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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/914585-Chapter-Two---Never-Better
Rated: 13+ · Book · Sci-fi · #2126927
Rising tides, the wreckage of a post war Philly, and one family's journey to reunite.
#914585 added July 4, 2017 at 12:11pm
Restrictions: None
Chapter Two - Never Better
- Tye -


The door slammed. She locked it, even though that wouldn’t do any -

Xena screamed, shit, Goober barking - Xena darted out from the bedroom, face twisted up with worry. She was wearing an oversized t-shirt and boxers. She wasn’t -

“Change,” Tye said and then bit her tongue when Xena flinched, “I mean, I need you to - to change, Sugar, put on something more durable, hurry.”

“What? What’s happening? Ma, I heard-”

“I know! I know! So I need you to change now, Xena, right now.”

She had seen them down the street, leading the Waters family out at gunpoint with barely more than backpacks, Mr. Waters sobbing, pleading, Bet Waters yelling, throwing her stuff down and holding out a hand to stop her kids from taking that last step down and away from their home, running at the guard grabbing her husband with nothing more than her small fists and they’d taken the gun and -

It had been a phasor with a stun setting. But that meant ‘mild’ brain damage, minimum. And it had a kill setting, too. Tye didn’t know. Didn’t know which one had been used right there, in front of Mrs. Waters’ children and husband. The fact that a gun had been used on her at all meant -

Tye dumped the largest compartment of Xena’s backpack out. Neat little binders tumbling, pencils falling - went into Xena’s room where she had changed into jean shorts and was buttoning a flannel with hands quaking like terrified birds, her thick glasses askew, oh my baby, can’t worry about that now, no - collected Xena’s pajamas, a more durable change of clothes, went into the kitchen and dumped in all the insulin and regulation tablets, all the snacks that kept-

The door slammed open. Xena screamed again and Tye ran out just as they walked methodically in, just as Goober lunged for one and they took aim and Tye yelled at top volume “GOOBS, HEEL,” and thank god, thank god, thank god she did, she stopped, they stopped. Xena fell forwards onto her dog, holding her, shielding her with her own body, as if that would’ve stopped them.

“You have ten minutes to pack what valuables you need before we escort you to a designated holding area.”

“What’s happening?” Tye asked, trying, failing to keep her voice steady, calm, nothing too hard.

“All squatters in this district are being evacuated due to flood risk. More will be explained at the holding area. Do not attempt to hide any member of this household inside the house; they will be in serious danger of accidental harm. If discovered, they will be arrested for disorderly conduct.”

“We only have ten minutes? It’s not even raining yet!” Tye said, pleading, shouting too loud, and when the cop looked at her his face was blank, eyebrows just a little together, a hint of annoyance.

“You now have eight. Stop talking and pack.”

“You’ve had enough time to do it already,” the other one muttered.

Tye turned to Xena, shivering on the floor, still wrapped around a low growling Goober. Tye’s heart thrummed hard in her throat. “Sweet pea, go set Goober up with her special harness and pack. Now.”

Xena nodded, stumbled to her feet. Dragged her monster of a dog over to the corner table where her things were kept.

Tye backed out of the room, keeping her eyes on them for as long as she could, backed into the kitchen and dropped in Goober’s food, a large water bottle, her own favorite tin cup, and -

She glanced back. The cops were still preoccupied with Goober, who was still staring them down as Xena shakily attached her collar and little pack.

And a stunner. One from back in the day. A small, simple stunner zipped down into Xena’s dark purple backpack with the duct tape on the bottom, safety pins reinforcing the left strap, she’d said it made her look ‘punk’ and that she liked it and didn’t need a new one, like Xena was ‘punk.’

Like Xena was someone who could wield any kind of weapon.

For a moment it all seemed to crush up into her head, a pressure, her breath going faster, the familiar feeling rising, but no, she couldn’t, no.

“One minute warning!”

Tye grabbed her own meds off the table and shakily took one for the first time in weeks. Shoved them in her pocket and at the last second grabbed her harmonica from off the table, dropped that into Xena’s bag for herself, the only things she really needed, the only things for herself she’d had for two years at one point, it didn’t matter, for her it didn’t matter, but for Xena-

“Ten minutes are up! Move out.”

The shorter cop was around her age. He came from that, too, then, came from where she’d come from, but had stayed cold, had stayed there, and that gave her more fear than anything else they’d done so far, save for aiming those guns at Goober.

