At the last second, and for only a second, Eres saw the corner of Doved’s mouth turn up, to what amounted to the smallest shit-eating grin. She began to reach out. She may have even managed to get the ‘n’ sound out from the ‘no’ she was trying to scream. And then Doved’s hand slammed hard on the button, hard enough to break something, and the Eisen Tear began around them.
Whatever good feelings she had developed over the years about Eisen Tears were erased in three seconds. All that mental preparation the nerds down in the Health Department were always going on about wasn’t just bunk after all. As the world around her broke down into atoms and darkness, the threads of reality unraveling in front of her in ways she could follow with her eyes, she felt her sanity try to do the same and finally understood why the helmets they usually wore came with a blinder. The threads unraveled in every direction, eating away at the floor beneath her. Falling or floating? Both? Neither? Who knew? Not her. Whatever she had known was unraveling. She was sure if she looked down at her hands, she’d see her fingers unspooling into the static and nothing.
Physical reality snapped back into place, and then she was without a doubt falling. They had been on the second floor of the Constabulary, but wherever they had been sent didn’t have a second floor or even a Constabulary. Her training took over and she went limp, hitting the ground and rolling. At least they hadn’t been up in Roshen’s office.
Dirt flew everywhere and got into her mouth and nose. On her second roll she hit something sizeable at just the right angle and all the breath was knocked out of her. The world flipped around her a few more times, and then she was lying flat, staring up at a sharply blue sky.
“Corter?” she heard Mack call.
“Ten-Ten,” Corter called back, although he didn’t sound it.
Her lungs were still stunned, so she raised her arm with a thumbs up. From behind her she heard the scratchy sounds of Corter and Mack slowly getting to their feet. Eres stayed on the ground, waiting for her lungs to decide to work again and watching the blue sky as though it might reach down and suck her back up. Then Corter and Mack were blocking her view with their faces and hands reached out.
“That was a hell of a thing,” she got out as they pulled her to standing.
“Have you ever done that without a helmet before?” Mack asked.
“No one has,” Corter said. “Eggheads always said that was a bad idea.”
“They were right,” Eres said. The other two didn’t argue.
They should have been standing in the middle of the Constabulary lobby. If not the lobby, they should have been standing in the middle of Grace. And if not Grace, they should have been standing in the middle of a wide expanse of green grass and tropical forest and the song of birds.
They were not. It looked like they were standing in the middle of death. Dead planet, anyway. There was no grass, only dirt and dust and the occasional dried out bush. There were no forests, not even the occasional tree. Jagged mountains poked at the sky listlessly. Heat dropped from the sun below and then just soaked in around them, not a single breeze to push anything around. Silence smothered them.
“How far did he send us?” Eres asked, looking around. When she didn’t get an answer she snapped around. Corter and Mack were slack jawed, looking like she had. “Corter. How far did he send us?”
Corter shook his head and lifted his wrist, working the tap screen.
“Location…well, it doesn’t even have a town listed.”
Mack huffed. “He sent us to a dead world.”
“No, I don’t think so. No town name, but it says ‘Nevada, United States.’”
“The fuck is that?”
“Knock off the suspense shit, Corter. What’s the number?”
Corter took a breath. Not a good a breath. Not a relieved, ‘we’re in the double or perhaps low triple digits’ breath. Eres didn’t like that breath.
“Nine hundred and fifty-six thousand, six hundred and two.”
Eres felt the world slipping away again. Breaking off into thousands of tiny strands, eating at the dirt and the sky and the sun. At the last possible second she realized she wasn’t in another Tear. She was just slowly passing out. She dropped into a low squat, hugging her knees and forcing the blood into her brain. There was barely any time to feel embarrassed for looking so weak in front of her men before she realized that Corter had sat down hard next to her and Mack had wandered a few feet away to upchuck everything he had ever eaten.
“I’ve never been this far out,” Corter said.
Mack spit, still bent and leaning on his knees. “Has anybody?”
No. No one had. That was the answer and they all knew it. They’d all been through the same training, and the training had made that very clear. None of them wanted to speak it aloud, though, so they just continued to sit or squat or bend in hot, dusty silence.
A sound came from the edge of Eres hearing, and she turned as quick as she could without making herself dizzy. Something was moving. Far away. Big. Boxy. Shiny at the front. It kind of looked like a transport, if you squinted at it. Guess this number wasn’t totally dead after all. Eres followed it with her eyes until it passed behind something else. Square and squat. Definitely not natural.
“Building,” she grunted. She twisted as she stood, trying to keep her eyes on it. It was so small, so far, if she lost it she might not find it again. The others whipped their heads up, following her gaze.
“That little thing?” Corter said, pointing at it. “There should be a city here.”
“There isn’t. And whatever that is might be the only thing that keeps us from dying from exposure.”
“What’s it matter?” Mack asked. “We can’t get back. We’re going to die on this number, might as well make it quick.”
“You don’t know that. We have to get back.”
“Doved,” Corter said. “He’s still there. He’ll fight for us.”
Eres swallowed, her throat already dry enough to make a click. “No. He won’t. Doved betrayed us.”