It was just before dawn. I thought I’ve beaten the sun. The motorcycle had barely enough fuel to get me back to the shack. Don’t know if I could’ve push it home, if ever it came to that.
Lili liked the sunrise.
Not the sunset, though. She usually went out on her routes when the sun was barely above the horizon the previous day. Riding into the west, the light stung her eyes.
She hid from the last rays of the sunset by zigzagging through the streets on her way too large motorcycle. She turned twelve last month — her legs just barely reached the footrests on the machine, and accelerating too long or too quickly made her wrists ache.
A gust of wind strong enough to turn her motorcycle over could trap her under it with no help to arrive. If it ran out of fuel in the wild, Old Teddy won’t be there to refill it from fuel barrels that weighed more empty than Lili and all her gear put together.
She risked much every evening, but it had to be done. And she managed to return every morning, just before dawn or just after.
She preferred the former. Every morning she stopped the motorcycle, letting it rest against the large tire that years before fell off a rare visiting truck and came to rest in front of their shack. Every morning she climbed up to their roof to watch the sunrise.
Today she climbed again, careful not to cut herself on the ragged, rusty edges of the twisted metal contraption they called a home. The panels were mostly aluminium, so they didn’t rust. But the rest…
Every shack in the village was held together by chaotic vines of steel and iron wires. The aluminium panels were framed and bridged with blackened wood that were in turn held together by nails often fifty or a hundred years old if they were one. The people who cast their lot here or found their luck shoving them to live in one of the shacks made the village into an organic body on its own. Whatever they were able to salvage from the flats without approaching the city too close and couldn’t trade for food they merged into the growing organism of metal and dead wood and rust and blind luck that kept it from falling apart.
When Lili reached the roof, she looked around. From up here, and to her small self, the village looked huge.
It sprawled over an area a mile on each side. It was what passed for civilization in the wild for hundreds of miles in either direction. Except the city of course, but from where Lili was standing, that place might as well didn’t exist.
She glanced at the dome, but then turned her head.
The sun rose a touch to the left, for a few fleeting moments masking the ominous presence of the city. The rich golden rays of early sunshine didn’t get blocked by the shadows of the skyscrapers lining the dome of the city in the distance. If anything, the dawn’s glow covered the curve of the dome like a warm, lovely syrup.
Lili stood looking out on the ocean of flat grey roofs of the village. Beyond the haphazard maze of buildings, lined with streets that organically grew between them like moss on the rare tree that still existed in the wild, the dry desert flats shimmered.
A few distant noises signaled the day starting in the village, but it was still calm and quiet enough. Everything promised a great sunrise about to happen.
A line of light finally broke and ran to left and right — the sun clearing the horizon. But no. Something was… wrong.
The light rose too quickly.
It usually took its time, gently reaching higher and higher, the round shape slowly climbing above the horizon.
But today the flow of golden syrup across the flats beyond the village ran. It wasn’t golden, either. More like fire, sharp and violent.
The scene made Lili sick to her stomach.
She didn’t know what was wrong, but something was. She took a step back and shook her head to get rid of the sudden strange feeling.
She heard screams from further away. From her vantage point she could see a handful of people, also paused in their morning routine to get a glimpse at the sunrise, frozen into their places.
She didn’t actually feel it, but it was like as if a huge push of wind raced across the flats, rampaged through the village, and almost pushed Lili off the roof.
But it wasn’t an actual sensation. Nothing really happened except everything got very quiet very fast. Then Lili finally realized what was different.
The sickening red light rose from behind the angry yellow and thrust toward the sky. Lili’s eyes darted upward as well, to the edge of the atmosphere and beyond, where sometimes, when it was clear, she could see the metallic reflections from one of the space stations.
The light rose further up. It morphed into a pillar of raging yellow and red and blue and all kinds of colors.
Lili saw it coming from behind, or inside, the dome of the city.
It filled the translucent half circle, danced at the edges barely visible but stopping just at the border where the blue sky met the darker shade of the dome, and then finally consumed the entire horizon and grew into the sky.
Much higher than any of the skyscrapers of the city. Much higher than even the dome itself.
Much, much later I learned it was an explosion.
A bomb never before seen in the history of mankind. And it destroyed the city. And the sky. And consumed the entirety of the land around that cursed dome. It stopped a few miles before the village, I was told. I was a lucky one, they said.
I’m not so sure about that last part.
Image by Rostyslav Zagornov.