us to stay. Tell me your reasons."

"Because we're all human, we belong together. How do we know what you'll create out there, to
represent us --"

"We aren't going to represent you. You are going to die here. You'll all be dead and dust -- and poor Earth will likely be the same -- before we ever reach a world."

"It's not God's Way," a woman said.

"If God doesn't like it, I'm sure he'll let us know in one way or another," Lannie answered. The woman scowled, but they had long ago gone past the edge of politeness. "I'm here to make a last offer to anyone who wants to go. Now is the time, people. This is the last chance to catch this ride."

"Can -- can you take all of my family?"

A man with four children and a pale-faced wife had worked themselves up close to the gate. The youngest was holding tight to a doll and a kitten.

"We'd be happy to have you. All of you."

"We will not allow --" Powers began.

Lannie lifted her hand and showed the palm-shaped device. She wasn't sure what Powers thought it was, but he leapt back and frowned, annoyed to have shown such weakness. Lannie activated the shield, manipulating the size and shape to push back the edge of the crowd. The father looked surprised and pleased.

"It's illegal to have that kind of device!" Powers shouted.

"So sue me," Lannie said.

She saw, for one brief moment, her brother grin. The family slipped inside the gate and she deactivated the shield. The power drain was enormous and she might need it again before they reached the ship.

"I'm Tom Martin, my wife Alice, Catherine, Tommy, Rob and Denise. I'm sorry about the kitten. The kids have been feeding it from their own food and Denise just wouldn't leave it alone in the house --"

"No problem. We still have a place or two for mammals."

"You'll -- you'll even take the kitten?" Alice asked, stunned by that news.

"Certainly," Lannie said, realizing that she was walking away from the gate and hadn't even realized it. Walking away from Earth, and anxious to go.

"When do we go aboard?" Tom asked. He looked at the ship with his eyes bright. She'd seen that look before.

"Now. The others are already inside. We have a tunnel up into the ship so we could have it boarded without the hordes outside getting nervous. They don't know."

She looked back at the gate. Powers was yelling something, but Mark...Mark was standing with his face against the gate. For a moment she thought he was going to ask to go. She would have gone back for him --

"Hey!" he yelled and waved. "Good luck, Lannie!"

"Thanks!" She blinked back tears, but it was a better farewell than she'd expected.

Dr. Beldon took the family for inoculations and to prepare them for the long sleep. She took the kitten to the lab and handed it over to the last person still awake. Then she went up and up, past the rooms where the others were already sleeping, sealed in their containers, dreaming -- she knew they dreamed because she'd tried the sleep pods. Some of them might not survive. She wished them all well.

Up she climbed, up and up to the highest point of the huge ship. Lannie sat at the controls and prepared. It was her duty and honor to take them up and out of the system before she went down to her own sleep pod. A hundred years from now Derrick would awaken and check the coordinates and scan for worlds. And a hundred years after that she would be back to do the work. They would trade off until they found a new home.

She was the last of her people to see Earth as the ship lifted. Blue still, though with a taint of gray at the poles. Lannie wished them well and hoped that somehow, contrary to every belief she held, they found a way to survive.

But she and her people were leaving the homo sapiens behind.


Visit Lazette Gifford's website for more information about her books and short fiction.

Read The Angst Of Hero Naming, a poem by Lazette Gifford.

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