Normally for Chuck’s flash fiction challenge I’ll crank something out before work on Friday. I really wanted to do something special for this one so you had to wait until Saturday. I think at 1067 words it was worth the wait:
“Happy thirteenth birthday, honey!”
“Thanks, Mom… You know what this means, don’t you?”
“Let’s not think about that now. Just enjoy today.”
“It’s not today that I worry about.”
“Tomorrow they’ll be here. It’s been our way for generations.”
“As you say, Mother. Tomorrow, I’ll make you proud.”
She took Ojai’s cheeks in her hands and peered into his eyes. “My sweet baby boy, I’ll be proud no matter the outcome. I know you’ll represent our family with conviction and honor.”
“I will, mother.”
Ojai walked to the window facing the main spire of their vast city. They lived on the hundredth floor – the top of the individual spires that ringed the main citadel. They weren’t the most affluent in the tower they resided – those people lived on one of the floors with a crosswalk linking each tower. Five crosswalks linked each tower. The main spire stood as a testament to their culture. The gleaming white tower reached to the heavens. It was so massive, terse fibers anchored it to the craggy and rough ground. When law enforcement wasn’t present, many youths would climb these to prove their masculinity. These feats were unnecessary. Every male, the day following their thirteenth birthday, were escorted to the main spire where their future would be decided. Ojai knew his path held only two options – breeder or soldier. The females wanted for nothing. They lived in the many towers encircling the central spire. No males over the age of thirteen lived there. He knew his future was in the central spire, chosen by a representative of the council of matrons. Tomorrow would be the first day of the rest of his life.
“We need to have a discussion.”
“As you wish, Mistress.”
“Mistress? Why so formal, Ojai?”
Ojai remained silent. He stood at attention of the division commander’s desk.
“Ojai, you’ve been my subordinate for six years now. I would think in all that time we would have developed a familiarity.”
Ojai relaxed and looked into the eyes of his commanding officer and occasional lover, “Talia, I want more than this. I’ve served faithfully and with exemption for years. There has to be more for me.”
Talia’s face softened. Ojai was one of her favorite lovers. She knew he harbored no illusion it was an exclusive relationship – merely a privilege of rank. “I’ve been asked to select one of you for a special assignment.” A single tear welled up at the corner of her eye. They both ignored it and she continued, “I will miss you, Ojai.”
Ojai took a step toward the desk, but a brief shake of her head stopped his progress. She closed her eyes and spoke the last word they would have between them: “Dismissed, soldier!”
“What the hades is it?”
“Unknown, but it’s on a collision course for the central spire.”
Ojai stared at the screen with the brown mass growing larger. It was spined, with deep ridges from the top to the bottom. The top featured a stalk with wispy white tendrils sticking out in all directions.
“How much time have we got?”
“Two days at the most. We must act immediately.”
Ojai stood up straight. His back was starting to hurt. He spent the better part of the last ten years looking over the shoulder of his subordinates to see security screens. They featured a myriad of images – from citizenry to the vast field separating the central spire from the ring of white towers. This screen was looking outward and what he saw and heard worried him.
“Let her know I’m on my way.”
“I don’t know how we managed to get these top fifty levels evacuated so fast!”
Kaemon glanced at Ojai through the visor of his helmet. “This is nothing. We had an issue about forty-five years ago with some sort of creepy landslide. It enveloped four or five perimeter towers up to the thirtieth level. It missed the central spire, but on its movement it tore through several tension fibers. We were worried about the structural integrity of the spire. We had to evacuate something like twenty towers. The people were camped out in the field for days while the crisis played itself out.”
“What was it?”
“We never found out. It rolled through leaving a sticky residue in its wake.”
“Yeah, one unlucky citizen was enveloped by it and became trapped inside. We tried to get her out, but it was moving too rapidly for us to free her. We were ordered to stop rescue efforts when it moved beyond the other side of the city.”
Ojai looked up at the shadow casting darkness across the great city he protected. Impact would be within minutes. They had done everything they could to prepare, but they could only stand by helplessly watching.
“Here it comes!”
The brown mass impacted the central spire between the two hundred twenty-first and twenty-second levels. It looked as if they would need to rebuild twenty-eight levels. The debris raining down fell onto the evacuated field. The white building materials struck the tension fibers and littered the ground. The unidentified mass ricocheted and continued on a different direction away from the city. All things considered, this disaster was minor. They wouldn’t know for a few hours, but Ojai suspected there would be no loss of life.
Kaemon gripped Ojai’s shoulder. “We will persevere like we have for generations. Come on, lets see if we can help out.”
Ojai smiled and followed Kaemon toward the spire. His life had meaning and he felt fortunate this was his path – chosen the days following his thirteenth birthday.
“Kayla! What are you doing?”
“Chasing a dandelion seed, daddy!”
Kayla’s father smiled at his daughter’s enthusiasm. “Be careful! These woods have many hidden dangers.”
“Don’t worry, Daddy, I’ll be careful!”
She chased the dandelion seed until it struck a tree and bounced off lazily. Her attention was no longer on the seed but on a strange white object stuck on the side of the tree.
“Daddy, what’s this?”
Her father peered at the odd white web-thing with a central spire and what looked like a webbed fence ringed around it.
“I’m not sure, but it’s best we leave it alone.”
Kayla took a final look at it before she and her father turned and continued their trek through the woods onto destinations unknown.