Greater than Gold

The man with black teeth ripped at her plastic environ-suit. Beth didn’t scream, it was a waste of energy and no one would hear her anyway.

He had no suit and his skin was bleached in some places, peeling and red in others. Sores covered his body and his hair was patchy on his head. Beth struggled to get out of his grip, but he pushed her down, and fumbled at the seals to her suit. He pulled down his pants and Beth saw he was bleeding there. She felt so tired. He ripped at her suit and she felt the hot, sour air invade. She screamed then, and the earth shook.

At first, Beth thought it was just in her head, that she was shaking, but then the tremor started again and the whole landscape shivered. The man looked away from her and Beth kicked up, right where he was bleeding, and he fell back, clutching himself. She scrambled upright and ran across the orange dirt, not looking back. The earth shook, and she fell and pulled herself up again, running. She ran farther than she ever had before, farther than her mother had ever let her go. She ran until she was lost and the midday heat was baking the earth until it shimmered.

Beth hid in a cave. She had gone out in the morning searching for metal, just like all the other children in the village. They came back empty handed, or with a few grams, tiny pieces. Once someone came back with an old soda can. Her mother would sell whatever she scrounged for food. Mostly it was never enough, and half the time, big kids stole from smaller children. No metal, no food, and her village had been running out of both for some time.

The man, an outlander, had told Beth that if she followed him, he would give her metal, and he led her to a place far outside of town. She had been there before, and it had been picked over already. She told him this, and he hit her. Beth cried to think about it. She felt like a stupid girl, a radiation baby, a dullard.

When the midday heat subsided, Beth knew she had to try to find a way home. She pulled out her scanner, the instrument that helped her find metal, in hope that the little map inside would help her find a way home. When she switched it on, it screeched, it’s little arrow waving wildly. There was metal close by! Beth ran out of the cave, following her reading. In the distance, there was a chasm in the earth, layers and layers of something she had only seen in pictures. A landfill, from the ancient days. She thought they had all been found and dug up, but maybe this one had stayed shielded by the layers on top of it.

Beth nearly choked. The earthquake must have opened it up. Layers of plastic and metal, dripping from the sides of the earth, revealed by the split in the earth. A treasure mine, more precious than gold.

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