“Ok, let’s get started.” Amia Risk, daughter of the Clan Leader of Armaria, stood on a small wooden platform tap-ping her fingers against a podium. Stocky and broad, the little of her body which muscle hadn’t claimed had been hardened over by calluses. In her hand, she held a worn book labeled, The History of Our Dome.
In front of her was a group of ten children ranging from eleven to fourteen years old. They sat cross-legged on the bar-ren ground, skin a pale green in the light of the Dome. All around them were rough but well-constructed houses, made from a hodgepodge of materials. Cinder blocks and roughly hewn wood, metal bars scavenged from ruined buildings; an-ything available had been blended together to make the small cluster of buildings.
The landscape was made up of scraggly trees, grass, and plants that seemed almost colorless, shrouded in greys and greens. The sky itself was green; the sun, a lusterless green orb. The weather, as always, a dull chill. The half-dead grass was still a bit damp from the morning drizzle.
“Alright, repeat after me. These are the laws of the Dome.” The children stood and placed a hand over their heart. “I, a proud survivor of the Final World War, do solemnly believe that all men and women are created equal. I will do my part to help all those in need. I promise to respect and obey all elected officials and to pay my taxes. I will never enter the Badlands, nor kill criers without reason. I will fight to survive until the day we may once more roam under the blue sky.” The children obediently repeated Amia line-by-line.
She nodded in satisfaction, lips pulled into a tight line. “Ollie, stand up. Please repeat yesterday’s passage.”
A scrawny boy of about twelve stood. He began chanting in a monotone voice, looking at his feet as he kicked at the dirt, “This is the history of our people.”
“Ollie, come on now, a little louder, will you? Look at me when you’re speaking,” Amia said.
Ollie glanced up and then back down and continued a bit louder, “In the year 1941 David Foxe, then a senator in Ala-bama, after multiple attempts to convince the U.S. govern-ment of the dangers of the outside world, began a series of tests designed to create a barrier to protect the population should the war become too dangerous. The people mocked him and refused his plan. However, Senator Foxe, being a wise and determined man, was not swayed from his plan to save his people. He created the technology necessary to make the Dome. As quiet rumors began to spread… of…” the boy trailed off.
“Sit down then, Ollie. Who can finish?”
A tiny girl in an oversized burlap dress raised her hand. Her long hair was pulled up into two braids on either side of her head. “I can, Miss Amia.”
Amia nodded assent. “Go ahead, Crissy.”
Crissy gave Ollie a haughty look. “As quiet rumors began to spread of the power of the Nazis, and the probability of nuclear war increased, Senator Foxe began to create a huge machine. He hoped to create a better form of protection for all citizens of the U.S. However, before he could do that, there was a horrible attack on Pearl Harbor. Sources told the Sena-tor that there would be another attack within days, using a technology called an atomic bomb.”
Amia motioned for Crissy to sit. “Okay, Jackson, give the end bit a go.”
A lanky sixteen-year-old scowled as he rose to his feet. Having been slightly too young to join the last set of classes, he was a full two years older than the other students. “Sena-tor Foxe argued with the senate about the necessity of shield-ing the U.S. borders, but he was derided. Then, just as he had feared, there was a second attack. Moments after the bomb hit the ground, our Governor turned on his machine.
“In the mere seconds it took for the Dome to be stabilized, the nuclear energy wreaked havoc on all of the people ex-posed, creating the criers and the Badlands. We are what re-mains of the United States of America and, likely, the world. In the year 2140, after all of the nuclear radiation dissipates, the Dome will be lowered, and we will leave this place. Until then, we must live here, under the protection of the Dome.”
A hand raised. “What is it, Danny?”
“Miss Amia, can you tell us about the time you killed three criers at once?”
Amia raised an eyebrow. “Did Captain Star tell you that story? Everyone, what do you think is more important, hear-ing stories about me killing criers or learning about our histo-ry?”
There was a pause and then all the kids answered in semi-unison, “History.”
“Good, because today we will be studying the period right after Dome Day. At the end, there will be a test, and anyone who can’t pass won’t get to practice with Captain Star.”
There was silence.
“Do you understand?” Amia asked.
