Small piece of Burned, the short story that was here earlier, taking place 13 years later
|My hands loosely gripped onto the rusted metal bars of the scaffolding during my descent. It was dark inside the compound and the lamp lights were lit. They emitted a soft, dull, yellow glow that did very little to guide those walking around at night, seeing as they only lit up to a few feet in diameter. The lack of light didn’t matter, I could navigate down the scaffolding in pitch black anyways.
I felt my feet hit the ground with a light thump and I looked up to see the mural I had just finished painting of the moon against a brick wall. The compound was in the process of building an indoor structure for the market. Construction had been halted until more supplies could be obtained. Using paint from my mother, I painted a moon on one of the exposed walls blue and silver, with wisps of light trailing out of it like smoke. The craters of the moon were a darker blue, tinged with a silver hue. Small stars specked around the moon making the moon seem so much bigger and peaceful, like a mother and her little children.
It was coming up on dawn in the Abyss compound and in less than an hour the lights would turn on and it would become day. For a split second I wondered what the sun was actually like, warm and bright, a soft caress of a heat lamp but over your entire body- or so the older ones say.
I swung my backpack around so I could place my flashlight in my bag. It was running low on light and I made a mental note to stop by the store later on and recharge the batteries off what the solar farm collected in the past week or so.
Slowly as I walked back to my house I watched as the people of the compound began to rise and start the day. It started as the guards on duty made their way back to the CCC Headquarters for rest. From there, I could see lights inside houses go on and shadows of people could be seen moving inside.
I passed the market and the textile district. My house, on the first floor and right on the end and next to one of three clinics, the one in the south west corner of the compound, was silent. My mother and father were both still asleep, not needing to go to work until later due to their jobs. They were what the compound referred to as “Jacks.” Those who were could be asked to do any job that needed to be done. My mother had been working quite a bit in the textile district lately helping make clothes while my father was acting as a member in a jury for a trial issue that he wouldn’t discuss with any of us.
I reached my home and laid a hand on the door, gently pushing it open. I always left the door unlocked when I went out. At first my parents feared we would get kidnapped or personal components would get stolen but the indoor alarm was set to alert the house when a non-family member or designated friend with negative intent entered. The entire concept took me years to understand thoroughly, somewhat dealing with the idea of scanning a person, taking in the data and reading your body signals like your pulse and breathing and determining if you had malicious intentions; it didn’t make much sense to those who lived in a different compound and had never heard of one, like those who lived in the TRAPPIST system.
Inside I took off my shoes and left them by the door next to the other five pairs. For a moment I couldn’t help but look at my quiet home in happiness. For being the After, the time period after Earth-1 was officially declared as dead, our house looked relatively decent. The After referred to how after years upon years of extensive deforestation and destruction of natural resources, global warming officially took hold and we were forced to make shelter in our compounds.
My grandfather claimed our house looked could have been designed from the Before. My parents would shake their heads and tell him to stop filling the kids’ heads with false memories and dreams. Ten feet from the entrance, jutting out from the right wall, stood a counter that’s perpendicular to the door. The kitchen counter was white tile, and the white filling in between each tile was now darkened to a dirt color.
The kitchen itself consisted of a few cabinets hanging on the wall as well as a few hanging open empty boxes that acted like shelves scattered about to give the room a more sporadic feel to it. A sink sat on one end of the counter, near the part where the counter jutted out and a charcoal colored stove sat near the other end. Not much else was on the counter other than a cutting board and some bananas in a bowl that were coming up on their last days as they were beginning to turn brown and bruised.
There was no table for the family to sit at, much to my grandfather’s dismay. He wanted a traditional American home, not a white house that follows Asian customs, whatever Asian and white meant. I’ve tried asking him before but he always brushed me aside, saying it didn’t matter since those names didn’t exist anymore.
Instead of sitting at a table my family would take a small mat from the pile in one of the shelves and sit on the floor with it. Beyond the communal eating spot on the floor was a low to the ground table. It was made of recycled plastic material dyed deep brown to make it look more like wood. On the table were a few tablets depicting news and books that had been started but not yet finished and on the either side of the table was a sofa big enough to fit four people. Worn yellow pillows made of a synthetic material lay strewn about. Beyond this little family room was the concrete wall, the end of my house, separating my family from the outdoors. My mother, being my mother, decided to paint over it but never got around to deciding what to paint so there was a white chalked out square on the wall.
To the left of all this was where the bedrooms were. I passed my brother Selim’s room and then my younger sister Cade’s room. On the other side I could hear my parents sleeping, my father snoring ever so lightly. My grandfather shared a conjoined room with them; my parents didn’t trust him in a room by himself because they believed he would stay up too late reading stories of the Before on his tablet or watching shows from the Before that my parents always warned me not to watch. Finally, at the end of the hallway I slipped into my own room.
