“Burn If You Dare” by K. E. Farkash

Ashes swirled above the peaks, and pushed by winds older than time, poured over the cliffs of Arizona’s Mogollon Rim and Mount Baldy. Tempests gathered at the feet of both mountains. Commanded by flurries, two thunderstorms formed, intensified, and unfolded southward, shrouding the lowland skies in cloaks of iron-colored vapor. The churning storms collided above the Fort Apache Reservation in an explosion of balled lightning. The supercell, engorged with sky fire, funneled downward to wound the desert clay. Like a spiteful painter, it dragged and marred its way across the canvas with a heavy brush. At one hundred feet wide, the fire tornado arced from land to sky, plucking up wildlife and tearing seedlings out at the root.

It set them all aflame.

* * *

Fearful beasts scurried into pipelines, which hung large over the sides of the trench’s rim. Their openings were as big as semi-truck grills, fronting clusters of metallic vines, slithering backward, far and away, as if rooted at the horizon.
The creaky 2047 Jeep Cherokee raced through the ravine. An array of solar panels covered its body, affixed by nail and twine. Wires snaked from behind the ill-fitted slats and fed into a motor box near the trunk. The newborn slid into the world over the backseat, little torso vibrating from a howl more substantial than the frame. Grease-like vernix smeared the threadbare fabric with the thrusts of liberated arms and legs.

She pulled the umbilical cord taut between her thumbs, slippery, and jelly-filled. Baring her teeth, the new mother gnawed at their connective tissue. Wearily, she laid her baby between sweated breasts. “You came early. I knew you would.” She dabbed at the blood and birth with an unbuttoned flannel, “You’re beautiful.”
He winked into the rear cam’s thin band, which stretched across the windshield’s top, “So’s her Mama.”
She forced a chuckle.
“Now we know. It’s a chica,” he mused. “What’s her name?”
“Something to remind her of now, how we feel.” Her eyes caressed the infant’s contours, “Love? Hope?”
“An emotion? I’ll name our next kid.”
“Our next?” She raised a drowsy eyebrow, “You know the rules. One per man.”
“From now on,” he punched the gas, “we make the rules.”

Lifted by a gust from the Jeep’s open windows, a curl of her raven-black hair touched her smiling lips. They cut through the gorge, headlong toward a twinkling photovoltaic roof in the distance, which peeked out from under the desert floor. A hologram rotated above, branding the retail health-clinic with a circled letter “K” atop a caduceus. She kissed her baby’s forehead. “See? I’ll always take care of you.”

The cab lit up with a flash of light, then a glare. He white-knuckled the steering wheel, “Hold on!”
Slim, her Father’s nickname for the Medical-Class robot, ever since he stole it from the scrapheap, sat in the passenger seat. Headless, spindly, and long, with a communications panel across its chest, the six-foot-tall machine was designed as a companion for nurses. Retrofitted and exposed to the elements, the robot’s once white shell now dented and browned.

She nested her babe between Slim and the console, “Director override. New patient.”

Slim’s ragged gears twirled as it hunched over the child. Its arm ratcheted back. With an open hand-clamp and a downward thrust, it pierced the cab’s interior, flanking the babe within its prongs. Slim’s grip compressed. The console and seat crushed together, buttressing the little one, held safe by way of metaled guardian.

While pulling away, her fingertips glided against her baby’s cheek. “Record,” she demanded. A red LED lit above Slim’s panel. She turned to see a cresting wave of flame, rolling forward, flooding the gorge behind them. Her fists clenched in defiance.

The tornado’s crosswind overtook the Jeep. Wildfire blasted through the back-window, spewing glass like buckshot. The stench of sulfured meat and the shriek of a newborn overtook his senses. With a silent scream, he hurled his fist into the dashboard.

The fire tornado’s next blow upended the Jeep and tore the passenger door off at the hinge. Slim gripped the roof. The casing of its rodded limb welded to the vehicle’s body. They dropped slantwise to a dusted stop near the clinic’s entrance — tires blown, undercarriage snapped, and smoldering. Slim tore itself off its melted appendage, emerging from the wreck on two legs. Sonic stethoscopes extended from its groin, weightless, drifting with the breeze, sensing life from within the Jeep. Three heart-rhythm tracings lined Slim’s panel. Two were active. In the hazy cab, the silhouette of a father with child surfaced. Cradled in his arms, he touched her to cool the burns with the last ointment packet, “I love you.” Her eyes opened for the first time. Peering into his, she gripped his finger. They held each other.
Slim leaned into the cab.

