Saturday, June 18, 2011

Long Past the Tipping Point

His hand shook as he pressed the gun to my forehead. So much so that I knew it would leave a mark.

"Your badge," he said.

I held it out for him, and he stared at it while the smell of his un-sanitized body wafted around me. I wondered how long he'd been here. There was dust and dirt everywhere. It deepened the lines on his face, covered his gray hair and beard, his wrinkled clothes and grimy shoes, and drifted up into the air whenever he moved.

That he had been living in the parking garage was just guesswork on my part. He looked oddly familiar and I assumed he had lost his badge and wound up here, unable to get back in. Unable to withstand the horror of the outside as it flashed into the garage each time a shipment came and went.

I considered when the last time was that he had eaten. He was shaking as if it had been long enough for the nanos to have dissipated and left him unprotected from the hell outside, and from the hell that must be raging inside his mind.

"You know," I began calmly, "even though the badge is tied to my bio data, we can both go back into The Complex. Get some food. Get you cleaned up."

"I'm not going to kill you," he scoffed, and for a moment I believed him. He looked at my badge again.

"I want you to go over to the outer gate."

When I didn't move, he pushed the barrel harder against my forehead. I started towards the gate, wondering why he didn't want to go into The Complex, wondering if he was insane enough to force me outside.

"Lean down and look into the Iris."

He stepped behind me, pressed the gun to the back of my head and I did as I was told. He swiped my badge by the reader and I heard a whrrr and click as the Iris scanned my retinas. Then the short confirmation beep, and the gate began to swing open. I stood up as he stepped away from me, still pointing the gun my way but watching as the gate opened wide.

It all seemed surreal to me, and I knew the meds were keeping the emotions from gnawing at me. Fear was not something I had felt since the Political Will had decreed that antidepressants be put into the food and water supplies. Even so, I felt my body tremble when I saw the horde standing just outside.

My second 'lids automatically shifted downward as the too bright sunlight shone into the gateway. I could feel my nano-enhanced skin working to phase my body temperature as the blazing heat made its way in, along with the hundred or so people who rushed past us and into the cooling shade of the parking garage.  Every last one of them looked rag-tag and worn down from too long on the outside, where no one should be. Where we, in Complex, assumed no one had survived the climate chaos as it raged over the past two decades.

While I counted too many of them, a woman rushed up to hug and kiss him. The very old and slow were helped by the younger ones. There were even small children, clinging to the gnarled and weather-beaten hands of whom I could only guess were their mothers and fathers. How they had even considered pro-creation out there was beyond me, and far beyond what the Political Will would ever allow inside.

The man with the gun stepped over to the reader and swiped my badge one more time. The gate swung shut and clicked into place, blocking out the ghastly light and heat and swirling dust. He waved the gun inward, and I followed his prompting. The horde kept behind us as we made our way to the inner gate, my bio-nanos adjusting my eyes and skin for the darker and cooler surroundings of the garage.

"How long outside?" I asked, trying to keep my voice soothing and calm.

"Three months since nano food, ten months since leaving. These others," he nodded behind him, "much, much longer."

I turned to look at them, at him. Amazed that anyone could have survived outside, shocked that anyone would have ever considered leaving the safety and protection of The Complex. But he waved the gun, and I leaned down to let the Iris scan my retinas again as he swiped my badge past the reader. Another whrrr and click and beep, and the main door opened. He shivered when the sanitizing mist sprayed as we walked through the doorway. The mist kept spraying until every person had made their way inside. Many of them grumbled and slapped at their hands and faces, trying to rub the scrubbers off even as they burrowed into the skin.

He calmed the horde with a wave of his hands, and held a finger to his lips to shush them.

"Now what?" I asked, thinking that all our supplies, all our environmental settings were configured for a specific population. Ninety-three new members would mean more sacrifices that the Political Will would enforce upon every one of us until stabilization returned. And from the calculations I did in my head, it would be too long a time unless the PW withheld from all but the children.

"To the lab," he replied.

"I can't do that."

"Your badge says you can."

My knees buckled, but he kept the gun leveled at me. Once again something percolated up from deep inside, and I knew the meds were working overtime to keep a hold on the anxiety trying to escape. I prayed they would be able to keep me steady, keep me from shitting my pants.

He waved the gun towards a hallway that led inward, and we started towards the lab. He knew his way around, and corrected me with the butt of his gun the only time I tried to lead us into a public area. When we finally reached the lab door, the Iris scanned my retinas one last time and the door opened. He pointed towards the kitchen and most of them crowded past and left us alone in the lab, all but the woman who held his hand and pulled him aside. They talked in whispers, and it seemed they were arguing. She was shaking her head and pressing the gun downward, away from me.

A feeling of dread washed over me and I knew the meds were losing their battle. There was no further need for my badge, nor for my bio data. Here in the lab was everything he would need to mix up any revolting cocktail he wanted, and I knew he didn't need me anymore. He could finally kill me.

"I can help you," I pleaded in desperation, "what do you want me to do?"

He turned away from the woman and stared at me awhile, even as she continued to whisper at him. He looked back at her, nodded his head and squeezed her hand. He put the gun on the counter next to her.

"Let's start cooking."

<word count: 1200>


Emmy said...

Nice work Lisa! Captivating opening. I'm ready for the next installment :-)

Parabolic Muse said...

Well... what happens next?!!

I like it!

My Mother's Daughter said...

My fear is that it's Sheriff Joe in the Arizona desert. But keep going so I can find out.

David said...

Chilling, love that last line!