They were marched out the door and down the street to a huddle of their neighbors at the end, some still in pajamas and robes, all clutching backpacks and bundles and hastily packed suitcases. A little boy was holding a cat. There was blood in front of the Waters’ house, probably (please) from a nosebleed, but no sign of Bet. Mr. Waters was crouched down and clutching his confused and sobbing children, his face stony and pale. Martha cried silently beside them, a falling-apart sunflower duffle clutched in her arms. Three guards circled their huddle, all armored up, all with guns level.

Tye brought them to Mr. Waters and Martha; dropped her hand down on Mr. Waters’ shoulder.

Somewhere, shots rang out again. He and Xena both flinched. And then again, and then yelling, rapid firing, the second sound definitely not regulation phasors. Tye’s hand gripped. She dropped down and whispered in his ear, “Someone’s fighting back.”

He nodded. He was a gentle man, very soft, taught the local preschoolers, but he whispered, “Good,” back at her in a voice that snapped in the air. She stood again, wrapped an arm around Xena, who was pushing against her side like she was a little kid again, asking to be picked up.

“I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Xena whispered. Behind her glasses, her eyes were scrunched practically closed, “We don’t have to fight. We can just sit down! Peaceful resistance; we don’t have to fight-”

“Shh, baby, shh,” Tye said. She didn’t know what else to say.

All their doors were open in a row, down the street - each a different color, the ramshackleness of ground houses lovingly spruced up with paint, murals on the side of some, all of them gutted like fish. No lights on. It took Tye a moment to realize they hadn’t had lights on in their house - had only had the TV, which had gone out, and Xena’s comp - Xena’s comp that wasn’t tied into any grid, but it’d still gone out, so it must’ve been something on purpose then, some tool used to blow out all electronics. She looked up, though she didn’t need to, to see the towers - shining pillars of light like always. Unaffected.

Electronic disruption surges. They had used them during the war, something to fuck up tracking systems on one plane but not another, but why now? Why use it now?

So that they couldn’t… what?

Film?

Tye was an empty vessel, consciousness like a tethered hawk overhead, circling, looking down on their huddled crowd, their street, so lovely and familiar and bleeding, on Xena shivering in her arms, soft warm wind brushing over them all as if from another moment, another kind of existence. Her lungs were huge and her heart was nowhere, pushed out, or maybe with Xena, in Xena’s hand on her arm, gripping so tightly.

“Move!”

The crowd was moving around her. The street had been cleared, all their houses empty. Now they were being lead along the main road down to the town center - dark, streetlights all gone out, even the huddled trailers in the empty lot gaping, the brick row houses, the shacks taking up the right side of the street - they were shuffled along quickly, all of them trying to keep the pace of the guards, and as they approached their destination, it got noisier.

The old traffic circle-converted-to-market-area had been cleared, tables thrown off to the side in a pile, stands that had been there for years unmoored and shoved away, forming what couldn’t have been an accidental barricade, all streets except two cut off, one street, Tye could see, brimming with busses. Actual old-fashioned land-roving buses, painted an unassuming grey, roofs glinting with solar panel shells.

The only lights still on were new ones, stage lights set up to face the steps up to the large church that’d been somewhat repurposed as a town hall/community center for the weekdays. There was a blue sheet backdrop hanging down before the doors, covering the mural Tye and Martha had helped paint last year, and a white podium before it.

There were people huddled under trees, children crying, adults crying, hunched elderly people being held up by their children and neighbors. Little crowds here and there were grouped near the back, as far away as they could be from the steps where the crowd of cops surrounded by their parked bikes talked, one small craft hovering near them. She could tell without knowing who was inside that they were important - she recognized a news anchor pod near the front, a cameraman and some sound folks and assistants waiting, plus the car was higher, hovered at top-of-stair height, not their height.

Right before the steps, the rest of the citizens of Mt. Danu were boiling.

Confusion, but also - rage, also - resistance, a thriving knot of it, right there at the front, and as they approached the craft door opened and out stepped Admiral Carver, mayor of Philadelphia, and Tye realized ‘this is the end,’ and any question of where they would be standing shriveled and died in her mind. She pulled Xena into the throng, which had only quieted for a shocked moment in the face of the mayor before starting up again, tenfold.

“-the meaning of this?! Answer us! We need an answer, we deserve-”

“-pull us from our homes, terrify our children-”

“- treated like criminals! We do not deserve to be treated like criminals! We do not-”

Carver smiled tight-lipped like no one was yelling, like it was a different place he was at, like it didn’t matter.

Tye took a deep breath and then joined as the second voice of the chant of the woman behind her, who she recognized as Hava, one of the witches at the local coven and the wife of the local Rabbi. The woman was in a pale pink robe and wearing boots, her bag clutched in one hand and one hand in the air as she continued her shout, “When our homes are under attack what do we do?” and Tye joined, shouting, “Stand up! Fight back!”

