Prompt: quarterage; domed hometown
Gevi waited as one door of the airlock closed and the next one opened. As soon as she stepped into the dome, she ripped off her face mask and took her first breath of clean air in far too long. That lung-full of green, fresh air was good enough to die for. It left her lightheaded in a very different way than the face mask did. When she did not have to suck every breath against the resistant air filters, breathing made her feel like she would just float away. Still, her work was not done for the day. She stashed the mask in her bag and drove the sputtering wagon up the dirt road between fields.
She had been gone long enough for the newly planted summer crops to sprout. Row after row of tiny leaves peeked out of the rich earth. She had hated to abandon them while they were so vulnerable but the spring harvest–berries and peas and frost lettuce–had been too delicate to wait any longer. With Gevi off to market, her father had to tend the fields alone.
Stopping the wagon alongside the house, Gevi found he had not been as alone as she thought. A man, rifle at his shoulder, walked the space between the house and the barn. He had not yet seen Gevi. Quietly, she took her own rifle from the rack on the wagon. He heard the noise of her loading it, though. By the time she had her gun aimed, he did as well.
“You’d best get off my land, stranger,” Gevi said.
The man yapped back, “Stand down, in the name of the Army of the United Free Territories.”
Gevi realized the man’s dusty and worn clothes were a uniform. “I’ll not have some mealy-mouthed–”
“Gevi, no!” Her father limped out toward her from the back door. Another soldier followed him. Gevi wondered if they had him as some kind of hostage.
Gevi kept the soldier in her sight and he did the same. “Papa, what’s going on?”
“It’s all right, just put the gun down, please.” The second soldier, standing next to her father, nodded. The first one lowered his gun. It made Gevi look like the aggressor and in her own home, no less. With a hiss, Gevi gave in and unloaded her rifle. She could see her father deflate as the tension left him. “Come inside. I’ll explain.”
Gevi grabbed her bag, but purposefully did not replace the rifle in its rack. Inside, she was dismayed to see bedrolls spread on the floor. The kitchen looked like it had been ransacked, pots and pans dirty, supplies left scattered in nearly empty containers. “What is this? Papa, are they living here?”
Her father sank into a chair at the table. He rubbed his palm across his aching knee. “Just for a little while. They got caught in a vapor storm and lost their way.”
“So draw them a map and send them on their way.”
The soldier cleared his throat and Gevi flashed him a glare. “Some of my men were injured and need time to recuperate. I assure you, we will adequately compensate you for your kindness.”
“Gevi, we owe hospitality to all those who traverse the wastes.”
“They’re not our people. We don’t owe them anything.”
“As citizens of the Free Territories,” the soldier said with infuriating confidence, “you actually do. Any household must offer quarterage to troops in need and troops must provide reasonable compensation.”
Gevi launched herself at him. The soldier tried to dodge her and seemed genuinely surprised when she still ended up with a fistful of his shirt in her hands. “Where were you?” Gevi shouted. “Where were you when the Vapor came? Where were you when the neighbors died? Where were you when they started changing, out in the wastes? Where were you when we raised the dome? Where are you now when we face death, or worse, just to go to market? Here, eating what little we have. What do I owe you?”
“Gevi, enough.” Her father’s voice boomed with the last of his once-great strength. “I will offer my home to any in need.”
With those two words–my home–Gevi was put back in her place, reminded that however much work she did to sustain the farm, it was not hers to keep. Only hers to lose. She released the soldier’s uniform as if it had burned her. She took up her bag again, but shoved the rifle over to her father. Defend it yourself then, if you can, was her silent challenge. She left the house for the wagon and the solitude of work.