“Not yet.” He tugged at his wedding ring; tendons stretched unwilling to let go. The band slid down his daughter’s tiny thumb as he offered her up. Slim balanced the babe in its expanded clamp, stowing her efficiently within its abdominal compartment. The enclosure dimmed as the door closed.
She cried out from the darkness.

“Furia —,” blood oozed from his chest; heart impaled with shrapnel, “her name is Furia.” He reached back to stroke a tuft of his dead lover’s hair. “Now, go.”

An antiquated entry code flashed over Slim’s panel. The clinic’s entombed door unbolted and raised. Later, within the hospital, the elderly tilted their skulls toward the burst of sound. The explosion on the tarmac reminded most of darker days.

* * *

Mankind wrought nature’s rebellion. Depravity, greed, and pride in ignorance rushed the mutation of Earth’s climate. The planet fought back. Humans lost the war.

In Arizona, the ruin raged over the generations. Since the arrival of the drought-stricken age, during the monsoon season, with its peak in mid-October, the southwestern United States Territories were barren, crust blasted smooth by wind on fire. Severe drought and longer days enriched the chaos. Nearly all blamed the influx of bovine farms, mandated after The Great Southwestern Blackout, which quieted public 3D food printers. Or, the plumes of filth belched skyward by the androidic workforce ever toiling within The Grand Canyon Mines.

Most fled the deserts long ago. Extreme weather patterns, heat to freeze in days, which baffled the seasons and wilted flora green to brown, drove them out — by way of fatality or transport. Those too stubborn to evacuate burrowed underground and steadied themselves against the wrath of a new nature. Similar to a bejeweled graveyard, cocooned by dirt and shale, their buried homes pocked the landscape with the gleam of solar-paneled rooves.

Furia’s parents were Sonoran Desert kinfolk. Educated, rugged, self-reliant, the community preferred its independence. Most had the tips of their ears and noses missing, replaced with jagged scars; gouged pits from self-removed sun cancers, like rodent bites left in cheese. Death more common than children. Electrical power unreliable. Water scarce. Those who survived made their claim in rock and signed title with blood.

And so, notched into the stone basin near the northernmost foot of the Superstition Mountains, the words at their outpost’s entrance read, “HELL ON EARTH.”

The fire tornado, a current of erect lava, glided toward their town. The ash of long-dead cities haloed its base. Again, they secured their puny water wells and gear and plunged themselves into hole homes along with their wild pets.
All doors slid shut, save one.

* * *

Buried eight-feet-deep, the one-bedroom dwelling stirred with the winds of an impending storm. Inside were a bed, a chair, several book-heavy shelves, and a table with a small monitor off to the side. A lifetime of liquid-pen strokes overlapped and covered the room’s concrete walls, floor, and ceiling. Some scrawls were childlike, faded, with stick figures surfing enflamed landscapes. The freshest, molecular structures and a girl in shimmering garb, were repeated often, each sketch different than the last.

Slim stood at the far end. Its glassed panel ran footage of a ragtag Jeep and its doomed passengers. Furia, a nineteen-year-old student Climatologist Mechanical Engineer at Allied Collegiate Consortium (ACC), the youngest in her class, leaned forward, a palm resting on Slim’s shoulder. At nose length, part of her daily ritual, she watched each frame intently. Her chin quivered. The cogs in Slim’s elbow stuttered with each caress of her back.

Professor Tyson appeared on the table’s display. Past a century of age, biomechanical enhancement allowed for his life’s extension. His flesh was sunken, dry as parchment paper, wrapped ad hoc over cybernetics. A map of the Milky Way Galaxy hung behind him with a pale blue dot at its center, Earth. “Please,” he pled, “listen to me.”

