Traynor Vance disappeared a year ago on the outside. Some say he wandered too far. Others claim one of the wild sandgators got him. Every morning, I come out here to watch the dawn break, always hoping to get a glimpse of Traynor.
I inhale the sandy air, taking it deep into my lungs. The desert takes up ninety percent of the planet. Only a small stretch of mountains in the distance break up the sands. They are closer than they look, but too far to walk before dying of the heat in the day or the cold of the night. The masters built the colony close enough to the mountains to break the wind storms, yet far enough away from the bit of dangerous wildlife that survives in the rock.
The heat snakes around my ankles under my dark robes. This is the sign to return to the climate controlled Dome.
“Tazia, there you are.” Halled says this every morning as I walk through the security check point. He knows where I go. He knows why. He wants me to stop.
“Yes. Here I am.”
We walk in silence through the streets to my adobe. I slip off my heavy robe, leaving only the dark silk ones beneath. The look of lust covers his face, only briefly. In that one instance, he drinks in my slim form and freckle splattered features. I’m no beauty by any means, but my milky blonde hair and sharp features appeal to him.
“There is talk.” Halled glances around. He’s quite handsome for a Masuci. The deep reddish skin and dark hair is standard for his race. The lime green eyes are not. His are a genetic result of mixing Masuci DNA with human DNA.
“There is always talk. What is it today?” I place my ancient canvas bag which holds my long lens by the wood pit. Our life here is simple. Most of us came to get away from the technologies overrunning Earth. He takes my hand, leading me to the bench away from the doors and windows. “The Dome is failing.” “Impossible. I would have been told.” I pull my hand away and stand. My job is to assure the computers that monitor the life support and filtration systems work properly. My staff alerts me to any malfunctions. “You do not know what you’re speaking of.” He sighs and pulls me back to the bench. “The computers did not detect it.” He leans closer and whispers, “They say it is sabotage.”
“Oh posh. Don’t spread such rumors, Halled.” I push him back and stand to pace.
“Tazia, my love, you must at least listen. The failure was hidden in a sub-routine that wasn’t supposed to be.” He grasps my shoulders. The smell of salt wafts off his skin.
“The magistrate called for ships this morning. But I’m afraid it is too late.”
“What do you mean ‘too late’?” I ignore the “my love” comment. There are far more pressing matters than his obsession. He knows I can not love him back. There may be a warmth between us, but it cannot be love.
“I overheard Jonas tell Horace the data indicates the failure will be complete well before any ships arrive. We will all die before a rescue is possible.”
“If this is so, why haven’t they told me? Why wasn’t this brought to me as soon as it was discovered?”
Pity. I’ve seen it in his face before when Traynor vanished. His eyes grow wider, darker.
“No “The word comes from my mouth only just loud enough for his sensitive ears to catch. “They can’t possibly…”
“I was sent to bring you in under section 28.82b.”
“How could you…”
He touches my cheek. “I can not. You, and only you, know of my true feelings.”
I wiggle free of his grip and pace again. “But the cameras…”
“Are in my control.” He reaches for me again, but I avoid his hands. “Tazia, let me help you. I beg of you, please.”
“Halled, if the computers that I manage can be manipulated, what makes you certain that your security has not been breached as well? No, I must flee. I must go outside the Dome.”
“Are you mad? That will be suicide.”
I grab my bag. It will hold enough supplies for several days. But what he says is true. If I leave at dusk, I may survive one night.
“Tazia, do you even listen? How could you possibly think you’d survive an hour outside?”
I turn to face him. “I will die to be sure. It is the manner in which I die that is in my control. Here I will be executed in front of the colony. As a woman, they will give me benefit of a trial, but you better than anyone know that our laws are unbendable. My sex will only prolong the inevitable. If I were a man, I would be executed on the spot. No, out there I will die on my own terms.”
“I will hide you.”
“No, I must…”
“Then let me join you.” He begins stuffing my bag with hydrants, dehydrated food that becomes a complete meal once it touches the saliva in the mouth. “Once it is night, we can get halfway to the mountains, if not further. It’s possible…”
I take his hands. “Stop. You cannot go. ”
“I will not let you die alone.”
Against my better judgment, I kiss him. His bluish lips are so much softer than I remember. It was only one time. “I will not allow it, Halled. Please, just let me go. We will exit my home together. Me in cuffs. You will take me to a blind alley…”
“And we will disappear.”
