Author: John Xero
“The storm is upon us,” Barrett states grimly, finally looking away from his monitor, finally acknowledging the absence of hope.
“How bad?” As if I need to ask.
“Bad enough.” He shakes his head. “If we’d just caught the edge of it… If we could still access the lower levels…”
“If neither of us had volunteered…” I add. “But we knew what we were getting into.”
“Have you transmitted the data?” I ask. Duty first.
“It’s gone, my interpretations attached. For all the good it will do them. These things are too damn unpredictable. I’m live transmitting anything we get until we lose the equipment or the dish, hardly think power drain’s a big concern now.”
I stand and walk the few steps to the back of the small dome, thumbing my personal locker open. Tucked at the back is a slender bottle of golden brown liquid. I hold it up, show it to Barrett.
“I thought that was all gone to the nu-rats, spoils of their victory – the great annexation of bunker gamma two niner’s subsidiary levels.”
I feel the edge of a smile tugging at my lips, despite the situation. “Is that what you’ve been calling our infested wreck of a basement? Shame about the ice and glasses situation, but I guess that’s the least of our worries.”
“The lack of ice and glasses situation?”
I take a disrespectful swig from the bottle, an injustice to the vintage and craftsmanship within, closing my eyes as it scorches my throat and drips fire into my gullet. I hand it over with a bittersweet sigh.
Barrett regards the bottle. “Are you religious? I always thought the truth of the old world, the above world, the work we do, would make me stop believing. How could He let this happen?” He takes a swig, grimaces, and passes it back. “I think I wanted to stop believing, you know, but it’s too ingrained.”
“No, I don’t believe in a higher being, or beings. But I did come here to escape.” We’ve never talked like this, all the time we’ve been stuck here together. “There was a guy, back home. I couldn’t…” My turn for a slug, and I need this one. “I couldn’t stop going back to him. I was trying to save myself, requesting this posting. Looking for a way to stop thinking about him.”
“Did it work?”
“As well as you forgetting your god.”
He takes another gulp, growling as he swallows. He coughs. I don’t think he can ever have been a drinker. Another thing I never knew about him.
I hear it now, worrying its way in at the edge of my consciousness. At first, I think it’s the nu-rats again, misfortune and doom doubling down on us, catching us in a terrible vice. A scratching like inch-long claws on concrete, like cracked crystalline teeth in overgrown jaws gnawing at the walls. I remember their pearl white eyes, glimmering in our torch beams, blind from a life below ground.
It’s above us, this new scratching, and nothing lives above ground anymore.
Barrett looks up too.
This is the greystorm. Sand and steel, dust and concrete, cities whipped into particles that rage in never-ending hurricanes across the surface of the world. Our dome, our reinforced home is wearing away, eroding beneath a fury our ancestors wrought.
We say no more, listening to the steady increase in noise, the approaching end, passing the bottle back and forth, the two of us spending our last moments thinking about everything we came here to forget.