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SWC14 - Orange

Arisia'14 Student Writing Contest - 3rd Place Winner


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.
“Add event.”
    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 welcome home.
    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 step.
    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 you?”
    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 were still.
    “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.