Hope

Standard

Someone had graffitied the nameplate. Garish, pink scrawl so the sign now read NO HOPE HERE. Looking at it, thought Static, it was pretty accurate. She gave the wheel on the large, iron door an appraising, optimistic shove. Nope. Never straightforward. She stepped back to take a proper look. The door was set into a much bigger gateway that rose maybe a third of the way up the side of the biome. It didn’t look like it had been opened in some time. The biome itself was coated in a thick layer of sand and grime, at least as high up as she could see from this close. Rain and wind usually kept the tops clear. Cleaning the outsides wasn’t really an option. The door was just as grungy, with caked dirt baked on over the hinges. Sand piled against the foot of the door was easily kicked away in a large arc to allow for movement. Sliding her pack from her aching shoulders, she unclipped a crowbar from its straps and wedged it between the spokes of the wheel. Experience having taught her not to risk her hands, Static pulled a pair of gloves from the top pockets of her trousers, one from each side, and slipped them on, tugging them down over her palms until her fingertips poked through the frayed ends. Manual doors were always hard work, but at least they’d open. The auto-doors were about 75:25 these days. If you could jump the connection, you might get lucky, but they were notorious for jamming even under full power and almost impossible to move by hand if the mechanisms were locked.

Static took hold of the crowbar with one hand and, with the other, flicked open the cover of the little microphone clipped to her lapel. She ran her hand down the wire to a sliding switch and clicked it to the REC-CAST position.

“Welcome back, you’re listening to Static.” She grunted as she applied her full bodyweight to the lever. “It’s been a long week, adventure fans, but we have finally arrived at Hope, which I’m sure we can all agree should be a lot better than Faith. I mean, it couldn’t be much worse now, could it?” She gave a short laugh, which sounded oddly joyous in the bleak, empty surroundings. “So, I guess that can be today’s topic: Hope”. There was a faint grinding sound and the wheel gave a few millimetres. “First, I hope someone opens this door,” Static continued, taking her hands from the crowbar to reclaim her dark hair out of her eyes. None of it was the same length, so this took a minute as she rearranged the clips and scarf to create some structural integrity. She wiped a sleeve over her forehead and removed her shades to give them a quick polish on the hem of her shirt, squinting in the sunshine as she did. “Man, it is hot out here today.” Shades back on, Static took up her grip on the lever again and shoved. “The a/c in my car is done, just so you know,” she said, “so forgive me if I’m a little grumpy. Extreme heat will do that to a person.” She flicked her eyes up to where a security camera hung over the door. There was a thin film over the lens but no other hint as to whether it was working. “Wanna open up? No? Anybody paying attention?” She gave another, forceful shove. Another metallic grating sound, another few millimetres.

“Hope.” Shove. Grate. Move. “What is hope? Feels a little weak, doesn’t it? Hoping. Hoping things will get better, hoping they won’t get worse. We spend a lot of our energy hoping. Doesn’t account for much.” Shove. Grate. Move. “I don’t know about you, but I wish I didn’t hope so much. But it’s hard not to, right? You hope it’s not as bad as you think it is. You hope, hope, hope your way through your day some days, just stringing together that feeling that it could work out, cross your fingers, hope not to die.” Shove. Nothing. Shove. Grate. Move. “Where’s the line between hope and belief? What happens to tip you over from just hoping to believing? I have a personal rule now against believing in anything. Not even myself. I’m my own worst enemy.” Shove. The wheel gave a sudden quarter turn and Static jolted forwards, nearly smacking her face on it. She pulled out the crowbar and slid it back between the spokes at an angle to the ground. Shove. Slowly the lever gave under her and the wheel rotated a little more. “Man, it’s hot. Did I tell you guys that?” She sat in the sand, back against the smooth wall of the dome and rubbed some feeling back into her hands. “I guess at least the thing with hope,” she went on, holding the mic between two fingers and twiddling it, absently, as she spoke, “is that at least you’re prepared for hopes to be dashed. It’s harder when you believe. A little hope might keep you going. Don’t have faith. We all remember what happened with Faith.” Another wry chuckle escaped from between chapped lips. “Let’s get this door open, shall we?” Static climbed to her feet, brushing sand from her shirt. The check pattern was faded now, though it had once been a bold red and blue print. You could see through it in places. She patted her thighs to shake off the last of it. These were turning out to be decent trousers. Good number of pockets, bit long perhaps, but the belt held them up well enough and they were cool enough and thick enough at the same time. 

“If any of you happen to be listening from within Hope, you should feel free to pop down and save me the effort.” Shove. Move. Shove. Move. The wheel was loose enough now that Static could lean the crowbar against the dome and spin it by hand. It wasn’t easy, exactly, and it took more rotations than she’d have liked, but it was moving and that was the main thing.