I push his hands from my face. “No. I will go. You will play the victim.” He opens his mouth to protest, but I kiss him again to close it. “Now, listen. I will hide beneath. No one knows the tunnels like I do. I will see if it is in my power to fix this sabotage…”
“What if it is as the magistrate believes? Complete failure?”
“I will do my best. If I cannot, I will flee just after the first sun sets.” I touch his nose. It’s a simple gesture and one I accidentally discovered he loves. “The others will have to do whatever they can to reverse the damage if I am unable.” And I already know that I will not succeed. Not if what he says is true.
“When the Dome fails?” He takes my face into his hands once again. Knowing I will die soon enough, I let him. “What happens then?”
“No one wins.”
Halled stuffs the bag under my robes, but refuses to cuff my wrists. We walk into the orange light that is the result of UV ray filtration in the Dome’s walls. The adobe homes loom three stories above us in this sector.
No one sees us leave my lower floor apartment. Halled leads me before several cameras so we are captured together. Then we turn down a dark alley that is a short cut to the Dome’s security office.
“Tazia, are you certain?”
I hit him on the back of the head with a semi-dry clay pot. When he is found, the clay will be dry, but he will not have suffered serious injury.
Still, I make certain to leave him unconscious.
It isn’t hard to skate around the security cameras if you know where they are located. I slip into a shop where cloth is distributed. Anea nods to me as I go into her small storeroom. She is used to me using her store to enter the tunnels where the Dome’s systems are housed.
I know there isn’t much I can do already. I must try for my own sanity. Any attempt to log in will bring the security force down on me. The tunnels may be vast, but there are few places to hide. I slip down undetected and walk directly to a monitoring station.
Fortunately, turning on a screen won’t trigger any warning system. Even better for me if someone forgot to log out. The switch offers no resistance, not that I really expected any of course. The system lights up in an instant.
There is a diagnostics already running. I see the various failures in different sectors. Each problem flares in different colors. Red is the worst. There is too much red where everything was fine yesterday. In fact, there was no indication of any problem at all. The inevitable will happen. The system will fail completely. Right now only minor programs are infected, but this will lead to the major systems like the air. And there are too many interlacing systems for the crew to fix.
How did this happen?
I start to backdoor my way into the program. I added this four years ago when Traynor suggested it. His logic was unquestionable.
“Tazia, if you get locked out, all of you, and there’s a problem, the Dome is doomed.” He rubbed my bare shoulder to ease any tension.
The water purification system hit a snag earlier that day. It took us all day to fix it. The city was without water until we managed to fix it through the air system. Two of my crew were locked out of the system making the situation even worse.
“A backdoor with no password, no log in, it would’ve saved you hours today. Since my own log in is now inactive, I will not be able to help.” He kissed my neck. I let myself melt into his arms as the sheet slipped from my bare skin. “I’ll program it for you.”
“Why didn’t you do this before?”
He laughed. “The system will fail more now as it ages. I didn’t need it. It’s clear now that you will.”
We finished the backdoor in two weeks.
I use it often. More so than I thought I would. Just three months ago, one of the coolants blew a gasket. I went through the backdoor to shut the unit down and divert the valuable water before too much could be lost. Logging in takes several minutes with four passwords and a retina scan. If we don’t continuously work, the system logs out automatically after one minute. The monitors continue to run.
“Hey!” A man stands a hundred yards from my position. He starts to jog towards me. I recognize the security uniform. “Don’t move.”
I push two buttons to kill the monitor then turn away from the man. It’s not easy to run in long black mourning robes. Fortunately, I know the tunnels better than anyone. I take two rights then a left before climbing up an exit shaft. People look forward and backward, left and right, but rarely up.
He doesn’t even run my direction. I wait to a count of twenty before lowering myself back down. The tunnel is empty. I can’t stay down here. They’ll be looking for me. There is only one place left for me to go until the doors reopen for suns-sets.
It takes me two hours to maneuver through the tunnels without being captured. There are too many close calls. The only way to my freedom is a rarely used entrance near the Dome wall. The main exits will certainly be covered by more security.
I’m on the verge of opening the hatch when I hear the clump, clump rhythm of marching security troops running beneath me. I stay as still as possible. My heart hammers in my chest as the sound grows closer. I feel the sweat develop on my brow.
