Afterthought

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Science Fiction

Corbin Dixon, a young scavenger, must escape from a nightmarish necropolis.

Intended as a prequel to a long-form sci-fi western that I'm considering.

His fear was a palpable thing. Surely they could smell it. He could almost taste it himself. It rose up out of his pores, a miasma of emotion clutching at the dryness of his mouth.

Copper. That's what it tasted like. Was it the gorge rising in his throat? His head was beginning to swim with nausea and it became difficult for him to determine how much of his discomfort was real and how much was imagined.

There was no doubt that he was in peril, however. The Antibodies were close, along with their huntmaster.

Corbin grasped at the gun that was holstered at his side, felt the coolness of steel against a moist palm and breathed deeply. The shoulder of a ruined doorway afforded him some cover, along with the detritus of crumbling buildings, but it would not save him. There was no hiding from them—not really—not by any sane definition.

Leaning slack against the deteriorating brick he tried to compose himself, to slow his frantic pulse.

Breathe, he told himself. Breathe, slowly.

Gradually, as the waves of mounting panic subsided—yielding to a preternatural calm—he whipped around the door-frame, gun held steady before him.

Yet he saw nothing. Nothing but the derelict remains slouching over a street reticulated by the impartiality of time. Nothing but the piled rubble and ragged debris of the past. Nothing but hiding places, he thought grimly.

With an almost glacial caution he proceeded, each small step followed by a thorough reassessment of his surroundings. He heard no sign of them. He saw no sign of them. But he knew they were there. They did not give up, they did not relent—not once they'd marked you.

I never should have come, he mused bitterly. Shoulda known better; I did know better. Cursing to himself he continued his ponderous advance. The barrel of his gun swept before him in slow arcs as he scanned the wreckage for threats.

He was full in the street before he registered the sound. A sudden, not-so-distant clang. The Hell is that? he wondered. Bile once more started scaling his esophagus as if it were trying to choke him, to coax him into retching. My own body is trying to sabotage me.

Motion out of the corner of his eye.

He spun rapidly, bearing his gun along. He fired reflexively but there was nothing there.

The scrape of shattered cement behind him.

Again he turned and fired into empty air.

Sweat, having already plastered the hair to his forehead, renewed its sticky saline exudation. Beads dripped into his eyes, ran down his cheeks collecting at the corners of his mouth so that his dread was a travesty played out to a feast of salt.

He swallowed hard and it was like dry-gulping powdered glass, his windpipe was so dessicated. Eyes now bleary with perspiration, his glance frenetically shifted from one obstruction to the next.

Shoulda stayed in town, like Uncle said. I should've listened.

Too late now, though, he chided himself. Too late now. What's done is done. The important thing is getting out of this shit-hole. Can't lead them back, though...Would they follow me? Will they do that?

A thunderous peal sounded behind him, close enough that he could feel the air tremble. Choking on the smell of ozone he lifted his gun towards the husk of an Antibody that sailed aside, trailing cauterized innards in its wake.

For a moment he doubted his senses.

"What..." he stammered. "What are you doing here?"

The man did not reply; he simply sauntered closer to Corbin in his long duster coat and wide-brimmed hat that concealed most of his face. "Thank you," Corbin muttered in afterthought.

The man gave a quick nod, little more than a thrust of the chin, and commenced to peer about them. "How many?" asked the man in a sedate tone.

"I...I...not sure."

"Guess."

"Um, three maybe? or five?"

The man sniffed. "Wrong." He lifted his pistol and with that same tooth-rattling thunderclap a searing beam leapt forth, lancing through a slab of concrete to maim the Antibody that was lurking behind it. “Now there’s five.”

Corbin timidly followed the stranger as he approached the Antibody. Though certain to keep his distance, and to keep the man in front of him, Corbin got close enough to watch the Antibody writhe and contort upon the ground. It was a hideous thing, indeed. Part man, part beast, part machine—with those vicious fangs set in a vile maw, dagger-like claws scrabbling at the fractured asphalt—it cultivated a look of intense malice within its crimson, spiteful eyes.

