Chapter IX: Charlie
“Hey Noma! Shift’s over man! Can I get some relief here?”
“Hey yah, sure Charlie. She’s on her way. Just give me a sec ok?”
Charlie grunted. He was always on time and it pissed him off to be left waiting at the end of a shift.
He had been appointed head of security last year and was determined to set a good example. 12 hours is a long time to be stood up but he prided himself on not once having sat down during his watch. His knees wouldn’t forgive him but it set a good example and as his relief arrived he glared at her as she approached, furrowing his eyebrows and making her feel as uncomfortable as possible before erupting into a deep, booming laugh at the effect it had been having on the poor girl.
“Hahaha. I got you good love”
“Screw you Charlie! You know if you weren’t so damned big I’d smack you right in the mouth for that one”
“Hahah, You couldn’t even reach my mouth with those pipe cleaners” Charlie replied laughing as the two shadow boxed around each other before going their separate ways with some arm strikes, pats on the back and lots of smiles. Charlie loved his people and took his job very seriously. As he mounted the galley that hung between the two sides of the cave he looked up into the light wells to check for signs of a storm. He was going out today as a perimeter check was long overdue and with Dimitri and Rachel gone, he wanted to be sure that all was well for their return.
“Hey Noma. You know I was just playing earlier yeah?” said Charlie as he entered the Security hub.
“Yeah I know boss. You’re hilarious” came the sarcastic reply.
“Hahaha. Well someone has to keep morale up!” Charlie laughed freely and often.
“How we looking out there, man” he continued, scanning the screens.
“It’s all clear. Storm is up near the arc but it’s looking like clearing out in this sector before long. I’d say you’re good to go. Want me to come with you on this one?”
Charlie looked up from the screens.
“Nah man, you better stay here. We’re running skeleton crews already and with Dimi gone we need someone in control.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment Charlie”, Noma replied.
“Hahaha. You do that man. You do that” laughed Charlie, rolling his eyes as he moved out of the room and started the climb back to the same front door that had occupied him so for the past 12 hours.
“Back so soon” the guard said as she saw him approach.
“You miss me that much already?”
“Hahaha. You wish love. Outta the way. I’ve got big boy things to do”.
Charlie laughed as he went, up and out into the void, his glider humming by the door. He shouldered his pack and adjusted his goggles settling down into the seat and flicking the throttle wide open, the instant torque from the electric engines rocketing him on towards his first check. Charlie loved riding. The noiseless engines threw up utter silence as the electromagnetism surrounded him and the only sound was the air as it was ripped up, around and under the dense metal frame of the glider. Charlie throttled and bent down close to the handle-bars, muscles tight, narrowing his frame against the speed.
Dimitri and Charlie had designed a system capable of notifying them of any advance into their lands. Two towers were linked by beams, created by bastardised versions of solispheres set the entire height of the structure. Each set of twinned towers covered roughly 100 kilometres and there were ten pairs in total which ringed their main habitation in an arc facing the city. The irony of a system of protection created out of solispheres was not lost on Charlie and he laughed to himself each time he saw the first tower rising out of the desert.
“Fuck you Sun God. Hahaha”.
Charlie dismounted his glider and crunched across the sand to the base of the first tower. He opened his pack and pulled out a dusty laptop and a twisted pile of cables, which he set about untangling with lots of huffing and sucking of his teeth.
“Fuck’s sake man. Every time”.
Once the appropriate cable had been located he tossed the remaining wires back into his pack and connected himself to the tower’s computer, running diagnsotics on the solispheres. With the programmes underway he put his laptop down on the white sand and began to climb the ladder, set against the metal structure, his bulky frame having trouble squeezing itself into the safety cage that surrounded it.
The towers were not huge but the climb took a good few minutes until he stopped at the top, perhaps 50 feet above the desert. Charlie loved these moments. High above the sands there was an almost inperceptible drop in temperature. The reflected heat of the sun from the white sand dissipated in the air between here and the ground giving Charlie space to breath. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the stiff breeze for a minute or two.
The storm though was always close to this tower. The sand blown high towards the city pinged gently against its metal structure as it escaped from the back end of the tempest. The Sun Beam created unnatural weather at the perimeter of it’s influence and this wall of wind and sand acted as a barrier between His City and Charlie’s people. Without this veil, Charlie was unsure whether they would exist at all given the activities of the 15 within the arc, which extended no further than this unnatural wall. Not once had they passed through. It was possible of course and Charlie’s group passed though it often on their way to the city walls in search of food but the 15 stayed away. The story the city told itself was that this was a perimeter to life. The storm a border to survival and a relic of the war when His weapons had burnt the world and that nothing could live beyond it. In truth, the city did not need them to be gone, only missing. So long as those living inside His walls were unaware of the existence of these survivors it mattered not one bit whether they lived or not. They were dead in the reality He had created for His people. The 15 therefore need not venture beyond this curtain of sand and Charlie felt secure enough.
The laptop blinked at Charlie from the dirt and he began to climb down from the tower, one awkward step after the other. As he dropped from the final rung and thudded into the sand the protocols completed and the Solispheres set into the frame of the tower clicked and hummed back into activity, a Mexican wave rippling upwards from the ground. Charlie reached down and checked the readouts from the beams and noticed the anomaly.
He reconnected and ran the final protocol one more time.
Still the anomaly.
They hadn’t had an alert in a long time. Not since the last surface wells had dried up and now animal life could not exist away from the walls.
Charlie settled back on his glider and ran a self-drive program to trace a line between Twin set #1. 100 Clicks at low speed would take a while but he wanted to be sure even if he now had to forgo checks on the other towers. Dimi and Rachel had passed through Set #4 and weren’t due back before Planet Rotation in 4 hours’ time and no other parties were authorised for excursions. Other survivors existed but they had no business in a sector without water. He continued to scan the storm wall hoping the winds would not work too quickly to erase the evidence of passage. A footprint would easily disappear but a heat signature would last a few hours perhaps, even in the heat of the day.
He continued to scan. The wind was strong here and the storm intense. Purple lightning ejected light 400 feet above and fizzed it’s energy towards the second tower that had begun to appear in the distance. The noise was deafening and Charlie struggled to hold a straight course with the powerful gusts and ejections being spat out the back of the wall towards him. The heat was on him too and he was glad to be at the second tower as it loomed above him, its dark orbs reflecting the lightning and winds as he approached.
He parked his glider and connected his computer to Tower #2 ready to delete the anomaly when a cold object pressed against his brain stem.
“Hold still. Hands up. Drop the computer”
“Ok” said Charlie as the computer clunked to the floor, it’s screen shattering.
“Where did you come from?”
Charlie felt the muzzle move from the back of his neck to his temple before finally coming to rest on his forehead. As he focused he came to realize that it was her. He had followed her many times and knew she was one of the fifteen. Beautiful as she was he knew she was dangerous. She moved like a panther. Always with purpose and with an economy of motion. She had watched him before too he now knew. He had felt these same goose-bumps that appeared as she watched him now.
“What are you doing here Alecto?” Charlie asked.
She held up a rabbit skin in her other hand as she released a bullet from the chamber and lowered her weapon.
“This” is all she said.