They pass beneath me. I almost breathe that massive sigh of relief when the five men stop. I can see a pair of black boots just on the edge of the opening.
“Sarge?” a skeptical voice asks.
“Culp, split your team into groups of two. Cover more ground.” I know that gruff voice. It’s Harrison, Halled’s second in command. He was also one of Traynor’s best friends.
“Yes, sir.” He clicks his heels together. “Linger with me. Jenesi, Parlor, take the first tunnel to the right.”
“Head out, men.” Harrison growls. I can visualize him chomping on a toothpick. A habit he picked up when smoking nicotine was banned inside the Dome.
They clomp away.
Harrison is still nearby. I smell the burnt sulfur from a burnt match then the sweetness of a cigar. So much for the law. Cigars are a high end commodity that gets smuggled in with every cargo ship.
My hands sweat gripping the iron ladder. If he doesn’t leave soon, I’ll fall.
His walkie squeaks. “Sarge?”
“I found something down two-thirteen.”
Huh? I avoided that tunnel.
“On my way.” He sighs loudly, and then grinds his boot into the floor. “Damn waste.”
I wait five more minutes then scramble out the hatch and into the light of early afternoon. Only four more hours to hide before I can escape the Dome.
The alley I seek is two long blocks away. I slink between the Dome wall and the adobe buildings. There is just enough room to walk between the two. None of the lower levels have windows facing the wall in this sector known as the old city. When these were first built, there was an unnecessary fear of the wild outside the Dome walls. No one wanted to look out and see an unknown creature staring back at them while they slept. The upper floors, unfortunately, do have windows.
When I get to the alley, I slip out of the mourning robes and toss them over my shoulder. There is an old steel ladder along the eastern building that leads to the roof of the tallest building of this sector. I’ll be safe up there as long as I can climb the eight stories. And as long as I remain unseen.
Halfway up, my muscles burn. The sweat on my hands makes it difficult to grip the cold steel. I link my arms through the rungs and hold tight, pulling my body as close to the wall as possible. After a minute of resting in this manner, I force my arms to pull me the remaining four stories. It’s slow going. I reach the edge and throw myself onto the roof with a soft thump. My breathing is in gasps, making my chest strain from heaving.
I slip my bag and robes from my shoulders. Resting my head on the soft robes, I sip much needed water. In the distance, there is shouting in the square. But I don’t care.
My eyes are too heavy. I close them as my breathing returns to normal. Unconsciousness overtakes me.
It isn’t discovery that awakens me. It is the chill of the air circulators above. Panic seizes my chest. I don’t know where I am. The memory rushes back in rapid images. I sit up, noting the location of the suns. The first is near setting, maybe half an hour left. That leaves me little time to cross the city for my freedom. If I don’t make it just as the first sun sets, I won’t be allowed out.
There isn’t enough time to brave the steel ladder again. I open the door in the roof and peek into the hallway below. I can only hope to go unnoticed in the building stairwell. My bag falls onto the floor and slip my robes back on. With less athletic ability and more luck, I drop painlessly onto the eighth floor.
On the second floor, an apartment door opens. I hurry back up the stairs to get out of sight. Fear shakes me. I can smell my own sweat hanging in the air.
I peek around the corner. Standing in front of the door is a small family. The man turns toward me. I pull my head back out of sight. I barely hear their words over the pounding of my heart.
“What is it?” the woman asks. Her voice sounds helium filled.
“I thought I heard something.” He pauses, “probably my imagination.”
I wait to a count of thirty before I move. The hall is clear as is the rest of the way. When I reach the outside, I pull my hood over my head and tuck my chin into my chest. I cannot seem hurried. Mourners do not rush. The slow pace is agonizing.
Every second I feel more eyes upon me. Every step feels farther from the goal. It takes all my concentration to not look around, to not look suspicious.
I’m almost through the town square. Most people gather here for nightly news announcements. They’ve already begun to arrive. I can see the freedom on the other side. Halfway there, my foot catches on my inseam.
The scratches on my palms burn. I cry out at the sudden pain.
“Are you okay, Miss?” A hand touches my shoulder and clamps down.
“Yes, quite. Thank you.” I don’t look at his face. His shoes tell me everything. Security’s calf covering black boots.
