Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”
The two guards stared into the swirling fog. In the distance, both could see a black smudge. A person, on foot, crossing in from the outer edge of the membrane.
“Him crazy insane.” Kit remarked, leaning with both elbows on the safety rail to get a better look. His voice echoed through a local ring, so Kit didn’t have to remove his mask to be heard clearly.
Pyet dragged the foresight of his rifle up, tracking the faint shape in the distance.
“Definitely got no brain.” Pyet agreed, slowly following the half-seen ghost. The gun chirped an intermittent warning; the target was just outside of its lethal range.
Cassandra stumbled, cursed, and scrambled back to her feet. Crossing the membrane was her last, desperate hope. Metalworks Bay had dried out long ago. There was no fresh water anywhere. There was plenty of fuel – big diesel reservoirs – but you couldn’t drink diesel. And fuel alone couldn’t bring the desalinisation plants back online. You needed engineers to effect repairs, and they were all dead, or gone. Draconian drought regulations had been brought in to manage the limited supplies water, but they seemed to kill more than they saved, denying rations to those most in need.
But behind the membrane, in Dagon, they had water.
Or at least, that’s what everybody said.
Kit used his free hand to key a new set of coordinates into the simple console embedded into the rail. The entire structure raised almost imperceptibly as tracks bit at the dry ground. The platform began a slow, smooth crawl to the east, across the path of the trespasser. Antique hydraulics fought against the imperfections in the floor, and managed to keep the platform perfectly level while Pyet kept his rifle trained on the phantom in the distance. As the range decreased, so did the intervening volume of membrane fog; the shape of the trespasser steadily becoming more defined as the seconds passed.
“S’nother waterthief.” murmured Pyet.
“Looks it.” Kit agreed.
The platform rolled to a halt a little more than fifteen metres in front of the trespasser.
Cassandra stopped and stared up at the platform. Her skin felt bone-dry. Outside the membrane, the oppressive heat made you perspire, wasting the body’s moisture. In here, the membrane’s fog was leaching every drop of moisture from the ground, the air, and her body, and carrying it inwards, towards the edge.
“Hello?” Cassandra shouted, her voice hoarse.
Pyet stood up, and took aim at Cassandra’s head. Kit unhooked the mouthpiece of his mask.
“Get gone.” He carefully resealed his mask, loathe to waste words and water, both of which would be sapped by the fog.
“Please let me in! There’s nowhere left to go!”
“Get gone.” Kit repeated evenly. Raising your voice got you nothing in the membrane.
Kit tapped Pyet’s arm. Lazily, Pyet readjusted his aim, and fired. The fog seemed to coalesce, and the bullet thudded into the ground. Cassandra was nowhere to be seen. Pyet scanned around, eyes sharp for the interloper. Kit jumped from the side of the platform to the parched ground, and cautiously approached the bullet buried in the earth.
Cassandra barely dared to breathe. The infiltrator camo wouldn’t hold out forever, so as soon as she’d activated it, she’d rolled out of the line of fire, keeping to the harder ground so as to not leave footprints. She ran through the fog, angling away from the guards. She passed them at a sprint, and made for the inside edge.
Fuelled by panic, running fast and low, she fought for breath under the heavy infiltrator gear. She’d brought the camo on the off-chance that there would be guards, but it would expire in two, maybe three minutes, after which the insulation would burn out and the suit would be merely dead weight.
The camo was just starting to fray when she pushed through the semisolid wall that was the inside edge of the membrane.
A stream trickled by her feet. She’d never seen running water before. She leant down, and cupped a little in her hands, cautiously at first, but quickly drinking so deep she almost gagged. In the distance the far edge of the membrane was visible, maybe a kilometre away. To her left, a forest grew, dense and vibrant, and across the stream, grass, real grass stretched as far as she could see. In amongst that sea of leaves, she saw tall watertowers and windtraps, and around them the rusting, useless relics of a mechanised society long since ruined.