Among the Living
by John Markley
Williams perceives a world of hazy reds and angular grays. He sees through smoke and through walls. He sees the fury of fires and the sparks of life in survivors hundreds of yards away. He sees every crack and buckle in the structure around him.
Most importantly, he can’t see Chicago’s burning skyline as it would look to his own eyes.
The bulky door barring him from the interior of Waldron Arcology shudders as Williams’ gauntlet-mounted saw tears through its hinges, then falls outward. McIlrath, Principe, and Armstrong catch it, lowering it to the ground while Williams’ saw retracts. Team Leader Garcia shouts commands.
The room beyond is an inferno. The five step aside, and a great blast of fire-retardant dust blasts from the Vertical Take-Off/Landing transport on the landing pad.
They advance into what had been the terminal for the 150th floor’s south landing pad. Williams takes the lead, metal ringing under his 500-pound weight with every step. There’s no need for anyone in full Evac Team Armor to wait for the fire to go out; extinguishing it isn’t for their benefit.
Fire-choking sodium chloride and melting thermoplastics spread across every surface, covering everything but sparing Williams nothing. He sees through it as if it were air, sees the skeletal ultrasound reflections of every person who died here.
They died very quickly, Williams reminds himself. One of the floor’s main corridors runs straight through the center of the building to here. The shock wave of superheated atmosphere and debris had been channeled towards this place unimpeded, crushing and incinerating them before they could have registered what was happening.
He hopes. He hopes most of the 150,000 people living here died that way.