by S.J. Logan
Brooke finds cover before the sky opens and death rains down on the city that once thrived. The air tastes of chemicals and dampens a warning for others to scurry from the broken streets. She grips her bony legs, knees bent against her chest, her pack wedged under her thighs, and counts in a low whisper. “One, two, three…” Drip. Drip. She starts again. “One, two…” Drip. Endless drips on endless days. She holds her elbows tight to keep a limb from extending too far. Each drop of acidic rain bings off metal scraps layered together. A shelter. Not her shelter, but a temporary place to ride out the flash storm.
She digs into her pocket and retrieves breakfast, lunch, and dinner: One-quarter of a ‘Pro-protein’ bar. She peels its sticky substance from the wrapping, licks the inside of the package, and finds a spare morsel inside a fold. A set of eyes watch her from under an overhang. A young boy, threadbare clothes and sunken features stares at her from across the street. A man keeps a tight hold on the boy under a more spacious shelter.
Drip. Thirty seconds. Drip. Better. Still too wet to leave cover, but the cramping in Brooke’s limbs eases at the thought of stretching. It’s hard to tell if the rain falls from the buildings or the ash-filled clouds. Brooke waits. And waits. She counts to sixty, a slow sixty seconds to be sure. She shuffles out onto the wet pavement. She keeps her skin from touching the still sizzling street.
The fallen city lies still after the storm’s attack, leaving the slow, weak, and ill to burn in its wet fire. Each rain causes phantom pain to Brooke’s back. It’s been three years, and her skin has healed into white and red raised scars. She still feels the broiling and tearing as her father pulled her wet coat from her body. She remembers her melted skin staying with her clothing as he peeled the acid-soaked cotton away.
“Patrol!” calls a voice.
Brooke ducks behind a rusted car and peers through a hole in the open door. The electric hum of the Organ Patrol’s tank-like vehicle echoes off the abandoned streets. The moans of the post-storm dying and cries of their loved ones grow louder, from the fear of death or the need for it. The requirement to end the torture is familiar to Brooke.
Acid-proof boots step from the vehicle, splashing into puddles like some ancient luxury.
Three gun-wielding soldiers, two hunched grunts to retrieve, and one poised man, hands crossed behind his back. It rains, they come out of the glass dome that sits just south of the city and take away the dying. Harvest time.
Brooke feels for the hilt of her blade, tucked into her belt. If caught in a storm again, she will run the knife across her own throat and hope the rains last long enough to melt away every usable ounce of her body. She would rather be run-off than provide life to those selfish pricks eating fresh food and watching the madness through the unbreakable glass.
The men find two people and pile them atop each other as though they are dead already. Brooke searches the dying faces for familiarity: no one she knows. Brooke was raised on the outskirts, hillside caves, only venturing in to trade for food and clothing.
The rear door of the vehicle lowers on hinges. Cries spill out with pain-filled grunts and in-decipherable pleas. Patrollers lift and toss in the freshly burnt. Her mother had been amongst the living and new corpses that shared the same fate.
The soft hum of the electric engine starts and the patrol eases away, hunting for other vulnerable people. Brooke moves through the streets. Delaying her destination. Wasting well-scavenged calories to aimless movements. Three crumbling blocks west of Traders corner, she finds herself in the flesh market. She was bound to end up here eventually. The shortened buildings still tower above the market like watchful eyes over the hustle and deal-making. Women, mostly women, line each merchant’s wall like freshly slaughtered meat, advertising themselves while their business partners negotiate details.
Men grope with fingers and eyes, lift skirts, and scrutinize each potential rental. Brooke’s hand stays on her blade, back to the walls, not allowing any to pass behind her. Even post-rain, business picks up as though the city isn’t still steaming. The dead and dying forgotten before their skin has cooled; on their way to the dome. Proper shelter is now a luxury in this disintegrating mass of rust: there is no luck to keep one dry, only gangs and power—and Brooke needs both. This is why Brooke’s father raised her on the outskirts. But he’s dead now. There’s nothing left surrounding the city. Those that stayed behind have begun to eat their own flesh a finger at a time.
She loops her hand around the strap of her pack, her survival: can opener, utensils, canteen, water pills, and some foil sheets. Anywhere she goes, her bag goes with her.
A young boy zig-zags his way toward Brooke. His pockets bulge with loot. Brooke watches as she’s followed by the pickpocket. He makes his move, reaches to cut her pack open.
Brooke whirls around and pins him to the ground, face next to a full puddle. He pushes up. “Wrong choice.” Brooke grinds her knee into his spine. “Point me toward Ray Wallace, and I won’t give you an acid facial.”
The boy lifts a gloved finger and points to a stand. “The tall guy with the scar on his face.”
Brooke releases the boy who snaps free, runs a few steps, and turns back to Brooke. He pops up his middle finger before darting away.