“May I ask where you’re going in such a rush?”
Damn. He helps me to my feet. “Out to see the first sunset, sir.”
“The first sunset?” He chuckles. “With the monthly festival tonight? How could you miss the beginning of that?”
I forgot. Not good. Traynor’s face flashes before me. “It’s my husband…”
“What about him?” He taps his foot.
“Today is our anniversary.” I fake a sob. “We met during the first sunset on this day.”
His grip on my arm eases. “And he is no longer with us?”
I fake another sob and cover what little he can see of my face.
He drops his hand with a pat. “Go then. Just be cautious.”
His boots stomp away. I gather myself, suppressing a smile and hurry with little regard now. I only have minutes before the guards close the door for anyone wanting out.
The guards laugh when I get to them.
“Cutting it close tonight, Miss.” The eldest smiles then returns to his conversation without even really looking at me.
The door slides with the air seal whooshing behind me. I step into the chamber. The outer door whirls.
I’m almost there.
A loud beep, then the door opens. The heat knocks me back a step. The dry smell of the red sand fills my nose. I inhale, deep into my stomach, letting the outside consume me.
I know this is it. The end. Still I exit the Dome.
One step at a time.
My journey begins along the Dome wall until I’m certain the guards will not be able to see me as I head into the desert. By the time they can, it will be too late. I’ll become an unnamed legend.
The cool synthetic glass warns me of the night’s dangers. I look at the Dome one last time. I can’t see into it so I imagine the festivities I should have been at in the square. I can see Halled in my apartment, rubbing the back of his head, waiting for me, but knowing in his heart I will not show.
I wipe the sweat from my brow, pushing off the wall. The mountains are far. If the planet’s temperature wasn’t so vicious anyone could make it to them in two days on foot. As it is, I will freeze before the fourth moon reaches its apex in the night sky.
Doubt fills my breast.
“Tazia, you have chosen your fate.”
I inhale the sandy air heavily then begin my journey.
When the second sun begins its descent, the air is still warm but manageable. My body’s adjusted in the last two hours. I imagine the guards can see me now. They will call security. And they will believe I am doing this because of my fake dead husband.
In a way, I am. Traynor and I never married, but I had hope he would still propose. Our every minute was spent at one another’s side. At first it was just work. He was the engineer that designed the Dome’s systems. He decided to teach and I took over. Traynor’s knowledge of the Dome far exceeded anyone else’s. He redesigned the systems to match the growing habitation.
I sip water periodically. As much as I need to rest, I do not. Songs drift in my head. I sing to have company, just loud enough for my ears. I cannot risk drying my throat then run out of water too early.
As the second sun disappears beneath the horizon, the air chills. The soft light reflects off an object in the near distance. I may make it there before hypothermia overtakes me.
An hour later, I pull the headlamp from my bag. The light is gone and the first moon does not give off much illumination. My lamplight bounces off that something in the sand. Curiosity bests my need to keep moving. I pull the object free and clear the sand.
It’s an old fashioned needle compass from Earth. One I know well. I’d gifted it to Traynor a month before he disappeared. He’d always wanted one.
The point shows I’m heading northeast. I eat a ration that tastes like the sand and continue, knowing with some comfort that I’m traveling his path.
The breeze turns into wind, ruffling my heavy robes. I fight against the blowing sand to keep my eyes open as slits. The temperature continues to drop. The heavy robes keep little warmth inside. Even the burning in my muscles feels of cold. The wind rattles through the trees.
I widen my eyes to look around. A small oasis stands not fifty yards before me. There may be water, shelter, survival. A whiff of sweet gardenias catches my nose.
Still, I keep my pace steady. Such an oasis used to drive men to eat sand because they were nothing more than illusions. That is possible.
The wind howls through the trees once more, bringing heat towards my face and the scent of water.
This must be real.
The moist grass collapses under my heavy step. The trees sway and keep the wind at bay. There is a pool of steaming water in the center of the trees. It warms my face. I reach in, burning my hands. It doesn’t take long before my heavy robes are too much. I peel them off, inhaling the sweet gardenia scent coming from the water.
The oasis is small. There is only enough space for two people to lie beside the hot spring. Fortunately that is not an issue.
My bag slides off my shoulder. I fall into the cool grass, relishing this little bit of perfection on such a hellish planet. My exhaustion overwhelms me. My eyes burn from fighting, blowing sand.
