I stand outside the ruins of my old home; I wanted to see what was left. The world has changed, the sky was a forever gray. As if someone grew tired of looking at her and put her in a tin can. I can’t help but feel the warm ground with my fingers. The soil falls from my hand quickly, as it starts to burn my glove. My respirator amplifies each breath, echoing how alone this new world is. I have been researching and working with Raisin for the past month. We have been collecting as many data as we could on how this world was destroyed, stripped of everything that made her beautiful.
I sit on his couch, sipping slightly on some water, reading over news articles naming the possible solutions for killing the skies. “We have the resources, they don’t let us prosper on their ashes!” One citizen is quoted. The article continues in this tone. I’m interrupted by Sky jumping on the couch, she wanted to show me a drawing of a dinosaur that she did. I tell her it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. She tells me I can keep it; I ask her if she’s sure. She informs me she has a pile of them anyways. I thank her and pocket the picture. I move to the next article from the Guardian, it mimics the tone of the last and the one before that. Just an overwhelming amount of discourse between these rivaling factions that not too far back were speaking of peace.
It confused me sometimes, why Raisin still lived in this wasteland. So much so, I questioned him about it. He’d made different jokes each time, about not wanting to leave the view or something of the sorts. Till one evening after countless hours of reading, we decide to take a break from our research and enjoy a 35-year-old bourbon. We sat and sipped, resting from the long day. He makes a joke about not having any teams to follow in this time. I laugh and ask him why he has stayed here and not gone to another timeline where the world isn’t dead. He gives me a stoned face “I guess you really haven’t figured it out yet have you?” he asks. “Figure out what?” With I’m sure was a dumb and tired looking face. “That this is our home; this is why we spend these long days and nights. So I can save our home.” It made perfect sense really. It can be something humbling once we are able to call something home, a safe place where we can rest our heads and thoughts. It can be one of the hardest things to give up.
A few days passed since Raisin’s and my discussion about why he stayed. We have been running on fumes, trying to figure out how to stop the killing of the skies. That’s when we discovered a small article that would be the start of the rabbit hole. It was printed in a Chinese-English newspaper, about a paragraph long, mentioning a new fleet of “super crop dusters” as the article explained. They were being housed at the abandon Capital International Airport in Beijing. We got our second wind after that was found. We searched databases for aerial photos of the airport. Spent hours or maybe days translating useless articles from other Chinese papers. It was going nowhere, till it was decided we might as well go look for ourselves. I start to suit up for the possible radiation exposure; Raisin starts to do the same when I stop him with my uncovered hand. I argue with him about needing to stay here with Sky. He throws a fit about not being able to go out, but he takes off his suit while he does this. He helps me tape my gloves, knocks me on the head and wishes me luck. He vanishes in front of me when I hit my device.
I made a detour and ended up in front of my house, as explained it was in ruin. I stood there for awhile dusted off my gloves and hit my device once more.
I stick out like a sore thumb, a bright yellow sore thumb. “Beijing was too large of a city not to nuke”, I recall reading in one of the many articles in the last month. Click, click, click, click, goes the Geiger counter attached to my chest. I find my way to a small hanger used mainly for parts. I hide behind this trying to get a scoop on the surroundings. There were military trucks circling the airport, with their high beams on. I didn’t see any aircraft that would be usable, on this side of the airport. I get the bearings and use my device to move me right next to the main terminal. The dragon-like building was in much need of repair; broken windows, large cracks in its steel skeleton. I use its lack of maintenance and enter the dragon through what must have been a service staircase. It was stripped bare for the most part, there was debris here and there but getting to the other side wasn’t hard. My Geiger counter stopped clicking, but I kept my suit on. I reached a half broken window when I saw them, maybe fifty or so large planes, similar in size to Spruce Goose, just modern enough that their wings folded to the back. They didn’t appear to be loaded with any weapons what so ever, one would have thought they were commercial planes; that is without the giant PLA logos on their sides. I figured just seeing some oversized planes was not really evidence, I mean world war three was happening. I spotted some large tanks off in the distance, which looked too new to be part of this airport. I hit my device and stop right in front of the tanks. I should have taken a better look. It was crawling with soldiers. There’s a simple rule to this quick changing world. If something is there that shouldn’t be, remove it with force. That’s exactly what they tried to do, the bullets pinged off the steel tanks while I tried to run and dial my device back to Raisin’s. One must have hit a weak part of the tank in front of me. It bulged then burst to let out a thick black vapor, not sure if my suit would make it through unharmed I closed my eyes tight. In such if I kept them open I would have probably seen the soldier with the butt of his rifle waiting for me on the other side.
I awoke tied to a small chair in a poorly lit room, I move the loose molar with my tongue, I played with it for awhile till the door opened. A tall skinny man enters the room with a uniform that looks to be an officer of sorts but prepped for exposure. He asked me who I worked for in English, I laugh and tell him nothing. He gives me one or two hits across the face, I curse at him in Russian. He pauses, fixes his suit and leaves the room. Not sure if I got myself in more trouble, I began to screw with my bindings. While fiddling with them I hear clicking then a knock on the door, I freeze in place. I almost had the urge to whistle my innocence. Raisin’s voice comes softly from the door calling my name. I whisper back “present”. Raisin appears seconds later behind me, His Geiger counter clicks twice and he switches it off. He cuts the ropes that held me. I turn around and give him a hug. “Believe you dropped these.” He said with my belonging in his palms of his gloves. I pocket what I could and we dial back to his house.
