Monday, June 30, 2014

Electronic Sunrise

"I'm going up!" Aderyn called down the narrow hall.

"Check your gauges. No half tanks," her father's voice rumbled back. He limped the short trek into their common room. "And no scenic routes."

"I know, I know." She pulled her respirator off the wall and detached it from the refill hose. "It's on full. No reason to worry unless I'm not back in six hours."

"I don't find your jokes funny."

Aderyn fitted the respirator straps over her shoulders and balanced the mask on her head. "Stop worrying so much, Dad. I won't be long." She reassured herself by patting the gun strapped to her thigh.

The weapon was hidden under the long trench coat she always wore when venturing out, but her father noticed the gesture and shook his head. "Times like this I miss take out."

"Take out?"

"You used to be able to call a restaurant and order food that some delivery driver brought right to your home." He sighed. "I'd pay the biggest tip of my life for some pad thai right about now."

"Forty-three has something like that. Not an actual person, but you can order off the command menu and food shoots through some tube system to your pod." Aderyn pulled on gloves and tucked her braid into the heavy hood attached to her coat. "That would be pretty great wouldn't it?"

Her father snorted at the idea. "Not if it's that dehydrated crap they serve up when only rations are available." He looked his daughter up and down. The creases on his forehead etched deeper and his shoulders fell. "But if it meant you didn't have to go out there anymore, I guess it wouldn't be so bad."

"I like it up there. I get to see the sun."

"You see a giant recording of the sun on a television screen. They haven't broadcast a new sunrise in years. I doubt the cameras can even see it anymore." His ornery mood was worse than usual so Aderyn turned on the television to distract him and directed him to his shabby chair.

"Just find something to watch and I'll be back before you know it." She reached for the latch on the exit door, but stopped to check her pocket for the small vial tucked inside.

He grunted and pointed at the screen. "Can you believe this place?"

"What place?" Aderyn glanced back at the screen and gasped. "That can't be real, is it?"

A commercial for the newest completed development played out on the screen. A silky woman's voice described the lush garden and park centered among the living quarters. Real live trees grew several stories high surrounded by vibrant green grass and flowering shrubs. The narrator went on to explain the occurrence of rain that fell from the top story and traveled to the park below. Children splashed in puddles as a young couple rushed by, shielding themselves from the drops.

"Number Eighty-Nine boasts beautiful living accommodations with holographic balconies available on every other level and the only development to offer accurate seasonal light times through the entire complex. Come to Eighty-Nine and live as you were meant to live."

The screen dimmed before lighting up with an old sitcom. Aderyn couldn't decide if it was more realistic than Number Eighty- Nine. "Do you think they really built that?"

Her father shrugged, his eyes glassy and still latched to the screen. "Guess folks like us will never know for sure, will we? This is how we were meant to live."

Aderyn glanced around at the small pod they considered home and noted how sterile it felt compared to the luxurious quarters that had splashed across the television screen moments before. Her fingers twitched against the vial in her pocket. She huffed out a good-bye to her father and slipped out the door.

She traversed the long hallway of identical doors, each housing another unfortunate family. Aderyn tried to replace the images of Eighty-Nine's graceful balconies with the cold practicality of Twenty-Two's. This was her reality, her life. A rapidly constructed multi level shack to shelter the as many people as quickly as possible. Amenities and luxury were not considered during the build. There was no rain in her world and the only park she knew consisted of packed dirt and stone benches where she sat to watch the sunrise on a giant screen.

Eighty-Nine was nothing more than a cruel fantasy. Someone's sick idea of a joke.

Aderyn positioned her mask over her mouth and tightened the straps before pulling down her tinted goggles. She braced her weight against the outer door and forced it open against the wind just wide enough to slip out onto the catwalk before it slammed behind her. She jogged down the caged in walk to the lift and hid from the gusts in the small alcove around the lift doors. She pulled the lever and the simple box descended from a few flights above with rattles and groans.

When she climbed inside and pulled the doors shut, Lorella pictured indoor, elaborate elevators that slid between floors existed somewhere in the world where people like her didn't belong. Instead, she gripped railing and braced for the abrupt slamming halt when she reached the ground. One day she was sure the box of death was just going to forget to stop and plunge through the ground.

The gale force winds up above were no more than a whisper on the ground. It did nothing to clear the permanent haze from the air that restricted her vision to several feet in any direction, but she knew the way to the park in the worst conditions.

The train rumbled over her head through the dark morning. She would need to be on it herself in a few hours to go into work. It was meaningless, but her father couldn't work so she stuck with it to feed them both. She also knew she was fortunate to have landed a job indoors and far less dangerous than most labor positions available.

The subtle hum of the giant screen let her know she had entered the park. Her feet followed the packed path to a circle of benches. It was all so routine, she didn't hear a second respirator until a figure manifested through the haze. 

She unbuttoned her coat and rested her hand on the butt of her gun. The figure didn't move or acknowledge her approach. She made her way to another bench, the weight of her gun reassuring her as she eased onto the stone seat.

Her companion sat on his own bench, stoic and waiting for the sunrise. Aderyn hadn't seen another person wait for the sunrise in months. It was a non event considering the hazy air held in reflected light along with poison. Night was only a reference to the hands of a clock, not a change in the sky.

Aderyn stilled and listened to the hum of the screen and rhythmic rasp of her companion's respirator. The hypnotic repetition soothed the anxiety she had been battling since leaving work the day before. She slipped her hand around the vial in her pocket, reassuring herself again that it was intact.

