It’s Flash Fiction Round Robin Week 3, and I come to you continuing a tale started by two other frequenters of TerribleMinds.
I’ve compiled their contributions here, but if you like what you see, you should click on their names to read more of what they’ve written: Angela Cavanaugh started the story, and a fellow known as WildBilbo wrote the second part. I’ve written the third section, and hopefully, hopefully, somebody will pick it up and finish it next week.
I hope I left it poised for a good ending. I don’t write a lot of action-y stuff, but I had a good time with this.
Here, then, is…
They didn’t count on me surviving. Of course, if those fools could do anything right then I wouldn’t be walking through a desert right now. The once green ground is now completely scorched, and I haven’t seen the remains of a building for miles. The only upside is the clouds. Those fallout clouds block out what would otherwise be an intense noon sun.
Someone might ask me, were there any survivors left to ask, why I was headed into the epicenter of the fallout. They’d warn me of radiation poisoning. But I’m not worried about radiation. I might have survived the blasts, but my blood got poisoned all the same. I ain’t got much time left, and if I’m going to go down, you could bet that I’ll be taking them with me.
I’m headed toward the center, because it’s where they are. Not just the men who tried to kill me. Yeah, they’re there, too. But for all I know, so is everyone that wasn’t massacred.
Before they dropped the bombs, those gentlemen built themselves a fortress. They’ve got an entire city that could withstand the blasts and keep out the resulting radiation. They tucked themselves in, safe and sound, and blew up the world.
I should know, I was originally meant to be in that city. Had my apartment all planned out, furnished even. My days of wet work were supposed to be over once the world had achieved peace. Their idea of peace, anyway. And I was ready to retire in that peaceful place.
But until that day came, I was working security. Which is a nice way of admitting that I was an assassin. Every so often someone would get curious about what we were building. Or worse, they’d find out what it was. It would have put a real dent in the plans if word got out. Therefore, any time we found out that someone was snooping or onto us, I’d get called in to take care of the problem.
I kept walking. I could just see the outline of the city in the distance. It was obscured by the clouds, but even still, I could see how massive this was. This wasn’t some little bunker under the earth. The men who put this project together were rich men and political leaders. They were used to living a certain luxurious lifestyle, and saw no need to compromise that just because they were bringing about the apocalypse.
This didn’t mean that they wanted to associate with the working class. That wasn’t their idea of a peaceful paradise. They funded the very best robotics research and made certain that their city would be self-sustaining. Automated farming machines, automated electricity, completely automated anything. These men might be elitist, but they weren’t stupid. They hand picked everyone for their society, and some of those they chose were scientist, teachers, a few people who could work on the automated machinery if needed.
My guess is that these people would end up as slaves before too long. They brought them in under the guise of equality. But those who run things, they’ll never see these people as equal. Seems to me that those who hold the knowledge are better than those who have the power. They’ll never get a chance to realize that.
I coughed a wet cough and spat blood. Maybe a quick death in the newly created desert would have been preferable to the slow one I’m now suffering. And perhaps either would have been better than if I had lived in that city. I don’t know how long it would have taken them, but eventually they’d have tried to make me a slave like the rest.
If there was one thing that I liked less than being controlled, it was being tricked. The bombs weren’t supposed to go off for two more weeks. I suspect that was intentional misinformation. A way for them to quietly clean up their loose ends without any protest.
I had gone out on a job, the same as I had several other times. There was another threat to our project. And we were so close to completion. I put all my fear into that job and rushed out to kill whoever dared threaten the future of humanity. That was how they had sold it to us originally. I could hate myself for having been so naive.
When I got to the address that I had been given, I found that there wasn’t anyone inside. There was just a large mirror in an otherwise empty room. Scrawled on the mirror in black sharpie was a message to me:
“There’s no room for men like you in our new world.”
The threat was reflected in the mirror: me.
They might be smart, but so am I. I ran from the house and looked for a place to hide. Luckily for me, a neighboring house had a deep tornado shelter. Once I got inside of it, I could tell that it had been outfitted during World War Two as a bomb shelter, as well. I had only just made it in when I felt the quake of the bombs exploding.
I survived. Problem was, while this may have been a bomb shelter, the owners clearly hadn’t been expecting to need it. There were no provisions. I wouldn’t be able to stay there long.
Truth was, I didn’t want to. I had a rage inside of me that I needed to express. Radiation or not, I was heading to the city.
I was getting close now. I could see distinct outlines of the tall buildings that rose over the top of the solid fence that surrounded the city. If I could keep myself together, I could have my revenge.
I coughed again. The blood was thicker this time and came more readily. I caught my breath and continued on. Because if there was no place in this world for men like me, there was no place in it for men like them, either.