More people joined after a few rounds, and before the encompassing wave of it being the central chant, Tye recognized Xena’s small voice among them, saw her daughter’s face go from ‘scared’ to ‘angry,’ and felt pride like mourning, like grief. Oh, Xena.

“What do we do?”

“Stand up!”

“Fight back!”

What do we do?”

Stand up. Fight back.

Back when the war first started, Tye and Zenia - her girlfriend at the time - had managed to sneak off to a few anti-war protests. They’d skipped school and ended up in the streets of this same city, so weird to think about now, that she hadn’t known it would become home, but they’d marched with the rest of the protesters, and their voices had risen like a wave, an electric energy tingling down her spine, her rage suddenly a solid thing in the air, hovering like a god, supported by all their collected belief that what was happening was wrong.

And the unexpected thing - she had felt so safe, safer than she’d felt in months with the draft looming over their young heads. In this crowd of thousands, all yelling, it had seemed impossible that such a force would fail to change things in time. Their voices one instrument, the smell of sweat and other peoples’ breath in the air like they were all one animal, Zenia’s fist clenched in hers, the worst of life still ahead of them. She hadn’t even realized.

Now. Now the god was a raw and bloody thing, and their rage was like an incandescent glass shield cracking down the center, all of her scraped away to support it but her body still suspended and empty. Doors. Their doors open like the mouths of dead fish, lined up around the square, their voices rising, screaming, Stand up! Fight Back! and the police muttering to one another, Admiral-Mayor Carver’s mouth in a thin line, practically bored by them and their desperation.

“When our homes are under attack -”

Someone held their microphone to a speaker and there was an electronic scream, bursting like a bomb through their voices, scattering them as people covered their ears and yelled.

The cameras turned on, facing the mayor.

He grinned, holding a hand to his ear, “Jeez, be more careful with that thing, will you?” he said, stepping up to the podium. He smiled, seemingly at them, and nodded. Four cops stood behind him, all of them more cleaned up than the others that surrounded their huddle, all of them with gleaming next generation phasers with the stunner light glowing bright on the side facing the camera. The old phasers, the ones primarily in use, had no such indicator of setting.

“When our homes are under attack, what do we do?!” Hava yelled, but she was quickly hushed by those around her. The cops, off to the side and away from the cameras, shifted upright and scanned immediately through the crowd, one prowling forward a bit, a bubble of space surrounding him as their neighbors parted, backed away. Tye bit her tongue, hard, rage boiling under her skin, but she didn’t talk, didn’t talk because of Xena, and because of herself, because of her own dumb mortal fear, and because she wanted to know like the rest of them, know why.

“Citizens of Philadelphia,” Admiral-Mayor Carver said, and he said it like a gentle concession, patronizing, “Due to the threat of an oncoming storm and the likelihood of flooding during the coming spring season, this area is being evacuated.”

Jeers, yells, liar!

“As it is also land owned by SkyLife Corporations,” Carver said, voice rising hard and low over the fray, “It is indeed true that, in all likelihood, they will attempt to begin work on their development before the rains start. I keep no secrets from you.”

“These are our homes!” Someone in front yelled. There was movement with the cops, but unexpectedly, Carver said, “No, let her talk.”

Someone Tye had never seen, and Tye had seen everyone in this goddamn pea pod of a neighborhood, stepped up onto the first step and was handed a microphone. She was an old Black woman, stooped a little, wearing thick glasses a floral print dress, not at all dressed like she’d been yanked from her bed and given ten minutes to prepare. There was confusion in the audience, but the cameras turned on her.

“These structures are no longer classified as homes,” Carver said, voice suddenly gentle, “They’ve been flooding for years; these streets have been flooding every season for years, you must know that.”

“I do,” the woman said, “I do know, I know better than you, why, I’ve been livin here my whole dang life!”

Carver smiled in a vacant, posed kind of way, “Which I understand must make it hard to let go of. But the fact is, this is for your own safety. Think about it - grounder children get sick more frequently, electrical and plumbing problems occur more often, and there’s more violence down here where the streets aren’t monitored the way the halls of the towers are.”

“Well that’s all dandy,” the woman said, “But I sure can’t afford to move to the towers!”

“You know,” Carver said, “the money SkyLife paid each of you for your homes is just enough for a downpayment in a Microsoft tower unit!”

“Oh, well,” the woman said, “That was so long ago… I spent it soon as i got it! I guess I wasn’t thinking ahead.”

