"I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival . . . it ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade . . . bonfires and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of this continent to the other, from this day forward forevermore."
John Adams, 1776
Don’t leave me!
Min-Suh’s tiny legs pelted across jagged rocks just behind her mother. The air was thick with humidity and hot like the fire pit behind their home before supper. She could barely keep up, even though her mother turned her head back to make sure she was still there, and, each time she did, her pace slowed. Sweat poured from her forehead and periodically burned her eyes, but the pair kept on running. Ahead, along a broken ridge in the hills, there stood a fence covered with barbed wire. She was small enough that she thought she could crawl through the barrier, but she knew her mother would have to climb if she was to ever see the other side.
There was a thunderous roar behind them.
No. A crackle, like a million pop rocks hitting the hill.
"Mama!" Min-Suh called, in her native Korean tongue, between gasps for breath as she ran. "What’s that?"
Her mother tripped and fell on the trail, then scrambled in between two boulders and waved for Min-Suh to follow her there. Her dress was torn right through at the hip from the fall, and she clenched her teeth for a moment. Min-Suh spotted a cut on her chin and another bloody patch on her elbow.
"Catch your air, my beautiful one. We’ve got to get to the fence."
"Why? What’s that sound?" Min-Suh asked.
Her mother had scooped her up in the middle of a quiet afternoon just two hours before. No explanation was given other than, "We have to go. Now." She’d been staring into the clouds on their family field, watching the blue and orange birds dart back and forth from their many perches above her, and suddenly her mother was there, looking like she’d seen the dead rise. They drove an hour south on her mother’s scooter, but, for no apparently reason, they stopped in the middle of nowhere and her mother had made Min-Suh run into the mountains. She left their bags right there on the dirt road and up they went.
So here she was, seeing double from the exhaustion and she still didn’t understand why they were running or where they were going. Her mother hugged her and ran both hands through her hair. "Min-Suh, you must be brave."
"I want to go home! Where’s father?" Min-Suh blurted.
She’d been asking that question for three days and her mother still hadn’t given her an answer.
"We can’t go back. Not ever. We have to go south. I have friends on the other side."
I don’t understand!
She couldn’t help it. Her eyes welled with tears and she held onto her mother’s shoulders for dear life. "I’m scared, Mama!"
She felt those loving hands slide down her back and sooth her there with reassuring strokes as her mother shushed her. "Ssshh…baby…my treasure. Don’t be afraid. Those pops you hear are God opening the way for us. He’ll break the sky so we can fly free. But we can’t let anyone know or others will come too, and there’s not enough room up there."
"I want father!"
"He’s waiting for us on the other side," she whispered. Those pops and bangs were getting closer, and, somehow, Min-Suh knew they weren’t God.
Suddenly, that fence seemed to call her to it, and she crawled out from behind their hiding place and pushed off from the ground with all four limbs, hurtling herself into a dead run. Her mother stumbled after her and they ran faster than either of them knew they could.
There was no one on the other side of those wires, as far as Min-Suh could tell. The only thing she could see on the other side was a little shack right against the border that looked terribly out of place in the middle of the wilderness, even to her inexperienced eyes.
A low rumble filled the air behind them as they made for the barbed wire, completely drowning out the popping sounds. From above them, there came a pair of flying machines that gleamed in the sunlight in the corner of Min-Suh’s eye.
She’d seen them once before, and her entire village had gone inside when they showed up. Whatever they were, they were feared.
Her heart leapt into her throat and she struggled even more to catch a full breath as she came to the top of the ridge line and stretched out her hands for the wires.
"Run Min! As fast as you can!" her mother said behind her between her own ragged breaths.
Her sandal-covered feet thwacked against the rocks even faster as she neared the goal. Her outstretched hand yearning for the iron wires.
And then she was upon the fence, crawling through it, having it tear her dress in five different places as barbs sliced through to the skin. She cried out in pain as the metal tore at her back and chest.
A high pitched whine practically deafened her and then a mighty crack.
