Afterthought

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Status: In Progress  |  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.

Submitted: July 13, 2017

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Submitted: July 13, 2017

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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 cloying at the dryness of his mouth.

Copper. That's what it tasted like. Or 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 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

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 C.A. Exline. All rights reserved.

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