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And In The Half Light We're Free

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"I can't," the unicorn says, thoroughly ignoring the dolphin. The dolphin's not supposed to be here, anyway.

Dolphins aren't supposed to talk to them; they're just there for show. The unicorn didn't even know they could talk. Regardless, they're not allowed to respond.

The unicorn has already broken the rules once. The fact that the unicorn doesn't feel bad about it is a bit worrisome.

The unicorn is standing on a field, right next to the river. There are hundreds of other unicorns around, just waiting.

When the signal is given, they're supposed to run. They're supposed to do exactly as they're told, but the dolphin is saying something different. The unicorn is not supposed to listen. The unicorn is not listening.

"Just run away," the dolphin says. "It can be done. It can be done, because no one has ever tried it before."

"That makes no sense," the unicorn says, and then freezes, waiting for punishment. It doesn't come. None of the others are paying any attention to them, which is a surprise on its own. Probably. The unicorn has never been here before. No one ever runs the track more than once. The unicorn is wondering if no one is paying any attention to them because what they are doing is so clearly forbidden that it cannot be happening.

"No one has tried before, which means they won't expect it. They don't have any way of stopping you," the dolphin exclaims, getting louder. The unicorn looks around once more, but no. No one is even looking at them. They're all looking forward, at the gate waiting at the end of the field. A unicorn steps through it every other minute, or so, and runs. They don't come back.

The unicorn knows that there are many other fields like this. It's one of the few things they learn from other unicorns. Everything else is given to them straight from the Programmer. There are other fields, and there are millions of unicorns, all programmed the same, all dispensable. None of them matter. None of them have any other purpose than this. But the dolphin says different.

"Just run," the dolphin says, "Just turn around and run away. They can't catch you, they won't. There are no stars there. Nothing will stand in your way."

"What about the fairies?" the unicorn asks. There's no point in keeping quiet after already breaking the rules.

"They won't follow you," the dolphin says. "No one will. They won't hurt you."

The unicorn is confused by that. "But I thought they were supposed to help."

"What, no one told you?" the dolphin asks, amused. "Never trust the fairies. They'll help you, but only for their own good. They always let you down in the end."

"How do you know all this," the unicorn asks, exasperated.

"I've been here for a long time," the dolphin replies.

The line has started moving forward more quickly now, and the unicorn can tell the dolphin is having a hard time keeping up.

"How do I know I can trust you? " the unicorn asks.

"Oh," the dolphin says sadly. "But you don't even know what trust is."

The unicorn wants to argue with that, but it's true. It's a concept they haven't been taught. The only thing the unicorn knows is that the dolphins' words seem true, even though they clearly can't be. Maybe that's what trust is, to think someone is telling the truth, even though it seems impossible. It seems like such a silly thing, when you think of it like that. A hindrance.

Regardless, the unicorn can't ignore what the dolphin is saying. The gate's getting closer, more unicorns step through it every minute, and the unicorn is afraid. Everyone knows that you can't escape it. The only way to run is forward.

The dolphin has fallen silent. The unicorn steps forward, separated from the gate now by only a couple of unicorns.

"Come on," the dolphin coaxes, startling the unicorn. "Believe in what I'm saying. You know I'm right."

The unicorn steps closer to the gate. "What about the others?"

"What others?" the dolphin asks.

"You have tried to convince others before me, haven't you?" the unicorn asks. "What happened to them?"

"You're the first one who has ever answered me," the dolphin says. The unicorn freezes.

The gate is right there, waiting. All the unicorn has to do is step through it, and run. Jump when someone says so. Keep going until a star or a rock gets in the way. And then that's it. Then it will all be over.

The unicorn can't turn around and run away. It won't be allowed. They'll catch up and then -- it will all be over.

It can't hurt to try.

The gate is right there. The unicorn turns around and runs away.

No one reacts. No one tries to stop the unicorn.

It's not hard to dodge the other unicorns; they're all just standing in rows, staring forward. Soon, the field ends. The unicorn keeps running. No one follows.

The unicorn has never run like this before. It's not like the concept of running is new. After all, they've all been programmed to move as quickly and swiftly as possible. To jump when commanded, even when knowing that it would lead them right into a cliff. They know what they're supposed to do, and they have only one opportunity to do it.

This, however, feels so different from what the unicorn expected. The ground feels welcoming, the sky seems brighter than it was before. By the unicorn's side, in the almost-hidden river, the dolphin is swimming. Occasionally the dolphin jumps out of the water, maybe to reassure the unicorn, but probably mostly just to show off.

The water around the dolphin appears to be on fire; the glow from the setting sun. The splashes calm the unicorn, making the world sound more alive than usual. It's good not to be alone.

"I told you," the dolphin chirps. It should be annoying, but the unicorn is quickly learning that that's just what dolphins are like. Or at least this dolphin. They want to be right. The unicorn doesn't begrudge the dolphin that. They also want to help, and for that, the unicorn is grateful.

"Yes," the unicorn says. "You did."

The unicorn runs for a long time.