If this is just an illusion, it’s a good place to die.
My eyelids grow heavy and close for what may or may not be the final time.
A cold hand wakes me from the darkness with a shake. My eyes flutter against the bright moons light. The Jarkos Nebula spreads above me. It’s so clear here. In the Dome, it looks faded and colorless. The blues and reds mesmerize me. I lose focus of my surroundings and swim among the clouds of Jarkos.
“Tazia? Can you hear me?” A distant voice pleads. It’s familiar, but I can’t search for it. I just want to touch the sky.
A hand covers my eyes, sending me back into the darkness. I welcome it.
Am I dead? Am I alive? I cannot tell, but the dark comforts me.
“Tazia, sit up.” That voice again. “You cannot stay here.”
Why not? I’m home here. But these words never leave my mouth.
The hand slaps my face with no pressure. Then again. It feels nice to be touched. The sharp final sting vibrates across my face and into the back of my eyes. I cover the cheek and roll onto my knees to confront my attacker.
“Yes, it’s me. You’re alive.” He smiles. His skin is covered in something silver, but his blue-green eyes dance as I remember.
“You…” My mouth tastes of stale Esusian bread. On Earth, they called it cottonmouth. That was before Esusian bread.
“Not now.” He glances about the heavenly spot.
The smell wafts to my nose. My eyes begin to close as my head lightens. A tight clamp closes my nostrils. I breathe through my mouth in reflex.
“Tazia, listen to me.” He takes both of my arms. A chill runs down the back of legs. “You’ve…”
I interrupt him, “How did you find me?”
“I didn’t. You found me. I come here to get away from the tunnels.” He smiles his thousand watt smile. It has no effect on me. I want to dip into the water. “No, stop. What you smell is a narcotic. It lulls you to sleep, then kills.”
“Kills? How can a scent kill?”
“The water.” He glares at it. “There are creatures in the water that emit the scent. It’s how they feed.” He pulls me to my feet. “Now, we must go.”
I stare into the water as he rubs something onto my arms. My foggy mind tries to process, but the gold flecks dancing beneath the surface enchant me. They grow larger, the size of an Earth mouse, circling clockwise.
“They have teeth of razors.” He pulls my tunic over my head, breaking my eye contact with the water. “And they’ll eat you alive if they are hungry enough.”
My arms cover my bare chest. I shouldn’t be shy, but my head isn’t right. And I haven’t seen Traynor in a long year.
“You won’t survive unless you wear this.” A glob of silver sits in his hand. He glances to the water. “We don’t have much time.”
I drop my arms and avert my eyes from him and the water. “How are you not enchanted by those creatures?”
“Nose plugs. I watched a sandgator get eaten from that tree over there.”
“How did you find me?” My heart pounds in that old familiar way as he touches me. He smothers my legs, leaving the short pants untouched.
“Later.” He throws my bag over his shoulders and drags me to the thin tree line. “The screen will dry as soon as he hits the desert.”
“Won’t we freeze?”
“The first sun will break soon. Until then, we wait here.” He leans against a tree, crossing his arms.
I devour his body with my eyes. He’s slimmer, more defined. Every visible inch of him is covered in the silver goo. A white scratch of leather serves as a loin cloth.
“Ask me.” His bright teeth shine through the smile. “Go ahead.”
“How?” It’s the only question I can formulate.
“This silver screen.”
My entire being turns into a white hot ball of pure anger. My mind has never been so clear. Through gritted teeth, I demand a better answer.
“The narcotic wears off fast, doesn’t it?” He chuckles. He only does that when he’s nervous. “I developed it from the waste of the Dome’s generators. Once I tested the toxicity, I knew it was safe for us to use. I just needed to test the durability. Anyway, I had to add mumincium from the sands.
“That was only effective to help hold in the body heat for short periods of time. So I added something else.” He smiles again, but not quite as boisterous as moments before. “Aren’t you going to ask?”
Something told me I didn’t want to know.
“It’s not that bad. I promise.”
Still, I did not ask.
He laughs, almost hysterically. “Always the one to want to know everything unless it might be unpleasant. It is a simple protein compound. I use the filtration system of the Dome to extract it from our…personal waste.”
That caught my attention. “How?”
He didn’t answer.