"Fucking cyborgs," the man snarled, drawing a skinning knife from the calf-high uppers of his boot.

"Watch out!" Corbin blurted and the man paused to glower at him briefly before stomping the Antibody's one remaining arm under a heel and driving the knife deep into the soft tissue behind its jaw. Removing the knife, he drove it into the Antibody's gullet for good measure.

"Are you an idiot?" asked the man in the same, unaffected tone.

Corbin recollected his earlier misgivings and decided that maybe he was. "I...I don't know. Probably."

The man scoffed and lowered himself onto the blasted concrete to roll a cigarette. With deliberation he filled the paper with tobacco and, licking the gum, wrapped it into a fine cylinder. Striking a match on the concrete he applied it to the cigarette and exhaled a plume of dull-gray smoke. "Why are you here?"

"I asked you the same thing..."

"Why. Are. You. Here?"

Corbin gulped. "I...well, you see—"

"Spit it out."

"A core. I was looking for a core."

The man cocked an eyebrow. "Fusion, you mean?"

Corbin nodded. "That's right. I thought it might—"

"Doesn't matter what you thought." The man puffed once more on the cigarette, then ground out the cherry between his fingers. And they were not normal fingers.

"You're a synth," Corbin declared.

"And you're probably an idiot, remember?"

"But...but..."

"Do you want to live long enough to get out of here?"

"Yes."

"Then shut the fuck up."

Corbin gulped again and closed his mouth, blinking awkwardly and trying unsuccessfully to look collected.

"What you got there?" the man indicated Corbin's gun.

"Oh, it's just a standard .38."

"Better than nothing, I reckon." The man rose from his seat and stared about, raising his synthetic arm. "We'll head out that a-way."

"But what if they—"

"What'd I tell you about talking?"

Corbin sighed internally but complied with the synth's wishes.

They strode for several minutes down the ruined roadway, flanked by dilapidated structures that rose to astonishing heights like great cliffs of glass and steel, with shattered window-panes and dark interiors. Corbin wanted to comment but he thought better of it. He also wanted to ask the synth his name. He thought better of that, too.

He was startled when the synth's weapon discharged again, this time catching an Antibody full-on that was springing from a dark recess alongside the street. The cyborg was cut in two, a goodly portion of its midsection simply evaporating in a hemorrhagic steam.

"What is that thing?" Corbin demanded. "That weapon."

"It's an atomic pistol."

The expression on Corbin's face communicated the inadequacy of this explanation.

"It's like a laser gun what shoots gamma rays."

"Ah," Corbin acknowledged uncertainly.

"Matter of fact," the synth went on. "I was looking for a fusion cell myself. Pistol's low on juice, ain't going to last too terribly much longer."

"Where do you think we might find some?" For the first time since entering this dread necropolis a spark of hope was kindled inside him.

"Ain’t no telling. And we don’t have time to figure it, neither. Our life expectancies are clocking in at about twenty minutes, and dropping the longer we stand here jawing."

"But surely—"

"Sure, nothing," the synth snarled. "There ain't nothing sure in this world but death and suffering. High time you learnt that.”

Properly dashed, Corbin’s hopes foundered, sinking once more into the bowels of his soul. Hope is an anachronism. It has no place here. It belongs to the past, not to this husk of a world. All we have left is a failing power supply; all we can do is wait around to die.

“What are you, twenty? twenty-two?" the synth continued.

"Twenty-three."

"Even worse."

"What's your name?"

The synth transfixed him with an askance glare. He did not answer. "What's yours?" he said.

"Corbin. Corbin Dixon."

"Dixon you say? You any kin to Harlan Dixon?"

"Sure am—that's my uncle."

If Corbin hadn't known better he would have been convinced that the synth visibly relaxed at this.

"Okay, tell you what," said the synth. "The name’s Avalar, and I know your uncle; he's an all right sort, so I'm going to do him a service."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Come on, we got us a huntmaster to hunt down."