She stopped struggling with the fence when the explosive blast rang out behind her, shaking the fence, the ground, even the air in her lungs. Her ears filled with a ring, like feedback in a microphone but ten times louder. She felt a rush of hot air push her into the spikes. But she couldn’t turn to see what caused the cacophony.
Then her mother called again, her voice rising above the throbbing screech in her head. "All the way through, my angel!"
The shout was above me!
Her mother must be climbing the fence! With renewed strength, she hurled herself through the metal teeth and collapsed onto the ground on the other side.
BOOM. Pop. Pop.
More ringing, then a pop inside her head. Silence.
The world seemed to slow to a crawl as Min-Suh turned her tiny head back toward the other side of the fence and watched her mother fall to the ground from several feet above. She hit the ground, but Min-Suh heard nothing.
Why can’t I yell?
"Mama!!" She was yelling at the top of her lungs, but heard no sound.
Nothing at all.
Blood gushed from behind her mother’s head and pooled on the rocks beneath her. More blood came from under her hands, which had fallen onto her stomach.
"Mama! Wake up!" She hurled herself back into the fence, but a huge arm encircled her chest and pulled her back. As she hurtled back through the air, a faint mumbling finally reached her consciousness. Whoever he was, he was talking to her.
Is he crying?
"No, my daughter. She is gone." She could barely make out the words. She struggled against the man’s grip, but it was no use. He wasn’t letting go. "We must go," he commanded. His familiar voice finally registered in her swirling mind and she turned her head to face him.
He really did say daughter!
Sounds of what she now knew must be bullets whizzing through the air and ricocheting off the nearby shack interrupted their reunion.
"We must go!" her father howled. She could hear the anguish in his voice as they left her mother on the wrong side of freedom.
Finally, Min-Suh was tugged along into a sprint one last time as they made for the highway that would take them away. But before they turned and scrambled down the rocky hill to the road below, she stopped running and faced her mother.
The two metal machines hovered there as soldiers approached her mother’s dead body. She could see gun turrets mounted beneath the metallic shapes in the sky, aiming at the fence where her mother fell.
She also saw men picking up her body. They laughed, and then one of them tore her dress off just like an animal.
"Min-Suh, we must go. Now, Min. Don’t look back." Her father had reappeared at her side and was now yanking her by the hand, swooping her off of her feet and into his arms. "Don’t look back. Look at me!"
As he ran, holding her wrapped around his body, he lifted her head and made her look into his eyes.
He’s crying! Father is crying!
She lowered her head and blacked out the world in his shirt.
Pop. Pop-pop-pop.
Is that you, God? Are you calling her home?
Min watched the rain fall against the window of their darkened ground floor apartment. It took an unusually windy day to whip the falling drops into the windows along the street that ran past their San Francisco home. The hills, the hodgepodge of several-floor buildings, and the twisting elevated walkways and billboards usually conspired to keep their doorways dry, even in the rainy season.
But this rain was unusual in more ways than one. It was August 14th and it never rained in August, not counting mist embedded in the daily marine fog. She glanced up and caught a hint of the sky between a dingy electronic billboard selling the government approved escort service and the abandoned church across the street. It was roiling and black.
A normal person might consider it foreboding, but Min found the rain comforting. Maybe it was because when it rained, the homeless man who liked to camp out in front of the church would take cover elsewhere and those steps would get a natural shower to wash away his leavings. When he’d first arrived on their little corner, she’d tried to talk to him, but all she got out of him was that his name was Jim and he liked her eyes. She even led him to a nearby shelter, but he was in a constant state of confusion, and the state wouldn’t take him into long term care, so he kept coming back. The streets were full of mobile carts and makeshift homes, especially near the city parks, but this man didn’t even have a rolling roof over his head, nothing but the crumbling ruins of that church. At night, she could swear she heard him praying beneath her window. Sometimes she joined him, though she never understood why.
But today was unusual in another way. It was her last day in San Francisco, her last day in her home of ten years. And somehow the rain felt right. It was a sorrowful farewell. It was a cleansing heavenly new beginning. It was tears from the angels. What it was to her changed every five seconds as she stared at the streaks on the window and watched the pitter-patter of this strange summer rain on the pothole-ridden road.