Ever since I was a little girl I was obsessed with the sky. My mother had taken the time to trade items and obtain paint to make a complete sky scene on my ceiling for me. In the north corner, above the door, was a painting of the sun and a blue sky and in the south the moon with a starry sky. The two stretched out until they met and blended into each other halfway. The first night she finished the painting and I was allowed back in my room I spent hours staring up at the ceiling unable to sleep because the sky was so beautiful to look at.
With a sigh I flopped down on my bed and stared up at my sky. There was no way I would be able to sleep for the little time I had. In approximately three hours, I stopped my train of thought to glance over at my digital clock and saw the pale blinking 5:56. I adjusted my approximation. In approximately four hours I would need to go teach middle grade children about what happened to our Earth and discussing reasons why terraformers have not come yet.
It didn’t matter the lesson because I had already asked for one of the other teachers, Loam, to teach the class. I know I’m not the first to sneak out, just that I’m the first idiot that got caught.
This time would be different, I would be ready to go outside. My plan was simple. I’d go up to a guard and wearing my teacher's uniform I would tell him the school needed help, that there was a man holding the children at gunpoint. If the guard tried to call for backup, I would tell him there was no time, that I feared for the younger children. I would stay behind and go sneak onto a roller and hitch a ride to the outside.
In an attempt to rest I closed my eyes, only to be woken by a ten-year-old screeching in my ear. “Get up Kyrie you’re going to be late!” I felt her bounce a few more times on my bed before I rolled over to look at my clock. The blinking numbers now read 9:27.
I was going to be late. Shaking my little sister Cade off of me I watched her become a little blur of orange hair and a purple romper as she flounced out of my room. The juicy smell of cooking meat hit me suddenly. My mouth, against my control, began to water at the thought of having meat in the house once again. I sighed at the thought of having a place I needed to be, I told myself I could be a little late though, the last roller wasn’t leaving until 10. First thing’s first, I needed breakfast.
Once my feet touched the cold stone floor I became a bustle of movement, throwing on my skinsuit which would protect me outside. Over this I pulled on my pale blue smock and threw my hair into a quick braid. I gave myself a look-over to make sure that the skinsuit wasn’t able to be seen then I began putting things into my backpack.
My flashlight clattered at the bottom of the bag, bumping against my face mask that protected me from breathing in the toxic air. It was metal, and covered my mouth, nose, and eyes. Along with my face mask there was a switchblade with a scuffed black plastic handle, scuffed from the time I fell out of the large synthetic tree in the school’s courtyard. My gloves were covering these items almost completely though. Somewhere underneath these items was a vacuum sealed bag of provisions like dried fruit, protein in the form of mixed nuts, and a small amount of salt sprinkled on top. Since salt was such a rarity I savored the provision pack and only nibbled from it when I absolutely needed to.
“You are going to be late,” my father noted, as I walked out of my room and into the kitchen. He sat on one of the couches reading the news from TRAPPIST solar system. I caught the headline Raiders Destroy Another Earth-1 Supply Ship Authorities Still Do Not Know Who is Behind These Attacks. The headline worried me, our planet needed the supplies. The last time a supply ship named The Garden had been destroyed, we had lost almost a month’s worth of supplies just for our compound. Water and food were rationed to the extreme, nobody was even allowed to use the water to clean. I shuddered at the thought of going through another period of no food or water again.
“Don’t worry, I’m just going to grab food and go,” I told my father. I picked up a napkin filled with strips of bacon. The sweet juicy smell called to me but I held off until I knew I was on my way.
Selim grabbed my arm on my way out. Being older than me by ten minutes, a blessed ten minutes of peace as he always says, he could always tell when I was getting ready to pull a stunt that could end up with fatal consequences. He leaned in close and whispered into my ear: “It’d be better if you stayed here today, they’ve deployed all CCC units today.”
I looked up to see the red and black skinsuit uniform of the CCC. The material was one of the toughest materials in the compound, able to withstand sharp objects, keep chemicals out, and even retain a steady internal temperature. I just happened to be lucky to get the old uniform that Selim used to be required to wear. The straight black uniform was considered too harsh so the CCC got rid of it and created a red and black uniform instead. Since Selim didn’t need his old skinsuit anymore, he gave it to me and I would wear it as a second layer of protection. Violence in the compound wasn’t common but it was prominent enough to make me feel safe wearing the suit.
Of course, Selim had an idea of what I was going to do today. He knew that I would sneak away from teaching, he had no idea though what I really was going to do. Ever since the time I wandered outside when I was a child, everybody believed I would be too terrified to try it again. Unbeknownst to them, I found myself craving to go back outside, like an addiction.
Without looking behind me, I slipped on my shoes and walked out the front door. The compound was bustling with life but I couldn’t stop to enjoy it. A clock hanging by the playground read 9:44. The last roller of the morning would be leaving in sixteen minutes, I needed to hurry.