"Are you serious?"

"Look, first off, I’m always serious. Secondly, I'm not going to let Ol’ H.D.’s probably-an-idiot nephew get et by fucking cyborgs. And thirdly, we can't very well have them bastards running around stalking us if we're gonna to find y'all a fusion core. So, come on."

Corbin grinned. Maybe hope wasn’t an anachronism after all.

 

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: July 14, 2017

© Copyright 2021 C.A. Exline. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Oleg Roschin

The writing is high quality throughout - well-rounded sentences, easy-flowing dialogues - everything is absolutely professionally done. The overall impression is very "cinematic" - your descriptions make everything come to life without slowing down the brisk pace of the narrative. I loved the humorous touches in the dialogue. It DOES feel like a chapter from a novel. In fact, it could serve as an excellent first chapter / prologue (as you intended it to be).

Fri, July 14th, 2017 5:01am

Author
Reply

Thanks, Oleg, I appreciate the encouragement and the analysis. I had not really considered the "cinematic" quality; perhaps that's something I can incorporate as a general "tone" of the overall setting. I'm also glad you could appreciate the humor.

Thu, July 13th, 2017 10:12pm

Silgorious

Excellent!
I too feel like what oleg said.
A good start for an awesome sci fi novel...

Sat, July 15th, 2017 4:04am

Author
Reply

Thanks for the feedback, Silgorious.

Fri, July 14th, 2017 10:17pm

Ethan Howard

Chapter One

Very descriptive. You set the pace from the first sentence. A lot of tension and I like how you offset it with humor.

Please keep me updated as you add new chapters. I will put this story as part of my binge reading.

Cheers!

Sat, July 15th, 2017 9:19pm

Author
Reply

I'm grateful for the review, Ethan. I'll keep you posted.

Sat, July 15th, 2017 6:16pm

Alex S. Foley

Great story. Love the whole thing. The conversations seemed completely natural and the descriptions are great.

Sun, July 16th, 2017 9:05am

Author
Reply

I'm grateful for the feedback, Bard. I'm glad you liked it, and that's a helpful comment about the dialogue.

Sun, July 16th, 2017 10:52am

hullabaloo22

Brilliantly done, C. Allen. So well-written and easy to read. Excellent descriptions and the dialogue was so natural sounding.

Mon, July 17th, 2017 5:41pm

Author
Reply

Hey, thanks Hully!

Mon, July 17th, 2017 12:10pm

Killer Clown

Really like the story. It reminds me of Fallout. Now you have me wanting to play Fallout, thanks alot ... lol. It is really good.

Sat, July 22nd, 2017 11:01am

Author
Reply

Thanks Gypsy Rose! I'm glad you thought it was good and I appreciate the feedback.

Sat, July 22nd, 2017 10:03am

Reagle

'Antibodies', huh? Thought that was quite an interesting name for your villains.

The world sounds brutal, the characters have clearly identified personalities, and you have an intriguing setup. A great opening chapter, for sure!

Sun, July 30th, 2017 1:37pm

Author
Reply

Thank you for the encouragement, Reagle.

Sat, August 5th, 2017 10:02am

Keke Serene

Heart shaped box

Ah, this is my second sigh of wriitng pleasure for today- which is probably a record. I don't get to read satisfying wriitng on this site all the time but when I do, there's something like relief that there's still hope out there for sound writing.
This is wonderfully written. Right away I like the style. There's an urgency and a present-ness of this that I LOVE about reading. I don't know how else to describe it except as presentless. Maybe as action- soemthing happening now. I love the now- in books anyways. Diff story irl lol. Past tense irks me.

