SHATTERED ROADS The Skyfire Saga Book 1
by Alice Henderson
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopian
In a future laid waste by environmental catastrophe, one woman in a shielded megacity discovers a secret hidden within—and the nightmare of what lies beyond.
Her designation is H124—a menial worker in a city safeguarded against the devastating storms of the outer world. In a community where consumerism has dulled the senses, where apathy is the norm and education is a thing of the past, H124 has one job: remove the bodies of citizens when they pass away in their living pods.
Then one night, H124’s routine leads her into the underground ruins of an ancient university. Buried within it is a prescient alarm set up generations ago: an extinction-level asteroid is hurtling toward Earth.
When her warning is seen as an attempt to topple the government with her knowledge of science, H124 is hunted—and sent fleeing for her life beyond the shield of her walled metropolis. In a weather-ravaged unknown, her only hope lies with the Rovers, the most dangerous faction on Earth. For they have continued to learn. And they have survived to help avert a terrifying threat: the end of the world is near.
H124 waited outside the door, closing her eyes and concentrating on the theta wave receiver by the door lock. She mentally sent the message “unlock,” and the door hissed open. Quietly she stepped inside with her gear, then stopped as she heard noise coming from the main room. Someone still lived in this pod. Her employers had told her that the only way to access the corpse was through the neighboring pod. Weird, but she didn’t ask questions. Maybe the deceased’s lock was broken. Still, she’d never been inside someone’s place while they still occupied it, and she felt uncomfortable, a stranger in someone’s home.
She crept into the main room. Her instructions told her they’d created a hole in the wall there. A light flickered on the wall as she moved forward. Not wanting to disturb the occupant, she stepped lightly in her work boots. She knew she’d get in trouble if she interrupted him. She stepped around the corner and saw him, seated before his display, his button pad shimmering in midair just below his hands. The light from his display hovered in the air before him.
She knew about these display setups and button pads that most people were equipped with. But she’d only been in these living pods to clean out the previous tenants after they’d passed on, so she’d never seen the equipment turned on before.
Just ahead, she could see the ragged, dark hole in the wall, but her eyes returned to the floating display.
She’d never seen anything so beautiful. She knew she wasn’t supposed to, but she stopped before stepping through the hole. Unable to help herself, she stared at the display. Six windows filled the screen, and the man’s eyes darted from one to the other. Both hands fluttered over the button pad, fingers pressing down in such a rapid sequence, she didn’t know how he could possibly make sense of what he was doing. In one window he controlled an image of a little man who moved through different rooms of a building, pulling levers and pressing buttons on walls. In another flashed a sequence of unintelligible numbers. Another window held an animated avatar of someone else, a woman, with text flying across the screen just beneath her face. Every few seconds, his hands would stream over the buttons and more text would fly by. A group of people talked in yet another window, sitting around a table chattering about someone named Phil, and how they couldn’t believe that he had opted for the small swimming pool when he could have had the bigger one. Along the bottom of the screen scrolled more text: THIS YEAR’S MOST IMPORTANT DECISION! Pick the right candidate! Vote wisely! Watch the candidates’ videos! Yes! Vote for your favorite reality TV star in this all-important election to determine which show will be renewed!
In yet another window a little graph fluctuated up and down, beeping out sounds every now and then. Whenever it beeped, the man entered text in the window, pressing some more buttons until it stopped beeping. His eyes never left the display, and his fingers never stopped working at the keypad. It fascinated her that he could attend to so many things at once. What was he even doing in each of the windows? She had no idea.
He stood up suddenly, and she leaped back into the shadows. He walked to his wall slot as a delivery drone clattered in the vent and came through. The display followed in front of the man, while his fingers kept typing away. The drone hovered briefly, laid down the man’s new food tray with the food cubes, then took away his empty tray from earlier that day. It buzzed and vanished back into the vents. Rapidly the man reached out, grabbed the squares, and shoved them into his mouth. Then he returned to his seat, his attention on the display not once faltering.
Her face burning, H124 realized she’d been standing there far too long. If her employers found out, she’d be ticketed. Or worse. They could assign her even more extra duties. She was lucky the man hadn’t noticed her. She stepped forward quietly and reached the hole in the wall. Without a sound, she stepped through it into the dead man’s apartment.
Alice Henderson is a writer of fiction, comics, and video game material. She was selected to attend Launchpad, a NASA-funded writing workshop aimed at bringing accurate science to fiction. Her love of wild places inspired her novel Voracious, which pits a lone hiker against a shapeshifting creature in the wilderness of Glacier National Park. Her novel Fresh Meat is set in the world of the hit TV series Supernatural. She also wrote the Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels Night Terrors and Portal Through Time. She has written short stories for numerous anthologies including Body Horror, Werewolves & Shapeshifters, and Mystery Date. While working at LucasArts, she wrote material for several Star Wars video games, including Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds and Star Wars: Battle for Naboo. She holds an interdisciplinary master's degree in folklore and geography, and is a wildlife researcher and rehabilitator. Her novel Portal Through Time won the Scribe Award for Best Novel.