By Hugh Howey
The helmet came last handled with obvious care. The tech had her hold it while he adjusted the metal ring collar around her neck. She looked down at her reflection in the visor, her eyes hollow and so much older than she remembered yet so much younger than she felt. Finally, the helmet went on, the room dimmer through the dark glass. The tech reminded her of the argon blast, of the fires that would follow. She would have to get out quickly or die a far worse death inside.
He left her to consider this. The yellow door behind her clanged shut; its wheel spun on the inside as if by a ghost.
Juliette wondered if she should simply stay and succumb to the flames, not give this spiritual awakening a chance to persuade her. What would they say in Mechanical when that tale spiraled its way through the silo? Some would be proud of her obstinacy, she knew. Some would be horrified at her having gone out that way, in a bone-charring inferno. A few might even think she’d not been brave enough to take the first step out the door, that she’d wasted the chance to see the outside with her own eyes.
Her suit crinkled as the argon was pumped into the room, creating enough pressure to temporarily hold the outside toxins at bay. She found herself shuffling toward the door, almost against her will. When it cracked, the plastic sheeting in the room flattened itself against every pipe, against the low-jutting bench, and she knew the end had come. The doors before her parted, the silo splitting like the skin of a pea, giving her a view of the outside through a haze of condensing steam.
One boot slid through that crack, followed by another. And Juliette moved out into the world, dead set on leaving it on her own terms, seeing it for the first time with her own eyes even through this limited portal, this roughly eight-inch-by-two-inch sheet of glass, she suddenly realized.
The helmet came last… Illustration by Megan Jorgensen