Furia looked toward her open door, raised a pointed chin, and gawked with irises as dark as her pupils. The twists of her lengthy, black hair drifted in the airborne static, ends sparking with the graze of her skin. She held up her hand against the hot breeze, “No.”
The Professor’s tone hardened. “Don’t do this. Use an Android. I’ll have an intern grab one from surplus. Just say the —”
“I know what I’m doing,” Furia said. “This is the only way.” She waved her hand at the aft wall. The closet door slid open. “I’m not afraid.”
The Professor leaned in, “You should be.”
“Not if I’m right.”
“Pretending this is about climate is an insult to us both. Revenge, and not a Ph.D., that’s what I see here.” He rapped his desk with metallic fingers, “You can’t bring them back.”

“I needed the grant money. The research spaces. The resources. If ACC wants to give me a doctorate, I don’t care.”
His eyes spun downward, oily within their titanium sockets, “I know.”

She lifted the closet’s only item off its rack, tenderly. The leathered thermodynamic wetsuit sparkled as if dusted with silver. A floor-mounted generator beneath it, with a small crank spinning at its side, stirred outlawed ethanol within a gas can. Tubes twisted their way upward from its spout, coiled around the suit’s legs, and led into a set of vats.
“Right. I didn’t see that.” The Professor grinned, “You know, with all your years of R&D here in the labs, well, I assumed you saw the lockers.”

Furia dunked a chipped teacup into the can. She took the shot in one gulp, eyes sliding back to her past, flickering across Slim’s chest.
“Come on. I just said I’d let you store contraband on campus…” The Professor sighed, “You’re blowing me off, aren’t you?”
“No. I’m ignoring you, strategically.” Furia kissed her robot, “Don’t forget Slim.”
“Of course not.”
She ended their transmission with a flick of her wrist.

* * *

Furia undressed. Her bronzed flesh laid bare, a patchwork of smooth and scar. A rounded firefighter’s crest inked the inside of her left wrist. The helmet at its center overlaid a set of crossed axes, “Fire Rescue – Hell on Earth – 666 Battalion” wrapped the edge. Vertically, under her right forearm, her creed tattooed in calligraphy, “Burn If You Dare.”

She unplugged her creation and slipped into it. Skintight, the aerodynamic sheath swooped into a fin at the small of her back. Its embedded pipes forked at her sternum. The first duct rounded her torso and fed mini rockets affixed to her shoulder blades. The other split to crisscross her body and led to small tanks, one with liquid hydrogen, and the additional with oxygen snugged at the nape of her neck. A sensor-loaded belt curled around her waist along with gripped soles at her feet and flaps at the ankles. Her gloved hands held pushbuttons, both with smiley faces painted on them in nail polish. She rolled the unruly swirls of her hair into a bun and pulled a hood of flexible polycarbonate over her head. The suit booted with a rush of cold air.

Furia examined her small room, took a deep breath, and strutted through the doorway.

* * *

It was high noon.

Furia stepped in front of the tornado, outstretched her arms and legs, and curled her toes in the earthen powder. Cackling at the horror, with tears crusting her cheeks, she imagined its flames were contorted faces, the wailing dead — Mom and Dad — calling to her. Her hands raised with extended middle fingers, hips seesawing, “Remember me?” She narrowed her eyes, “You murdered my parents. I couldn’t stop you. But I can now,” Furia punched the button in her hand, “you fucking abomination.”

The rocket ignited, curling her spine backward with forward momentum, legs, and arms fluttering behind her. She pulled herself into a ball, smiling face up and burrowed through the vortex’s outer ring. The backdraft thrust her into the tornado’s gut. Magma slid over her, dense and fuming. With metamaterials engaged, the heat-immune suit adjusted its rudder and ankle flaps. Balanced, afloat, she backstroked her way upward through the cylinder of liquid fire. The cyclone’s gullet above her, open, a hole in the sky.

Furia smacked the button at her chest. An array of rectangular lids popped off her belt. Antennas jutted from shallow compartments, straight as cactus needles, detecting, and recording. She grimaced, “My science is vengeance.”
A crack, minor at first, snapped her gold-plated visor. Overloaded instruments squealed as the flaw widened. Like fisted knuckles, waves of heat beat upon her technology, smashing it into exposure. Precious gasses escaped. Weightless and on fire, she hallucinated, briefly losing consciousness. Eyelids as heavy as the pressures that encircled her, Furia was held close, like a babe embraced by a parent. The whisper, seemingly born from the depts of her fiery cauldron, wafted into her headspace, “I love you.” Her eyes popped open. She slammed her fist into her palm, and the secondary rocket ignited. Above, the tornado licked the heavens with burning tongues.
Furia became a glistening fireball shot through the heart of God.