Brooke checks her clothes for any rainwater. “I hate this city.”
The man she’s hunting, Ray Wallace, stands in front of five well-fed women leaning against a dry wall under a ledge. By the creases at the edges of his eyes, Ray has seen a few decades. His skin may have seen sunshine. A contrast to anyone born in the last eighteen years under constant ash and rain. Brooke hesitates. Watches.
Ray speaks to a stubby man and takes a bundle of goods on trade. The man chooses a heavy-chested brunette with most of her teeth. Brooke has nowhere else to go. She sighs and puts one foot in front of the other.
Ray squints down at Brooke, his scar deep, and stretches from eye to jaw. It’s not a burn, more like an angry jagged gouge with a story.
“Got nothin’ for ya, Kid.” He nods toward the street. “Go beg at Trader’s Corner.”
Her muscles twitch to turn away, but she didn’t come this far for nothing. “You, Ray Wallace?”
He leans down to look Brooke in the eyes. “Listen, little girl. I don’t deal in teens, and this ain’t no orphanage. Go. Away.”
“I’m Brooke Humphrey. Mark Humphrey’s daughter.”
Ray sighs and waives off a customer. “Shit, is your dad dead?”
Brooke can’t say yes and nods instead.
Ray turns away from her, finds a free space on the wall ,and leans his gloved hands against the brick. Ray’s back rises and falls in deep breaths. “He actually told you to find me?” He turns back to Brooke.
“There were three others. They’re all dead. You are the last,” she lies. He’s the first and only person she headed for and waited her whole life to stand here now. Her father’s death allows her the freedom to exact her mother’s vengeance. He doesn’t seem to recognize Brooke’s mother on Brooke’s face.
Ray throws his head back and laughs. “That makes more sense. What are you good for?”
Brooke is taken back and looks at the ladies against the wall.
“Not that. Can you clean, sew, scavenge? Not feeding you for free.”
“Dad called me Beacon. Not usually wrong about the rains coming unless it’s a flash.”
“Useful, but you’ll have other jobs. Come along then.”
Ray leads Brooke through broken halls of peeling drywall, damp carpet, and sagging ceilings. The rains have been kinder to this building than most. Survival is Ray’s business, and he does it well. Ray’s back is exposed, and Brooke fingers the handle of her blade. If she kills him now, she won’t make it far. Not without food and a plan. She’ll wait until it makes sense. Ray opens an inner door. A boy, seventeen maybe, stands at a rack of water bottles, writing on a page with a broken pencil, left hand is scarred and burned deep.
“Kean, this is Brooke. She’ll be under your watch.”
Kean slams his pencil down.
Ray cocks his head to the side and talks through a tight jaw. “Unless you’d like to give her your job and crawl back to your old one?”
Kean crosses his arms. His dark eyes dart back and forth to Brooke, who shoots him a “screw you” expression. Kean’s face is dusted with hair and dirt, lips chapped but not as bad as Brooke’s. Kean notices Brooke looking at his scarred hand and shoves it into his pocket.
“Feed her.” Ray turns to Brooke and softens his hard eyes. “I owe your father. Don’t be thinkin’ I’ll risk anyone else for his thirteen-year-old kid.”
Brooke lifts her chin. “I’m sixteen. I’m short. And you better not think I’ll be screwing any perverts. I’d rather shower in the rains.”
Kean laughs. “Changed my mind. I like her.”
Kean still looks at Brooke like she is going to rob them, even though she’s been taking inventory, cleaning linens, cooking, and running errands for the past two weeks, but that’s the way things are. Rule one: don’t leave your pack anywhere. Rule two: trust is reserved for yourself alone. It’s been months since her father died, and being around Kean all the time is starting to give her a silent comfort she tells herself not to get used to. Everyone dies.
“Rain is coming,” Brooke calls out the window, a storey above the market. She’s earned the nickname Weather Girl. The men finish their bargains, and the flesh market empties into the buildings.
She tells herself she hasn’t had a clean shot at Ray, but the truth is worse; her belly is full and her nightmares of being caught in a storm have diminished. Just a few more weeks of reprieve, and she will kill him.
Kean and Ray count goods while Brooke traces worn-out lettering on paper labels of canned food. Nothing like opening a can of dog food, thinking it was lentil stew. The worn images blend.
Ray places a bin above Brooke’s head. “This storm is long. There’ll be plenty of goods, shoes, bags, and gloves. We can sell them. We are running lower than I like now that we have you to feed, Kid.”
Brooke stops tracing the letters on a can of chicken and wild rice. “You want to rob the dying?”
Ray presses his hands to his hips. “Na, was thinking we should hold their fucking hands while they cough the last of their life out and wait for retrievers to get the loot.” A vein bulges on Ray’s forehead. “Take gloves and clean water. Rinse what you find.”
