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HIGHRISE SKYLINE

by Chris Conway 12 months ago in Sci Fi
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A Faded Coast Story

HIGHRISE SKYLINE
Photo by Kenrick Mills on Unsplash

The battered motor struggled to carry a rusted boat and its passenger over the outskirts of what used to be Fort Lauderdale, a concrete swamp abandoned by the corporate conglomerate that once governed it after pushing the federal government out of the southeastern states, the US losing around half their now perpetually contested land in identical fashion. The rest of south and central Florida generally suffered a similar fate as the Atlantic Ocean continued to devour the state, driving away corporate interest. Still, first counts for something, capable of withstanding the cloud of toxic spores engulfing the dilapidated ruins, mutated alligators densely populate nearly every block. The traveler locks his gaze on 4 solar-powered air boats buzzing north into the decrepit city, each carrying a duo of Riptide reclamation officers, every one of them equipped appropriately, breathable Nanokevlar armor leading up to a lightweight, corporate-grade alloy filtration helmet, the dome outfitted with a heads up display detailing vitals and environmental info, everything marked with their signature tsunami logo. The traveler’s helmet was nearly opaque from condensation. He’ll be lucky to make it through without heat stroke. A functional A/C is typically standard in even the cheapest filtration units, popular after 2064 saw the climate’s true point of no return. Unfortunately, the edentate merchant in Orlando failed to supply or mention this basic component before charging full price and vanishing promptly.

Finally, he can safely unclasp the dome, humid air hissing out when his heart drops at the sight of a forty-foot reptilian monster floating closer. His rib cage quaked as adrenaline filled his bloodstream, he scrambles to retrieve and assemble the fifty-caliber carbine from his pack through the blinding condensation. Hastily, he rips the dome off his head and snaps the gun together, sights fixed on the beast. His gun clicks, chamber empty, “Shit, shit, FUCK!”, he pulls back the bolt before unleashing a deafening explosion that throws him off balance, rocking the boat as he tries to continue this hopeless fight. Aiming, steady once more, he lowers his rifle after the behemoth fails to move further. No thanks to the slug that left him near deaf, realizing upon closer examination that the reptile was already dead, made clear with the nearby hole blasted into the three-story, concrete building hidden by greenish-brown water, the corpse resting along the edge.

He exerts a sigh at the waste of precious ammo, the sound of which is almost entirely drowned out by the ringing reminder of just how ill-prepared he was for this. Moving on, he searches the boat to ensure nothing was lost in that blunder, finding half of the main filtration hose in tatters, damaged beyond repair when the helmet was needlessly torn off. “No... no, no, no…”, he drops to the middle seat and buries his head in his inexperienced hands, “Goddammit…”, his voice breaks, tears fill his eyes, ears still ringing, “GOD FUCKING DAMNIT!”, he slings the helmet downward through a large rust spot, lodging itself in place and leaking steadily. He breaks down to a sobbing fetal position, splashing the water inside the boat. Ducts ran dry, he picks himself up and removes the cheap filtration system covering his upper torso. A heart-shaped locket glints in the sun and flicks about as he pulls a cracked measuring cup from his pack, stopping to stare enviously at the dead alligator, shifting his unusually green eyes to the silver alloy of the locket now in his hand. Another sigh is allowed to be heard through the ringing, but only slightly, the locket slid behind his shirt, he restarts the motor…

Miami’s highrise skyline grows larger, looking up past his greasy black hair between periodically collecting and dumping water, tempted to pour the deceptively toxic fluid over himself instead, more so as the water grows more transparent near the ocean, remnants of palm trees and mangled food trucks visible below. This view is diversified by two cyclones in the water far off to the east, blackness held above the seemingly stationary storms, juxtaposed to the west by a blue sky and thicket of buildings, some larger than the twisters swirling in their cyclical dance. With daylight fleeting, he scans the horizon for any possible shelter, spotting an overpass with a sheet metal shack built on top. Shoddy and unfavorable, similar to the number of options available, he sets his course. Gliding towards the shack, a light pole scrapes loudly underneath, shattering the dome. Frantically, the motor is cranked full speed to no avail, propeller spinning in the air as the boat sinks forward.

A scavenger emerges from the makeshift shelter, a white pillowcase tied and draped over his head, through sunglasses, the stranger watches the boat, dragged awkwardly onto the asphalt, backpack and carbine soaking inside. “You know, it’s not the best idea to store your gun in water.”, the scavenger advises, “Please, I don’t want any trouble.”, he pleads, trying to catch his breath, nervously reaching for his gun, “Neither do I, but you’ll find plenty of it if that gun don’t shoot.” Admitting error, the wanderer flips his rifle to clear water from the barrel, slinging it over his shoulder. “With a boat like that, I’d expect you to know about rust.” the old man smirked, “At least I have a boat.”, he reminds the old man, who corrects him, “No, you have a motor, I got a boat.” he gestured towards an alligator lying dead in dried blood next to a smaller boat, a chain secured from the bow to a bulletproof harness wrapped around the shoulder blades, a rebar rod protruding from the base of its spine and a metal collar embedded in its neck.

