Written by Joseph D. Stirling
Nothing makes you fly like pixie dust. Harper knew that, as did every Runner in the Kingdom. Unlike other jobs outside the dome, Runners had the most dangerous. Folks like Harper never lasted long. If they weren’t killed delivering messages, it was the drugs that got them. Pixie dust and such took its toll, but it made them fast. For his small size, Harper was the fastest.
He had never done much good with his life. Never learned with his siblings how to run a kitchen, like every other Hob. But now he did something worthwhile. His family would be proud wherever they were.
He could feel himself slowing, hear his heartbeat evening out. Through the wispy purplish haze he could see the glint of the Midway Tower, a safe haven where he could replenish his air tanks. His thick plastic suit crinkled and swished as he ran. His eyes flicked wildly, watching for anything that meant to eat him or worse. This message had to get through.
As he stopped before the airlock of the tower the blight mist curled around him. He hit the buzzer and stared into the camera mounted above the hatch.
“Open the fucking door! I need air and a fix, bad!” Harper could feel the twitching and the cold sweat starting to take over his skin. The pixie dust was lasting less and less time. He knew retirement was coming. “Hurry! Clearance code: Straw House-Delta-Zero,designation: Let-Down-Your-Long-Hair-One-Niner.”
There was a buzz followed by loud clunky gears as the hatch rolled open. Harper scrambled in and hit a hit a button to lock the hatch down again. When it had closed, he raised his arms and slowly spun for the sterilizer spray. The next hatch opened and he stepped into a small room with a bench. He fumbled his way through all the buckles and pressure seals to remove the suit and hung it and his helmet on hooks in the wall. He stripped off his rubber under-suit and stepped into the shower.
Finally, dripping wet, he walked into the final room and slid into the clean suit before entering the central chamber. A Goblin greeted him with a smile and a tray with a long rail of glittering dust and a short straw. Harper snorted the stuff up his pointed nose as quick as he could, feeling the tremors subside and his pulse quicken. He lit the Flash-Weed joint and sucked the smoke in as quick as he could.
“Better.” He breathed deeply and wiped his face. “I need fresh tanks and a few more of those. I’m headed to…”
“Easy, friend. There’s time.” Croaked the Goblin.
“Witch sighting, asshole. No time. Have to go, have to go. More dust, now! Need tanks!”
Harper was speeding up, he could feel it rushing through him. He needed to run. The Goblin ran wide eyed to a small cabinet, a tired Pixie with dark circles ringing his eyes perched above it. He buzzed his wings, filling the chamber with bright green light. The dust fluttered into the collector beneath him. He dropped to the ground barely conscious.
The job was deadly to Runners and to the Pixies. A Pixie can only make so much dust in its lifetime, and death was a sure thing to the volunteers.
“Fucking Witches! Need more now!” Harper was working up into a frenzy. “Let-Down-Your-Long-Hair- One-Fucking-Niner! Emergency!”
The Goblin spread the dust out on the tray and added a double dose of Zip-Bee Pollen. “This is all we have.” He set the tray down and rushed to pull two fresh tanks from the wall and deposit them in the dressing room beyond the shower. “Where’s the sighting? Are Witches coming this way?”
“North to Watership Dome.”
Harper sucked the last of the joint in and swallowed the roach. He inhaled and crammed the dust and pollen from the tray into his sinuses. It burned and teared up his eyes. He was practically humming, his body all a-buzz. He flashed into the dressing room and pulled on the under-suit. The Goblin helped him secure all the seals and buckles for the safe suit. Helped him strap on the fresh tanks and hook up the connectors.
“Get moving. Run fast, run safe.” The Goblin slapped him on the back and pulled the inner hatch closed.
Harper pushed into the airlock as the door sealed behind him. He watched the flashing red light as it rang out and flipped green. The outer door cranked open and Harper was flying. He’d never felt so fast before and he knew this might be his last run. But the warning needed to get there in time.
He tore through the gnarled woods, the blight infected branches reaching for him. Harper leaped over acid-caps as he ran. The wasteland around him blurred into a haze of purple swirls and his heart thumped wildly in his chest. He could barely feel the weight of the tanks on his back.
Dozens of miles crossed beneath his feet as he flew. Finally he could see the shimmer of Watership Dome. The planking above the toxic water looked thick with blight sludge. But he could fly, he knew he could. The drugs made him faster, made him lighter. He could make it.
Harper slid with his first step, but recovered and leaped into the air. The magic in the pixie dust carried him halfway across the lake. He landed with a tumble and slid the last distance to the airlock. He pressed the buzzer and felt a horrid pain rip through his chest.
“Straw-House-Delta-Zero.” He was gasping for breath as blood dribbled past his lips. “Let-Down-Your-Long-Hair-One-Niner. Witch Sighting heading your way.”
Harper collapsed. As he felt everything slow down, he knew he had finally done something good with his life. He only hoped that Watership Dome could survive the Witch.