Chapter 1: Brothers
The Silver City cast a growing shadow over the desert. Soon the city lights would turn on, and the dome would sleep. Hano put his hand to the glass, unsure if it was still there.
"I told you not to do that," Sabo told Hano. "They know when people touch it."
"Then they can come and stop me," Hano said. He watched his older brother out of the corner of his eye. Sabo was just paranoid with the Exchange coming up soon. He didn't want anything getting in the way. Hano took his hand from the glass, leaving a heated imprint that thinned and disappeared.
They sat on the stone dome wall, protected from the toxic air outside by a thick glass dome that arched over their heads and the farmland within. Their world existed solely within these walls, waiting for their day to ride to the Silver City. The wind kicked up dust and sand in the desert between the dome and the city.
Rot Rovers patrolled the land in random patterns, warding off rot, scanning fruitlessly for life in a dry sea of fractured death. They roamed in heavy rectangles with shiny roofs and bright white eyes. The rovers were gentle beasts, the closest thing the farmers knew to animals, though they knew there were Silver Citizens within guiding their endless journey. The only life the rovers ever found was that of their own species, humming by, avoiding each other’s gaze.
"Are you nervous?" Hano said. He glanced at his older brother, who stared solemnly at the looming city.
"I've been looking forward to this my whole life. Why would I be nervous?"
Hano knew he was. Who wouldn’t be? The city rose over them like a tall silent parent. It was easily twenty times as tall as the dome itself, rising up to touch the sky and mixing with the stars at night.
There was no telling if the lights that popped on at night were the eyes of the Silver Citizens, along with those who moved from the dome to the city like their older brothers Ton and Lo. Hano felt their eyes on him every day and night and felt their judgment weigh down on his every move. He looked away and tried to catch sight of the first stars.
“We have more than enough, Han. You counted the bags yourself, along with all the other bags from the other farms. Unless you’re telling me you miscounted?” Sabo said.
Hano raised his eyebrows and stared out into the desert.
"Hey!” Sabo said. He put a tight grip on Hano’s shoulder and turned him. “You gave me your word that you counted the other bags”
Hano eased his worried face into a smirk and winked at his older brother. Sabo shoved him away and shook his head. Hano rolled back on the top of the wall a safe distance from the edge and the farmland below and curled up in laughter.
"Yeah. That's hilarious,” Sabo said. He wrapped his heavy arms around his knees and looked back to the city. “It might be funny to you, but you’re not going to the city this year."
Hano's heaved a laugh and slowed his breath to calm down.
"Relax, Sab. You might not be going either,” Hano said.
"They couldn't keep me here."
“They can do whatever they want. They could take everything we have and leave us here to die.”
“I don’t like it when you talk like that.”
“You know it’s true.”
“It’s not true, Hano. They need us. They need the Exchange. Who would farm?”
“Like farming is that hard.”
Sabo sunk inside his thoughts. He did this every year before the Exchange, but especially this year because he was twenty, and it was his turn to take the ride. Next year would be Hano’s, if he decided he wanted to go at all.
He liked to think he had a choice, that he could just sabotage the farm and stay in the dome forever. The Exchange only took the leadership from the top producing farms with the idea being to bring balance and stability to each of the five crops: wheat (Hano’s and Sabo’s farm), corn, potatoes, quinoa, and beans. Sometimes Hano felt like he was the only one in the entire dome that didn’t want to go find his fortune in the Silver City.
“Why do we need them?” Hano said.
Sabo shook his head and turned away.
Hano dropped it, though he still felt the itch to get his point across. He knew the city provided the water and air that kept the farmers alive, but as the rains fell on his dome and the rovers roamed aimlessly outside, he couldn’t help but wonder why the farmers couldn’t figure it out on their own. He turned from his brooding thoughts, deciding it was better to enjoy these last days with Sabo instead of bickering over something they couldn’t solve.
“I want to fix it,” Sabo said, breaking the silence. “The air. The land. I want us all to go outside again like in the Old-World videos. We shouldn’t be trapped in here, scared of the world around us.”
“Everyone wants to fix it, Sabo. What makes you think you’ll be the one that figures it out.”
Sabo turned to Hano with his serious face. “You saw how I ran the farm. And Len’s farm too. I know I can do it.”
“Producing a few more bags of wheat and quinoa is a little different than giving a dead planet a heartbeat.”
“We can grow it all in here. We can grow it all out there too. There’s a way.”
Hano shook his head and looked at the top levels of the city. He didn’t like to be the pessimist, but sometimes Sabo thought he was the answer to everyone’s problems. The lights shined brighter as the sun tucked itself beneath the horizon. The city, a dotted cylinder that shot straight to the sky, spun softly within a prison of black pillars that shined like the roof on the rot rovers. Day and night it spun, always at the same speed, lulling the mind into a daze that would put those who watched to sleep if they watched long enough. For Hano, it calmed his flared emotions and brought him back to a center.
