Tag Archives: dystopian future

Wasteland, pt. 3


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…

 

Wasteland

Part 1: By Angela Cavanaugh

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.

 

Part 2: by WildBilbo

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.

Idiot.

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.

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The Screaming Comet


Chuck’s challenge this week is another Random Title challenge, which is always so much fun.

My title was “Screaming Comet,” for which I had a couple of ideas right away but none of them seemed to fit. I pondered on it for a few days before finally arriving at this one, which was at least influenced in its inception by Stephen King’s short story, The Jaunt.

I don’t know what it is with me and kids, but they’re having a run of bad luck in my stories of late. Nonetheless, I actually quite enjoy the idea behind this one and the society I started to build for it, even if … well. I guess I’ll just let you read it.

Here’s “The Screaming Comet,” at 1499 words.

 

The Screaming Comet

“…reaches over two thousand miles per hour before it leaves the tracks and turns skyward…”

A pencil jabs Brian in between the shoulder blades, and he spins around from his doodle to see his friend Jessica looking at him with big deer eyes. “My Gran is going on the Comet tomorrow,” she says, “isn’t your grandpa going, too?”

Brian nods proudly. “He doesn’t have to go for another three years, but my Grandma went last year, and he says he’s ready.” He puffs his chest out as much as is possible in the confine of his Edu-enforcer. “He’s showing me the train.”

“…achieving a top speed of over twenty-five thousand miles per hour as it delivers our Elders on their final voyage…”

Jessica stifles a snort. “Big deal. I saw the train last year.”

“And perhaps Mister Roberts can tell us,” Miss Remnand asks pointedly, as every head in the class snaps around to stare at Brian, “why the train is called The Screaming Comet?”

Brian whirls in his seat and his face darkens. He knows it’s something to do with the speed…

Eddie Verner shouts out, “Miss Remnand, I heard it was because everybody inside starts screaming as they go into orbit.”

“Nonsense, Eddie. Nobody would be able to hear anybody inside the train doing anything. No, the sound is a combination of the train breaking the sound barrier and the friction on the tracks…”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Brian silently thanks Eddie for saving him, even if Eddie is an idiot. The Comet carries people to the Great Beyond; nobody would scream because of that.

**********

Final departure will commence in t-minus twenty minutes.

As his grandfather points out the features of the train, Brian runs a few steps ahead, running his hand over the shiny vinyl seats, pressing his face to the big panoramic windows, staring at the sparkling array of digital displays and the wide-mouthed air vents that dot the aisles.

“Here we are,” Grandpa says, pointing to the aisle seat just a few rows from the back.

Brian plops into the seat, buckles the belt and starts kicking his legs. “Aw, why couldn’t they give you a window?”

The old man laughs, mirthless and empty. “Some of us just aren’t so lucky.”

Packs of people mill about, mostly silver-haired men and women moving quietly to their seats, a few adults giving hugs or listening as the elders whisper in their ears, a handful of kids like him moving about the car in wonderment. “Grandpa,” Brian says, his voice hushed, “Eddie Verner says they call it The Screaming Comet because the Elders scream when it leaves the station.”

Grandpa’s face creases with concern, and he sits next to the boy, squeezing his shoulder and mussing his hair. “Don’t listen to your friend. The Comet is the best gift our old world has ever given to people like me.”

“It looks really cool. I want to ride it someday.”

“Not for a long time, son.”

Brian nods to himself. “And Eddie’s not my friend. He’s stupid.”

**********

On the loading dock, a commotion has broken out — pushing and shoving and shouting — at the center of which is a gaunt, bald and wild-eyed Elder. His family can’t be found, and he’s waving an old knife around at anybody who gets  close. It’s only moments, though, before a tiny dart sprouts from the side of his neck and he collapses, drooling and babbling. A contingent of white-clad attendants shoulders through the crowd and ushers him onto the train.

*********

…no cause for alarm. All non-passengers, please exit the train at this time.

It’s orderly, but it’s chaos as the aisles jam with people evacuating the train at the announcement and the appearance of the drooling, nonsensical man being hauled into a seat. The attendants buckle him in as a sudden crowd of people surges past, seeking the exits.

