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Fantasy / Romance
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Chapter 1

Engines roared in a steady rhythm, drowning out the pilot’s words as he saluted the tall figure in the lab coat and sealed the aircraft’s doors shut. The tiny airport peeking out over the ocean was a ball of energy and activity as usual. The white coated man turned and readjusted his frame-less rectangular glasses over the bridge of his straight nose. His striking blonde hair stood out amongst the shuffling, grey-haired researchers and the green helmeted pilots. Enoch was never one for subtlety. I don’t believe he was even capable of it. Of course, becoming an esteemed doctor and engineer at the age of thirty didn’t exactly keep him under the radar. It didn’t help that his looks were enough to send most of the staff into a tizzy. He scanned the airport with intense icy blue eyes, taking in the activity below him as though he were a king observing his court. As always, his emotions were well hidden, and I could not tell if he was simply observing…or judging. Rumors floated about that he had been implicated in a series of violent experiments on human subjects. Of course, no one knew if they had any merit to them. But sometimes I had to wonder what went on in the brilliant head of his when he frequently stared down a certain person for more than a few minutes. In fact, he was doing it right now. As I mused from my spot near the bird I was currently assigned to do maintenance on, he inclined his head to the side and brought a hand up to his chin. His icy blue eyes flashed and narrowed infinitesimally as he gently drew his fingers across the fair skin. I could almost hear the gears turning.

“Richards!” My boss, Silus Norton, barked my name, bringing me out of my trance. “Any particular reason you’re stalling?”

I lowered my face immediately to hide the blush that heated up my cheeks. “No sir, just taking a break.”

He bristled, his pudgy face turned red. I could make out a fine sheen of sweat on his big bald head. “Break on your own time. I expect that bird to be in the air by tomorrow night!”

I sighed and picked the drill back up, resuming my work on the wing. When he seemed satisfied, Norton left, waddling back into his office. I stifled a chuckle. Everyone had taken wagers last month of how long he would last in his newly acquired position. The man had a temper like a trapped hornet. His blood pressure, already through the roof, could make any doctor break out in a cold sweat. And to top it off, he wasn’t exactly the thinnest man in the complex either. Easily irritable, Norton would burst a blood vessel at the first thing that went wrong. Again, I bit my lip to hide my laughter since he was still watching me like a hawk from his office. It was only to be expected though, he wanted to make sure his top bird would be in flying shape.

I reached out absentmindedly and stroked the light metal of the jet. It really was a fine piece of engineering, crafted by none other than Enoch Industries, or EI as we like to call them. My parents work in the main office high up on the fiftieth floor, and I’d always dreamed of working in that building before I found my love of maintaining the birds. Something about watching them take off after working endless hours and enduring sleepless nights made it all worth it. But I was just a grunt…or at least I was until just recently.

Lately, I’d been moving around a lot in the system. For two years I had been an assistant…which basically means Norton sat me in a corner and told me not to touch anything unless the engineers needed assistance. I learned quickly from them, but never ascended to the engineer position. In three days’ time, I’d gone from assistant engineer, to full-time engineer. My parents gushed with pride in me, but I was suspicious. Norton never particularly liked me, so it didn’t make sense that I would so suddenly skip a few rungs on the proverbial ladder. I knew I should just be happy, but something just didn’t seem right. I shook off the thought and put down the hand drill. While I reached to pick up the welder, I froze as I met a pair of icy blue eyes scrutinizing me from the balcony.

Enoch stared unabashedly back at me, and then to my amazement, his head tilted to the left and his hand came up to cup his chin. A brief spark of light flitted across his eyes, but it was gone so fast that I couldn’t be sure it actually happened. After what seemed like hours, Enoch dropped his hand, and his lips tugged slightly at the corner before he turned and vanished through the automatic doors.

I hadn’t realized I was shaking until I heard the welder clattering against the cement. I quickly put it down and wiped a hand across my brow. Creepy. I heard Norton emerge from his office, arguing on the phone with some poor, unfortunate soul, and I hastily returned to my work, intent on finishing tonight before I went home.

Working well into the wee hours of the morning, I managed to finish my work. Patting the new wing on the jet lovingly, I packed up my supplies. The hanger had quieted down significantly by now; the engine noise down to a low hum. Only two birds were missing from the lineup. It was like that every night. I never did get a clear answer from anyone as to why there were jets out at this time of night. The only thing I could think of was security reasons but even that seemed a little far-fetched. True, the rest of the world wasn’t as well off in the war as we were, but I didn’t think they had the means to attack us when we’re surround by an impenetrable dome.