I played with the loose molar some more and it finally released from its gummy bonds. My body isn’t really cut out for this kind of adventure. I tell him of the vapor that I ran into, how it looks like we found the right spot. It was evident that we would need to strike these tanks to limit what China could do. I suggested just opening whatever pressure valves these tanks have; Raisin had more of a direct plan. He’s really proving himself to be a man of many tricks. He proposed we just blow the tanks completely “It will be 1000x faster if do it this way!” He said this with childlike enthusiasm. I disagree with his numbers, but cave that it would garner the simplest results. With joy, Raisin said he had to grab some items from his “weapons cache” and set off outside. I got a glass of ice and laid on his couch cooling my wounds.
I was awoken by Sky singing ashes to ashes, though it didn’t sound like she knew all the word, cute none-the-less. Every part of my body ached. I made a mental note to get more exercise when this was all done. Raisin was sitting at his desk soldering; I limped over to see what he was doing. He had 8 circuit boards sitting on his desk and one in his hand where he carefully put the beads of lead on. He wiped some sweat from his brow and looked up at me with a smile. “Pretty aren’t they?” he asks the smile sticking on his face like it was solder there. “Indeed, when will they be ready?” I ask while I pick one up to examine it myself. Raisin takes it from my hand quickly; I didn’t notice I was shaking. Raisin holds my head with both of his hands so I am looking him right into his eyes. “Hey bloke, you alright?” I nod that I am, the room started to sway back and forth. I probably could have played the trajectory better: I vomited onto Raisin desk, on the circuit boards. Things turned black and I heard Raisin curse.
You daft fool got some radiation poisoning you did.” I come back enough to hear Raisin say this and feel a slight prick on my neck.
I woke-up in Raisins bed, pouring sweat from every pore. My head was killing me, blood was the only thing I could taste when I drank from the glass of water on the nightstand. Raisin came in the room and helped me place the glass back down. He pulls the chair from the corner closer to the bed. “How much?” I ask him. “I’m guessing about 2Gy, but it’s hard to determine. Do you know how long you were without your suit?” He asks with concern showing on his face. “No idea, a couple hours I guess.” I say while feeling the dried blood under my nose. “Well, I pumped you with enough Neumune that you should be fine in a couple days.” He takes the glass sitting on the night stand walks to the door and tells me to get some more sleep. I have dreams of black smoke.
It’s been three weeks since I returned from China, I was feeling much better. Raisin had cleaned up or replaced the ruined circuit boards and had all the gear ready for our trip. In a just in case effort we both took a dose of Potassium Iodide in the event we lose our masks for a brief time to give us an added protection. Raisin puts Sky to bed gives her a kiss and a goodbye. We tape each gloves shut. Raisin tapes his pistol to his side, with an excessive amount of tape. We set the dials on our devices and set off.
We arrive at a hanger about 50 yards south of the tanks, in or around midnight. The moon was full but slight overcast dimmed her a bit. I unpack the equipment from my pack and hand four of the explosives to Raisin. We watch the guard patrol closely, looks as if they did a poor job patching the tanks as some of the black vapor was leaking out. We take note of the timing gaps between the guard movements and plan our approach to the tanks. “Once the first perimeter guard passes the fourth tank we should have enough time to get to the middle of the tanks, at that point, it will just be stick and run.” Raisin said with a sergeant like a tone to his voice. I nod in agreement. We stand and wait for the first guard. The guard makes his way to the fourth tank, I began to sprint forward when Raisin dropped and grabbed my leg. I fell to the ground and feel my Geiger counter break under my weight. I roll over and looked Raisin in his ghost like mask. He pointed down range toward the first tank. There stood what looked to be a dog, but not quite. Its silhouette was wrong; its back was too humped. It ran after the guard that passed the other tank moments ago. Out of our sight, we heard a scream and several shots. I army crawled back to where Raisin was sitting. We watched as a jeep came into view then disappeared behind the tanks. “Bloody radiated rats, vicious little fuckers.” Raisin whispers. The idea sounded silly to me, but yet I checked behind us every few seconds. The jeep headed back to the airport, its lights vanished between the monstrous planes. We sat and watched the tanks some more, it appeared that they didn’t replace the injured guard with an able body. Raisin counted to three and we set off. The suits sort of made the sound of corduroy rubbing together as we ran. We reached the tanks and placed the explosives as quickly as we could. I met with Raisin in the middle of the eight tanks, we ran back the way we came. Though we went a bit further than the first hanger we set up base at. We were about 500 yards away hiding inside a vacant skydiving office when we blew the explosives.
There was a small flash of light but it was quickly eaten by darkness, if it wasn’t for the shock wave I would have thought they were all duds. As if my vomit did permanent damage Raisin wasn’t aware of. We stood in front of the broken windows as small pieces fall from the top of the frames. The sky is swallowed by the dark vapor, sirens cry. Raisin and I bumped into each other trying to get a better look. His Geiger counter clicked twice while mine remained forever silent. I can barely make Raisin out when he yells it’s time for us to go. His dark frame disappears. I take one more look at the sky that’s no longer there and hit my device.
We arrived in his living room only seconds after we left. Raisin runs for the door and bursts outside. I followed him; I can’t say it was what I was expecting to see. The land was still mostly a wasteland, but that didn’t seem to be what Raisin cared for. He was on his knees staring up at the sky. I walked up next to him and looked up as well. Stars, stars, stars, and more stars. “Isn’t this the prettiest thing you’ve ever did see?” Raisin asks with a voice that had tears in it. “The prettiest.” I say. “The prettiest.”
They have said one thousand times over: be it on welcome mats, postcards and letters to loves one “Home is where the heart is.”