Title: Unexpected Rain
Author: Jason LaPier
Publisher: HarperCollins (HarperVoyager)
Author: Jason LaPier
Publisher: HarperCollins (HarperVoyager)
Minutes later, the airlocks on the neighbourhood block are opened and the murderer is asphyxiated along with thirty-one innocent residents.
Jax, the lowly dome operator on duty at the time, is accused of mass homicide and faced with a mound of impossible evidence against him.
His only ally is Runstom, the rogue police officer charged with transporting him to a secure off-world facility. The pair must risk everything to prove Jax didn’t commit the atrocity and uncover the truth before they both wind up dead.
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Kane stepped out of the house, gently closing the door behind him. The operator had dialed up a gorgeous evening in the sub-dome block. Stars were out. The constellations were clear and familiar; Orion, the bears, and all that nonsense. There was a low, ambient light on the street, a bit red in color, but it didn’t come from the tiny, flickering flames of the decorative street lamps, nor did it cause enough light pollution to obscure the view of the Milky Way.
Of course, Kane knew the stars were all wrong. It wasn’t even night on the planet’s surface. When people started leaving Earth and building domes on any rock with the right gravity, orbiting a star within a few sleepy decades of the Sol system, they set them up with twenty-four-hour-day cycles, weather, mild seasons, and all the minor natural comforts and annoyances that Earthlings were used to.
In block 23-D of a sub-dome called Gretel, near the primary dome called Blue Haven, just off the equator of the fourth planet from Barnard’s Star, it was the middle of the night. All the residents were fast asleep, happy to comply with the artificial temporal configuration. Domers, in general, didn’t question much of anything; they took the life doled out to them by their authorities and passively accepted it – were even grateful for it.
Kane had been a maintenance guy since Monday, and so by walking the streets in the middle of the make-believe night, he didn’t set off any alarms for the operator on duty. The job was a joke. The actual cleaning and maintenance of domes and sub-domes was handled by small armies of scrub-bots. The dog-sized, multi-legged, mobile vacuum-slash-scouring brushes did all the work during designated sleeping hours, rotating from one block to the next. Kane was supposed to be keeping the little bastards running – that was the job – but the reality of it was that they didn’t need any help. During orientation, it was explained to him that once in a while, one of them might get some bit of debris jammed up inside a leg joint, at which point he’d have to run through a troubleshooting script that ended with a call to a technician. Most of the veteran maintenance staff skipped the first five steps of the script, because nine times out of ten, they’d have to just call a tech anyway.
When it came down to it, Kane’s job nearly in its entirety consisted of hitting a single button that started the scrub-bots’ cleaning routine. As he walked through the fake night, he thought about the faceless operator sitting in front of a console somewhere, tweaking the temperature and humidity. The job of a block operator was only slightly less menial than his own, and not much more difficult. A few more buttons and a few more routines. This went for most jobs in a dome; most people were just button pushers. In a dome, that was the only way to keep everyone employed. It was more or less an artificial economy. Some people liked to say that with today’s technology, the whole human race could be kept alive by a handful of engineers, and that everyone else could just kick back and relax. But people never could shake that sense of accomplishment that earning an actual paycheck gives them, the way that a bank statement justifies their lives and measures their worth. They just couldn’t bear to live without capitalism and a so-called free market, that arena where money can teeter-totter endlessly between producers and consumers.
Kane stopped walking. His instincts told him to take in his surroundings, to look, to listen, to smell. The perfect avenue he stood in the middle of was devoid of both life and refuse, and the ambient light lit every empty nook and corner. The only sounds he could hear were the whirring machinations of scrub-bots somewhere in the distance. The entire sub-dome was always clean, and smelled almost like nothing. When he took a deep breath, there was that hidden edge, that sugary, candy-like smell of artificial air. The kind of smell so distant that it caused him to sniff harder in an attempt to pin down its origins, which was, of course, a fruitless endeavor. He thought about the block’s operator watching a grid, the blip of some maintenance guy just pulsing in place on the street. He snorted and itched his nose, then started walking toward the garden once more.