“Yes, ma’am!” they said.
“Okay, first of all, who can tell me what Green Fever was?”
Crissy’s hand shot up. Amia glanced around at the other students, and her eyes finally landed on Molly, who was sit-ting upright with her hands folded in her lap. “Molly, can you explain?”
Molly tensed. “Uhm, yes. The Green Fever began just a few days after the Dome surrounded our lands,” she paused.
“Yes. That’s right. Keep going.”
“Yes, ma’am. The first residents of our Dome struggled to cope with the sudden lack of color and light. Many people became violent or uncontrollably hysterical. Within the first three months, a fourth of the population died from a combi-nation of violence and illness.”
“Good job, Molly. Alright, today we will talk about what happened after that. First, with a fourth of the population dead and many people in cities living without access to food or clean water, it was a very desperate time. Which is why many people fled from the cities and into the countryside. Does anyone know what happened then?”
Jackson raised his hand. “The criers ate them.”
“No. For sky’s sake, Jackson. What do I keep telling you? You need to take this seriously.”
Crissy’s hand was still waving desperately. Amia glanced around at the other pupils. All of them were staring down at the dirt. “Yes, Crissy.”
“They begged for help from the sharecroppers.” The little girl grinned, shaking her head slightly so that both her braids bounced up and down.
Have to tell Justin to beat that smugness out of her in training today. “Yes, that’s right. That is our lineage. We are the great-great grandchildren of the students of Georgia College and the sharecroppers of the surrounding countryside.” A few kids glanced over their shoulders at the practice field. “Don’t you understand what that means?”
“Yeah, we’re the same as everyone in the Dome.” Jackson said.
“No. We are not.” Amia hit the podium once. “Don’t you guys understand how special our clan is? Not just farmers, not just city folk or academics, we’re a blend of all three. That’s why we’re so much better educated than any of the other clans.”
“What about the cities? My father says that the city folk are much more educated.” Crissy said.
“Your father…” Amia’s father would kill her if she finished that sentence. “I suppose some people might say so. But there are no clans better educated than we are.”
The kids nodded, but Amia could tell they didn’t really care. They were too young. She took a breath to calm herself and continued with the lesson.
“Okay, last of all, who can tell me about the Second-Generation Crisis?”
The children were silent.
“Did any of you know that before the Dome people had many different colors of skin?” Only Crissy nodded.
Why does no one care about this? From early childhood, she’d had a deep curiosity about the colors of the people who had gone before them. There was a painting of her great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother in her living room and as a child she’d asked her father incessant questions about the rich darkness of her great-great grandfather’s skin. She’d been struck with wonder when he’d told her about how colorful and diverse people had been before the Dome had gone up. Before that color had been taken from them out of necessity. Her eyes rested for a moment on the pale green of her hand. All that color. It must have been beautiful.
She flipped the history book open to a page showing vari-ous ethnic groups. Stepping off the platform, she handed the book to Jackson, who looked at it curiously and then passed it on.
“So then why are we all this color?” Jackson asked after a moment.
“To this day, no one knows for sure. Some say it was a miracle. Others say that the Governor used some kind of magic. But it’s more likely that the nuclear radiation made the second generation mutate. That’s what the Governor said, at least.”
“But why did they call it a crisis?” Crissy asked after a moment.
“Because before the second generation, it wasn’t normal to have such white skin. Many of the parents thought that the children had some kind of disease or were possessed by evil spirits. Some of the parents even killed their infants. It was a dark time.”
Amia took the book back from Ollie and began the day’s lecture in earnest. At some point, she realized her entire class was staring out at the practice field. They’d clearly hit their limit. “Okay, we will take a short test, then you’ll head straight to the training field to meet with Captain Star.”
“Yes, ma’am.” None of them were foolish enough to groan. As Amia called out questions, they wrote answers on their slates and held them up for her to check. When they received her blessing, they stood, took a second to put away their slates and chalk, and walked toward the practice field.
Amia watched them go as she gently closed the worn his-tory book. After hopping off the platform, she turned and glanced over her shoulder. If she squinted, she could just make out her brother, Justin, on the field. She smiled slightly. I think I’ll help him with training today. She crossed Town Square to the old Georgia College library, now known as City Hall. Amia pushed open the heavy wooden door and made her way down a long dark hallway.