“I hope you do fix it,” Hano said. “I’d rather be outside than trapped in that giant shaft for the rest of my life.”
Sabo laughed in such a way that only a person bursting with tension cracks, smiles, and laughs through his nose.
“You can’t deny that’s what it is,” Hano said. “All its missing is the balls, which is probably why they haven’t figured anything out yet. No balls.”
This time Sabo belted forward deep belly laughs that echoed off the glass and over the dome. He fell onto his back and held his stomach.
“Though I can’t imagine Sabo balls would be much of a help.”
Sabo heaved out the tension until he couldn’t breathe. Hano joined in, the laughter was too contagious not to. The sun blinked out over the horizon, giving permission to the stars to fight off the fading blue sky and mingle with the distant white dots of the swirling city. The moment was bittersweet. Sabo would be gone in a couple days and that contagious laugh would go with him. It’d only be for a year or so though. Then Hano would take the ride to the city, though he couldn’t picture that day in his mind.
Between them, the rope that allowed them to climb from the farmland to the top of the encompassing dome wall wiggled frantically. Hano saw it first and waited until the laughter ran its course, then shook Sabo on the shoulder. He knew who it was without even looking down from the wall. Sabo rolled onto his stomach and looked down to the farmland.
Len had become increasingly clingy these last few weeks, stealing the time Hano got to spend with Sabo. But Hano knew it was Sabo who was the clingy one.
“Come up,” Sabo shouted down.
Hano rolled his eyes and turned his head away.
“No, come up…Yeah, it’s just me and Hano. You should see… Alright, fine. I’ll be down in a minute.” Sabo turned to Hano. “Sorry buddy, I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”
“Yeah, fine. Go see your girlfriend. I’ll see you in the morning,” Hano said.
Sabo smiled and shinnied down the rope. The rope shifted side to side, taut with his weight.
Hano watched them go, disappearing together in the nearby tall corn field, maybe the only spot in the entire dome they could have privacy, including from the eyes above. His eyes wandered from the corn stalks over the rest of the farmland.
The dome was quiet tonight. The air vents hummed with a soft pitch that made Hano crave his bed—the spinning city lights had already pushed the craving further. He could see the lights still on inside the house he shared with Sabo and his two younger brothers, Jo and Kip. They used the freedom to stay up, probably telling each other ghost stories, just as Hano and Sabo had done when they were younger. Hano wasn’t ready to break that up just yet.
A silhouette moved past his house. It ran for the shed where the surplus of wheat bags was stored. Sabo’s ticket to the Silver City.
No, Hano thought. He threw his head to where Sabo dashed through the corn fields with Len. No time. Hano threw himself off the top of the wall, barely remembering to catch the rope as he did so. He took one last look to find the silhouette before dropping to the ground but saw no further movement.
Hano ran as fast as he could to the shed. From the wall, the dome looked small. He could see every house of each village and every crop in the dome. On the ground, it was a different story. Hano sprinted onto the path between the neighboring wheat and corn fields. He couldn’t trust his feet at night to run through the peaks and troughs of the already harvested wheat field to get to the shed. He turned the corner at the end of the path and ran straight for the shed.
There was no one. Not even a dark image running off to the distance. He must be inside, Hano thought.
Hano went to press the combination for the door, but the door was cracked open. He felt his heart thump deep in his chest. Sweat warmed on his forehead.
Hano put a steady hand on the door’s handle and threw it open. The outside stars swarmed their light inside, illuminating the white grain bags. They were organized as he left him in the late afternoon. He gave them a quick count, occasionally flashing a look over his shoulder. He could feel someone’s presence. Like the ephemeral ghost of recent footsteps.
The bags were all accounted for. No thievery. Hano turned to scan the horizon. Still no one.
But the door, Hano thought. I’m sure I closed it. He felt a moment of doubt that it hadn’t shut properly. The silhouette he saw might have been his night eyes still adjusting. No, that was real. There was another person sneaking around at night.
Hano gave the bags another count in the weak starlight then shut the door. He pulled on the handle and it resisted. If he was right in knowing that he locked the door earlier in the day, it meant someone else besides himself and Sabo knew the code. He would’ve seen Hano from the wall and decided to wait.
And so would Hano. He placed his back at the crease between doors. If one restless night of sleep meant Sabo still took the ride to the city, Hano was ready to pay that price. He rolled his head to look at his house.
The light still flickered inside. He could see Jo, walking around with a sheet on his head, and Kip laughing from the upper bunk. Hano frowned. He would miss his little brothers when he left, just as Hano missed his older brothers, Ton and Lo when they went to the Silver City. He barely remembered them anymore. 10 years is a long time for someone to be gone, and with the Exchange taking the oldest and replacing them with babies, it was hard to hang on to those memories. Jo walked back and forth a few more times waving his arms in the air. He threw the sheet off and went to the window. Hano smiled. They’ll be OK, Hano thought. He closed his eyes and rest his head against the cold shed door. Sabo and I were.