It was at this point when the crowd’s general suspicious that this was all bullshit became searing, offended certainties, and the hushed whispers rose to an incredulous roar.

When Carver spoke, his voice had risen to its famous deep, booming tenor, “Well, I’m not the best with money either,” a grin, “That’s why I’m not treasurer!”

The actress playing the old woman giggled.

“Lucky for you - and anyone else who maybe didn’t invest in the best ways - Nomstamo Industries has graciously offered you all a place with them! That’s right folks, that means a home, a job, and healthcare, all in one!”

“Lies!” Hava bellowed, her voice huge for someone in a bathrobe.

The cops started to pick through the crowd towards her, and Tye turned, grabbing her arm, “Are you crazy?” She hissed, pulling the lady back a bit. Luckily, she wasn’t alone - the crowd got thicker where the cops were trying to pick through. Around them, voices were rising with similar sentiments.

“Am I crazy?” Hava said to her, voice rising, not caring about being detected, “A mega-farm known for its violations of human rights is harvesting workers from the helpless, fueling their workhouses, apparently asking nothing in return. Why aren’t you suspicious? Why aren’t you saying anything?”

Tye felt a humiliated kind of rage stir, and she wordlessly raised the hand holding Xena’s. Hava’s eyes softened. “Well, I don’t have a young child.” She said. And then yelled, “We’ve all heard about Nomstamo! We know what we’re being offered!”

Carver was staring directly at her. And then he turned, nodded to someone, and then turned back to the actress. The woman, before the cameras, was thanking them profusely. Then the lights went off, the news pod whizzed up and away, and the cops started to pick through the crowd towards the witch as she yelled.

Heart on fire with the traitorous effort of it, Tye gripped Xena with one hand and Martha with the other, dragging them back.

“They give you a home if you work! They give you healthcare if you work! And we’ve all heard the stories, we all know that they give you a stipend so small you can barely afford to feed yourself with it, much less your children!” The witch was still yelling, head held high, and Tye rarely went to church, hadn’t been to any kind of religious service since Dom had died but she could see in that moment, so clearly, how this woman could summon faith to a room, how the rafters of the community church must fill with her voice like nature, how a crowd could come to a stand-still, like this one, her words like vines, growing over them, taking over, “And then they say ‘we have a food-loan, here, take this, you can work off what you owe next month,’ and you work, you work night and day until your hands are cracked and bleeding, and it’s still not enough, it’s not ever gonna be enough because it’s not designed to work that way! The point is to lock you down!”

Roars from the crowd. A cop was pushing his way through the crowd, shoving now that the cameras were off, headed straight for Hava, and Tye was gripping Martha and Xena so tightly she must be hurting them, tethering herself, do not step forward, do not fight-

“And what alternative do you suggest?” Carver called across the crowd to her with a sneer.

“Anything!” Hava yelled, “Anything else!”

The cop had reached her. Others jumped forward, but he grabbed her by the shoulder and yanked, and her feet went out under her, an oof, yells, and Tye suddenly realized with a shocking clarity that she couldn’t do this.

She turned to Xena, squeezing her arm once, and whispered, ‘Stay here,” and then dove forward, maneuvering herself between the cop and Hava in one quick motion, relying on surprise as she’d learned, being rather tiny in a war full of giants, and shoved the witch away.

Instantly, the witch was taken into the crowd, pushed back, hidden by a wall of linked arms, faces scraped rage, and Tye felt the bat in the air before it came down on her head, whizzing. She collapsed, reality twisting up before her eyes, pain so deep it rattled her ears, and was kicked out of the way in one motion. Xena was screaming “Ma? Ma, what happened?.” Arms were on her, pulling her back, voices rising, another person running at the cop, this one shot with a phasor, more rising up immediately though, the cop going down in the crowd, and Tye knew, abruptly, what was about to happen, and she grabbed Xena by the collar and yanked it up before the cans hit the ground, before gas exploded out of them and the screams turned to hacking, coughing fits, cries of agony, Carver disappearing into his craft up ahead. They ran, all stumbling, but there was nowhere to go, all of them stopped at the blockade, now fronted with more cops.

Another voice bellowed into the microphone - an officer with a hard face and badges gleaming on his chest. “Those that have a legal, flood-safe residence they can stay at for a period of two weeks at least can line up on the left to have that situation validated. Those that are going with the Nomstamo housing can line up on the right to begin boarding buses. The third option is Homeless Citizen Rehabilitation Facilities.” Prison. The third option was prison.

There were cries from the crowd, yells, sobbing. People huddled together, families arguing of what to do, voices at a frenzied pitch.