Wow, what a great vocabulary you have, grandmother. The better to impress you with, hahaha!
I don't know where that came from but I am into fairy tales right now but it works. I'm complimenting your vocabulary; its is quite impressive if I do say so myself and I need to grow my vocabulary so thank you. :)

Antibody is such an interesting ummmmm ummmmm name for an evil being especially since in the human body they are amazing and save us from the disasters of smallpox. Have you seen your daily glimpse of smallpox to allow you to appreciate the wonders of vaccination and how the world will end from microbes? I have no but I will soon. An antibody- part machine, human and animal what in the whaty what how did they end up with that lol. Wow I was just saying I would work on my vocabulary and I have ummmmm and whaty in the comment wow. Ok. Moving on.
But yeah.

Now THAT would be an interesting prequel prequel haha! The creation of the antibody yknow? Some rouge scientists prolly.

Its so nice that this stranger has just taken it upon themself to look after Corbin even though he's obviously made a stupid decision. But what can I say, I wouldn't have made it this far in the cyborg apocalypse and if he hadn't made a stupid decision there would be no story.
I honestly figured there was something up with this stranger since he isn't mincemeat like Corbin was about to be since the antibodies can sense him and stuff. :p

Oh ouch- and you're probably an idiot hah. Wow. XD

Wow you're so good at writing dio. Ah, another sigh. :)

Awww why'd it end so soon! Ahh you have to continue this seriously! Please! This is wonderful writing ah, I don't feel like reading anything else to spoil the taste in my mind of pure amazingness haha! :)

Fri, August 25th, 2017 2:45am

Author
Reply

This is the longest comment I've ever received, so I will attempt to do it justice:

"Ah, this is my second sigh of wriitng pleasure for today- which is probably a record. I don't get to read satisfying wriitng on this site all the time but when I do, there's something like relief that there's still hope out there for sound writing."

--Thanks! that's what I was going for.

"This is wonderfully written. Right away I like the style. There's an urgency and a present-ness of this that I LOVE about reading. I don't know how else to describe it except as presentless. Maybe as action- soemthing happening now. I love the now- in books anyways. Diff story irl lol. Past tense irks me."

--Yay, escapism? Since you like this sort of...immediacy, my novelette, "Darkly with the Shadows," also has a 'present-ness' (if you'd like to check it out).

"Wow, what a great vocabulary you have, grandmother. The better to impress you with, hahaha!
I don't know where that came from but I am into fairy tales right now but it works. I'm complimenting your vocabulary; its is quite impressive if I do say so myself and I need to grow my vocabulary so thank you. :)"

--It came from Little Red Riding Hood? Nothing wrong with fairy tales, Stars. They're good inspiration, if you ask me. The compliment is much appreciated!

"Antibody is such an interesting ummmmm ummmmm name for an evil being especially since in the human body they are amazing and save us from the disasters of smallpox. Have you seen your daily glimpse of smallpox to allow you to appreciate the wonders of vaccination and how the world will end from microbes? I have no but I will soon. An antibody- part machine, human and animal what in the whaty what how did they end up with that lol. Wow I was just saying I would work on my vocabulary and I have ummmmm and whaty in the comment wow. Ok. Moving on.
But yeah.

"Now THAT would be an interesting prequel prequel haha! The creation of the antibody yknow? Some rouge scientists prolly."

--The "antibody" thing was intended as something of a double-entendre. I don't want to get into spoilers here in the comments section, but yes: I am familiar with the medical terminology and its significance. As for human/machine/animal hybrids, it's simply a union of cybernetics and bio-technical engineering.

"Its so nice that this stranger has just taken it upon themself to look after Corbin even though he's obviously made a stupid decision. But what can I say, I wouldn't have made it this far in the cyborg apocalypse and if he hadn't made a stupid decision there would be no story.
I honestly figured there was something up with this stranger since he isn't mincemeat like Corbin was about to be since the antibodies can sense him and stuff. :p"

--The stranger was a somewhat reluctant hero. And of course you are correct that there's something special about him.

"Oh ouch- and you're probably an idiot hah. Wow. XD

"Wow you're so good at writing dio. Ah, another sigh. :)"

--Thank you, Stars, the dialogue was a major driving force behind this story's creation. I thought I could do it but wasn't sure if it would be well received or appreciated (and this short was something of a marketing research test/public opinion poll).