“Oh my…This is your doing! You caused the system to go into catastrophic failure.” I slammed my hands into his chest. “How could you…”
He twists my wrist, pushing me back. “You don’t understand.”
“What’s left to understand?” I pull free and prepare to make another run at him, digging my heels into the ground.
He holds his hands to block any attack. “Just hear me out, okay?”
There’s something uncharacteristic in his eyes that stops me from ripping his heart out.
“The Dome was already failing when you took over. It was minimal at first. I set up a program to hide the flaw. And I trained you to run it without discovering the failure. I also had you add the backdoor so I could use the system without discovery.”
A growl begins in my chest. “You used me.”
“Yes.” There is no remorse. “But for the greater good.”
“Is that why you slept with me, to get me to trust you?”
“At first, yes.”
Every last bit of anger drains away, replacing it is undeniable pain.
“I knew you would replace me if I ever resigned. I knew you would be competent. Once I discovered the failure, I attempted a fix, then another. There was not enough time to devote to the problem. Or, at the very least, to find a way to save who I could. So I set up my resignation. I needed to focus.”
“I loved you.”
“I know.” He sighs and buries his head in his hand. “I love you still.”
This declaration means nothing to me now. He cannot possibly expect me to forgive him.
The first sun begins to rise. Traynor offers his hand. I refuse. I don’t want him to touch me.
“We need to move. The Dome will collapse in a matter of days. With enough work, we can save almost everyone.”
“How?” I look at my skin. “This goo?”
“I’ve lived beneath the Dome for the past year. There are tunnels the maps do not show. More than you know. That’s where the silver screen is stored. I’ve spent this time making it for this inevitability.” He pushes away the branches. The rising sun turns the sky orange and the desert sands blood red. “I believe there is enough for all.”
We walk in silence. The silver screen keeps me cool in the heat. My legs burn from the hike. With the added person, my supplies dwindle. We reach the south side of the Dome just after the second sun sets and an hour after the water is gone. Everyone would be tucked inside the Dome for well over an hour. Our approach must have gone unnoticed. No guards rushed us as we neared.
Traynor lifts a hatch covered in sand that doesn’t move. He offers no explanation. At this point, I don’t desire one. We descend down a rusted ladder. He flips an electric torch off the wall.
“It’s from the days when the Dome was still being built. So are the hatch and the ladder.” He reaches for my hand again. “I don’t want you to trip.”
“I’ll be fine.”
He shakes his head, but doesn’t push the issue. The light bounces off his silver skin. It’s enough that I can see where I’m heading and avoid the tripping hazards.
“These tunnels are original perimeters,” Traynor explains. “After the first dig, the architects moved the Dome ten feet north. These tunnels were abandoned and intentionally left off the maps to divert exploration by the more curious youth. Only a handful of people now remember them.”
“I assume you have a plan.”
“Of course.” He stops outside a rotting wooden door, an Earth relic, and pulls it open. Inside are a variety of containers, some clear, filled with the silver screen. “I had to make due with whatever I could find.”
I pick up one labeled “Pilson’s Bakery” and shake it. “You stole these.”
“Meaning you came inside the Dome.”
Tears well behind my eyes. “All this time, I thought you were dead.” I turn and throw the jar at his head. He ducks easily. “You could’ve come to me, explained.”
He sits on a makeshift bed in the corner. “Tazia, I couldn’t tell anyone. The flaw was mine. I created it.” I open my mouth. He holds up his hand to stop me. “Let me finish. It was unintentional. I had to find a way to fix the problem.”
“You hid it from everyone, and then made me the scapegoat. If I hadn’t escaped, I would’ve been executed.”
“No, I wouldn’t let that happen. I would’ve stopped it.”
“Why should I believe you?”
He looks away. Part of me wants to kill him. Another part wants to hold him.
I close my eyes. “Just tell me your plan.”
“We go to the square tonight. Together.”
He shrugs. “I’ll tell them the truth.”
“And clear my name?”
“What?” He leaps from the bed and stands inches from me. I can feel his hot breath against my skin. “What do you mean ‘no’?”
“We aren’t doing this tonight.” I take a step back. He moves a step forward. His nearness weakens my resolve. Almost. “We will go tomorrow. Tonight you will teach me how to produce this silver screen.”
He runs his hands up my arms. I take another, albeit reluctant, step back into the cold tunnel wall. “Stop.”