I took off in a sprint, my bag thudding against the arch of my back painfully. Surprisingly enough I found myself reaching the garage in record timing with ten minutes until the last roller was going to be deployed. I couldn’t help but pant like some sort of animal, gasping for breath.
The guard on duty turned at the sound of my frantic gasping and began jogging over. He grabbed my shoulders to help steady me as I let my knees go weak. Warm tears slipped down my face as I let out a sob. “The children, they’re being attacked, held at gunpoint.”
Instantly his jaw clenched and his eyes darkened. There had been a shooting many years ago at school. The man that had done it went by the name Ross Freeman. He had gone crazy from being stuck in the compound and he just... snapped. He came to the school and started shooting, demanding to be taken outside or he would continue to take more lives. Thankfully the CCC came quickly and Ross was taken down. Ever since then, the compound has had a particular wary eye for any type of shooting. The CCC took away all firearms as a way to prevent anything as terrible as that event to happen again.
I relaxed my body letting it fall completely into the guard’s. Of course, I felt him catch me and as I continued to gasp, I felt my body tremble. I knew my time was about up. Beneath his arms I turned slightly to see his badge depicting his soldier name in gray stitching, S1176.
“I need you to calm down, I’m going to call backup for somebody to take care of you.” With that he gently lowered my trembling body to the cold of the concrete floor. He pressed a reassuring hand on my shoulder, the touch so warm and startling I stilled. There was something familiar about the gesture, it reminded me of home. The idea was so strange my breath hitched. I had nothing to do with this soldier, I was only a sheep to him.
I watched as S1176 bolted off in the direction of the school. It was only two minutes away and, in that time, I quickly shed my tunic and stuffed it into my backpack. The black skinsuit hugged my body like a second skin, hence the name skinsuit, and as my grandmother would say, the stitching accentuated my features. It helped make me look bigger and stronger, which was exactly what I needed. This suit would fully protect me from the outside as well as allow me to blend into the bleak surroundings.
In an attempt to not be seen I moved to the right so I was resting up against a wall, half hidden by a potted synthetic plant, a painfully bright kelly green that was too green to even be considered a real plant color. While against the wall I pulled out my mask and slung it around my neck, the metal filter in the front glinting in the light, then slipped my switchblade into my shoe. The entire process took approximately six minutes of my time, too much of my time but I needed to be completely ready to catch my ride.
I turned to find a single officer on duty, he was facing away at the time, the red stripe down the side of his skinsuit so straight it made almost a perfect line. His beret was tipped to cover most of his face but when he shifted I noticed the familiar identification of S1176. My heart dropped when he looked up and his eyes found mine. They reminded me of a hawk, observant and sharp, and the muddy green color penetrated past my own eyes and see everything I was hiding.
S1176 shifted to face me fully, his head slightly cocked to the side studying me with a curious expression on his face. The black uniform fit comfortably in his body, the red lines accentuating his features, making his bodyline sharper, larger, and more deadly like a panther ready to strike at any moment.
Our eyes stayed locked on each other. Slowly his indifferent face slipped away into a scowl. All instinct told me to flee, to leave the place and just forget about even wanting to go out today. With all these thoughts racing through my head I almost missed his hand reaching for his comm down at his waist.
As he lifted the comm up to his mouth, I ran. A large sand colored object blocked my view; the final vehicle was making its way towards the door. The driver of the roller probably thought I was part of the CCC, a soldier still wet behind their wars and had forgotten their standard uniform. Thanking the heavens above I jumped into the open back of the roller and settled against the back wall of the roller. I nodded at the other men sitting in the back with me. I could tell they were looking at my uniform, or lack thereof but they didn’t comment.
My backpack slipped off my shoulders as I pulled my hood up, my mask on, then pulled on the black gloves, leaving no inch of skin exposed. There was a shout and I knew S1176 had realized I was missing again. The roller lurched and the flap opened giving me a view of S1176. He had his hands up above his head in anguish; my heart sighed and I was filled with a sense of regret.
The doors of the compound began to close when I locked eyes with S1176 for the final time. His face twisted in concentration then lit up. “Kyrie!”
My head snapped up at the sound of his voice, the rawness bringing back a sudden memory of a childhood friend. “Daniel?” With a solid thud the compound door closed leaving me to stare at the giant metal wall of a compound door, separated from him.
I shook my head, trying to push the thought aside. I had completely forgotten about Daniel; we used to be best friends as a kid, right up until we got into The Fight. He had told me that I was reckless, always causing trouble, and that he didn’t want to be associated with such a person anymore. My pride hurt more than anything and that was the last I ever spoke to him. I guess he found his calling with the CCC.
Frowning I looked out the back of the roller and watched the compound disappear into the dusty haze. Instead I focused on the growing landscape, the dead trees trembling in the wind, its branches whipping back and forth in the dust, and prepared for what was to come.