Martha was crying, hand over her mouth. Xena’s eyes were shut and streaming from gas, her arms around her mother, supporting more of Tye than Tye wanted her to, Goober helplessly rubbing her eyes with her paws and whining, the gas still stinging. Mr. Waters had thought like Tye, pulling his children’s shirts up over their faces just in time, but he himself was red-eyed and vicious looking, now, rage all over him, eyes streaming, and from inside their shirts the kids were crying again.

Tye spoke quietly, like anyone could hear them from where they were, “We’re running.”

“What?” Mr. Waters said, voice shaking, “How?”

“Doesn’t matter how. We just gotta, so we’ll do it.”

She looked closely at all of them. They were hazy through the poison on her eyes, stinging clouds of loved ones, but she could see Waters hesitant, Martha determined, and Xena, darling Xena, fierce and terrified.

Rage like poison, helpless poison.

“I can’t,” Waters said finally, “I’m going with Nomstamo.”

“What?” Xena whispered, the word almost like a sob.

“You can’t!” Martha said, frantic, “You heard what Hava said!”

“You know what life you’re signing yourself and your children up for,” Tye said, trying to keep calm, “You know what’s waiting.”

“Maybe,” said Waters, “it’s an exaggeration. I know it won’t be easy to get out, I know. But not impossible, I don’t think it’d be impossible and I don’t know what’s out there.”

“Something better!”

He shook his head. His hands were still holding his girls’ shirts up over their heads, both of them clinging to him, and behind him, Tye could see people organizing again, huddled groups, a few already obediently lined up. They didn’t have much time. “See,” Waters said, “it might not be something better. To me it just sounds like struggle either way. But this way I know. I know. I know my kids won’t get shot while we’re running. I know we’ll have a bed to sleep in tonight. And I know… I know my wife will be able to find us, if… when she gets out. They said she’s in the hospital, that they took her for medical attention, and-”

His voice was reaching a pitch again, and Tye leaned forward and hugged him quickly, shutting him up, squeezing hard, “I understand,” she whispered, “I get it, it’s ok.”

They all hugged him and his kids. They’d honestly never talked much before - Tye’d watched their daughters a few times, and Martha had more than a few times, but they were by no means friends. But this night felt like it had already lasted a week, and he’d been there through it all with them.

Behind them, sudden shouts. And then more phasor shots, and screaming.

“Now,” Tye hissed, “we have to move now.”

And apparently they weren’t alone - as the struggle by the buses grew, four more huddled groups shot off in two directions, all towards the barricades that lead to other streets; there was yelling, another cannister was dropped up front where the fight was, a gentle wind sucking the gas towards them, and though diluted, Tye coughed, hacking, her head throbbing, still moving, but not fast enough. Martha - Martha wasn’t fast enough. She felt the woman go down beside her, and it took Tye only a second, a second of feeling Xena’s hand in hers and the rolling storm of horror behind them for her to decide ‘keep going.’

They were almost to the barrier.

A shout behind her. Stomping feet. And then someone collided with her, and she spun before she hit the ground hard with her knees, and then Xena was yelling, pulling her up, not moving, not running, and Tye pushed upwards and shoved Xena off, forward, as behind them, the cops started yelling, more phasor fire, Tye screamed, “Run! Just run! I’m right behind you!” And shoved her girl ahead, Goober already pulling her, but Xena waited until Tye was back on her feet to listen, tried to grab her mother’s hand again, but Tye batted it away, shoved again, ran with her a few steps before -

Something hit her shoulder, hard. ‘Phasor fire,’ she thought. But unconsciousness didn’t come. Just a blink, up and then down with no memory of in-between, the blink just enough that she didn’t put her arms forward, didn’t try and catch herself, hit the ground knees, stomach, heart, chin.

Up, and then down, gasping like a dying fish, all the air pushed out of her, and Xena, Xena disappeared in an instant.

Tye pushed to her hands and knees, crawling forward, a burst of pain as someone stepped on her hand, a fresh, frozen wave of terror crashing over her, not knowing if she should yell ‘wait’ or ‘run,’ not sure what a good mother was supposed to do here if there’s danger behind but also ahead, if she’s alone, she can’t be alone, but then someone tripped over her and they both went down again, the choice taken from her, and then there was a stamping pressure on her back, a foot to her head as someone else stumbled over, screaming and pressure and no air, no air -

The world went fuzzy, and then dark.

The last thing she felt were hands on her arm, nails digging in like claws, and the pavement moving under her, bare knees dragging in a burning scrape as she made one last fruitless effort to rise.

Rise.

Run!
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