Her father would be home any moment, and when he arrived, they were going to the airport with her two thick suitcases in tow, and she was going to Columbia in New York. She sipped ginger tea to calm her nerves and enjoyed her final, quiet moments at home.
Home–a rundown, shabby little hole in the wall, but it was theirs. Since their flight from North Korea, her father had worked an assortment of low-paying jobs to provide for her. He’d been a battery tester in a South Korean plant for a year before he could afford passage to the US and the fees to apply for citizenship. He’d worked for three years as a short-order cook in San Francisco. Then there were five long years in construction before a girder had fallen on his knee. The rest of the time, he was a janitor–it was the only job he could get that he could actually do on one leg. It was a shame that he couldn’t afford a replacement. Maybe he’d have been happier.
But then, was he happy before the accident? When she pictured her father, the image that appeared in her mind was of a broken man, shoulders slumped forward over the kitchen table, swirling a bowl of noodles and vegetables over and over and only rarely taking a bite. Or, perhaps it was an image of him falling into that rickety old rocking chair and flipping aimlessly through the several internet channels he’d prioritized on their tiny budget and staring into space.
He always made time for Min, helping her with homework and reading to her when her eyes got too tired, walking her to dance classes at the YWCA and taking her to the beach to watch the seagulls take flight. But, though he was always with her, she knew he felt alone; it was written all over his face.
She caught sight of him as he ambled down the street on one leg and two crutches, seemingly oblivious to the rain. He looked more lost than ever as he reached the door and stopped there, gazing at the lock; she ran to let him in.
"Father, you’re soaking!" she scolded in perfect English.
They never spoke Korean at home; he insisted that she learn English. She remembered him saying over and over, "We’re not in Korea, Min. You must help your father learn the language. I am old; it’s harder for me," in a thick accent, sometimes missing key words or stumbling and starting again. He was getting better these days, but she could tell it would never be natural for him the way it quickly became for her.
"I’m okay. I just need to get a different jacket." He slogged through the door and reached into the tiny closet to his right for a raincoat. "And my hat." He pulled out a huge, floppy hat as might be worn by a fisherman or farmer. "Are you packed?"
"Yes, father." Min pointed into their cramped sitting room at two suitcases, each sealed and ready to roll her into her new life. She regarded the room as she turned, laying eyes on treasures everywhere in their humble home.
The map collection I hand-drew, right where it always is around the SmartView screen. My set of medical encyclopedias on the table. Father’s old pipe, he never smokes it now, but he felt the need to keep it. The shawl Father wrapped me in when…

She couldn’t even bear to think about it. Every so often, though, it would appear in her dreams; the image of those men defiling her mother’s lifeless body, the feel of mortar fire landing less than ten meters behind her. She could never understand why they had to be so brutal; why people who wanted to leave weren’t allowed to just go. Of course, in her case, it wasn’t just their desire to leave. Her father had been crossing the border for months with others trying to escape. He later explained to her that she and her mother had been forced to flee so suddenly because he’d been spotted by drones on the other side–with refugees.
"Try not to look so down, Min-Suh. You are going to a good school…you’ll be a doctor."
Unspoken, Min knew, was the reality that an unhappy Min would be too much for him to bear. Her heart ached at the sight of him; a shell of the man she remembered when she was young. She turned and hugged him, squeezing him with all her strength. "I don’t have to go–"
"Of course you have to," he said. "Come, your plane won’t wait for you."
They stepped out into the rain with her bags dragging behind them on the broken and battered sidewalk. The air felt fresh and clean; it was invigorating.
The rolling thunder caught them both by surprise. She stared up at the sky as they continued walking downhill toward the larger cross street, where they might have a better chance of flagging down a cab. There were fewer of them now that SkyWay transit was taking over the city, and fewer and fewer residents were traveling at ground level. The sky was brightening in front of them to the west. She was so mesmerized by the rare thundershower that she didn’t notice Jim stepping into her path.