Brooke keeps her mouth shut. This is the Ray she came for. Tonight. She’ll load her pack, cut his throat and go. Tonight she tells herself like she has each night for weeks.
The rain stops after a few hours. Kean and Brooke ease into the streets. The painful moans are constant pleas for death, and what her father called empty prayers. They weave around the busy areas where crowds form, discussing the storm. Brooke’s fingers stay hovered over her blade. This is the most dangerous time to be out.
“Focus,” Kean tells Brooke.
Kean shakes his head and leads them down a near-vacant alley. A makeshift shack with a metal roof has collapsed. Several bodies steam. Entwined together in a last attempt at shielding each other. Kean and Brooke slide their bandanas over their noses. He yanks a body off another. Skin sticks together, making it difficult to tell them apart. Kean turns, gags and tears off a backpack from one of the bodies. Skin slides off bone. Oozing yellow and red.
Brooke breathes through her mouth until her stomach settles. A man has collapsed mid-crawl, face down, a few feet away. Brooke squats next to the man, away from any pooling rain. She tucks her blade under his pack’s strap and slices, tugging, but it doesn’t free. She pulls harder, and the man’s body rolls. Bone shows on his nose, revealing a shadowed cavity into his skull. His forehead is scalped from the acid. Flesh and muscle cling to his features. An eye opens.
Brooke gasps and falls backward. She scrambles up and checks her clothes. She’s dry.
The man locks his eye on Brooke. “P-pocket…hel…” His blistering lips rip open with each word.
The familiar electric hum of a patrol grows.
“Gotta go!” Kean is up and moving down the alley. “Brooke, move your ass!”
Brooke can’t look away. The dead man is alive. The desperation in the man’s eye calls to her, but it’s different than a regular dying man.
“Take it. D-don’t…no retrievers can see it.”
Brooke leans closer. The humming louder. Pulsing pounds through her ears. She reaches into the man’s jacket pockets. Nothing. His pants, moisture hits her bare wrist and burns her skin. She finds a small metal tube. A folded paper within.
“This?” Brooke holds it up.
He blinks and sighs. “Now kill me.”
Brooke shakes her head. “I don’t think I can.”
The man reaches up with a raw hand and holds it over Brooke’s gloved one that still grips her blade. She lets him guide her, the metal tip sizzles at his throat. Every gulp of air reveals his pain.
“Brooke!” Kean calls. “They’re here!”
Brooke plunges the blade into the man’s neck.
Brooke drops her loot in the safe room for the others to sort through. Numb from taking a life, she climbs the stairs to the top level of the ratty building. Like most in the city, the structure no longer has a roof, but it’s the highest floor with no ceiling. Half walls, and scattered remnants of dwellings exposed to the rains too long. She stays along the framed edges and hangs her feet over. The caved-in city rests below. The dome’s steel exterior glimmers, tucked along the southern border, separated by a wide-open dust field void of shelter, only a road for the dome’s retrievers to come and collect the dying. She leans on dry enough cement, overlooking several streets, and slides out the paper from the metal tube.
It’s a map. Streets, but only a few, with simple names like Red and Green Avenue. Most of the map is inside a structure in the middle. The paper is printed and new, not old and heavily creased like what Brooke is used to seeing of the old world. This is important enough to suffer. The man delayed his own relief to ensure she kept this from the retrievers. She could barely kill an already dying man, how is she going to kill one that wants to live?
Ray shuffles down next to her. Brooke hides the page. “Heard you killed a man today.”
Brooke doesn’t respond. She wants to hate Ray but is having a hard time reconciling the monster her father told her of and the man that has given her a home. He survives, but he also keeps her, Kean, and the women fed.
“Your dad ever tell you how we knew each other?”
“No,” she lies.
Ray nods below. “Half the people down there owe their lives to that bastard. When the ash came and brought the rains, he hid one hundred and two of us underground in a shelter. Led search parties for survivors. Turned no one away. He even fed the dying as though they needed it. Now he was a decent human that kept us assholes from killing each other. Even after the dome was built, your father said the Domers were just scared and getting organized and would let us in when they were ready.” Ray points to the well-lit dome. “Now, they want whatever’s left of us.”
“Dad and I heard stories,” Brooke says. “Other cities. Other domes. All keeping survivors out and taking any dying they can find.” Brooke thinks of pushing Ray off the roof but instead passes Ray the map, and he studies it. His eyes widen.
“Where did you get this?” He holds the paper like a treasure map.
“What is it?”
“The dome. It’s a detailed map of the inside.”
Ray has assembled twelve others. Ten men and two women. An unofficial city council of sorts. Each of them with their own territory. Collectively speaking for all outside the dome.