Lanterns lined the walls. Of all of the problems Domers faced, the loss of electricity might have been the worst. It had killed their ability to use almost all forms of technology, bringing them back to the days of a pre-industrial world. At least as far as lighting went, the solutions had been easy enough.
Amia pushed open the door near the end of the hallway marked ‘Library.’ Slipping between the shelves, she carefully put the book back in its place. She glanced around and sniffed the line of books. So much knowledge of a world that was dead. Well, not forever. Her great-great grandchildren would live to see the real sun. She would have to settle for stories and dreams.
Having replaced the book, she strolled toward the practice field, which had, at one time been a football field. The bleach-ers, save for two sets, had all been taken down, and the metal and wood from them had been repurposed.
As she neared the practice field, she could see Justin demonstrating how to get out of a crier hug. The students’ heads bobbed as they followed his motions. He looked up from his demonstration and their eyes met. A mischievous grin broke across his face.
“Kids, did you know that Captain Risk can shoot an arrow straight through another arrow?” he said, giving her a charm-ing smile.
A soft murmur broke out among the children.
“Doesn’t seem related to grappling,” Amia said.
“Just for fun?” Justin countered.
“We have a lot of arrows just lying around, then?”
“Come on, Sis, as I remember, you, yourself wasted a lot of arrows perfecting that trick. I bet these kids would all work extra hard today if you’d show them.”
Amia glanced at the students’ excited grins and sighed. It was rare for her to do much of anything on the practice field with them, honestly. Not since she’d broken Lefty’s clavicle two years ago. And, of course, Justin’s half-missing finger. At some point, all of the parents in Armaria had quietly come together and demanded that she only be in charge of history and ethics.
Amia glowered at her brother and wordlessly walked over to the small rack of weapons. Removing a long bow, she made a few adjustments, set an arrow into its place and shot it. Her hands flew to replace it and the second arrow was in the air before the first had hit its mark. They drove deep into a tree at the edge of the woods.
The students gave a loud whoop as they ran over to the tree. Amia didn’t have to look to know that the arrows had hit their mark. She almost never missed these days. Certainly not a still target. Justin was walking over to her, grinning. He’s more of a kid then the students sometimes. She opened her mouth to tease him when the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Her eyes jerked to edge of the woods. Something’s out there.
“Everyone, hush,” she called, struggling to understand her sudden anxiety.
“For the love of the Governor, Mia, give them a minute to…” Justin’s voice trailed off. “Kids, come over here now!” he shouted.
At Justin’s voice, the students’ expressions switched from excitement to confusion. They turned to their teachers, glanc-ing wistfully back at the arrows. A second later there was a blood curdling howl from the forest. The students fled. “Crier!”
Amia jerked on a quiver from the training rack. “Run!” she screamed. At that moment a crier exploded from the tree line only a few yards from the kids.
“Don’t look back!” Justin was waving at them.
There was a chaos of movement. Kids tripped and stum-bled as they scrambled away from the trees. Danny, who had caught a glimpse of the crier, stood frozen with fear.
The crier let out blood-curdling cry and ran straight for him. Its cavernous mouth was open, baring its overabundance of jagged, half rotted teeth. Its beady, white-less eyes focused fully on the boy. Although she couldn’t see them at this dis-tance, Amia knew its two slit-like nostrils would be flared and sniffing wildly, taking in all possible prey in the area.
The beast raged and foamed as it closed in. Its arms, all four of them, were raised up, each ending in random bits of deformed hands. Its two twisted legs were a mass of gnarled, knotty muscles. Disgusting to the eye, but deadly fast. A crier running on six limbs was nearly as fast as a horse.
Justin had already taken off in a full sprint toward the children. Amia jammed a sword into her belt and followed. The instant she was in range, she raised her bow and fired three consecutive arrows, hitting it twice in the head, and once in the throat. It gurgled but continued undeterred. They al-ways did.