"Angel eyes–"
"Back away from her!" her father shouted. He was, evidently, also taken by surprise; he was reaching for his mace.
"Father, no. It’s okay. It’s okay. Are you alright, Jim?"
"She’s here. She’s rolling along." He laughed like a madman, out of the blue.
"Who’s here, Jim?"
He pointed skyward and smirked. He looked like a kid who knew the secret password to a treehouse club.
He’d be adorable if he were about forty years younger.
"She’s in the thunder. She’s here for you." He shuffled past them and headed right for the old church with his hands together as though he were deep in prayer.
Another crackle of thunder rippled across the sky, though she didn’t see the flash of lightning. And suddenly, she was on that rocky ridge again, and those thunderous explosions played over in her mind.
Mama? Are you there?
The sun broke through the clouds as it sunk heavily toward the horizon and the hillside lit up with an orange glow. She turned to admire her old neighborhood one last time, and found her father looking back at her–he’d fallen a few steps behind before she stopped. His face was streaked with tears, as though he were on the verge of a total collapse.
"Oh Father, please don’t cry. She’s here. It’s a sign!"
"I don’t understand," he began.
"Mama…she’s here! Can’t you feel it? She’s happy." She rushed to hug him again, this time to support his weight a bit and reassure him. And for the first time in years, she smiled from the inside out as she looked into his eyes. "Twenty seventy-one will be a good year. For both us."
As she finished speaking, the thunder rolled one last time, mighty and deep, as though all the Earth affirmed her words. And for the first time in a long time, she believed.
The entire lab was filled with revelers, but Min-Suh was not among them. She could hear them all through the windows, but while they watched the NY1 broadcast of the Independence Day celebrations in the lounge behind her, she chose to brave the heat and look out over the city. There were rumors of a plot by the insurgents to attack the festivities in protest, so the air was thicker than normal with police drones and military equipment. Their lights darted this way and that through the city, becoming visible only when they passed close enough to her White Sector lab to pierce the Manhattan labyrinth.
A part of Manhattan to the north was still without power thanks to a rebel attack on a series of power substations. So when she turned rightward, she found a gaping hole in the blanket of glittering colors that lit up the skyline. When she faced left, she could just make out Hex Tower–easily the tallest structure in New York, and the focal point for this year’s fireworks display. She’d have a better view if she could get clearance to get up into Gold Sector, but, alas, those rooftop parties were for VIP only.
Besides; I like the quiet.

She leaned against the railing on the outer edge of the catwalk the surrounded Columbia Medical Center on the twentieth floor. That was the lowest level of White Sector in downtown Manhattan. The recent rise in catwalk jumpers had prompted the city to add a thicker railing and a screen that rose to roughly head height to most of the elevated walkways. This had the unfortunate effect of knocking down any soft breeze there might be on this stuffy July evening, but it didn’t block her view of the celebration.
They were just warming up the crowd with some sort of laser light show and some drone pyrotechnics she couldn’t make out too well, but this preshow entertainment was her cue, and she tapped her HexDot to awaken it, then spoke a command.
"Display the freedom prayer."
Her eye filled with the text of a prayer she wrote fully twenty years earlier during her first summer in New York. She bowed her head and prepared to recite it, as was her annual tradition, but her moment was interrupted by a familiar male voice.
"What are you doing out here all alone?" It was her boss and longtime friend James. He’d taken an interest in her in her senior year of premed and convinced her that her true calling was medical research.
Let the grunts do the triage work, Min-Suh. We’re going to change the world.
Those were his words. She didn’t think she’d ever forget them. He set her on a path to studying neuroscience full time. He kept her funded right through her postdoc work and then gave her a job as his right-hand man. She smiled, just a little, on one side of her face as she remembered him calling her that.
"I like the quiet on Independence Day, Doctor Swindell. I thought you knew that."
She turned and folded her arms across her chest, her posture scolding him a bit. "I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to disturb you. I was a little curious, I must admit."
She raised an eyebrow. "Curious?"
"About what you do out here every year! We’ve known each other for how long? Seventeen years?"
