Stories from Refuge – 68 – “That was the scariest moment of my life.”

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Refuge: an underground city built to save people from an apocalyptic world. But how will its people save themselves? Read the stories in any order, or start with the introduction at part 1.

Reconciliation Council report B-59, interview with K.M., recorded by Mary 80C
Refuge Year 100.10.16

I used to be a chemist. I worked in hydroponics, but when my son ran away I just couldn’t focus on the work anymore and I got fired. They gave me a job going Aboveground and scouting for new lithium fields, the kind of job you don’t talk about because if people find out you’re going up there, they don’t really want you living near them anymore. If people find out you’ve been working with Commanders leading collection teams of bots, even if they’re carrying barrels instead of a lot of weapons and they haven’t been programmed to hurt anyone, they think you’re one of them and they start spreading rumors about you.

For a while the irony really got to me. The only job I could get was working with machine-heads, the people I hated more than anything because I was convinced they’d killed my boy. It was about ten years ago that I got the job, right after that incident in the secret tunnel where the kids were killed. Never mind that my wife went to Medical to help identify bodies and said he wasn’t there. Never mind that she was called a few years later to I.D. a drug overdose and she was pretty sure that was actually him. I was sure he was killed by bots in that tunnel and I was ready to spend the rest of my life despising the job I was doing and who I was doing it with.

I never heard a description of the male Commander – they’re practically interchangeable under those helmets – but I did hear there was a female Commander. So one day I got dispatched Aboveground, to check out Playa 47-D and see how far it was from running dry, and I got assigned a female as an escort. She took off her helmet and that’s when I realized she was female. She was female and I was absolutely sure she was the one who commanded the bots that killed my son. Now I’d heard the description and heard that the female Commander in that incident had been short, and this woman was fairly tall, but it didn’t matter. She had red hair, too, I saw it when she took off her helmet, cropped really close the way they have to do it to get access to the port at the back of their heads, but with all that sunlight up there her head practically glowed with those bristles of red hair, and I just couldn’t see it. My son was dead and it was her fault – I was sure of it. I just had to get the rail gun out of her hands somehow and then I could give her what she deserved.

That was actually the scariest moment of my life. Not the day my son didn’t come home. Not the times my wife got called to Medical to look at bodies. Not the day I had to tell her I lost my job in hydroponics. It was when I imagined myself shooting this woman, or beating her with the barrel of her gun, imagining it in my hands and cracking her skull with it. It would have been easy and it would have made me happy and it was so close to being real.

©2017 Michelle M. Welch

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