Justin reached the kids. As she flew through the grass, sword out, Amia watched her brother yank Danny’s arm and drag him along. Too slow. They were moving too slow. She screamed, hoping to get the beast’s attention. It whipped its head in her direction, turning sharply to charge at her.
Something was moving in the trees. There was more screaming. The crier stopped to look over its shoulder. Before it could turn back to the kids, Amia shot another arrow. The crier snarled, its beady eyes focusing on her. That’s right, come get me, you stupid beast. The screaming in the forest intensified, and in a heartbeat, there were two more criers clawing their way out from between the trees, quickly making their way towards the fleeing group. Caution gave way to urgency. She couldn’t fight three at once. Not with the kids here. Finally in range, she lunged at the first crier, taking its head off its body with a single stroke. It gave one last terrifying screech and col-lapsed on the ground, twitching and convulsing violently.
Amia quickly sheathed her sword, scrambled to grab her bow, raised it, and fired two shots, one at each new crier. She hit one of them in the neck. It turned and flew towards her, tearing through the fifty-yard gap between them. The second one dodged, dropped down to all six limbs, and galloped to-ward Justin and the children. Justin was trying to get between it and the helpless students. Great sky above, he was un-armed. His face was grim, eyes angry slits. With a great bel-low, he raised his hands and set his feet apart.
Amia adjusted her course and pounded her way to her brother. The third crier was right behind her. She could hear its ragged breath from the arrow jammed in its neck. The second one tensed into a tight spring of muscle and leapt at Justin. He managed to deflect the attack, hitting it hard in its chest with his shoulder. He grabbed it by the neck and was now half strangling, half pushing it, using all of his might to try to throw it to the ground. The beast grabbed his torso with two of its arms and squeezed him mercilessly, head twisting and writhing as it tried to bite his hands.
Amia made a flying leap at the crier. She kicked it heavily in the side. It screamed and tried to attack her. Thankfully, it was slowed by the added bulk of Justin’s body, which it was either too stupid or too stubborn to let go of. Justin’s hands were still on its neck, so Amia stabbed it angrily in the side, right at the soft part of the belly. It screamed and wrenched itself from Justin’s grasp, turning its full attention to her.
The other crier was screaming somewhere to the side of her. She started to turn, but the crier in front of her was too close. She kicked, but it grabbed her foot and yanked her off her feet. As she careened through the air, she could see the other crier, now running at the children. Her body hit the ground hard, bones cracking and grinding against each other. She let out an enraged scream.
Somewhere behind her, she heard the children screaming. The other crier. She could only hope Justin had gotten to a sword. There were voices shouting out in the main square now. People were coming, but they would be too late. She pulled her foot free of the crier’s grasp. It was behind her. She waited for a moment, giving it time to get closer. At the count of three, she kicked backward and up as hard as she could. She couldn’t see what she hit, but it was soft and fleshy. There was another angry scream.
She was on her feet and spinning around to face it. It was down on all six limbs again, pulled into a tight bunch of mus-cles and rage. It sprung forward. This was the last chance she would have. She waited for the neck. Just as it was on her, she dropped to her knees, leaning back to get a better angle, and cut under its jaw, pushing upwards, severing most of its head from its body. It fell heavily on top of her, dousing her in foul, thick blood.
Its body flailed and pummeled her as it died. Somewhere behind her, she could hear the kids screaming. Justin let out a roar of rage. She kicked and shoved, trying to get the twitch-ing, reeking mass off of her. Finally free of the crier’s dead weight, she scrambled chaotically to her feet.
Justin was standing with his sword raised, panting. Dark, black blood was splattered all over his shirt and face. She couldn’t tell if it was his. The final crier was a headless, con-vulsing mass at his feet. The kids were screaming and crying. Justin threw his sword down and began desperately yanking at the crier’s body. Amia squinted, what was he doing? And then, from under the bulking monster, she glimpsed a small, limp hand. She dashed over.
Just as she got there, Justin managed to roll the crier’s body to reveal Ollie. The little boy’s lifeless form sent a shud-der through Amia. Had it killed him? She was on the ground next to him before she knew what was happening, sobbing and shaking him. Someone was saying something in her ear. She screamed and pushed them away. Hands grabbed her and yanked her back. Dr. Winters was there. He was barking orders and asking Justin rapid fire questions. Justin was si-lently nodding and shaking his head. Everything was happen-ing so fast, she couldn’t understand. Ollie wasn’t moving. His eyes were closed and his mouth hung laxly open.