Instead of monitoring a robotic cleaning crew, an operator monitored the Life Support system of a block and the residents in it. There were no cameras (no doubt to give domers a false sense of privacy), but the operator got to see a readout of the vital statistics of everyone in their block. At that moment, the readout of one of the resident’s vitals should be spiking. Kane quickly strode away from the avenue and headed diagonally across the block, aiming to cut through the central garden toward the exit.
Nightmares on any scale were unusual in domers, but not unheard of. The elevated blood-pressure and rate of respiration of a resident would likely be noted by the operator, but would not be an immediate cause for alarm. Kane wiped the blood from the long, spear-like prod used for unjamming scrub-bot legs with a cleaning rag and stuck the tool through a loop on his belt. He stuffed the rag into a waste receptacle on the street and it was sucked off into a network of tubes that snaked beneath the sub-dome and converged at an incinerator somewhere.
There had been a struggle, of course, but Kane was a professional and his target was over the hill. The actual kill was probably the easiest part of the entire job. It’d taken months for Kane to track the man down, hopping from planet to moon to dome. Digging deep to exhume any trace, any footprint, any contact the target had made and subsequently erased since his disappearance almost a year ago. Not that Kane was annoyed or frustrated by the difficulty of the hunt. If anything, he was invigorated by it. And all the sweeter when he discovered the target had come to the domes. That he had assured himself that all tracks were covered, that he was safe to hide in plain sight, to start a new life. To retire in a sub-dome. Dome life afforded a level of safety so extreme that Kane doubted any domers even knew what fear was, not truly.
But his target had known fear. It had registered on his face and in his pleas when Kane broke through the thin shell of dome security and sullied the perfect little domicile with his unwelcome presence. Kane had first silenced the begging and the attempts at negotiation by taking a small appliance from the kitchen and fracturing the jaw. Trapped, cornered, and seeing his fate, the target resisted as best he could, but Kane was faster, stronger, and sharper. His specialty was making weapons out of innocuous objects, and thus the sub-dome home was an armory.
He’d left the man beaten and broken in his living room after inflicting a deep wound in his abdomen with the cleaning tool, plunging through several vital organs. The target wouldn’t die right away, but he wouldn’t live through the night. Eventually his vitals would calm down as the internal bleeding caused him to lose consciousness and the operator on duty would assume the resident’s nightmare was over. By the time those vitals dropped to critical levels, he’d be beyond the point that emergency medical care could help him.
Kane reached the edge of the garden and heard an odd sound – that almost animal-like whining howl, the complaint of metal being forced to bend and flex in an unnatural way. A brisk breeze brushed his skin and caused the vegetables and flowers in front of him to lightly sway in their plots. He stopped and looked about, trying to identify the source of the sound. It seemed to be coming from every direction at once.
When it got louder, he realized it was coming from above. The breeze grew alarmingly strong and within seconds, the swaying plants were uprooted and swirling about in the wind. He snapped his head back and looked up toward the sound. A red ball of piercingly bright light tore open the night sky, washing out the nearby stars.
It was the light of Barnard’s Star, what the locals would call the Sun if they didn’t use artificial sunlight instead. It was the morning light.
There was a crack in the dome.
Kane had been in and out of space enough to know the dangers of explosive decompression, and he looked desperately around for something to grab. He took a few long strides toward a four-meter-tall air purifier node, a thin, metal-painted-white, tree-like structure protruding from the edge of the garden. His jumpsuit flapped against his limbs as if it were trying to strip itself away as he ran, arms outstretched.
He managed to grab a branch of the aluminum tree, but the hole in the sky continued to grow and the suck of the upward wind was too strong. With a rush, he was lifted off his feet and turned upside down, hanging helplessly from the metal branch, his body dancing in the air like a kite in a strong wind. The tree slowly bent its arms upward, allowing him to inch higher into the sky. He could see the seams of the air purifier coming apart in slow motion, and he desperately pulled at the branch that was his lifeline, putting one hand over the other, trying to reach the base of the tree.
He could barely hear the pop of the branch coming away from the trunk with the rush of wind in his ears, and then he was airborne, the thin aluminum stick still clutched in his hands.
Kane closed his eyes and let go of the branch, allowing himself to tumble in the wind while the bright morning sun showed red through his eyelids. It was pretty much like falling, except up instead of down.