“That’s a pretty map,” a man says. “Doesn’t make a lick of difference from this side of the glass. We can’t get in.”
They bicker and discuss but mostly blame and whine about how things used to be and what this could mean. Brooke grows tired of the conversation that leads to nothing. A headache sprouts.
A man stands. “The only way inside is near-death, and unless any of you assholes want to stand outside in the rains, we ain’t getting in there.”
“I can.” Brooke tries to raise her voice over the snipping. Kean is the only one that turns his head. Question on his face and warning in his eyes not to speak. But this chaos has no new content, and getting into that dome is what her dad would do.
Brooke marches to the centre of their group and drops her pack. Voices stagger and stop as they turn their attention to her.
“I.” She flings her coat to Kean. “Can!” She lifts her shirt over her head, covers her chest, and faces her ravaged back to the group. She displays the scars that stretch up her neck to below her waistline, her rain-chewed body that with a few new burns can pass as fresh.
Silence. A cough. Eyes shift away, and boots shuffle in uncertainty.
Ray moves first and places his coat over Brooke’s ravaged skin. He’s gentle. She wishes he would just stay an asshole and make things easier for her. “Kean, take her.”
“No.” Brooke glares at Ray. “I have nothing left. We all have nothing left. I’ve heard you talking. The city is near empty of food. I’ve seen what happens when the food is gone. We have no way of travelling further and no way of knowing if there is anywhere left to go. Not with the rains coming so often. We need to get into the dome. Toss me in the street after a rain. They’ll see my back and take me.” This should be easy for Ray, it’s not the first time he’s let someone burn.
“Kean?” Ray grits his teeth.
“We should vote.” A woman steps forward.
Kean takes Brooke’s elbow, and they leave the room without an answer.
“Do you do everything he says?” Brooke snaps at Kean in the hall.
Kean leans on the wall and crosses his arms. “What are you yelling at me for?”
“I’m not yelling!” Brooke paces in the hall, waiting for Ray and his crew’s decision.
“Because of my back?”
“Because of the size of your balls,” Kean says. “You really willing to risk your life for a city of people that would take yours if it meant an extra day of food?”
Brooke swallows. She’s not used to being complimented. “It won’t matter soon if someone doesn’t.”
He makes to speak but holds back. Neither of them breathing. Locked in a stone-still glare that softens.
Hours later, Kean and Brooke sit closer than usual, sewing a thick plastic tarp.
Ray pushes aside the curtain door, leans on the frame, and glares at Brooke. “You are the dumbest kid I’ve ever met.”
“They voted yes.”
The plan is simple enough: pretend to be dying. Easy. Once inside, Brooke follows Ray’s instructions to get the men in to secure the dome. The dome’s soldiers are well-armed, but the dome isn’t big enough to house more than a hundred or so.
The sky has been silent for eleven days, taunting Brooke’s anticipation. She changed her mind a few times, but more often than not, she is dedicated to the plan. Now they wait.
Kean motions to the door, his signal to go for a walk. They’ve become closer. Always together. They head out onto the streets.
Brooke watches the grey sky for any hint of rain. “My dad said they used to play in the rain, enjoy a soft mist and rainbow afterward.”
Kean huffs, “My mother said they could sit under stars miles from a city and camp out without fear.”
“Imagine that.” Unfiltered moonlight. “You think we’ll make it?”
Kean kicks a half-disintegrated brick, breaking it into three pieces. “We die either way. Rather be fighting them,” he points south to the dome, “then robbing our own people.”
This is right. “My dad would be happy.”
“You never talk about your mom.”
“I didn’t meet her,” Brooke says. “Not really.”
Kean stops and faces her. He tucks a stray hair from her face and studies her eyes.
Brooke considers him. She should walk away, she’s going to anyway after this is done, yet here she is getting involved and attaching herself to someone loyal to Ray.
“My mother burned when she was eight months pregnant. With me.” The words spill out like lava. “My father got there too late. His friends hovered over my mother while my father cut me out of her belly before she stopped breathing. She would have felt every slice. He told me he ran for cover and called out to her, describing my features to her while she bled to death.” She leaves out the part that it was Ray that left her mother when she tripped. That Ray allowed her to burn to save himself.
“You truly are ash-born.” Kean’s gloved hand holds hers, and that’s all she needs.
Brooke smiles. Kean is a surprise to her vengeance, and she no longer wants to fight it.
Kean leads Brooke to a building she’s never been to. They move down a set of cracked stairs, light spilling in through any space it can find, into an underground garage. Rusted cars are tucked in stalls. A graveyard of vehicles.
“The rain usually floods it,” Kean says. “When it recedes, I like to walk through.”
“There’s so many.” Brooke runs her glove over a car’s hood. “Can you imagine how small the world would be if we could drive?”
