By James O'Brien
The High Line, one of the few surviving relics of
the 20-21st century era, was Lance’s favorite spot. He looked out at
the buildings that shot up into the sky- masking most of the walkway
in shadows even deeper than the night. The artistic, soft light of
chemical illuminators lit up in the lonely darkness like ethereal
wisps. The nearly sideways rain made the water shatter the light
against the buildings, drizzling broken droplets onto his jacket.
Lance’s walking slowed to an occasional slow
step, and finally a standstill. He sat on one of the ancient wooden
benches. Looking down what little street remained between him and
the rising Hudson, he could see fires burning across the river in
shells of old towers- silent to him, but constant. The stench of
death hit him through the gusts of wind. He gagged.
Frank Sinatra’s long-gone voice faded in his ear,
and was briefly replaced by the feminine voice of his phone, “Final
transport of healthy citizens from the quarantined Queens area later
tonight. Would you like me to add the event to your schedule?”
Harper. He remembered his daughter.
Stop, don’t get your hopes up. She wasn’t there
all this year, no reason she will now.
Lance felt pangs in his chest, he hadn’t lost
that last sliver of hope he still clung to.
A few hundred people had gathered around the open
landing pad at the edge of the east river to watch the ceremony. A
dull speaker rose to the platform and discussed the “significance of
the event”. The people were quiet, but listened politely. A distant,
thundering boom was heard. The heads of the crowd turned to the
rising tilt-thruster aircraft on the distant side of the river. A
trail of thick, dark smoke began to burn from where it had risen
from, spinning in the engines of the aircraft. It was sluggish,
clearly strained with weight. More fires popped up behind, seemingly
enraged, only to be silenced by brilliant pellets of light flying
down from its oversized belly. It grudgingly slid high over the
river, and began to descend.
“Let’s all give a round of applause to the final
refugees!” A few distracted claps.
The wheels touched the ground, and the bay door
was lowered. The crowd erupted with cheering. A walkway was set up
by nearby guards, rushing with the energy of the euphoric people. A
seemingly impossible amount of human beings flooded from the
fuselage. One of the guards began to go through the people, taking
quick blood samples with his handheld, and checking for the green
light. When the machine beeped in approval, they rushed to their
families, one by one.
Scared people, dirty people, tired people, hurt
people, but none were sick. Green light after green light flashed
from the guard’s tester. Lance turned to walk home, nobody to
A loud collection of short, sharp, screaming
beeps erupted in the crowd behind. There were screams, and a round
hole in the crowd opened around a little girl clutching her arm.
Lance went wide-eyed.
“Harper!” He yelled, but his voice was drowned
out by the collective panic.
One of the guards covered her mouth with a mask.
Others slid their own down from their helmets and raised their
weapons. The girl was silent, and a tear slid down her cheek. Her
eyes pulled up from the ground and locked onto her father.
The guards held their ground. A crackle, and a
voice slid out from one of the masks.
“All right, just step back into the helicopter,”
he said, with a soothing tone “you’re gonna be fine.” The girl took
a scared step back. “Its alright, we’ll get you back home.” Another
Harper collapsed. She shivered on the ground, her
face pale and blank. Her arm fell from her side to reveal a deep
gash of weak skin, orange liquid seeping onto the pavement.
Another guard, less considerate, took over. He
nodded to a third, who clicked the safety off of his railgun. The
thick barrel was pointed toward the shivering child.
Everyone in the crowd, silently, looked at Lance,
hand on the barrel of the gun. “Stop, please.”
The masked face was unnerved. “Who the hell are
Lance stood shocked at himself and the guard. He
could do nothing but stare.
“Drop my gun. You wanna get sick like her?”
“Just let her live!”
“I cant! You see all these people here? You know
just as well as I do that it is their lives or hers,” Lance dropped
the barrel, and it was raised up to his head.
“and yours too, buddy.” The guard refused to
flinch. Lance turned to his daughter.
Her raspy voice moaned in pain, “It hurts.” Lance
lifted her in his arms and started to the still-open bay door. “I
know, I know sweetie. I’m gonna make sure you’re just fine.” He
kissed her on her forehead. He stepped into the aircraft and put her
down on one of the seats. A shocked, masked pilot and co-pilot
looked back at him.
“Go back across.” Lance commanded. The pilots
“Go back!” Lance was enraged. The bay door
closed, the men scrambled at their controls, the thrusters roared,
and they were lifted into the sky.
Lance sat back in another seat. He sighed. A
miniscule spot of congestion began to wheeze in his lungs as he
panted. He shuddered, and brought up his arm to cough into. When he
removed it from his face, he froze.
It was stained with flecks of orange.