Men like me… men like me… men like me…
While my shoulders and arms burned from exertion, my memory of their last message cycled through my head. A constant beat, it kept me focused me as I scaled the wall of the fortress. Upwards towards the waste ducts spewing filth down the sides of the massive walls. The pounding sleet was not helping matters, but I clung on, fuelled by rage and revenge. Arm-over-arm, my aching hands gripped the reinforced concrete joins and dragged my sickening body towards my goal.
The walls were built on a slight inwards angle to better resist the attacks of extreme weather, which eased my climb somewhat, but it was still gruelling work. I had left most of my equipment below, keeping only the essentials; goggles, carbon dark-suit (in waterproof pouch), climbing gloves, tough nylon cable, and a simple double edged carbon knife. Any more would be weigh me down on the climb, and be detectible once inside.
Men like me.
My teeth ground as the phrase rolled around in my mind, angrily scratching at the sides. The very traits that made me such a valuable tool in clearing the way for their new world made me too much of a risk to keep around to live in it.
Innovative. Relentless. Merciless.
Unnecessary. Unpalatable. Unwanted.
Men like me.
I felt a molar shift then pop out of its socket under the pressure of my clenched jaw. I spat it out in a long stream of bright red pit and heard it clicking as it rolled down the fortress wall. I knew the radiation must have settled deep to be affecting my gums already. Hanging six stories above ground level, I was glad my muscles were still my own; it couldn’t be long till it took out my central nervous system. I had to hurry.
With a lunge, I grabbed the lip of the waste duct and dragged my head and shoulders inside. Processed sewerage, rubbish and radioactive runoff funnelled from the fortress dome hit me full in the face, threatening to cast me back, until I was able to wedge myself against the sides. I was grateful for my goggles, otherwise I would have been blinded by the muck. Carefully I crab-slid my way sideways, working my way into the immensely thick walls, moving inwards and upwards against the quick flowing corruption swirling about my chest.
I shuffled this way for an interminable length of time in the dark, stopping only to cough lungful after ragged lungful into the filth sodden scarf I had wrapped around my head. My teeth continued to drop, one by one, leaving gaping wounds in my gums. I needed to regularly swallow, as the blood would not stop flowing and filled my mouth.
I was falling apart.
As I moved I thought about the inheritors of this new world. I contemplated the privileged few, ensconced in their towers under the dome, looking down on the mere mortals, scuttling technicians, scientists, teachers all labouring to maintain this structure, working to keep the boots firmly on own their necks. The utopia I had imagined, had worked for, was never possible. I killed, I had been killed, to entrench the power of the powerful.
All men are fools. Even men like me.
The pipe opened up into a massive chamber so suddenly I slipped and fell, briefly going under and taking in a lungful of the icy sludge. I clawed my way to the surface gagging, dragging my way onto a long maintenance ladder, hooking my elbows around it as I vomited in long, heaving spasms. When they subsided, I ascended, one rung at a time until I reached the hatch. I took a breath, closed my eyes and turned the wheel.
As I expected, the hatch was unsecured. The fortress was designed to keep out the environment, not people. There were not meant to be any people left outside. No need for strict security measures when all that remains outside is a toxic wasteland. A wasteland and millions upon millions of rotting dead.
My cracked lips curled into a sneer. Not all dead.
I stood in a long narrow corridor of bare concrete and grey steel pipes. An orange light slowly started to glow, reacting to my presence. I used it to get ready. Stripping off naked, I cleaned myself as best I could, then put on the skin tight carbon dark-suit. I reached out and put my thumb through the sensor returning the corridor into darkness. I disappeared.
It was time to decide which way to move so I listened. From the right I could hear the deep bass thrumming of a huge engine., to the left nothing… no. Wait. A whistle.
Grasping the carbon blade I started running towards the whistler. As exhausted as I was, I covered the distance quickly, and he wasn’t expecting anyone to be here. I had a quick glimpse of my victim, a maintenance tech, carrying a toolbox and a clip board, whistling tunelessly. Wearing the dark-suit and coming from the unlit corridor I was invisible until it was too late. There was no time for him to scream as I moved in close, ducking low under the startled man’s clipboard, before pushing up with my legs, both hands on the carbon knife’s hilt. I drove the blade up through the man’s chin with enough force for the crosspiece to shatter the his jaw, while the twelve inch blade broke through the top of his skull and pierced through his hard hat.
I held him there, keeping him upright as he kicked about, flinching and twisting on my knife as he died. Once certain, I lowered his body, removed my knife and wiped it on his corpse.
I had to move quickly now. Not only was it getting increasingly difficult to breath, this man would be missed in his maintenance routine soon. Disposal would be pointless, I didn’t have time to do a full clean, and his blood was still pooling on the floor. I grabbed his maintenance pass and then stepped over the body, heading down the corridor to my goal.