Kean leans on a large vehicle, his arms crossed, watching her. He continues to break down Brooke’s barriers. Rule number three: Do not attach. It’s taken only a few weeks, and he has found a place untouched, a softer, kinder Brooke that will make mistakes and risk much.
Her feet shuffle forward until she’s sharing his space. Lingering in the hunger and enjoying the invisible tug-o’- war, her body plays with his. He removes his glove and runs a hand behind her neck. She leans into the touch of his skin. Her blood heats. She slides her shoulder straps free, and her bag thuds the cracked cement. Kean removes his jacket and peels his shirt off, revealing damaged skin with scattered burns from years of splatter and running through the rain’s warnings.
The invitation has been made. Kean’s usually hard eyes soften, lips wait for hers.
Brooke unzips her leather coat, removes it, hesitates. His finger lifts her chin. She wouldn’t be able to hold back if she wanted to. She gives a short nod. His hands hold the hem of her top and lifts. His bare chest presses to hers, and he runs his burned hand over her burned back.
His lips graze her ear. Small kisses raise her flesh before he whispers to her. “I’m all in.”
The air holds a hint of rain. Brooke’s skin dampens, her hair is less static and more controlled. She finds Ray in the market negotiating for the ladies.
“It’s time,” Brooke says.
Ray leaves the booth and signals to a man across the way. Brooke changes into the tattered, acid-ravaged clothing Kean and she made to show her back, and fool the retrievers. Double layers of denim with foil sections. The rest of the group, four men and three women, arrive with makeshift weapons at the ready. Guns with no bullets. Ammunition was the first currency to be spent many years ago. Each of them gives Brooke a reassuring nod or light squeeze to her shoulder, but no words. There are none.
The rains begin. Slow drips, the seconds in between tick at Brooke’s resolve. The drips lead to a steady drum. No screams. Not yet. Kean dumps clean bottles of water over Brooke to dilute what awaits. She tucks her blade in a sheath under her pant leg. Another in her inside belt. The drips elongate. The group stands at a tall empty window frame watching the rivers of death run over the broken streets.
Ray waits for Brooke to give him a signal. She goes to Kean, rolls onto her toes and presses her chapped lips to his. Brooke walks away and closes her eyes for a moment. Ray takes the cue and waives at a few men who pounce on Kean, holding him back from the plan he was not aware of. It has to look as real as possible, or the retrievers won’t take Brooke. They know what a fresh burn looks and smells like, and she needs more burns than what Kean planned on. But he cares too much. As much as she does.
Brooke exhales, ignoring Kean’s struggles to get to her, and stands at the edge of the overhang. She steps out into the remaining drizzle.
Kean screams before Brooke does. The first step is more bearable than the next. She runs to the centre of the market to keep from turning back to shelter. A thick drop traces her scalp, searing a path down her neck. The pain oozes into her body and mind. She drops to her knees, reaching for Kean. The rain still slows, but each drop spears pain through her.
Ray holds Kean down with a knee to his back. Kean locks eyes with Brooke, a small comfort in the fire that rages. The amount of damage, old and fresh, should fool the patrol. The rain has all but stopped. Kean breaks free and runs to Brooke, skidding on his knees next to her.
“It’s alright. You’re okay,” Kean says. “Ray, help me.” Kean tries to lift Brooke from the wet ground, burning his hands in the process.
Kean dumps water over Brooke’s trembling fingers. “Liar.”
Calls to hide from the patrol begin.
Ray grips Kean’s shoulders and leads him away. Ray turns back. “See ya there, Kid.”
Brooke collapses in a whimper. She lays shivering as the fresh acid eats the clothing, sneaking past her many layers. Her pain soon becomes secondary to her fear.
Boots drop into view. Hands grip her wrists and rake her exposed body over the jagged street. She screams in agony. She’s lifted and tossed into the back of the vehicle atop others. Her skin sticks to a dead woman. The hinges close the door taking the light away. If her dad could save so many, she can surely sneak into the dome. She has to.
Brooke fumbles out the water bottle she has tucked in her pants and dumps it over her back, over the worst of it. The tires screech to a stop. She’s bathing in the scent of burnt flesh and death. The door drops open, and a man is thrown in, landing partially on top of her. Brooke struggles to expand her legs under his weight. Death echoes off the metal walls in the darkness. Too many minutes pass, and the truck stops.
Brooke searches for voices and sounds above the pain. The bottom opens, and she’s falling with three others, barely alive, and the dead woman. They slam together, entwined in raw limbs. Her jaw cracks on a hard, cold surface.
She slivers an eye open to find all-white walls under artificial light. The surface moves and rolls forward. She thinks of the map. She must be in the receiving bay. Men with guns surround the moving table as other vehicles drop off human loads. A man falls from the moving table and struggles to stand, he manages to take a few steps toward a woman in a white coat. His temple explodes with blood and bone fragments before he drops. A man holsters his gun.
