Down & Dirty in the Last Days

15 1 5

Shoom-thunk!

Nat hops to her feet, shaken from her dreamworld. She stands still and tense, listening. From across the factory floor a twisting metallic noise squawks. The inner hatches wheel spins. Nat holds her breath, frozen, and the door screeches open.

At the edge of her vision is a collection of tightly arranged upright processing tanks. She darts, squeezes, holds her breath and makes herself small. Hidden between two tanks, she can't see much. They block her view except a sliver, and through that, on top of a conveyer belt by the hatch, is her mask.

Her breath grows heavy as her palms sweat and eyes dart around looking for answers. If someone sees it, they'll know, they'll find her and do... something. There's no escaping without it.

She closes her eyes, tries to calm her breath, and pulls her shank — a knife made from sheet metal and a dry fungus-fiber handle — from under her twisted left arm. Damn it! This place is hers, her secret, her sanctuary, and someone is breaking in and ruining it.

Footsteps.

Tight between cold steel tanks, Nat maneuvers for a better view. One masked figure enters, then another and a third carrying an empty duffle bag. Their faces are covered with expressionless respirators and soulless black goggles. A gang? Nihilists? Just a group of kids exploring? She doubted the third.

The lead figure pulls back a hood, unclamps her mask, and lowers it from her face. Dreadlocked black hair frames her dark skin. Her eyes are electric. She breaths hard and turns to the others, then spasms into a nervous, excited fit of laughter. "Woooo!" she cries. "We did it. Did you see? We fucking did it."

Nat's eyes spread wide, her heart flutters. She knows that face. Tasche. Oh Calamity, Tasche!

Tasche slaps the second girl hard on the shoulder. "Boom!" she shouts. "It was perfect. They knew it too, they knew this was right, it was their time to go. My hands are shaking. Look at them. My whole body is tingling. I love it."

"I don't think anyone followed us," says the second girl, unmasked. A brown patch of rolling skin and fine hair is stamped to the left side of her face. Not familiar. "What about the guy, you know? I thought we were caught, I thought for sure we were caught. Do you think he followed us? I don't think he followed us, what do you think?"

"It doesn't matter," says Tasche. "If I am the last on earth, I'll take my life, completing the cleanse. I feel so good."

The third girl, older than the others by maybe ten years, drops a duffle bag and falls to the ground holding back sobs.

"Oh quit it." Tasche walks over, kicks her playfully on the ass. "Get up will you. We did great."

Nat watches with apprehension. She knows Tasche, but not like this, whatever this is. She knows her as the shy girl from school in Zone 2. Tasche had shocked everyone when she stood mid-lecture and denounced reproduction. The class went still, shocked at the taboo, then everyone condemned her at once. But not Nat.

Deeply curious, a little allured, a little frightened, Nat followed Tasche from a distance through Zone 2's corridors. Halls wound like roads, the ceiling, shrouded in darkness, dripped condensation. The air, stuffy and moist, but clean. As she neared, she noticed a boy from class, Jarrad, also following Tasche, leering with ill intent.

Nat kept distance, watched them from the edge of an ally. She sucked in air, built confidence, then peeked past the corner. Jared had tackled Tasche, was over her, his whispers carried along the wall, "For humanities sake, I'll make you reproduce."

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