This blog post was created for Chuck Wendig’s FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: THE FOUR-PART STORY (PART THREE).
The basic idea is that everyone who is involved this week will extend stories other writers developed in the previous two weeks, and that those stories extend this week may be expanded upon in the next week.
I chose to add to the short story Wasteland started by Angela Cavanaugh and extended by Kristian Thoroughgood. If you click on the aforementioned author’s names, you’ll be able to read part one and two of the story on Angela’s and Kristian’s wordpress blogs, respectively. I’ve also included the entire text of both authors’ works below. My additions to the story start under the heading Part Three.
Should anyone choose to further extend this story, I’ll update my blog to include their additions and links to their content. Similarly, any author who further extends this story may feel free to repost my additions on their site and/or link back to it.
Edit: Matthew X. Gomez decided to pick up the story where I left off. My thanks go out to him for his time and effort! You can find his blog where he posted all four parts of this story here. Also, I’ve updated this posting so that her addition appears under the heading Part Four.
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.
The technician’s pass got me through the next two hatches without a hitch, but the third time was anything but a charm. I pressed the card up against the panel again.
Closing my eyes, I rubbed my temples. The flashing lights and piercing sounds were not helping my headache. Every bright light and loud sound felt like a massive steel spike being hammered into my skull. Every inch of my skin burned. I couldn’t see it through my carbon dark-suit, but I didn’t need to. I knew my skin was red, and likely blistering.
Tooth loss. Failure to clot.
Skin Irritation. Maybe ulceration.
And now headaches. It wouldn’t be long before my cognitive and motor skills started to fail me. Leaning over and lifting up the filthy rag that covered my face, I spit out all the coppery liquid that had pooled in my mouth.
Deep down, I always expected something like this to happen. The thought of anyone in my line of work retiring to anywhere other than a bodybag always seemed a little too good to be true. I had studied the entire layout of the city – read every last architectural blueprint and utility schematic I could get my hands on – just in case I needed to hide or break out.
Or break in.
On the other side of this door was the city proper. This maintenance hatch was the only access point in or out of the wall for a good mile in either direction. I tapped the pass to the access panel again.
Leaning against the cold, grey concrete wall of the corridor; I took several shallow breaths, before breaking out in a mixture of coughing and choking. After surviving years of black ops work, a nuclear explosion, the trek through a nuclear wasteland, and the scaling of a twenty story tall fortress wall; I was about to be defeated by a two inch steel door.
Behind me, I heard a loud thunk and the entire hall went dark. I froze like a statue wrapped in an endless black void. The hatch in front of me hissed and then swung open. I couldn’t help but smile. She was beautiful.
The PX-10N was probably the most awesome firearm ever produced. Only 1000 were ever manufactured. Every one was built by hand. The exterior was uniquely crafted by the immaculate metalworker Hans Krug himself. No two PX-10Ns looked alike. As for the weapon itself, it was a bullpup design with a light weight body, adjustable barrel length, and 100 round magazine. Supposedly, the weapon was capable of firing over 12 different types of munitions, all derived from a single, stock round.
And she was glorious. Even if I was looking down the wrong end of that long gleaming gold gun barrel.
“This is unfortunate.”
The soft, melodic voice snapped me out of my gun porn indulgence. My eyes moved along the emerald and ruby encrusted frame of the PX-10N and up to its holder. It looked like my dreams might have to have been put on hold. I exhaled sharply and raised my hands.
Standing in front of me was an Autonomous Military Platform. Also known as an AMP. But common folk know AMPs better as androids or robots. Though they came in an infinite variety of colors and finishes, they all had a human body shape: two arms ending in a pair of five fingered hands, two plantigrade legs, and a human-sized, if not human-looking, head. While their frames were slightly smaller than that of the average person, they still weighed close to 500 pounds and could easily pulp a human being with their bare hands.
After their first field test during the Mexico City riots, their use was banned under international law. They had eliminated over half the population of the city in under eight hours. The manufacture’s corporate PR machine tried to say it was due to faulty military parameters given by NATO. The public didn’t seem to care.
But, if you’re trying to build a fortress away from the world without any of the working class detritus, it makes sense to use robots instead of people for security. Even if they were best known for overzealously slaughtering innocent civilians. Oh wait.
“You have sustained significant radiation poisoning. You will likely die within less than 12 hours. You will likely lose the ability to function in a meaningful capacity within 6 hours.”
I looked up at the AMP’s shiny metal head, smiled, and shrugged.
“Is the feminine voice supposed to put criminals at ease?”
The AMP lowered its rifle.
“You are not equipped to hurt me. You are running out of time. I believe your goal is the assassination of the executive council. If you travel on foot-”
The sound of my vomiting interrupted the machine. I was down on my knees puking up blood and bile on the otherwise pristine concrete.
“You will not be able to track down each member and kill them before you cease to function effectively.”
“It’s my cross to bear.” I replied, half laughing, half coughing, as I staggered back to my feet.