"Awww why'd it end so soon! Ahh you have to continue this seriously! Please! This is wonderful writing ah, I don't feel like reading anything else to spoil the taste in my mind of pure amazingness haha! :)"

--I'll go ahead and get started! I have no idea how much of the back-story I'll wind up getting into; maybe you can review some of my drafts? The working title shall be: Six-Guns & Cyborgs.

Sat, August 26th, 2017 6:53am

A. K.Taylor

Oh yeah, It's a very good start, C.A. I'm not a huge fan of everything Sci-Fi, but I can sense the intensity of the story from the first paragraph. I got the feeling of being in Corbin's shoes with my gun out doing the very same actions you've described there in. I'd probably read it as a novel, but I wouldn't know if I'd stay with it until I read more.
Being in the action right from the start is good for any medium trying to draw a reader/viewer in, but it's the meat of the story that'll really drag me in. I suggest writing more, giving us something to truly chew on for a bit. I, personally, want to now how the world got this way, why are the hybrids called Antibodies, who your character really is beyond a name.
The scene you've depicted seems like it could be a nightmare the character is having before the actual events take place. It's an option you could use as a segue into the story. It would make for an interesting prologue or a part of the first few pages. I say continue on with it, my friend.

Fri, August 25th, 2017 11:18pm

Author
Reply

Thanks for the assessment, my friend. I understand the whole "not a huge fan of everything Sci-Fi" thing; I know you're more the fantasy type, but your comments here have been helpful. Sounds like I'm going to go ahead with the undertaking!

Sat, August 26th, 2017 11:55am

T. E. Jackson

Very interesting. Reminds me a bit of Fallout, which has been commented before lol. Not sure on if you intended the similarity but it could pass for it for sure lol. Once again very well written and flowed nicely, pace was set quickly but naturally. I agree with one of the comments, saying it was almost cinematic, which I felt as well, it just has that flow to it and the whole atmosphere. Regardless I enjoyed very much and definitely would consider reading this if it's turned to a full fledged novel. As for critique I really don't have much. I would say imagery, but given the pace you've set, I feel it would disrupt the story more than help it, so perhaps this one deserves a slide, but I would take that into consideration if you decided to convert into a novel. Slow the pace down a bit and add a bit of imagery, especially in an apocalyptic worn down world, there's tons and tons of things you could describe and paint out to give the readers a really good idea of what the land is like. The sky, the horizon, the trees and plants if any, the air, buildings and architecture, so much in a scenario like this could be unique. Regardless, excellent job, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading :)

Wed, September 20th, 2017 7:15pm

Author
Reply

Again, I really appreciate the thorough feedback, T.E.

As for the Fallout comparison, it has, indeed, been made several times. That seems to be the most common analogy to be drawn but, no, it was not intentional; I think it's maybe incidental. Fallout may just be the closest thing people are generally familiar with, even if the similarities are mostly superficial, i.e.: post-apocalyptic sci-fi western. There's not a lot in that specific sub-genre to relate it to, but I was, actually, primarily inspired by Vampire Hunter D.

I certainly agree with you about pacing, and miring the story in description would have interfered with the literary effect of tension. I am, at this point, fully intending to novelize this (or at least to lengthen it, maybe into a novella), which will allow me more latitude to get into the finer details and imagery. It is definitely helpful to know what would be desired in a longer work (especially before I write it), so thank you for the input; it's also very nice to know that you would consider reading a novel-length version! It's quite encouraging to hear that you "thoroughly enjoyed reading." As always, I look forward to any more insightful critique you may have to offer in the future.

Wed, September 27th, 2017 9:16am

Skinny Coutreux

This is an attention grabbing introduction. I hate there is not more. Your writing is one I fondly miss! Do tell if you’re going to continue this - or even publish.

Same for Woe!

Tue, October 27th, 2020 7:34pm

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