A voice from behind her. “This table’s ready to go.”
What sounds like a door clicks closed. Small roof vents release a thick wave of cold air. The moment it touches her skin, Brooke screams, her back arches, and pain rips through her body. The air slows, and the constant sizzle of acid-soaked clothing no longer bites at her. Whatever is in that air neutralizes the acid. A chemical the city needs and they have it here. Keeping it for themselves.
Brooke swallows vomit and quivers in pain. Less pain, but enough to keep her hatred at a ten. There are fewer patrollers. Maybe two. Brooke tries not to react or make any sudden movements. The rest of the people hold pens or medical instruments, not guns. Gloved hands loop under Brooke’s arms and drag her to a metal slab. Her fresh wounds ooze and tear with each movement. She buries the need to call out for help. She’s felt worse. Way worse. The bed rolls, and another door closes.
Brooke looks through her lashes. The soldiers are rolling away from the gurney toward the wall. She reaches for her blades and only gets one, tucking it under the lip of the bed.
The two men return and cut off Brooke’s clothes, leaving the material that sticks to her burns.
“I’ve got it from here,” a woman’s voice. “She’s not going anywhere. Did you see that back?”
Brooke holds back a giant ‘Screw You.’ The door opens and closes with an electric beep. Brooke opens her eyes. The woman busies herself near a table full of syringes and plastic tubing, back to Brooke. No one else.
The woman hums a slow tune while prepping equipment. She shuffles over the floor in white shoes with soft soles and reaches for Brooke’s arm. “Let’s see if you have any veins left.”
Brooke leaps. She pins the wide-eyed woman to the floor. The black butt of a gun peeks out of her white coat. Brooke snags it, aims it at the woman, retreats to the door, and locks it before kneeling back down and pressing the end of the weapon to the woman’s forehead.
“Why?” Brooke says.
“I don’t…why? What?” The woman’s eyes flick to the door, and Brooke shakes her head in warning.
“Why do you take our insides?”
The woman blinks. “We experiment with the effects of the rains. To learn. It’s just a job. Every city dome does this. It’s not personal.”
The woman’s tag says Dr. Lowe. “Give me your clothes.” Brooke presses the gun harder to make her point. She gags and ties up Dr. Lowe with a sheet torn into strips and changes into the clean clothes and lab coat. She rinses her face of blood as best she can, her lip and chin raw from a burn, and ties her hair back, using a paper mask to conceal half of her face. If the map is correct, Brooke knows where she is. One hall. Three doors on the right for the exit.
Brooke hovers over Dr. Lowe. “I hope you burn!” She punches her hard enough to knock the doctor out before tucking the woman’s naked body under a sheet on the same slab they wheeled Brooke in on. Brooke doesn’t fail to notice the absence of burns on Dr. Lowe. She rolls the gurney in front of her, out the back door, and into the corridor. Shoulders back, head high like she belongs. A man near the end looks up from a clipboard briefly and continues to write. Brooke moves toward the exit. Slow. Normal. All normal. She finds a cove in the hall, tucks Dr. Lowe in it, still unconscious, gagged and tied down. Brooke bursts out the exit and into the dome.
Warmth. Dry warmth and artificial light. Real grass pokes out from soil in rectangles in front of houses slabbed in colour. No paint peeling or missing roofs. Her shoulders sag. The sight kicks her heart and sparks hatred for those that have such luxury.
Brooke races to the end of the building and finds the entrance to the pipe right where the map showed. She wrenches the lid back and climbs the steel rungs to the base, feeling her way to the end. She traces her fingers over the wall in the dim light and finds the metal wheel that seals the way in. She grips it. Turns. Tries again. It doesn’t budge. She pushes through the pain of her blisters opening.
Brooke slumps her forehead against the cement, kicks the wall and screams. “Open. Dammit.”
She wedges her blade under the corner and levers the wheel. She digs deep and presses out every bit of energy she has. It cracks open with a groan and pushes inward. Flashlights bounce at her face.
“Took you long enough.” Ray and the group of nine, including Kean, file into the tunnel.
“Did they hurt you?” Kean holds Brooke’s elbows.
She’s still in a shiver. Shock. She knows what it means after too much skin has burned, and fluid escapes. She’s seen bodies shiver into death. Kean throws his coat over her and hands her a canteen of water that she drinks down.
“They’re experimenting, not harvesting,” Brooke says. “To see the effects. I think there are other domes in more cities.”
A man snorts. “Bloody-hell.”
“Maybe the knowledge can help us,” Brooke says. “Maybe we can negotiate with whoever is really in charge.”
Ray spins around and aims his flashlight at Brooke. “Get your head out of your ass. They don’t want to help us. We die so they can survive. Stick to the plan; the dome is ours.”