She closed her eyes and focused on drawing stale breaths of canned air. She wondered what trees smelled like in the rain.

"I didn't think you smiled like that unless I was around."

Aderyn jumped at the interruption. A reflective mask shaped with haunting, empty features stared at her. She pressed her forehead against the mask's and could see Sin's eyes crinkled with a smile on the other side. "It isn't nice to sneak up on people." She pressed her leg against his reminding him of the piece she always carried. "Or very smart."

"I would have stripped you of your gun and your can before you ever knew I was here." Sin held her face and shook his own with disappointment. "You promised you would be more careful."

"I'm always careful," Aderyn snapped as she smacked his hands away."I could hear a normal tank miles away. No one around Twenty-Two has your fancy ninja gear." She flicked the nose of his eerie mask.

He peered around her at the man on the other bench. "You have company this morning."

"I don't think he even knows I'm here. Hasn't moved at all."

"All the same," he pulled her arm to stand. "We should probably get out of here."

"Can we wait until sunrise?"

Sin's shoulders fell, but sat down again. "If it will make you smile, Eryn." He threaded their fingers together and she leaned against his arm.

"Should be any minute." She spotted a large bag at Sin's feet. "What's that all about? You have a delivery of your own to make?"

"No, that's your groceries you are supposed to be out shopping for."

"Oh," was the only response she could manage as the guilt of lying to her father seeped into her throat with a bitter taste. She had the best intentions. She was going to make life better for both of them. She would keep repeating that until it was true.

"Forty-Three had strawberries," Sin said, trying to pull her back.

"Strawberries? Actual berries?"

He laughed at the excitement she was trying to contain. "Don't get too worked up. Their dry soil program is still new, but coming along. They are pretty sad little strawberries, but they're real. And I got you a few."

Aderyn sighed and imagined the sweet juices of fresh fruit. Her taste buds would go into shock. "Do you think they have a dry soil program in Eighty-Nine?"

"Eighty-Nine? I imagine they just get the other projects to do the work for them and those rich bastards relax in their hologram rooms and feast on the results." He angled to look around her hood at her face. "Why the curiosity about Eighty-Nine?"

Aderyn shrugged, feeling foolish for mentioning it at all.

"It's a wild place. Beautiful. I don't blame you for thinking about it."

Aderyn didn't respond. The hazy air began to glow pink with the beginning of sunrise bathing the pair and their odd companion with a surreal beauty. This was why she watched the sunrise each day. It was only a few moments, but in that space she wasn't a prisoner to a toxic world.

Her serenity was interrupted when the other visitor rose to his feet. She watched in horror as he removed his mask, tears reflecting the soft golden light.

She was paralyzed, even as Sin swore over her shoulder when he witnessed the same.

In the growing light, Aderyn realized the man wore no coat or gloves to protect him from the poisoned air of abrasive winds filled with sand. He stood before the electronic sun, exposed and gasping through tears before collapsing.

She felt her own body shake in response to the body twitching on the ground. Sin pulled her to her feet, trying to distance them from the scene. She couldn't look away and stumbled twice before Sin stopped them and grabbed her face. "Don't think about him. People get lost. They can't find their way back or figure out how to make things better so they give up. You couldn't have saved him."

She nodded to acknowledge his words, but the tremors rattled her teeth. Sin pulled her into his arms and held her tight until the shaking subsided. Unfortunately, her body decided to move onto tears.

"Hey, hey don't do that." The gentle tone of his voice only encouraged a sob. "Eryn, my sweet Eryn. Close your eyes."

She obeyed and felt her goggles pull away for a moment as Sin brushed away her tears. "You've never watched someone die."

"Of course not!" Aderyn drew in a jagged breath and shook her hands as if they held the memory.

"The first one is always the hardest," Sin answered.

Aderyn retreated a step. Her mind flooded with questions and jammed together before any could reach her tongue. Sin never told her exactly what he did or how he knew this man after the vial in her pocket. She shivered again wishing she had bothered to ask more questions.

"Eryn," his voice warned. "It's still me. You never have to be afraid of me. I keep you safe, remember?" He held out his hand for her to take.

She stared back at the blank mask patiently waiting for her. A man was dead in the park behind her, a stolen secret was in her pocket and her father waited at home for her to return with a decent meal. She thought of Eighty-Nine with its rain and trees and the taste of fruit.

Aderyn took his hand.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


I keep to the murky shadows, out of the reach of the sunlight. My toes find cold mud beneath them, over and over and over again. The cadence is constant and will never relent until I can find my way to freedom.

Sound has no meaning here. Its value is irrelevant to me regardless since I can no longer speak. Time exists only to remind me the world continues on day after day without my permission. The sun and moon change guard over me and keep me company. They remain impassive and only concerned with their duties. A lost girl means nothing in their great expanse.

Some might call me a victim.

I prefer the term prisoner. Held here against my will, serving a sentence for the crimes of being young, truant and smart-mouthed. Unforgivable sins according to my warden.

Or perhaps I was only a girl and that was enough.

I see him now and again. I watch him pass by on the other side of watery bars. Looking at me, but never seeing my wasting form. I think he finds comfort knowing I am still hidden from the world and his secret to keep to himself.

We all have secrets to keep hidden, some are just darker than others.

I will remain his captive until time decides to set me free.

Then there will be no place to hide because I can't wait to share my secrets.