This story is by Daniel Gonzalez and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She looked at her watch, glancing at the other readings on her arm-piece before staring straight ahead. Her black combat armor was battered and bent, her right shoulder pad completely lost. She was bleeding from her right shoulder, but not terribly.
Still, she used her left hand to grip where she had been shot, breathing hard before activating the painkillers in her suit. Anyone walking by did not give her a second look, and the only interest she was afforded was that others sat one full spot away.
Even with that bit of room, the tiny subway car still felt crowded.
The dingy lights flickered, giving the appearance of one of the many weakly lit ‘entertainment’ halls throughout the city. The ads plastered across the ceiling only served to add to that atmosphere.
Her blood did not make the smell around her any worse; she was convinced that there was nothing to add to the stench that was not already present. She could even see some old puke stains plastered across the floor and walls.
A plopping sound to her left informed her that new smells were being added, and she avoided looking, choosing to shift in her seat instead.
The disheveled clothing, bloodshot eyes, and grimy hair of the group sitting in the subway car with her made it obvious that they were from the factory morning shift. They were headed home for some ultranumb and an episode of “Spinemangle”, no doubt.
No one spoke, each person staring straight ahead at nothing.
Buildings hundreds of feet tall whizzed by as the subway clanked along, neon lights of different colors melding together.
Looking at her arm-piece was really an excuse to look anywhere but at her surroundings. Morning or night didn’t matter. The sun was rarely visible, even during the day. The synths had seen to that.
Now the sky was filled with black smoke and particles that could choke anyone if they were outside for more than five hours at a time. The factories were said to be worse, but workers were expected to be there for twelve hour shifts anyway. At some point in time, everyone would have cared.
Those who still did care were currently lighting up a city block one mile away from her position. Somehow, they had gotten their hands on heavy ordnance, and had already leveled one building.
“Officer Keyes. Are you en route?” A voice squawked over her radio. She waited a moment before responding, considering the ramifications if she didn’t. Every consequence was worse than reporting for duty.
“Yes. Taking tram F to San Angeles.” She said.
“Confirm, you said taking tram F?” The operator asked. She rolled her eyes and stifled a groan as she spoke.
“Yes. My bike was trashed in the 21-99 I reported earlier.” She said.
“A 21-99? That’s skrud. You in condition for this?” The voice asked.
Rain started falling on the subway car, and for a moment, she wondered what it might feel like. What water from the sky felt like, back in the times when rain wasn’t acidic.
She’d heard stories about it. Like taking a shower, only with clean water. Unprocessed. Raw. Beautiful.
As she looked through the subway car window, the dirty streaks caused by the rain reminded her of her wound, which seemed to have stopped bleeding. The pain was faint now, but the memory of having a grenade launcher fired directly at her was still fresh, and for good reason. It occurred thirteen minutes earlier.
“Even if I wasn’t, I’m still going. Still have my rifle. Patch me in to the others.” She said.
“You got it. Huh. Yeah, looks like you’re less than a mile away.” The operator said. She wanted to scream at him, ask him why he had even bothered to check, but she knew why. The Protocol demanded it.
Other voices joined her intercom, male and female, calm and hoarse from shouting. The rain was a constant pattering now.
“-WHAT IN THE HELL WHO GAVE THEM AN RPG”
“Keep the corners tight. There’s supposed to be fifteen in this building. Remember, dispatch with extreme prejudice.”
“Dammit, Shane is gone!”
The disparity between the voices, the frantic cries for help made her feel as though the subway car was shrinking, and she had to clamp her eyes shut and will the voices away.
A bright light that she could see even through her closed eyelids grabbed her attention, and she looked up.
The automated tram display lit up the middle of the cramped subway car as a man dressed in a conductor suit from three centuries previous and smiling robotically began to speak.
“Approaching 34th Street and Ventura Avenue. Along with inclement weather, there is a minor civilian/police altercation, so please make sure to watch your step and have a nice day!”
A loud boom, followed by a billowing smoke cloud punctuated the sentence. No one blinked.
She grabbed her rifle, unlocking the safety and checking the magazine. In her gut, she could feel another block war brewing, if it hadn’t already erupted.
“This is Officer Keyes, on the scene and reporting for duty.”
The tram doors slid open with a sharp noise, and she wondered what the rain would feel like on her face.