Evening falls. No alarms have been sounded. Not yet. Brooke gives the loaded weapon she took from the doctor to Kean. Her hands still shake but less after water and warmth. Her burns are not that bad, but the pain is setting in. Ray studies the map and divides the group into their assigned tasks. Kean and Brooke are to secure the receiving bay.
Kean and Brooke hide behind a row of well-fed bushes and watch for movement around the tall facility in the centre of the dome. Brooke reaches out and runs her hand along the leaves.
“They have so much.” Brooke faces Kean.
Kean’s eyes dance over the streets, watching for dangers.
“Kean,” Brooke’s voice drops to a whisper. “You can’t trust Ray.”
“Is that what your dad said?” He asks, knowing they were friends.
Kean studies Brooke for a moment and nods without asking for more detail.
The pair sneak back into the facility through the rear door.
That way.” Brooke points down the hall. “Let’s hope the bay is empty until the next rain.”
“Hey!” A man raises a gun at them.
Kean shoves Brooke into a side hall and shoots. Kean lands next to Brooke as returning fire is sent their way. They crawl to a locked door. Kean stands and kicks it three times before it gives way into the receiving bay. Over a dozen patrol vehicles face tall metal doors that look to open upward. The only man in there raises his head from a lit screen.
“Can I help…uh…” He runs away out another door.
Kean and Brooke slide a large desk to block the way they came through. Kean’s arm is bleeding above his wrist.
“It’s shallow,” Kean says when he sees Brooke’s worried face.
“How do we open them?” Brooke moves behind one of the tall doors. “There are no handles.”
“A button, maybe?” Kean flips the lid of a panel. He presses everything until the metal lifts, illuminating a short tunnel and another tall closed door at the other end. He keeps pressing, and the other side doesn’t open.
Brooke tries too. “We have to find a way to open the last door.”
Gunfire. Brooke jumps into a truck. She covers her head and ducks down. It stops. She reaches back for Kean, but he’s not behind her. She tentatively peers out the window. Ray moves in with four of his crew, now holding large guns with long barrels. They must have taken the weapons. Perfect, this is almost over. Ray aims at the head of a man with his hands raised. Shaking. They’re speaking. Ray smirks at the man.
“No!” Brooke’s hands pound on the window.
The gun sparks at the end. Blood sprays out of the soldier, and he drops. No negotiating. Not the plan.
Brooke climbs out of the vehicle in a daze. Seven dome soldiers lay dead. Kean pulls Brooke low before Ray sees them by the truck.
“Don’t get in his way.” Kean picks up the gun, his other arm still dripping red, and puts it in Brooke’s hand.
“I can’t do this,” Brooke says.
“All in?” Brooke asks.
“All in.” Kean tips his head forward and rests it on hers.
Brooke straightens. Her mind swirls, and the threat of the rains loom outside. She tentatively moves to Ray.
“We need to open the doors. It’s about to rain. Over a hundred people are waiting.”
Ray rolls a soldier’s body over and relieves it of several knives and bullets. “The strong will find a way. We have the weapons room secure. We can take the dome.”
Brooke raises her gun to Ray. The others snap their attention and weapons to Brooke, but Ray waives them off. “Secure the doors.”
“I burned for them,” Brooke says. “Not you. They are in a field with nothing for cover. Let them in. All of them.”
He tucks the blades into his belt but doesn’t reach for his gun. “Don’t be naïve. You are in here with us, and we have the advantage. We’re in charge. We decide who gets in here.”
Brooke doesn’t lower the gun an inch, even as her torn skin pleads for her to drop it. “You are a cruel waste of life.”
“Why do you think your father told you to come to me last?”
“He didn’t.” Brooke locks her jaw.
Ray smiles. “Say again?”
“My father didn’t want me to go anywhere near you. He told me many stories, but the one I held onto is where you left my pregnant mother to save yourself in a storm. You left me.”
Ray’s lips form a straight line. “Lana? You’re…wait…no.”
“They cut me from her.” Brooke points down the corridor to the closed door. “They followed you here, and they’re about to burn alive, just like my mother.” Her voice raises. “Dammit, Ray!”
His eyes are wide. He runs a hand through his hair. “I didn’t know you survived. I swear.”
“I. Don’t. Care. She loved you, and you left her. Keep your guilt and shove it.” Brooke keeps her back to Kean.
“Brooke,” Ray pleads, hands pointing to the walls, “it’s these people; these assholes could have helped us, and they let us starve, kill, and crawl through acid.” Ray’s face is red, eyes raging. “Turned us into monsters.”
“They didn’t make you walk away from my mother. From me.” Brooke cocks her head to the side.