Nurse Freesly was talking to her, had an arm wrapped around her, was stroking her hair. She couldn’t understand what she was saying. It had killed Ollie. She’d been right there. A rushing scream filled her brain, and she struggled to breathe.
“He’s not dead.”
“Huh?” Amia finally turned and looked at Nurse Freesly. “What?”
“Ollie’s not dead. He fainted.”
“Not dead?” The crazed humming in her ears settled into a soft buzz. “He’s not dead?” She glanced up at the other chil-dren. They were looking on, tearful, shaking, terrified. Her eyes reached Justin. He looked about as bad as the kids. “Not dead?”
“He fainted, Amia. Calm down,” Nurse Freesly said in an uncharacteristically soft voice. And at that moment, the little boy’s eyes jerked open, and he sat up with a horrified scream. Dr. Winters patted him on the back. All of the kids were sob-bing and laughing and cheering. At this point, more than half of the clan was out on the practice field, running up to their children, pulling them tightly to their chests. The whole field was a riot of hysterical parents and children. Dead. Someone should be dead right now.
Dr. Winters glanced over his shoulder at her. “Captain Risk, you’re going to need to come with us to the clinic. Both you and Captain Star were far too close to those monsters for my comfort. Neither of you got bit, right?”
Amia and Justin shook their heads. It would have been a death sentence if they had. Crier bites almost always led to incurable infection.
Justin helped Amia to her feet. As they walked by the crier corpse, he kicked it with an angry growl. “If it’s all the same to you Doc, I’d like to try to wash off a bit first. This crier stench is making me sick.”
Dr. Winters nodded. Amia numbly walked over to her brother’s side. “You look awful, Mia,” he said. “How on this green earth did you get so much crier blood on you?” She just then dragged her to the barn where the water cisterns were. They took turns pouring water over each other until most of the blood was washed away.
“You remember when we were kids and you cut off part of my finger?” Justin asked.
A slight scowl settled on her brow. He wiggled the evidence of her crime in front of her nose. After a moment, she growled, “Are you still going on about that? Don’t you remember that we were in the middle of training?”
“Oh, so a little girl who can’t control her temper has the right to lop off a fellow’s finger just because it’s training? On my word, if you’d gotten eaten today, it would have served you right, you know.”
Her cheeks darkened, and she pulled air through her teeth in a long, annoyed hiss. Finally, a normal reaction. Justin was about to dig in when the door to Dr. Winter’s office opened.
Nurse Freesly walked out. “The doctor thinks you’re fine. I’m just supposed to recommend that you both take at least a two-day leave. Specifically, you, Captain Star. You’re lucky that thing only managed to bruise your ribs.”
Amia and Justin nodded and stood. “Thank you,” Justin said as they turned to leave.
“Shall we forego telling Dad that they said to take a two-day break?” he asked as they walked out of the clinic.
Amia shook her head. “Dad knows already, I’m sure.”
“What? Are we just staying home?”
“Well…” she trailed off in thought. “Honestly, I think I could use a day to clear my head.” She bit her lip. “What the hell was that? The middle of the day, on the practice field? It almost got the kids, Justin.” Her face twisted through a series of emotions and settled on a frustrated scowl.
The scowl was unsurprising, but her submission to two days off the patrol was unheard of. For the last five years they had worked together to protect Armaria from the vari-ous threats that lurked in the surrounding forest. Over that time, his sister had been dragged through the woods by a pack of wolves, pulled up a tree by a puma, tossed into a tree by a crier, and thrown out of a different tree by a different crier. She had screamed and flown into rages, she had sobbed uncontrollably, and cursed in excess of what was necessary.
She had not, however, taken a day off. He cautiously met his volatile little sister’s eyes, hoping she’d give him some in-sight into her feelings. She dropped her gaze, shrugged, and with a snort, strode out of the hospital. He followed at a dis-tance.
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