Chapter 1: Brothers
Hano pulled his hand from the dome’s inner surface, leaving a heated imprint that thinned and disappeared. The Silver City came back into focus, sprouting from the fractured desert like a lighthouse on a dead sea. A perfect silver cylinder, touching clouds during the day and blending with the stars at night. The sun dipped towards the horizon behind the city, casting out a long shadow that reached across the desert towards the dome.
"I told you not to do that," Karo said. "They know when people touch it."
"Then they can come and stop me," Hano replied.
Hano stood next to Karo, his older brother, at the top of the lookout inside the dome. They made it a nightly ritual for the past week, buttering up Cota, the wheat farms Elder, to look the other way.
"Are you nervous?" Hano said. He glanced at his older brother, who stared solemnly at the looming Silver City. Lights inside windows started to become visible as the night reclaimed the sky.
"I've been looking forward to this my whole life. Why would I be nervous?"
Hano knew he was. Who wouldn’t be? It was every farmer’s destiny to take the ride to the Silver City. Life appeared to be a lot better if you believed what you saw in the Harvest video. Hano did not. The video depicted a distorted version of the dome, so he didn’t believe what it said of the city either.
“You think Ton and Lo are still in there?” Hano said, resuming his gaze on the city. He still felt a twist in his gut when he thought about them. They said they would contact them from the city, but after ten years Hano still waited.
Hano watched a rot rover rumble over the desert as he waited for Karo to respond. The rectangle box on wheels combed the surface for life as it drove into the cities shadow, heading towards one of the other domes rising from the thirsty land in the distance. He could see just the top of that distant bubble, revealing itself only during sunsets. If he waited, he would see another dome, further than the closer neighbor, reflecting the last of the sun’s rays. He wondered if those farmers stared back at him, just as he wondered if anyone from the city watched him or cared if he touched the dome’s transparent shell. When he went to the city, he knew he would feel compelled to look in on his younger brothers. Nostalgia already had its tendrils wrapped around his mind.
“You counted the bags again?” Karo said, changing the subject.
Hano continued to watch the rover and raised his eyebrows but didn’t answer.
"Hey!” Karo said. He put a tight grip on Hano’s shoulder and turned him. “You gave me your word.”
Hano smirked and winked at his older brother. Karo released his grip and pushed him away.
"Yeah. That's hilarious,” Karo said. He wrapped his heavy arms around his knees and looked back to the city. “Great time for a joke."
Hano looked down to Karo and laughed. "Relax, they’ll have more than enough after we go.” He had counted, albeit lazily, but it didn’t really matter. They hit their quota months ago. It was the other bags Karo worried about. The ones they hid from Cota. They hid them under their house, the same house their younger brothers Jo and Kip would grow up in after they left, just as Ton and Lo had done ten years before.
“Plus,” Hano added. “If they did find the bags, we might get to stay in the dome.”
"They couldn't keep me here,” Karo said with a grunt.
“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. They need us. They need the Harvest. Who would farm?”
“They have the other domes. They don’t need us.”
Karo went silent. He did this every year before the Harvest, but he was extra tense this year. So far, everything was routine, as it had been since they arrived in the dome together. Kaz would arrive at noon the next day and count the bags. They would all have to watch the Harvest video, the lies about the farm, and the message from Harn. The Elders from each farm would order their respective farmers to place the harvest bags in the glass transport, and the two oldest farmers would travel with the bags to the city for the rest of their lives. The only difference this time was it was Karo’s and Hano’s turn to go. And they wouldn’t see Kaz return from the city with the replacement newborns. The event happened in exactly that order every year for twenty years. But there was something else Hano couldn’t pin.
“We shouldn’t be trapped in here or in the city, scared of the world around us,” Karo said, breaking the silence. “The air. The land. I want to fix it. I want to make it like it was in the Harvest video.”
Responsibility, Hano thought. He put the weight of the world on his shoulders without anyone asking him to. “Everyone wants to fix it. Every farmer that goes to that stupid city. What makes you any different?”
Karo gave a nod to the farmland behind them. “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 to the top levels of the city. He didn’t like to be the pessimist, but sometimes Karo thought he was the answer to everyone’s problems. He’d helped Len—Karo’s girlfriend and the second oldest for the quinoa farm—turn the quinoa farm from the worst producing to the best producing farm in the dome over the last year. Other farms took notice and followed suit and so far, the whole dome was on par to break harvest records. It all had boosted Karo’s ego to insane proportions.
“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.”
Karo’s tension cracked with a smile.
“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.”
Karo buckled forward. His laughs echoed off the glass and through the dome.
“Though I can’t imagine Karo balls would be much of a help.”
Karo laughed harder, resorting to dry heaves. Hano joined in—the laughter was too contagious not to.
As the laughter ran its course, Hano felt a slight shake in the scaffolding that held up the small lookout. He looked down and found yellow hair bobbing as it climbed the ladder. Seconds later, Len popped her head up over the top level.
“What’s so funny?” she said with a smirk. She wore her blonde hair in a ponytail that fell over one shoulder. The only person in the dome with blonde hair. She was also the most full-figured of all the girls, matching Karo’s bulk. She captured both Hano and Karo’s attention as they all grew up together. Karo moved in first right after Jo and Kip moved into the brother’s house, and they had been together since. Hano knew the real story though. Len moved in on Karo long before he even realized what was happening.
“We were talking about the city,” Hano said, “and how Karo is going to solve the world’s problems.”
Len climbed up and joined them, taking a seat in between Karo and Hano. “You’re right, that is funny,” she said. “Because he can hardly farm. That’s why he gets everyone else to do it for him.”