Grandpa kneels next to Brian, his faraway, mist-veiled eyes piercing through the boy. “I love you, grandson. You take care.” And Brian feels himself yanked into a bone-crushing embrace. He thinks he hears the old man sobbing at his shoulder, but the moment Grandpa releases him, his wrinkled hands spin Brian around and point him toward the front of the train. In a heartbeat, Brian is lost in the close press of people emptying off the train. Grandpa dabs at his eyes and straps in.

*********

The initial stir has ceased, but now a general unease has settled over the loading dock, a foul miasma that the onlookers are breathing in. Nervous chatter breaks out here and there, then voices raised in argument, and the attendants as one cock their heads at the directive streaming in through their earpieces. They share a nod and then, as the last people debark the train, seal the doors. It’s seven minutes ahead of schedule, but they’re sending The Comet off early.

**********

The face of Grandpa’s dearly departed wife floats to the surface of his memory as a leaf across a pond. He steals a glance across the woman next to him — smiling in her sleep, hands clutching a weathered picture — and spies the onlookers. Some look angry, others anguished at being held back from the train by the outstretched arms, and in some cases, batons, of the attendants. Not supposed to be this way. Old fool on the dock ruined this nice moment for all of them. The thrusters begin to fire, one after another, at first sounding far away up by the engine, then growing closer and louder, until all is a dull roar muffled by the tin walls of the Comet, like a kidnapping victim screaming in a trunk.

It’s at that moment that Brian peeks his head out from underneath the seat in front of him. Sure he’s seeing things, Grandpa blinks his eyes again and again, until the boy speaks and dispels all hope that he was an illusion: “I’m stowing away, Grandpa!”

The elders are slow to react, and it’s hard to hear over the roar of the engines, but first Grandpa’s seatmate wakes up, then the pair across the aisle, and in moments the traincar is alive with shouting and protesting: “A kid… just a boy… where’d he come from… open the doors…” it all bleeds together in a growing torrent of disbelief and panic.

**********

The crowd on the docks is unruly now, some of them with tears streaming down their faces, some pointing furiously at the train. One attendant takes his eyes off the crowd for a moment and steals a glance at the Comet — sure enough, the Elders in there are pressed against the glass, banging on the windows and shouting soundlessly. Rare for it to go this way, and a shame, too. Better when they go with dignity, but it looks like it’ll be a Screaming Comet this year.

Then the locks disengage, the train lifts up on its hover-rails, and in the space of a breath the Comet winks away into the distance, a sound like shearing metal and a thousand voices in pain dissipating on the dock as it disappears.

*********

Brian watches, his eyes the size of bowling balls at the window as the houses fade to dots, the cities turn into a formless blur. The entire landscape resolves itself into one huge patch of green and blue as the Comet streaks into the upper atmosphere. The Elders, all their sound and fury spent and useless, sink back into their seats, some of them grasping Grandpa’s shoulder with heavy hands before they do. Some are crying. None of them will look at Brian.

Brian pulls himself away from the luminescent panorama and stares at the Elders. “Why are they crying?”

The words seem to tangle in Grandpa’s throat. “Because you’re not supposed to be here.”

“But I wanted to go to the Great Beyond with you.”

Grandpa wants to explain to the boy. But the sun is shrinking over the radiant blue curve of the earth. It won’t be long now. He chokes back tears and flashes the biggest smile he can manage at Brian. “Then let’s go together. Have you ever seen anything like that?” And he smiles and laughs with his grandson as the sun disappears from view, the last sunset they’ll ever see. And it’s such a marvelous sight, this final gift to the Elders, with the inky black of space behind and the infinity of sprawling starscapes ahead, that the Elders forget their rage and fury that Brian has to take this journey with them and they smile silently. The cabin fills with the boy’s innocent laughter as the vents release the numbing gas, and the passengers of the Screaming Comet drift off to sleep.

In the seconds that follow, the hatches on the Comet open and its contents are ejected into the void to begin their final journey into the Great Beyond, while the Comet begins its balletic descent back to the Earth.


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