Ray steps forward, and Brooke locks her elbows ensuring the gun stays aimed at his chest. Brooke’s finger hovers over the trigger. “You can let them in and find a better way. Like the man who actually raised me, your friend did for you. Be better. How many more people have to die?”
“Fuuuuuuck!” Ray kicks a table on wheels, and it rolls into the wall. He moves to a bright screen and presses several keys. The door on the other end of the long tunnel opens, and men and women cheer, spilling in, running toward the bay with homemade weapons. Ready to take the dome.
People rush past her, ripping open doors to the main areas of the dome. A mob attacking in the night. No one can control them. Not yet. The bay has emptied. The others taking the fight to the unsuspecting Domers. Only Kean, Ray and Brooke remain. The damp air from the open bay door makes its way in. It’s raining.
“Walk.” Brooke nods to the tunnel out.
“You’re kidding, right?” Ray says.
Kean picks up Ray’s gun.
“Do not mistake me for the little girl you thought walked into your market. Move it.” She gestures down the corridor with her gun.
Ray stays for a moment and appears to be gauging Brooke. He’s slow but turns and walks toward the outside. Lights flicker on as they move.
“I loved her.”
“I believe you, but you chose yourself over us.”
“You hate me.”
“That’s irrelevant. I will not fail her. Not like you did.” They are near the edge of the tunnel. The mist of acid peppers the air and echoes off the walls.
“You don’t want to do this.” It’s not really a plea but a statement. “Lana would not want you to do this.”
A vehicle pulls up from the bay, and Kean opens the door. “I have everything we need in here. It’s solar. Let’s just go.”
Brooke looks back to Ray. She can just leave and find a better city. Maybe it doesn’t rain everywhere.
“Don’t become him,” Kean says. “Fuck him. You had a dad.”
Brooke lowers her gun. She chooses what her father would want and what her mother died for. Her conscience will stay as clean as it can.
“Stay,” Ray says. “We can run this place together. We have everything we need.”
“Get in the truck, Brooke.”
Brooke looks over her shoulder at Kean. Back to Ray and lifts the gun again. Ray rolls his eyes and raises his hands.
“About sixty seconds.” Brooke glares at Ray.
“What are you talking about?” Ray looks to Kean for help. “What the fuck is she saying? Get her out of here.”
Kean steps down from the truck and stands next to Brooke. “Did I forget to tell you? I quit.”
Brooke holds course and moves forward, Ray walks backward until his feet stop an inch from the showers.
Brooke yells over the now thunderous storm. “I’m told my mom lived about sixty seconds after I took my first breath. I am giving you the same time I had with her.” Brooke gestures with the gun to the steady rain. “If you make it sixty seconds out there, I won’t kill you.”
“Brooke,” Ray takes a step toward her.
She shoots and hits Ray in the shoulder. “Or you die for certain, right now. Choose.”
“Dammit!” Ray holds his shoulder, locks eyes with Brooke and his throat bobs. He takes a step back and into the curtain of water that falls from the ash.
Kean starts a soft count she can hardly hear. Ray doesn’t move. His face tightens and is the only sign of pain. Blood drips from his arm as the water dampens his hair, face, clothes. He tries to step forward.
“Don’t!” Brooke calls.
Ray falls to his. “Please. Help me.”
“I’m sure she said the same.”
Ray’s face bubbles, and redness turns into sores as the acid eats its way through.
Kean takes Brooke’s free hand when he sees her resolve slipping. The gun shakes in her fingers.
Ray screams and curls up.
Brooke reminds herself what her mother went through and that Ray was about to let a hundred innocents burn so he can hold power in the dome.
“I feel nothing,” she says to herself. “I feel nothing.” Her focus blurs through her wet eyes. “Nothing!”
“Fifty-nine, Sixty.” Kean turns to Brooke. “Brooke?”
Brooke is still. Staring at the veil of water.
Ray has stopped calling out and is shaking.
Kean drops to his knees, still under the shelter. “Ray?”
Ray crawls, slumps, crawls more until Kean reaches a hand into the rain and drags Ray under the shelter. Ray’s breath is bubbles and effort.
Brooke kneels next to Ray, who tries to open his eyes and quivers in pain. “You’d better hope you let in someone that cares and doesn’t know who you really are.”
Brooke and Kean climb into the truck, and they drive away. She captures the image of Ray on that cement floor. There is a relief, a lightness to the absence of vengeance.
S.J. Logan writes science fiction and fantasy, is a business owner, and teaches creative writing for The Alexandra Writers Centre Society. She lives in Canada, where she worked as a Paramedic, later becoming a business owner. She loves being on the lake and spending time with her family and also admits to having a minor addition to books that isn’t hurting anyone, so she has yet to seek help. S.J. is finishing a science fiction trilogy, but you can find her shorter work in Swill Magazine or The War Memory Project. Twitter: @SJLoganwriter