“It will not take me long to teach you.” He presses his body to mine.
I dreamed of this moment for a year. When he presses his lips to mine, it didn’t live up to the dream. It didn’t live up to the past either. I pushed him off me.
“I fell in love with you, Tazia. I couldn’t help myself.” He leans in again. I turn my head. “Just.” He kisses my neck. “Let me.”
I turn to tell him to stop again, but he doesn’t give me the chance. Halled clouds my vision. He would never hurt me. He would never use me as Traynor did. Halled truly loves me.
It only occurs to me as I use all my strength to shove Traynor away that I love Halled more than I thought. The falseness of Traynor’s memory clouded that until now.
“Damn it, stop.” I raise my hand to slap him. “I’m not your toy, Traynor. Do not play with me any longer.”
“Just show me how to make this screen. Then we go to the Dome.”
It is simple really. Traynor used one of the out of date filtration systems to process the mixture. The computers showed this piece of equipment to be defunct and unusable. The ratios mixed automatically and the formulas were easy to remember.
We use water sparingly to clean the silver screen from our skins. It forces us to bathe together. Once he is clean, that flutter in my heart returns.
I cannot trust myself.
With the hoods up to cover our faces, we walk into to the town square. Halled sits on the fountain, waiting. I want to rush into his arms, to tell him everything. The little flutters I felt when I saw Traynor alive are nothing to the pounding in my chest as I look upon Halled’s face.
Traynor takes my hand and leads me to the podium. Horace Freely stands before it, making the usual evening announcements. He does not notice us at first. The crowd does. All chatter ceases when Traynor drops his hood.
Horace turns to see the famous ghost. He steps away from the podium as Traynor advances.
I keep my own hood up.
“Hello, my fellow Inorians,” Traynor begins with the confidence that won my heart. “Your magistrates will not have told you this, but the Dome is in catastrophic failure.”
The angry rumblings begin.
“Hold on. Please. There was a fatal flaw in the programming. It could not be corrected. I let you all, including my beloved Tazia, believe I was dead.” He motions towards me.
Reluctantly, I let my hood fall. Halled stands, but doesn’t move from the fountain. I cannot go to him. Not yet.
“For the last year, I have tried to remedy to problem to no avail.”
The crowd roars.
“But,” Traynor shouts over the roar. “But I have a solution for our survival until the transports arrive. No doubt the ships have been called.”
I stop listening and watch as Halled walks toward me. When we are face to face, the devastation in his eyes tears me apart.
“Would you rather believe I am dead?” I touch his nose then place my hand on his warm cheek.
He leans against my hand. “You get everything you’ve ever wanted, Tazia. Traynor is home. You’ve been redeemed.” He sighs. “Yes, I’d rather think you sacrificed your life in a noble manner than imagine you back in his arms.” He opens his mouth to continue, but does not.
“Especially now.” Halled’s eyes flick towards Traynor. He pushes me aside and pulls his weapon.
“No. Don’t.” I don’t shout. I can’t. My voice is nowhere to be heard.
“By the power of Inora’s Suns, I judge thee unfit to live in this colony. Your crime for treachery and treason is a sentence of instant death under article 28.82b. Anyone intentionally withholding information from the council that affects the lives of all colonists shall be deemed a traitor.”
Halled pulls the trigger, shooting Traynor in the head.
The screams erupt. None from me. My shock will not allow me to feel a thing. I cannot move. But I hear.
“He could have saved us.”
“You are guilty of treason.”
That wakes me from my daze. I leap in from of him.
“Stop.” I shout at the top of my lungs. “Wait. I can help.”
The mob settles back and waits to lynch me as well.
“I can make the silver screen. Traynor showed me last night. We can still survive.” I hold Halled close to my back. “Do not harm him for doing his job.”
There is no sound. Halled goes limp and falls onto me. His blood covers my head. The sobs, the tears, the shock won’t allow me to move even as they pull his corpse from my body.
I look up and into Horace’s eyes. “Guilty under article 28.82c. Anyone who harms another as an act of revenge will be sentenced and executed.”
Horace walks away as I cradle the still bleeding head of Halled.
You are all guilty and unfit to live in this colony,” I mumble. “Now you will all die by the heat of the planet.” I kiss Halled’s cold lips. “And I’ll see them in hell.”