I shook my head silently. I remembered a time where no one had to worry about that. More importantly, I remembered what it felt like to have the morning breeze playing in my hair, or the sun warming my skin. Sure, the parks in our makeshift little world were nice, but they would never recreate the feeling of the wind and the sun.

Now all that was gone, well, at least it wasn’t something you could just go outside and enjoy anymore. Outside was dangerous…deadly. The radiation was so high that your organs would fail within minutes of walking out the door…as if anyone would let you out in the first place. I was told that the only way out of the dome was through the aircraft hangar, the emergency tunnel exit, and a passage leading from the EI building. All ties to any other cities were cut. Actually, I wasn’t quite sure how many others there were out there. I only knew of our city, Lemuria, and two others, Nysa and Arkadia. Nysa was far across in the ocean in what used to be central Africa while Arkadia exists in northern Saudi Arabia. Lemuria hugs the northern coast of North America on top of the skeletal remains of Manhattan. As far as anyone knew, we were the last American city still standing.

Stuffing my supplies in my company locker and peeling out of my greasy clothes, I stepped into the shower room, letting the hot water run over my skin, if only long enough to quickly scrub off all the grime from my hair and skin and then get out. Strict water policies were in place to conserve what little we had. Today was Tuesday, which meant that the hangar’s water was on and mine wasn’t. Needless to say, I was not going to bed smelling like a pig. Dressing in a pair of jeans and an old Muse t-shirt, I closed up and headed to the shuttles.

Really, the only way to get around in Lemuria is through shuttle transport. Cars were eliminated to the harmful exhaust and the struggle to ventilate properly. Shuttles were exhaust free, and very fast. They ran all night and were operated by timers and artificial intelligence.

Walking up to the station, I grabbed my ID card and flashed it at the camera. It zoomed in and then scanned it. A few brief moments later, and the gates opened.

“Hello, Skyla.” IRES greeted me in her polite, metallic voice as I boarded the train.

I smiled and waved at the camera as I took my seat. “Good evening, IRES. Got any news for me?” While talking to an actual person could never be overstated, it was nice to hear a voice when I traveled home so late. IRES was an acronym that stood for Intelligent Retrieval Expert System. She was designed by Enoch and his team a couple years ago. Not only does she run the trains, but she also is responsible to recognizing emergencies, issuing immediate action, monitoring trade between other cities, and monitoring stock changes. Of course, I’m sure she’s not even limited to those functions.

“Depends, what would you like to hear? Business trends or Entertainment?” Her polite voice chimed again. I pulled out my cell phone and turned it on, skimming through my messages. Norton didn’t allow us to even have our cell phones on during the day. It aggravated me to no end.

“How about some entertainment?” I suggested. In all honesty, I didn’t keep up with it all mostly because my job took up my life.

“Today is the grand opening of the new park across the shuttle crossing from Apartment X. Bring a towel and swimwear. Enoch will be delivering a speech on his latest prototype.”

“A prototype eh?” I asked, scanning through the messages. Most were from my mom, updating me on her day. She knew I couldn’t text back, but I think she knew that when I eventually saw them, I appreciated the sentiment. “Know anything about it?”

“Enoch has not released any information regarding his latest invention.” IRES responded.

“Guess I’ll have to take a look then. If anything, I could use a good drink.” I grinned. Booze was hard to come by. Usually only the wealthier folks had it and even then, it was scarce.

A bell dinged, and the shuttle started to slow down. “Stopping at Apartment C. Have an excellent day, Miss Richards.”

“You too.” I muttered back before the doors shut behind me, and the shuttle sped off down the tracks. I yawned convulsively, and craned my neck to look up at my apartment building.

There were 26 apartments in my little area of the city, each where labeled with a letter of the alphabet. I lived in Apartment C, on the 45th floor by myself. My parents had insisted that I come live with them but I didn’t want to ruin their sleep cycles with my crazy work schedule so I moved out and got my own place. Really, I was 19 years old, I could fend for myself well enough. Mom still treated me like I was twelve, and Dad would have you thinking I was middle-aged…but I loved them.

The elevator dinged on my floor, and I slumped out, dragging my feet to my room and unlocking the door with my card. Running to my room, I collapsed on the bed. Sleep took over almost the second my head hit the pillow…and my mind drifted.

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