Hands, shaking. Blade, sharp.
"No. No, don't come closer." Stop, please.
"Do you remember?"
Morr gives Kate a look. Nobody remembers anything anymore. Well, nothing from before the world turned itself upside down. Metaphorically.
"No, not that," Kate says, waving a hand. "Do you remember when we woke up? All that confusion? None of us knowing where we were… who we were?"
Down below, at the foot of the hills, the evening stretches in celebration. The crops have been plentiful this year, and, on top of that, Kate and Jay finally managed to revive the power plant sitting up the river. They have electricity now, a better water filtration system, and sure heating for the winter.
Morr clutches at the grass and digs his heels into the earth. Many times he thought they wouldn't make it, but their settlement has survived, against all odds. The mere thought constricts Morr's chest with affection.
These are his people.
"I remember," he says. "We were all so furious, though, at the ones that caused it. What were they thinking? How could they look upon the world and decide that this… this miraculous diversity needed stifling? And what were they going to do, program us all to conform?"
Kate pats his arm.
"I just don't get where that hatred came from," Morr whispers, more for himself than her. "Anyway. What were you going to say?"
"Nothing important." Kate shakes her head with a smile. "Guess I was reminiscing."
Voices reach them, mirthful, beckoning to join the dancing. Morr lets himself easily convinced, brimming with joy. They really made it. Twelve years after the worldwide event that had wiped everyone's memory and left them without infrastructure or support or families.
"It is our duty to preserve purity," the man on the screen says. "Our sacred honor and mission to rid the world of imbalance. How can they demand equality when it is clear they are not our equals?"
"Equilibrium can only be reached one way: similarity. Convert those who can be saved, rip away those who cannot."
Someone screams, nearby. His throat is raw but someone screams and he can't stop it. Must stop it.
Kate watches Morr run down the hill with the others, laughter echoing under the darkening sky. A shuffle of skirts accompanies Jay as they sit next to her.
"He's really outdone himself, hasn't he?" Jay says.
"Yes. He loves this community deeply and genuinely."
"Good. Can't wait to see his face. We're doing it at midnight, right?"
Kate hums, lying down. The stars will be bright tonight.
Time passes, slow and steady, and despite their words, Jay curls into a ball, hugging knees to chest. "What if… Kate, what if we don't say anything. Look how much we've accomplished already."
"And what? Let him be happy?" Kate spits it, but somehow it lacks the usual bitterness. She groans and covers her face with her palms.
"Would that be so bad? He's redeemed himself."
"It's not redemption if he doesn't know why. He needs to make the right choices not for himself, but for others, and not expect forgiveness." She sits up, places a hand on Jay's neck in an attempt to comfort. "No one else remembers but us, and we cannot forgive him, Jay."
"But that man is gone. You're talking about punishing the son for the sins of the father." A grimace. "Sort of."
"What brought this on? Yesterday you were all in."
Jay shrugs, fingers twisting in the material of their skirt. "This morning."
Nothing follows and, as Jay's silence stretches, Kate realizes she doesn't want to know. It's probably something she should, though, if it's shaken Jay this much.
"This morning," she nudges.
"Bennie's kid is turning ten next week and they're supposed to choose pronouns to go by. Caught them on the verge of panic because of it, even though it's no big deal. First choice is not final choice, right?"
Kate nods, running her palm down Jay's spine.
"But, well, anxiety is a thing and the kid was worried they'd choose wrong."
"And you explained I assume."
Jay shakes their head. "Morr got there before I did, so I stayed hidden and listened in. Kate," —they turn, a sharp inhale— "you should've heard him. He put as much passion in that reassurance as he did b-before."
"When he called for our deaths."
Jay nods with a sniffle.
The hummed song bounces off the walls with his descent. Kate and Jay's anniversary is tomorrow and Morr has prepared the best present for them. A book they'd talked about for years and couldn't find in traveling distance. Morr clutches it, happy with the treasure he's been saving for the past few weeks.
In the main room of the underground bunker that used to be their shelter, a door is open. A secret door? Morr steps in, investigates equipment and monitors with curiosity, and then clicks—
It's been almost two hours of them sitting on the grass in the chilling air, and Kate's shivering.
"We promised each other," she finally says, "that if we were in disagreement we wouldn't push. We'd take the time to reconsider and re-examine."
"All right, then. But the moment he shows any sign of hatred, I'm dragging him to the bunker and showing him the old video files."
Jay looks at her, blinking. "Deal." A pause. "Still wish we'd tell him. I want to see him suffer, but at the same time..." They sigh. "I can't."
"I get it. How about we wait another year? In the meantime we'll keep a closer eye on him."
Kate drags herself up, then, bones creaking with age. "Let's get down there and turn off all the equipment. We don't want one of the children to be scarred for life."
"What happened?" Head aching, heart pounding, breath shallow.
"The machine." A cough. "It detonated."
"But—wait, I still remember."
"Same." Around them, the floor is scorched in thin concentric circles. "Must've had some safety bubble around itself, to protect whoever activates it."
"So… what do we do now?"
"We get revenge."
He can't stop crying and he can't stop shaking.
It can't be him.
Kate's taken his knife, so he doesn't even have that as an option. Wait, that's not true.
"I have to," he says, scrambling to his feet. "I have to make it right. I have to—"
Jay's long fingers wrap around his trembling ones. "You can't." The finality of the words slices and scrapes. "But you can continue what you're doing."
"It's not enough."
"It will never be enough," Kate says.
Morr's been hating himself, it turns out. He surely does now. But he also loves them, the ones still laughing above ground, embracing their differences, their kindness, their true selves.
"Don't you ever dare forgive me," he pleas.
Jay pets the side of his face and Kate squeezes his shoulder.
"We won't," they promise. "Not ever."