by Geoffrey H. Goodwin

I never hated Chloe, but always hated her friends. There was a once-in-a-lifetime moment when we were standing in a parking lot, trying to figure out what to do about her hideous boyfriend, and random ash started to fall from the sky. We were both underdressed, but didn't want to get inside my beat up skimmer because we were afraid we'd cheat on her boyfriend. He fought in mechfights. He killed a guy once, in the ring, and that just made his PTSD worse. I finally propped open my car's door and cranked the purification system, but I kept the door between us. We called it "snowfall night" but tried not to discuss it. The whole thing was so messed up. Her boyfriend was a rough guy and his friends were too.

Me? A lack of hand-eye coordination and a relatively considerate temperament. I had no interest in Chloe because she wasn't worth dying over. Until she was. Jacker—his name was Jacker, of course it was—finally hit her. All the samo samo bullshit about how it was one time and the only way to show how much she hurt him because she didn't understand how he loved her. Chloe told me about a nightmare where he beat her more, then threw her down a well and she had to crawl up from the bottom. When she called and told me, I could picture her bloody fingertips.

Chloe was older, rough and tumble from the word jump. But we met and were stunned to find ourselves melting into each other. I could tell we could work well together to stay alive. "The shittier the world, the more violence it takes to get you through," she used to say. I thought she was always down because Jacker dragged her to mechfights in parking lots—but I realized that Chloe, partially because she was older, remembered the world when it'd been less broken.

You know, I think there are two ways to fall in love at the end of the world: find someone dangerous and deranged enough to be willing to kill to keep you alive . . . or find someone you want to be with when you die.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it was a good idea for me to take on Jacker and guys from his crew. As far as ideas go, it was the worst—but I reached a point where trying to save Chloe's skin was more important than trying to preserve my own. I spent a couple days figuring shit out. An electronic pulse that trapped them in their stupid mechsuits looked promising—but it turns out that approach is unreliable. So I had to take into account their suits and how the guys would crush me like a bug if I didn't immobilize them quickly. I decided on poisonous gas.

You know, you don't know if you can kill people until when you gas them. They couldn't put up a fight. I wore a respirator to block the toxin and their ventilation systems weren't good enough. So I heartlessly murdered twenty strangers, and one guy I hated, to save the woman I loved. Mostly so I didn't have to see her suffer more. Maybe friends of the guys I offed will come get us or maybe we'll stare up at the stars until the sky blackens. I live with knowing I made some random dudes drop to the pavement, twitch and suffocate—but I get to be in love now . . . at least for a while. Other than nightmares and feeling like I wrecked something good inside me, right now seems okay.