“A little bit of hope in the morning to get you through the day.” The wheel clanged and the lock was fully retracted. “Do we know any good songs about hope?” she asked, as she adjusted her stance and took hold of the wheel at ten and two, as if about to steer the massive biome. “I’d play you something but my collection got smashed, if you remember. I’m sure you don’t mind though. I feel like we’ve been doing well with a talk cast, these past few days.” Static braced herself and yanked the door towards her. It moved, but only a slight movement. She dropped to her knees and began scooping the drifted sand away to the sides. The door was, apparently, buried deeper than she’d thought. “That sound, listeners, is the triumph of hope over experience. It’s also me, bailing sand from a doorway.” She continued in silence for a moment, shovelling the hot sand with her palms, ignoring the irritation as it crept inside her gloves and under her fingernails. Then, suddenly realising she had dead air, Static snapped her attention back to the microphone. “Sorry, my friends, I hope you’ll forgive me. My mind wandered. Man, it’s hot out here.” She’d cleared about half the space in front of the door now. “Time for a water break.”

Static pulled off the gloves and rubbed her hands on her legs to shift the sand that had worked its way in. She shook the gloves the right way out and stowed them back in her pockets as she crossed the few metres of sand to where her car sat, tyres gradually pooling yet more sand around the bottoms. The metal of the car body had a hazy, heat shimmer and Static knew better than to touch it. “Hot enough to fry an egg,” she said, breezily, as she rounded the vehicle and popped open the back. “In case you hadn’t fully understood how hot it is.” In the back there was a large, plastic vat with a tap. The gauge on the side showed seven litres remaining. “For those keeping count at home, we are on seven – that’s seven – litres of water.” She pulled a flask round from a bandoleer across her chest and unclipped the carabiner. It was a screw top. Flip tops were too unreliable; a wet leg and a lost litre were not worth risking for convenience. After pouring the last few drops over her face, Static re-filled the bottle, took a long drink and put the flask back in it’s proper place. “Six litres.”

“Where were we? Oh, yes, I remember. Hope. What do we think, listeners? Is hope a view point? A way of looking at the world? Or is it childish fantasy? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Myself, I’m inclined to think it’s a good way to crush your spirit, though I’ve heard people say it’s just optimistic realism. Which,” she paused, dropping back into the sand and recommencing the excavation of the door, “leads me to wonder if realism can be optimistic?” Dammit, gloves. Static brushed her palms together and pulled out the gloves again. “This sand is hot. You’d probably worked that out, but I thought I’d mention it.” The sand was cooler beneath the top layer, and firmer so it shifted in bigger clumps and didn’t drift back into the space it had vacated. “Nearly done, my white noise warriors,” she chirped. “Wow, if I didn’t know better I’d say I was starting to feel hopeful.” The lower edge of the door had revealed itself and Static worked quickly to clear what she figured would be enough of the barrier. Taking hold of the wheel again, she braced her shoulders and, with one foot on the wall of the biome, heaved backwards.

Nothing moved. Static sagged forward, head resting against the metal, eyes screwed shut. “Not sure this one’s going to open, guys. And if you’ll permit me – that’s a lesson in the pitfalls of hope. Please excuse me for one moment.” She gave the door an almighty kick, the exposed toe cap of her worn boot clanging hard against the iron, ringing like a gong through the silence. “Oh are you kidding me?” Static shook the reverberations out of her leg. The door had inched forward. “It’s a push door, listeners. Which just goes to show you that sometimes all you really need to do is pay attention.” She gave the door another kick, much more purposefully and smiled inwardly as the base of the door grated loudly over the floor inside. The smile vanished almost immediately as a waft of dull, stale air hit her. “Not feeling good about this one, I’m afraid,” she said, unable to keep the disappointment from her voice. “On the up side, it’s much cooler in here.” Static stepped through the doorway into the gloom. As she’d expected, light was streaming in from the centre of the dome but the sides grew increasingly impregnable as they approached ground level. The effect was a muted sort of half light around the edges with a brightly lit circle in the middle of the space. The biome wasn’t very big. Sections had been repurposed and the dome shrunk as the need grew less. You could still see where tunnels and chambers had led away from this central space, now haphazardly patched over. The plants were still alive. They usually were. Boxes and crates stood empty, looted a long time ago. Cages were stacked and toppled along one wall, occupants either gone or… gone.

Static pulled the scarf down from her head and used it to mop her brow as she looked about. Her hair had plastered itself to her scalp, so she absentmindedly tousled it. “Sorry to report, Hope is lost.” She spotted the water tank where she expected it to be. Three litres. There was algae floating on the surface. No use. “Bear with me, I’m going to scan the frequencies. I’ll be right back.” She rolled the dial on her receiver, skimming through the numbers steadily. Nothing but static. Pulling the scarf back over her hair and adjusting her shades, Static stepped back out into the scorching heat and slumped back into the car. “I guess it’s all down to Luck, now.”

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