She tensed as she heard the sound of a stone skidding across the dusty ground. She looked around wildly, in time to see a second miss her by a few centimetres, and a moment later a third connect with her shoulder. Now certain she was being hunted, the girl turned to run, only to feel her stomach turn to ice at the sight of an eight foot wall.
She cursed herself for being so stupid as to break the cardinal rule of life in Earth’s cities: No matter how hungry, or how desperate, you were, you never strayed anywhere that only had one way out.
Not if you valued your life.
In a panic, she stooped to pick up a few stones, squinted, then hefted it into the sunlight that her attacker had cleverly situated himself in.
There was thud, and a cry, and a couple of seconds later, a boy emerged, hands held up before him.
“All right, all right!” he called.
The girl relaxed, and glared at him. “What do you want?”
“I wanted to show you something.”
She raised her arm, ready to throw the other stone. “You come near me, and I’ll kill you.”
“Relax!” he said, “You’ll thank me forever when you see it.”
She face softened, but she didn’t lower her arm. “I don’t believe you.”
“Please. Look, have you got anything better to do?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she began sarcastically, “find food, shelter…”
“I can give you both of those,”
“A stick to pound you with.” she continued.
“Please, if you’re not happy, you can pound me then, I promise.”
She frowned, looking up at the sky above, which was beginning to darken, making the small, darting lights of the fighter ships above them seem even more numerous. “Fine,” she said, dropping the stone, “but if this is a trick, I’ll make sure you never walk again.”
“Well,” he said, “What do you think?”
“Did you do all this?”
“I told you, I found it. It’s been deserted for a while I think, the owner must have managed to get on one of the last of the launches.”
The bunker was equipped with tinned food and blankets, a heavy duty lock on the already sturdy door. “How many keys are there for this?” she asked.
“Just the one,” he said. “I found it under a floor board upstairs.”
She moved away room the door and sat down on the bed. It was a little hard, but much better than the cold concrete she’d had to make do with since someone stole her last hideyhole.
“Why are you giving it to me?” she asked
His face fell, “I’m not giving it to you. I’m inviting you to share it with me. Wait! Just the bunker, not the bed!”
She scowled at him. “But still, why me?”
He shrugged, “I like you.”
“You threw stones at me!”
Sorry, It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “You’re a strange one.”
He heard her sobbing, and was waiting for her as she stumbled down the staircase. In all the time they had been sharing the basement, enduring several months of uneasy truce, he had never seen her show any signs of weakness. No sorrow for what she had lost, no fear for the future, or even at the fact they were some of last people left living on Earth, rather than orbiting around it.
This made the sight of her almost collapsing down the stairs, blood running down her face, bruises forming on her wrists and her already faded clothes hanging off her in rags all the more shocking
She looked at him with an expression of such helplessness and pain that all he could do was reach forward and pull her into a tight embrace.
“I want to go upstairs,” she said quietly.
The boy looked up at her from the book he was looking at it. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she said, more firmly now. “Today.”
“It’s dark out,” he said, but he struggled to conceal the excitement in his voice.
“I know,” she said, “Please. I need to.”
He didn’t say, ‘But it’s not safe‘. He didn’t say, ‘But you’ve not left this room in over a year and a half‘, He just smiled, and walked over to where she was standing, and held out an arm for her to take hold of.
They made their way up the stairs; slowly at first, but more naturally as she began to regain her confidence. “I’d forgotten what it looked like,” she said, smiling broadly as she looked around the room. “Can we go up to the balcony?”
He hesitated for a moment, then nodded. They made their way up, and made themselves comfortable on the metal floor of the balcony, looking up at the sky. “Was it always this big?” she asked in awe.
“Yes,” he said with a laughed, “But I think there are more fighters up there tonight,” he added thoughtfully.
She shrugged and turned to smile at him. He smiled back, then something caught their eyes and they turned to look up at the night’s sky. Something had exploded into a bright ball of fire, raining down snakes of light towards the earth.
“I wonder who’s winning.” he said.
“I don’t even know who’s fighting, or what for,” she said.
He thought, then began to laugh. “Me neither.” he said.
She looked at him for a moment before joining in. They sat, laughing in the light of the explosion until they subsided into silence.
He turned to look at her, and saw she was staring at her.
“What?” he asked.
“Thank you,” she repeated, leaning forward and gently kissing him.