I had work to do.
Part 3: by Me
Hours might have passed in those tunnels. Or maybe it was just a few minutes. The lack of sunlight made it impossible to tell, and my irradiated brain wasn’t helping matters. Every few hundred feet, I’d have to stop and wait for the dizziness to pass, or pitch over and vomit. Darker and darker it streamed out of me like so much poison, until suddenly nothing came up anymore, and I just convulsed with dry heaves. The tunnels, which all looked the same to begin with, blended together into one great grey tangle of concrete and pipes, and only the numbered access panels assured me I was going in the right direction. Even still, I kept finding that I’d turned around without knowing it.
The city sprawled above my head, a tightly contained sprawl of antiseptic steel and infuriating smugness. That lackadaisical nonconcern for those “lesser” people outside the walls. I wondered how many throats I could slit under the cover of darkness. Then I remembered that, had things unfolded differently, I would have been on the other end of my own knife. Another dry heave wracked my guts. Not far now.
The control grid that webbed across the city had nerve centers scattered all around like raisins in a fruitcake. Redundancy. No central location meant that shutting down the grid would be impossible. It also meant, of course, that I could access the grid through the hatch that now floated spectrelike over my head atop a newly minted ladder of steel rebar. It was only a height of twenty feet. Once, I could have scaled it in a heartbeat, soundless as a ghost in the wind. Now the climb seemed to take all I had. My lungs heaved and burned as I climbed. Near the top, I missed a rung and split my fingernail wide open against the steel. I saw it flutter down past me like a wounded butterfly. The pain seared all the way up to my elbow, and I cried out despite myself.
There was a clatter of footsteps above, and then muffled voices from the other side of the hatch. Before I could recover myself, the faces of two more techs slid into view as the hatch beeped and withdrew.
Sick as I was, the training didn’t miss a beat. Like a coiled snake I struck, reaching up my blood-streaked hand to grab the ankle of one man and yank him down through the hatch. His jaw cracked the floor, then his skull clanged off the ladder, and I didn’t have to see him fall to know the other man was my only concern. With strength I didn’t know I still had, I surged up into the room and spirited up behind him. The red plastic phone receiver in his hand fell with a clunk onto the bank of instruments as my blade slid between his ribs, my hand clamped over his mouth to muffle his scream. He sank to the ground and I knelt over him, his eyes piercing mine with terror and shock.
I must have passed out. Next thing I knew, I was stumbling to my feet again as a red strobing light flooded the terminal and a klaxon sounded. The man was dead, but… there, the emergency phone dangled off the side of the terminal, a forlorn wind chime spinning lazily in the air. There would be a squad of enforcers on their way, and I didn’t know how much time I’d lost.
On hands slippery with blood — mine or the tech’s, I couldn’t tell anymore — I hoisted myself up and jammed the pass I’d taken from the first unfortunate into the slot. The displays blinked and flashed the dead man’s name and then gave way to a schematic of the city. Like a huge bicycle wheel, it fanned out in a protective dome, the spokes separating one district from the next. My eyes flicked across them: sections of town for the rich, the laborers, the government workers… even in our new Utopia, the men like me had to be segregated.
A quick glance told me I was closer to the heart of the city than I’d thought. This nerve center was just a few blocks from the city council’s office. My dried, rotting lips curled into a smile which was probably pretty horrifying, given my dearth of teeth. A second glance froze my blood. The perimeter of the wheel was spotted with red, blinking alerts, some tiny, the size of an apartment; others the size of a city block. Breaches. Leaks. Irradiated air and smoke and dust streaming into our city on the hill through a hundred tiny defects in the “impenetrable” walls. Too many failures to be a mistake. This was a systematic, designed failure of the defenses. I stared for a moment — too long, really — then began to laugh, cackling so hard I set off another wave of dry heaves.
The bastards have killed themselves.
Oh, it was too rich. They meant to cleanse the country of the nameless masses, eradicate the weak, the unnecessary, the unwanted. To do it, they built dirty bombs so insidious they had shattered the very walls they’d built to protect themselves. Somebody inside had killed them all from inside. I might have wept with joy, but for the dehydration.
I wondered if the poor souls in the city knew, then realized that, of course, they didn’t. The liars in charge would hide the truth from them until it could be hidden no longer, just as they had hidden it from me. Odds were, everybody in the city would be dead from radiation poisoning within a few weeks. My revenge was complete, and I hadn’t even had to lift a finger.
But it wasn’t good enough. Not for a man like me.
The footsteps of the enforcers clattered on the corrugated walkway outside the control room. They’d be on me in moments.