In the storm

The dark ribbon of the ancient road faded into obscurity just past the far edge of the collection of toppled ruins. The purple haze of twilight, along with the gritty cloud of the gathering dust storm made it seem the whole world ended just there.

Celia pushed the filter mask back onto her weather-scarred face, locking the goggles to the mouthpiece with a solid-sounding click. Her ankle-length leather coat clapped against the back of her legs as she marched to the nearest shelter, a concrete wall only partially collapsed. It had patches in it, where some hopeful engineer had tried to reinforce the crumbling structure. The thin woman smirked and shook her head. In the early days, people thought their old lives and the old ways could be salvaged. They all learned better, though, it just took some a little longer than others.

The scavenger shook off her backpack and withdrew a black, two-foot-long tube from inside. She unscrewed the cap and tapped out the contents: six ring-topped bolts, each about eight inches long, a folded and rolled sheet of clear material, and a round metal device with several switches.

Celia carefully placed the bolts and activator under her backpack, then unrolled the thick, clear plastiform. She quickly shook it out to its full size, six feet by twelve. Then she reached under the black canvas bag for the bolts. She bolted the plastiform to the concrete wall, about three feet high, with two of the pins, then bolted the trailing end of the clear sheet to the ground, about four feet away. The last two bolts pinned the covering to the wall, just at the base, where the ancient building met the hard, parched ground.

Satisfied with her work, Celia reached under her bag once again, retrieving the circular activator. Touching each bolt in turn with the activator, the savvy scavenger turned the plastiform from a sheet of flapping nothing to a nearly impenetrable dome. The electro-carbon nanites infused in the plastic kept the dome stiff, solid, and unbreakable.

Smiling to herself, Celia settled to the ground to wait out the storm. The prize she was searching for was here, she was sure, and no one else knew about it. Comfortable in her shelter, she opened her pack once more, this time pulling out a bottle of lukewarm water and two tins of some mystery meal she’d picked up on her last resupply run.

The shadow that crossed above her dome startled Celia. She didn’t know which was worse, that it was human-shaped, or that it preceded the roar of the dust storm by a mere six seconds.

The timing of its appearance was worst, she decided, when the storm was over. But only because it was one of a multitude that covered her plastiform dome.

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