Quiet, She Has Legs!
by Emmie Christie
Emmie Christie’s work includes practical subjects, like feminism and mental health, and speculative subjects, like unicorns and affordable healthcare. She has been published in various short story markets including Daily Science Fiction, Infinite Worlds Magazine, and Flash Fiction Online. She graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2013. You can find her at www.emmiechristie.com or on Twitter @EmmieChristie33.
Other TTTV Stories by Emmie Christie: https://talltaletv.com/?s=emmie+christie
Nimia pulled her body along the underground tunnel with her muscled arms, one grip at a time. She passed the pods where other Pullers, like herself, worked, their hands plugged into the company interface.
“We don’t have to work today,” Nimia said. No one answered. They couldn’t hear her—their ears only interfaced with their computers—but she figured she’d speak out loud just to remind herself she could talk. If she didn’t, she feared she’d lose her voice, like everyone had lost their legs, living underground, never moving, just typing in the dark.
Today, the earth twisted in its planetary sheets and the sun rose in the west: the one day they could visit the surface and it wouldn’t burn them to death in under five seconds. The killer sun terrified her just like it did all the other Pullers, but she pushed herself to visit the surface, to appreciate what she had access to.
Metal rings spaced three feet apart helped her pull herself along. “This isn’t the hard part,” Nimia said out loud. “The hard part’s the ladder.”
“Oh, right,” she responded to herself. “Like I could forget. Thanks for that.”
She’d trained in her compartment every day, though, with lots of pushups and lifting herself up with just one hand. She breathed in deep, gripped the first rung, and climbed up.
The nubs of her thighs brushed against the rungs below her, and the phantom urge to grip with nonexistent toes flooded through her. Why did she have such emotion over something she never had?
In the darkness, she had to feel for each rung with one hand. The company had stashed everyone very, very deep, to avoid the intensity of the sun. She climbed for what felt like hours. Sweat dripped down her arms, and her grip almost slipped a few times. But she’d trained for this, and she reached the top faster than she had the year before.
She pushed the button for the hatchway. It rose, and the sun slipped down into the hole. “So bright,” Nimia gasped. The west morning sun didn’t have the same heat as the east, didn’t burn and kill. Even knowing this, Nimia winced, and fought the urge to descend back down into the safety of the darkness. Her eyes—maybe they had started withering too, over the years.
She pulled herself out, sweating, and rolled on the ground, catching her breath. She sank her fingers down into the cracked dirt.
All around her lay broken pieces of a broken, long-burned up world: the suburbs of an old neighborhood. No plant life had survived, except for sturdy old, twisted trees that had adapted to the fiery light of the eastward sun. Paint had melted off signs, and the roofs of houses had sloughed off like the top layer sliding off a cake. “Not that I’ve ever had a cake, of course,” she told the crack in the ground. “But I’ve researched them. Typed about them. Cakes definitely had layers.”
The company didn’t want anyone to forget the details of the old world. That’s what she and the other Pullers did all day, every day. Just researched and typed about what they didn’t have anymore, about what they had lost. She appreciated that. She stayed with the company because of that, to record that which no longer existed.
The vibrations of footsteps shuddered in the earth, and Nimia ducked behind a rusted-out car. What was this? Some creatures had retained the use of their legs, those who hid below ground in the day and hunted in the night. Had one of them found her, on her one day of freedom? She should climb back down the hatch. She should.
She didn’t. She waited, prone behind the red, rusty car, her breaths short and fierce. And then something—someone—strode into view.
The person carried a pole that she twirled with a kind of casual competence. A person. With—
“She has legs!” Nimia said out loud. Then she responded to herself before she could shut down the urge. “Quiet! She has legs!”
The person stopped.
Who still has legs? It’s not possible!
“Who’s there?” The person said, and Nimia clamped her hands over her mouth to stop herself from answering. Tears slid down her face. Another person wanted to talk to her, to have a conversation. None of the other Pullers ever talked. Maybe they’d lost the ability, maybe their vocal cords had withered, or never developed. But this person had legs. They could kill her in seconds. They could tie her up and leave her out to burn in the heat of the eastward sun!
The person pole vaulted over the car and landed next to Nimia. Nimia scuttled for the hatch.
“Wait!” the person said. “I won’t hurt you. My name’s Ishtar.”
Nimia couldn’t eke out the words. The ability to speak seemed to have left her, right then, and shame coated her tongue. This whole person stood in front of her and there she groveled, legless, speechless, head down.
“I know you can do it,” Ishtar said. “I heard you, just now. I heard you talk.” She crouched in front of Nimia, and Nimia couldn’t stop staring at the muscles in the woman’s calves, at how they flexed and rippled. “I’ve never seen a Puller up on the surface. I thought you all stayed below ground.” She paused. “I bet you guys know things about the old world, don’t you?”
“W-we have the histories,” Nimia said. “We t-type them into the d-database.”
She was talking to someone. It was happening. She could do this.
“Do you know what this is?” Ishtar fished a crinkled piece of paper out of a pocket. It showed a yellow flower with a black center. “My mother had this. But she never knew what it was called.”
“S-sunflower,” Nimia said.
“Sunflower,” Ishtar repeated in wonder. “It’s—it’s pretty. It’s like the west sun. Like today.”
“How are you t-traveling on the surface?” Nimia asked. “I thought it was too hot. I thought the sun burned everything up that stayed above ground.”
Ishtar grinned. “I stay in the trees. They shield me in the daytime, and I travel at night, usually.”
The phantom urge of wanderlust echoed through Nimia. She’d tamped it down her whole life, giving in just on the vacation day. Now it roared through her, that desire to step in a different direction. She didn’t want to just record histories. She wanted to explore the world herself. The longer she stayed underground, the more she would lose.
But the sun.
It had reached the zenith already, high above. As it fell toward the east, it would gain strength. And she could lose her life. It could burn her up. It could take everything from her, that which hadn’t been stolen already.
“Hey,” Ishtar said, still staring at the picture of the sunflower. “Would you want to come with me?”
Nimia almost choked. She gestured at herself and shot Ishtar a dirty look.
“Well, I mean, you’re kinda ripped.” Ishtar pointed at Nimia’s arms. “Could you hold onto my back? I could be your legs. You could be my information. You have more power than you realize. I want to know more about what used to be here. I don’t—there’s not a lot of people out here to talk to, you know. All that data is only helpful if you use it.”
She did want that. She wanted it more than climbing back down into the safety of the dark tunnels. If she stayed down below, she would lose her eyes, her voice, and then the urge to explore. She didn’t want to stay in a compartment the rest of her life.
The more things she tried, the more she could do, way more than before. She wanted to focus on what she did have, not on what she didn’t. Four years ago, she’d feared climbing the ladder to the surface, but then had worked her arms enough that she could. This was another ladder, leading to another, bigger life.
“I do,” Nimia said. “I want to go with you.”