“What’s that… thing?”, he asked. “It’s a boat.”, the old man joked, the traveler replying to his shit-eating grin with an annoyed stare, “Seriously though, the collar changes the gator’s brainwaves to make it do what you want, ergo, most of Miami uses them to get around this shithole.”, the old man explained, “The only problem is, after the battery dies, the gator regains full control, and I’m pretty sure they remember everything. At least that one did, he was pissed, the collar went out two blocks that way and I had to swim my ass over here. Thought I shook him before I saw my own boat hauling ass towards me.”, the old man laughed and took a sip from his grimy cup, “never got ‘em up that fast before, been stuck here eight days”. “I don’t get it, if you have a boat why don’t you leave?” the traveler asked, “Well, I can paddle back to my place but I had a few grams of tar, figured may as well relax here ‘til I run out.”, said the old man as he hit long metal pipe, holding in the smoke while offering a hit to his guest, “No thanks.”, the traveler declined, “Addiction runs in the family”, he said, his face sick from thinking about it. “More for me”, blurted the old man through the cloud of putrid smoke escaping his leathery face.

“So”, the scavenger tapped ash out of the pipe against concrete, “do you have a name by chance?”, he asked, one sun-bleached eyebrow raised, “Not really, actually, my mother kept us hidden away constantly, she was the only human I talked to or knew for half my life, and she only called me ‘boy’ or ‘kid’. I went by Carson for work, but it never stuck”. “How old are you?”, “I think nineteen or twenty, not sure, maybe more” he said as he fidgeted with the locket through his soaked shirt, his shoulders and back nearly dried by the sun, “I lost count”. “Tell you what, I’ll do you a favor to remind you to keep metal shit dry.”, said the old man, “How’s that?” the traveler asked, expecting a lame joke, “I’m gonna name you Rusty”, he said with that shit-eating grin, except this time it’s met with an off-guard chuckle and smile, the first of either in weeks, “Sounds alright to me. What about you, what’s your name, old man?”, Rusty asked through the smile still dwelling on his face, “Ramirez works. Anyway, seeing how I’m short a gator and your motor works – come in, it’s scorching AND about to storm.” Ramirez pulls back a space blanket and pushes open the screeching metal door as the pair escapes the sun inside.

“Give me and my salvage a ride to my apartment downtown, your motor makes it, the boats yours. Take a page from Southeast, cut your losses.”, Rusty considers the offer, fidgeting with his locket again, Ramirez takes notice, “Wait, why are you even down here? I mean, the gangs here pump people full of poison and acid before throwing them to gators to keep the population down, and I mean full. They don’t stop ‘til it pours back out your esophagus. So, either you didn’t know or it’s real fuckin’ important.” Rusty sighs, “Both… found out my father’s been alive most my life, but that was written years ago by the junkie who once shot at me because I ‘looked like an owl’.”, he states flatly. “I thought you were only ever around your mom”. “Exactly, I was about fifteen, ran away, drifted around, secured a safe, bureaucratic job in Asheville with Southeast Trading Company for some years. Guess I wanted to believe she changed after so long… I was half right, her last boyfriend or whatever he was answered her door to tell me she overdosed after I left. I looked through her stuff and found the letter… it sounds so stupid out loud, he’s most likely dead or worse, I don’t know what I’m doing here.”, tear ducts still dry, Rusty leans forward, holding his face, letting the locket slip out. Ramirez snaps his gaze to the heart, “...Did she give you that?” he asked, wide-eyed, “No… I found it … fuck it. I’m trying to find my father to open the fingerprint lock on the back.”, “What’s in it?”, “Some kind of digital key to an abandoned water reservoir in Kansas the US lost to Excellis Energies that... probably doesn’t exist.” The possibility somehow now occurring to him for the first time, he slouches even lower. Thunder rolls outside, “Hey man”, Ramirez places his hand on Rusty’s shoulder, “I’ve seen those lockets before, you can’t break into it without breaking what’s in it, but you can sell it for a good bit.”, Rusty suddenly locks eyes with his reflection in Ramirez’s sunglasses, unusual green eyes staring back, “Then sell me that boat now so I can leave for good”, Rusty demands, concern paints the face around Ramirez’s cracked, designer aviators “You sure? You could get a lot-”, “I said for good… which way are those waterspouts heading?”, asks Rusty, determination, desperation, and desolation glaringly apparent.

They sit in silence before Ramirez breaks it, “They’re artificial... they break up hurricanes… they never move.” “Thanks, Ramirez”, Rusty yanks off the necklace attempting to thrust it into Ramirez’s hand, he refuses, both rise to their feet, “Just fucking take it!”, Rusty yells, “What exactly are you planning here?” Ramirez asked, knowing the answer, “I’m ending this now, I’m driving right into that storm, it’s all a waste of time.”, Ramirez stares in concern, convincing words of optimism nowhere to be found. Rusty scrapes open the shack door “Good luck with your apartment.” he throws the locket over his shoulder. “Whoa- shit!”, Ramirez shoots his upper body forward to catch the locket, sunglasses slipping off his sweaty face. The clear snap of the locket opening in Ramirez’s hands is heard through the rain, freezing Rusty mid-step. He turns around to see the shocked and confused pair of unusually green eyes in Ramirez’s skull looking back at him. A bewildered Rusty only stares, “Huh... would you look at that?” Ramirez says, Rusty’s mother greeting the pair from a picture behind a computer chip.

Sci Fi

About the author

Chris Conway

Further fuel my narcissistic tendencies by validating my literary talent.

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