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Georgina Li is a new writer, with just one previous publication, a (non-genre) story called Closer to the Sky in the current issue of Chroma. She says she used to write everyday and then for a long time she didnt and now she writes some days but not others. When shes not writing she likes to paint, bright colors on small canvases, torn pages, cardboard squares pulled from the recycling bin.

About Like They Always Been Free she says, In a larger sense its about the things we value and the things we dont, about how everything changes when that one paradigm shifts. But mostly its a love story.

Underground there aint nothin but dark and sweat and filth, figure that out quick or get on with dyin, just werent no other way. Guard on the transpo told Kinger, You aint willin, you aint worth it, and Kinger opened his mouth easy, Guards skinny business jammed in his throat, words sinkin in. Cut that Guards throat with his own damn knife, didnt even bother runnin. Figured the Hole probably werent much different from where he been headed, cept for Boy bein huddled in the corner there, big eyes shinin in the dark.

Boy said, You kill that Guard? and Kinger grinned bloody, spit a chunk of flesh down where Boy could reach.

Underground Kinger told himself every day, You aint willin, you aint worth it, told himself over and over, every time he killed, every time he ate, sewed them bones right into his skin. Thered been light on the transpo, even down in the Hole, not much, but enough Kinger could see Boy without tryin too hard, blue skin so pretty it hurt to look away, so pretty Kinger knew Boy werent headed Underground, werent meant for minin some shit-torn planet, not lookin like he did.

Underground aint no light at all, not so it mattered. Werent nothin there to see.

This ship theres sunlight, this ship theres noise, this ship aint any place Kinger ever expected to be. Underground six years best as he could figure, no sunlight, nothin but what he come with and that werent much. Blood on his hands and an empty belly, Boy on the transpo still, slavebound somewhere else.

Underground Kinger scraped the hair from his body with that Guards knife most every day, blade sharpened on the rocks. Hard enough to keep himself alive, keep breathin even if it were only the same dank air he spit out the day before. One thing bein willin, somethin else all together havin vermin burrowed in, livin off his meat. Underground, you ate what came your way or it ate you, and Kinger staked his claim on the food chain day one, kept on livin.

Dreamt of Boy off and on, his voice, his skin; licked the lichen off the rock walls when it glowed pale blue, bitter in his mouth, clean, sweet. Dreamt of Boy slow jackin, fingers curled around his rodder, dark blue and shiny at the tip; dreamt of Boy bloody and beaten, a leash around his neck; dreamt of Boy in sunshine, skin like the warm turquoise water any planet bred men like Boy must be floatin in, Boy laughin soft in Kingers ear.

Kinger dreamt of Boy, and Boys voice echoed all around him, bright lights shinin down.

Boys people came lookin for him, and Boys people found him, and Boy came lookin for Kinger straightaways, last man ever been nice to him, last man took care, Kinger just seventeen in the Hole and Boy younger than that. Boys people tore a path across the universe findin their lost young, spread a trail of wreckage behind them, this ship and a dozen like it, hunters, every last one. Kinger aint used to people anymore, but Boy aint people, Boy is Boy, kept him company Underground even though he werent ever really there.

This ship theres water and plenty of it, clean water come from waste and plants in the sphere. Boy says its so and Kinger believes him, Boy stretched out in the lookout bay, scars on his body werent there before, pale blue ridges Kinger aint afraid to touch. Kinger aint afraid of nothin to do with Boy until Boy says, You can go back home now, if youre wantin to, and Kinger tenses right up, fear in veins like bein Underground again, afraid he wont see no light.

Back home Kinger scrapped for a livin, recycled foodstuffs and boxed em up, corporate drones in sharp suits, lookin over the counter at Kinger like he somethin they cant figure out, data streamin dark in their eyes. Kinger beat one of em stupid back when he was still growin, beat the data from his head and run for his life, blood runnin just as fast, blood stuck to his fists, his thighs, his mouth, seawater black and heavy, pullin at his feet. Kinger hopped one transpo then another and another, hopped til that Guard said, You aint willin, you aint worth it, and Kinger promised himself he werent never goin back.

Boy dont mind none, just kisses Kinger like he might catch fire if he dont, hot and open, one hand at the back of Kingers neck, stubble growin in. Boy kisses Kingers fingers, his wrists, his throat, sucks hard where Kingers blood beats strongest, blue like Boys own skin, makes Kinger ache, makes Kinger want to taste Boys scars, his seed, the heat of his insides. Kinger aint done this not tainted with blood and hate before, aint felt nothin so sweet as Boys body pressed hard against his, slick all over, everything Kinger wants tied up like a knot in his belly, Boy breathin heavy just like him.

This ship breathin heavy, too, Kinger starin out at worlds gone by and Boys arms wrapped around him, like they always been free. Boy kisses like his heart might burst, makes Kinger worry he might be dreamin still, might wake up curled over himself, tonguing his own slit. Underground aint nothin wasted, nothin livin anyway, and Kinger knows he got life in him still, like the engines on this ship.

Boys people say this ship knew Boys heart even before his body done its healin, set a course that led em right to Kinger. Boy smiles when they tell this story, shakes his head, and Kinger knows he aint scared neither, Boys warm breath on the bones stitched into Kingers skin. Boy says he never needed no rattlin to find his way.

Aint goin back, Kinger says, voice gone quiet, and Boy laces their fingers together, blue and white, blue and white. Aint never goin back, Kinger says again. Aint never goin nowhere without you.