At the centre of the city was a swirling column of detritus from the war that raged throughout its streets. Before the bombs, there had only been leaves, for at the base of the vortex, visible through a perfectly circular hole cut into the stone, lay a familiar sight — the top view of the city’s hanging gardens. The gardens remained intact, untouched by the war. Here, a young girl hid amongst the fronds, wrapped into the protective embrace of the dark, green womb. It was damp. The vegetation was defiantly maintaining its vibrance, and the moist breath of the vines and the undergrowth clung to her skin like a layer of silk.
It had been hours since her last meal, but she knew that nature would provide for her once the twisting of fear in her belly gave way to overwhelming hunger. Her name was Kevin, or, as her brothers usually called her, Kay. The war had taken all three of her siblings above ground. Two brothers and a sister. She hadn’t a clue what the Inner Council had planned for them, but some nights, she managed to lull herself to sleep thinking about how they would win the war for everyone. Something involving flares and explosions and the war machines they drew on posters — the posters that’d been pasted in a haphazard row outside the public library. Join the war, they said. Kay just wanted everyone to come home safe and no one to die.
She’d lost a cousin. There had been an utterly new and unfamiliar symphony of noises: the harsh grinding of metal on metal, punctuated by sharp hisses of steam and a high-pitched, multi-dimensional whining, like five tea kettles on the boil. Heavy footfalls, too ponderous and uniform to have come from a human. It emerged as a dark shape at the end of the street, coming out of hibernation with a tremendous roar of exhaust and engines. Then, the screams. The mechanical beasts were rather slow-moving, but young people tend to be vulnerable to projectiles such as a volley of bullets with nothing in its path. That was the day Kay realised that the enemy had war machines too. Before she turned to run, she’d caught a single, nightmarish glimpse of Geraldine in mid-death, as the force of the bullets rent her slender body into rags.