“Hey now,” Karo said. “This isn’t tear down Karo day. You both should be a little nicer to me the day before we all go to the city. I’ll be telling you both what to do in there too.”
Hano laughed. “You forget Ton and Lo are in there. They won’t listen to a word you say.”
Karo smirked. “We’ll see.”
“Right,” Len said. “We’ll finally see you do some work.” She scooted herself closer to Karo and kissed him on the cheek. He looked at her and smiled, then let his eyes travel up to Hano.
Hano gave a small nod and walked towards the ladder. “Just a little more work to do before our lives of luxury can begin,” he said. “But don’t worry. It’s a one-man job. Important wheat farm business. I’m sure you both understand.”
“Don’t let us keep you,” Karo said with a wink.
Hano took one last look at the Silver City and made his way down the series of ladders and flat sheet metal landings to the farmland.
When Hano touched the hard dirt floor, he instantly wished he could climb back up. He’d almost forgot that it wasn’t just Len and Karo who wanted an intimate night. This was the night before the Harvest, and that meant superstition was at its yearly peak.
Emerging from the homes that huddled in the center of the dome, couples and groups snuck off over the farmland searching for a secluded spot. It was a ritual that went back as far as Hano could remember. The wide berths of farmland were vacant of crops. The land tilled and ready for the next round of seeds, and for the farmers to bless the land with their bodies. The superstition went that with a little help from the farmers, the ground would become fertile and thrive. The more people that visited the farmland that night, the more crops you would have for the next Harvest. Hano knew it didn’t actually make a difference, but as he grew up, he found himself wanting more and more to take part in the ritual.
Hano grumbled and turned to walk down the path between the corn farm and the wheat farm. The smell was what bothered him most. He used to love the smell of fresh dirt. It filled the air with possibility. Now it only reminded him of corn’s third oldest farmer, Kan. She found him on the lookout the night before last year’s Harvest and brought him down to the farmland. He never told Karo that she led him to the corn farm that night, and Hano was relieved when Wheat overproduced anyway. On and off for the next year he met Kan at the same spot, ducking into the large corn stalks in the middle of the night. It was all set for one more miraculous night before the Harvest, but it wouldn’t happen this year. Kan called it off just one month before.
It broke Hano. Her reasoning was she couldn’t bear to see him go. That is was unfair to Hano to have to wait, and unfair to her as well. He saw the truth in it, but it didn’t make it hurt less. The weeks lessened the pain, but with the Harvest on the horizon, he felt the wound deepen. The sounds of those in the farmland around him didn’t help. He walked faster and tried to think of something else. He made for his house, where Jo and Kip would probably still be up.
From the perimeter of the dome, he could just barely make out the lights still on inside his house. Theirs was the first of five along the wheat-corn path that led to the center of the dome. He saw a figure stumble across a window with a sheet over his head. Telling each other ghost stories, Hano thought, remembering when he and Karo were their age. He wasn’t ready to break that up just yet. Maybe if he could just find Kan, he could—
A silhouette ran from his house. It ran down the wheat-corn path heading for the center of the dome.
No, Hano thought. He looked back to where Karo and Len sat on the lookout tower. They weren’t visible from the ground, and he would have to shout to get their attention. He turned instead and ran.
A shout would alert the Elders and bring down Karo and Len, but more importantly, he would lose the silhouette.
The farmland passed by unnoticed. He focused entirely on the shaded person up ahead. Definitely a farmer with the white shirt and brown trousers. The Elders wore tight single piece outfits from the city, plus they couldn’t run nearly as fast. As Hano neared his home the person ahead reached the center of the dome five houses up and turned the corner out of sight.
Hano skidded to a stop at his house, trying to slow his breathing so he wasn’t so loud. He scanned the houses around him and the spaces in between. The house directly across from them, belonging to the third and fourth oldest wheat farmers, Vo and Win, was dark and quiet. Most of the houses would be. The elder members of each family would be out in the fields, leaving the younger generations inside, but the figure Hano saw was not a child. There was someone near his age that skulked about in the darkness. And no one to witnesses but himself.
Hano went to the false metal panel at the side of his house. It looked exactly as he left it before joining Karo at the lookout. The bolts were secure. The panel looked the same as the ones next to it. He gave another look around him and undid the bolts.
The light from above shown down through the cracks from the house showing the same ten plump bags that Hano counted before. He undid the end of the nearest one and some of the grains poured out into his hand. Untainted, fresh grains harvested only a few days ago. He sighed and tied the bag. As he finished a loud sound like metal banging against metal made him jump back and fall onto his back. It sounded again as he spun his head to find the source, and he realized it was one of his little brothers stomping inside the house.
He let himself fall back onto the ground and watched the stars emerge from the night sky. The bags were all accounted for. No thievery. No sign anything had changed, but doubt slipped into his mind.
Maybe he hadn’t shut it properly. Maybe the silhouette he saw was his night eyes still adjusting. No, he thought back, seeing the person again in his mind’s eye. There was another person.
Hano sat up and gave the bags another count before replacing the false panel. He bolted the panel in and then sat with his back to the house.
Inside he heard mumbled words and a feigned deep voice followed by laughter. He would miss them when he went to the Silver City, just as he still missed Ton and Lo. It would be hard for them for the first couple of months, Hano knew, but in time, Jo and Kip would adapt, and they would have two new brothers to look after. Cota would look after the newborns that replaced Hano and Karo after the first four years or so, and then they would be Jo’s and Kip’s responsibility. A moment later, the house lights went off and Hano smiled. They’ll be OK, he thought. He closed his eyes and rest his head against the cold metal house. Karo and I were.