Prompt: Babylon; a darker me
The explosion shook the cabin hard enough to wake Nielea. She shifted little Mymot off her chest and into her warm spot in the blankets. Lonic, too alert and wary for a boy so young, watched her, half out of bed. She motioned for him to stay and went to the door.
She checked through a knothole in the wood first, then opened the door to look out. Down the hill, one of the houses shimmered in a haze of flame and smoke. It threatened to take its neighbors with it, but anyone who might have put it out had other problems occupying them. A band of visitors lobbed bottle grenades at walls and confronted residents who attempted to flee or save their houses. A native dog charged into the fray, not so much coming to the aid of the residents as just baying for the blood of the visitors.
Over the PA system, the voice of the compound said, “Good morning and welcome to Babylon Recreation Center. Please enjoy your stay with us. Don’t forget this month’s special deal on–”
Nielea shut the door again. Lonic had come up behind her. “What’s happening?” He resisted when she pushed him back toward the bed. “I want to help this time!”
“No. Take Mym and hide in the cellar until I come back.” She pulled back the blankets of their shared makeshift bed. She scrabbled at the bare, uneven floorboards underneath and lifted up a rickety door hidden in them. The “cellar” consisted of nothing more than a bolt hole, a dug-out space in the earth under the floor. It had only ever been big enough for the children. By the time Nielea grew too large to fit in with Lonic and Mymot, she was the only one left to give the order to hide while someone else stood guard.
“But–” Lonic protested.
Nielea scooped up Mymot. The toddler grasped at her clothes. “Mama!”
“Shh, hush, baby. Take him, Lon,” she said. She didn’t have the heart to correct her youngest brother when he mistakenly called her mother. If it twisted her gut with unspeakable rage and grief, that was her problem.
“What are you going to do?” Lonic asked as he curled himself down into the cellar with Mymot sheltered in his arms. Nielea shut the door over them without answering and covered them with the blankets.
Nielea took her father’s gun from its spot by the door. He had built the improvised weapon himself–firearms weren’t allowed in the compound. Nielea had never seen a real gun. This one was a metal pipe salvaged from a destroyed home, fitted with a chamber for powder and shot. Without guns, there were also no bullets or powder, but visitors came in with grenades and those had powder. She used rocks and nails and any other hard little objects she could lay her hands on in place of bullets.
Nielea lit the slow feeder wick on the end of gun, pocketed a box of matches, and hung a bag of shot around her neck. Her sword came last – the gun took a long time to load and could only take out a few assailants. Then she would be forced into hand-to-hand. She didn’t look back at the boys as she went out the door, afraid they would, even in the dark cellar, sense her fear and reluctance, her desire to just lie down and pretend it wasn’t real.
Three houses burned now, but the visitors were too busy to enjoy it. A whole pack of native dogs harassed them. The visitors just played with them though. She could hear the laughter. The casual twist of a sword cut open a dog as it jumped and sent it sprawling to the ground. Nielea could not see any of her neighbors defending their homes. Way off in the distance, she could see the city proper of Babylon, where visitors, when disinclined to murder the condemned prisoners of the compound, could enjoy every other form of recreational brutality and vice.
The cabin might have been a miserable shack, but it had a good location. From its higher ground, she could see everything happening in the slight valley below. She had cover from trees and a large outcrop of rocks. She crouched behind these and set up her gun. Distance worked against her, so she loaded a single, largish rock, rather than smaller, easily dispersed shot. She adjusted for the breeze that helped to spread the fire toward town. When the trigger lit the powder, the gun went off with an earsplitting boom. Nielea popped up over the rocks to check what damage she had done.
One of the visitors was clutching his shoulder and howling in pain. Nielea smiled grimly. None of them ever expected to really get hurt, no matter what liability waivers they had to sign before starting a session in the compound. They did not think the game was so much fun when someone started really fighting back. The residents could defend themselves, of course, but everyone understood that the odds were stacked against them. What chance did improvised weapons wielded by underfed prisoners have against rich monsters equipped with well-maintained weapons and armor?
Nielea reloaded while the visitors tried to figure out who attacked them and from where. Unfortunately, the gunshot had scattered the dogs, so she had the visitors’ undivided attention. She wouldn’t get more than two more shots in before they charged up the hill. She had to take out at least one of them. Otherwise, she would be too badly outnumbered. If she didn’t take them out, she would not be the only one who died that day–whatever Lonic thought, he was not ready for provide for himself and Mymot without her. Nielea aimed and waited for the right moment, two bad shots away from death.