fridayflash glow

"Do you know.... I think this is the first time I've ever seen a sunset that wasn't behind a pane of glass, or projected on a screen."

Jack turned sharply and tensed up, then wished he hadn't, because Pamela lifted her head from his shoulder and mouthed "sorry" at him.

"I'm the one who should be sorry," he said. "I keep forgetting you're not from the culture."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jack could hear the edge in Pamela's voice.

"Nothing against you or your parents," said Jack. "All I mean is, your parents love you and tried to take care of you, and I know they did a good job, because you're wonderful," adding the last part because Pamela's frown had deepened at the word "tried", "but... you know, because they were trying to work from empathy instead of direct experience... I just get surprised when you mention they overcompensated, played it a little too safe sometimes."

"How did your parents avoid overcompensating?" said Pamela.

Jack shrugged. "It's one of those weird situations where being the same way as your kids.... when you're like this, I mean.... winds up being a place of privilege. We stayed at that campground for people like us all summer. I saw sunsets sitting by the lake every evening when I was on summer vacation." He kissed her on the forehead, since he could see she had almost forgiven him, but not quite. "Come on, I don't want to spoil your first one. Let's have a cuddle, and you watch, but then we have to go as soon as the light starts to really fade because, unfortunately, this isn't that campground."

Pamela rested her head on his shoulder again and snuggled into him. He gave her a kiss on the top of the head and leaned his head on hers, brushing his arm lightly with his thumb. Even in the time it had taken for them to clear the air the sky had become a little more pink.

They watched the sun set, neither of them saying anything. Every once in a while Jack would hold his free hand up, glance down at it, and then let it lower again. After several repetitions of this, Pamela caught his hand and kissed the palm. Jack returned the kiss to her mouth, and they cuddled and kissed, eyes closed, oblivious to the world.

Pamela broke off first. "Jack, the sky..."

Jack kissed her forehead. "I know. Stay calm, but let's go now."

They pulled each other up and headed back towards the EV, holding hands. Somewhere in the forest that stood beyond the beach a branch snapped, and Jack gripped Pamela's hand in reassurance. Pamela broke into a light jog, and Jack did the same.

They were within sight of the EV, maybe four hundred metres away, when they heard the first shouts.

"Rads! Someone get a rifle! RADS!"

Jack broke into a run, Pamela trying to keep up but getting half-dragged along.

Their night vision was poorer than that of regular humans, but they could make out shadows now, converging on them and Jack's EV. The shouting all seemed to be voiced by young men.

They reached the EV, and Jack unlocked the doors with his remote. He and Pamela got in. Jack slammed his door shut, but someone outside caught Pamela's door and tried to force it open while she hung on to the inside handle, pulling it towards closed with all her weight and strength.

"Make sure you're completely inside!" said Jack, and pushed a button on the dashboard. There was a sizzling sound, some of the shouts outside changed to cries of pain, and Pamela was able to yank the door completely shut.

"What did you do?" she said.

"Electrified the skin," said Jack, getting the EV started and pulling on his seatbelt. "It drains the battery a lot, and it doesn't last, but it helps sometimes. Get your seatbelt on."

"But won't they give up now that we're in here?"

Jack adjusted the windshield viewer to compensate for his night vision. "When I was ten, my parents let my sister go on an overnight trip with the parents of one of her friends. People freaked out when they saw her at night, rolled the EV before they could get away, and smashed it open with baseball bats."

"Jack, that's horrible. I never knew you had a sister."

Jack grunted. "She died. Everyone in that EV was beaten to death. Now hang on." He floored the accelerator and headed straight for the exit to the highway, even though that's where most of the men had congregated after they had got in the EV.

The men stood their ground until it was clear Jack wasn't going to swerve, then jumped out of the way. Jack cut off another driver on the highway rather than slow down and wait for an opening in traffic. The other driver honked his horn and passed them, shouting something about Rads out the window as he zoomed by.

"You're a good driver," Pamela said, feeling dazed. She shook her head to clear it, tried to look out the window, but only saw her own luminescent reflection. Her and Jack's kind didn't usually go out at night. Their glowing skin made them targets for those who still believed those with the mutation were radioactive, like old-fashioned glowing watch faces.

"We'll be home in fifteen minutes," Jack said.

Pamela settled against the headrest. "I'm sorry, Jack. I thought it would be a nice, simple thing to do together."

"It was. Don't let the ending spoil it." He tapped her on the shoulder. "You got to see your sunset. Do me a favour and put something on the stereo?"

Pamela gave a ghost of a smile and cupped her hand over the controls on the dashboard, illuminating them with her glowing skin.