* * *

Aflame in midair, the tornadic storm beneath her feet, Furia began her descent. At this height, she saw the breadth of Climate Modification Station Southwest. Seagulls nested upon the ocean-sprayed corners of large, inert structures. When fueled, rotors twirled blades as tall as skyscrapers, and thousands of miles of conduit fed canyons and gorges with the gush of fresh water. Like blood flooding a lustful organ, the southwest would guzzle the melted remnants of

Antarctic glaciers to live again.

Bunched along New California’s coastline, blue and white flags fluttered above an array of wind turbines with a logo painted on their housings. Circular, in two-tone blue, with a white bird at the center and four letters above it, “IOAA,” with text rounding its border, “International Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Department of Terrestrial Commerce.” Pipes grew from the sides of motored buildings before plunging into the ocean. They surfaced near the San Diego Islands, sprawled over Lakeside Beach, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, just past the edges of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.

Southwestern terraforming yearned for solar plasma, the ultimate power source for a depleted planet. Although wind turbines supplied enough wattage to open doors and boot computers, the backend pressures to clean and deliver desalinated seawater throughout a full scope of pipeline were absent. Furia saw the need and the answer. Donning her suit, astronauts would pierce the Sun’s photosphere to dive beneath its neon waves, capture voltaic star fire, and bring it home.

* * *

Professor Tyson spotted her contrail after Slim pointed it out, “There you are.” He shot his flare gun, and that spark rose up from Hell on Earth. Furia tugged at the parachute’s suspension lines, primed herself to cushion the fall, but landed hard anyway. Grimy and sore, she had missed her mark by miles. Not that it mattered. She battled the fiercest weather on Earth, blasted out, and found herself alive. Supported by her evidence, broadcast live-stream, the suit was ready, and with that, her nemesis was all but dead.

The Chevrolet Silverado, a dusty spot on the horizon, barreled toward her. Furia opened the backdoor moments later. Inside, Bob Dylan crooned his “Subterranean Homesick Blues” via cassette deck and two small speakers. “Well done,” the Professor said. The timeworn alloy in his brow shined with sunlight. “You’re a hero.”
“You’re late,” she said with a grin, “and, by the way, I’m no hero. I’m a Climatologist.”

His neck squeaked with the nod.

From outside, Slim pried open the truck’s cargo bed window and extended its arm into the cab. Furia’s backpack dangled from the clamp. She patted her robot, wiggled out of her suit, and into a pair of jeans and a black tee-shirt; the words “Earth Anarchist” stretched over her chest. Damped with sweat, she slid into beaded sandals and climbed onto the passenger seat. “Really,” Furia asked while turning the knob, “crank windows?”
“Even in the age of swift refinement, we can appreciate that which works.”
They shared a laugh.

Furia leaned out of the window to look back at her fire tornado, dipping past the horizon. Its diminished hue caressed her face as day gave way to dusk. She twirled her Father’s wedding ring, wrapped around her thumb. Soon, the Moon would cast its afterglow over the Sonoran expanse.

The truck rumbled toward ACC’s School of Geographical Sciences and Mechanical Engineering’s underground labs, nested within miles of retrofitted utility tunnels, sprawling beneath the cities of Tempe, Ahwatukee, and Maricopa. Arizona’s temperature would hit a hundred degrees at its lowest point.

Furia flicked the thermometer above her head, still red-hot with mercury. It hung from the cab’s remaining visor. “This is my next fix, but worldwide. It’s the only way,” she said flatly.

The truck slowed to a stop. “What? Global temperature? But you’ve never tested the suit for subzero —?”
“Come on, Professor, you’re not afraid of a little weather.” Furia flashed a wry smile, “Are you?”

THE END

 

K. E. Farkash holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a career in Information Security. Due to their early studies, concentrating on character animation, their desire to tell stories never subsided. Since then, Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, and Imagination and the Climate Futures Initiative, as well as the e-zine Literally Stories, have published their fiction and non-fiction works.

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