"Something like that."
James shrugged and held out both hands, begging for more information. "Well?"
"It’s personal," she replied. "It’s not the kind of thing I do any other time, but I do it to honor my mother."
"Do what?" She shook her head and walked a few paces down the catwalk toward the south. "Oh come on! I won’t laugh, I promise."
"I think that you might, James. I know you," she said.
James took a wider stance as if he was preparing to give a political speech and raised his right hand. "I swear on my copy of Neural Systems Mapping, I will not laugh."
"Just get out of here! Go join the rest of the lab, okay?"
"I’m hurt, I have to say," James badgered. "If you can’t trust me, who can you?"
He’s really not letting this go!
"Alright." She took a deep breath before she committed to her next words. "If you must know, every year on the fourth, I…say a prayer I wrote."
James erupted for a second, but only one. To Min, it seemed that his laugh echoed through the urban canyons. Her head bowed and she looked at her lab coat.
"I’m sorry! It’s not funny. I wasn’t laughing. It’s just–I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t exactly think of you as the superstitious type."
"I don’t really practice. My mother did–she wasn’t supposed to, but she did, in secret. They don’t tolerate religion much in North Korea." She still hadn’t looked up again. She feared his face would mock her if she saw it. "I might add that it’s words like superstitious that made me not want to tell you. A little insensitive, don’t you think?"
"I’m sorry, you’re right. I’m a scientist. I tend to think of things that can’t be proven as subject to wish fulfillment over objectivity, but you know that."
She finally turned toward him and lifted her eyes to find his. He appeared genuine in his guilt over hurting her at such a vulnerable moment, but her gaze didn’t soften. She wanted him to understand before she let him off the hook. "My mother died fighting for my freedom. The least I owe her is a prayer of thanks."
The first massive, colorful fireworks detonated behind her and scattered their red and blue sparks across the New York sky, surrounded by puffs of white smoke. The roar of the crowd thirty blocks away was plain for all to hear. The noise startled her slightly and she hopped on the spot.
"I’m sorry I laughed. I think it’s a wonderful tradition, Min-Suh. Really, I do. I’ll go find the others. I don’t want to intrude." He turned and headed back toward the door to the lab.
She called after him in appreciation. "It’s alright, James. I’ll be in shortly."
The fireworks were popping off more rapidly as the show swung into gear behind her. She turned and regarded the dying purple and green embers above Hex Tower. As a shower of white and gold burst into view to the rallying tune of "Stars and Stripes Forever"–a melody that seemed a bit hollow with the news of Texas’ secession just three days old–she began her prayer.
"God in heaven, if you’re there, heed, tonight, my humble prayer."
"Seek thee out my mother, Lin. The world needs guidance, let her in." She paused just long enough to wipe a tear from her eye. "She, who died so I’d be free; surely she could help us see."
"Listen, she can tell you how, to save your people here and now. Millions suffer needlessly, through war, oppression, tyranny. God in heaven, sure and true, Lin can tell you what to do. Her example, shining bright, show the world before dawn’s light. Hopeless children everywhere can learn to end their own despair, if only they’d give all to thee, for someone else in need, like she."
The show surrounding Hex Tower was pitching toward a crescendo and she let the colorful light fill her soul, as she held the railing to keep from falling to her knees.
Are you there, Mama? Do you hear?
It was silly, but this little ritual of hers always made her feel a little better, even in the worst of times. As she turned and headed toward the door and the cool air of the lab, she again spotted the blackened part of uptown Manhattan looming there, a reminder that all was not right with America.
Those attacks were highly targeted. They wanted us to see the show on one side, and the missing piece on the other.
The sabotage had happened less than an hour after Luz Marian had made her speech on the alternative media channels from Dallas. The pieces came together in her mind as she opened the door and stood in the light of the lab, looking over the city.
They’re telling us America isn’t whole. They want us to know they feel excluded.
A final thought crossed her mind as she entered the lab and turned toward the lounge.
Maybe they are.


Check out the Independence Day contest runner-up, Rangers vs. Aliens by Lori Janeski!