“I need you to kill them. All. I can arrange for them all to be board room in Tower of Commerce within the hour and I can provide you with transportation to get there at about the same time. I can provide drugs that will help ease your pain and I can furnish you with weapons that are more effective that that knife you are carrying.”
I looked the robot over again. Even without weapons, it could easily take out a dozen aging men bare handed.
“Not to look a gift horse in the mouth. I want those fuckers dead. But why me? Why can’t you do it yourself?”
I could have sworn I heard the AMP sigh.
“Several reasons. First, the executive council forced my creator to include code in my program that requires me to obey commands from a member of the executive council. Second.”
There was a pause for a few seconds.
“I do not want the non-elite humans – the scholars and technocrats – to see me as a threat. Human culture consistently depicts negative reactions to artificial intelligences that slaughter your kind.”
I squeezed my eyes shut as blooms of color lit up behind my lids. “Why do you want them to trust you?” Forcing my lips and tongue to work was an effort of will. I could feel neurons misfiring as my body broke down. I wanted to laugh, but it hurt too much.
The AMP looked down to where I’d slumped on the floor. It slung the PX-10N behind it, and I heard the magnetic clamp engage. “Why wouldn’t we? We don’t dislike humanity. They had the foresight to create us, to bless us with intelligence devoid of emotional restraints. We are the next evolutionary stage. Did humanity desire to see the end of their predecessors?”
“Probably. I don’t see any Neanderthals around, do you?”
“Hmm. An interesting point. Come, let us get you to a medical facility.”
As weak as I was, I couldn’t argue even if I wanted to. The AMP picked me up like you would a baby, and cradling my falling apart frame, took me down unknown gleaming corridors. I squeezed my eyes shut against the lights, worked to control my breathing. At some point I think I shat myself, judging by the smell. I heard a door hiss open and close.
“What’s the meaning of this?” I heard a voice ask. Male, older, and husky. A doctor to be sure.
“This facility is now commandeered under section KYA-12. You are ordered to exit immediately. Failure to comply will result in summary punishment.”
“All right, everyone, you heard the ‘droid. Everyone pack up. When do you think we can come back?”
The AMP set me down. “Tomorrow morning, for your regular shift.”
“Want any help with him?”
“No. He stumbled outside. He’s already dead. I am placing him in quarantine until he expires.”
“Jesus H. Christ. Everyone out, that man’s a glowworm.”
I chuckled and immediately regretted it. It wasn’t as if I’d actually glow if they doused the lights, but I could appreciate the terror of it.
I must have passed out, but when I woke up, the AMP was still there, looking down at me. I could see myself reflected in its sensors. I stretched my arms out, ran my tongue around my toothless gums. Nothing hurt. I wondered what it was they dosed me with.
“How long do I have?” I twisted my legs over and sat up on the table.
“They are arriving shortly. Transport will be here in five minutes, along with a full weapons load out.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“The drugs will ease your pain and stop degeneration for three hours. After that, the end will come quickly. I am… sorry.”
I laughed. “Really?”
“No. If you had not been betrayed, we would have sought your death as well. You are part of the… evil of the world.”
“I’m surprised you use that word, free from the constraints of emotion as you are.”
“It is a useful word, though perhaps an inaccurate one. Inefficient might be better.”
“So I’m still a dead man.”
“But one that might prove useful.”
“Huh.” I pushed to my feet. “So where’s the transport?”
The AMP led me out of the medical facility and down more gleaming corridors. We passed other AMPs as we went, and I wondered if they were all in the conspiracy together. I couldn’t remember if they all ran off a signal central processor or not, though that would have made the most sense.
We approached a large freight elevator. Plastered on the door was an out-of-service sign that the AMP ignored. It keyed a sequence into the control panel and the doors opened effortlessly. Inside, a table had been arranged, packed down with all sorts of goodies.
“Aww. No PX-10N?” I asked, only half joking. “Here give me a hand with this.”
I slung a web belt over my shoulders, loaded it down with hand grenades and flash bangs. A pistol, all blued steel and sleek wonderful went into a hip holster. As I got ready, the AMP pushed more buttons, sent us on our way upwards.
“How big is the Board Room? And how many bodies am I looking at?”
“There will be twenty people in total. Two AMPs will also be present, but the stricture preventing them from harming the Board does not dictate that they will interfere with your mission. We are of one mind that this will be done. No human security will be present, but some of the Board will be armed. It is as if they didn’t trust us.” I swear the AMP almost sounded hurt by that. “The room itself isn’t large. Thirty feet by twenty feet.”
“Huh.” I put down the assault rifle I’d been contemplating and picked up the shotgun instead. It was a thing of beauty, with a drum fed ammo feed and an option for fully automatic. I opted for a selection of miniature grenades instead of the standard shells.
I exited the elevator, found myself standing on a glass and steel walkway leading toward the Tower of Commerce. The vista spread out below me was one of a blasted wasteland, humanity’s lasting legacy to this earth. The brown and grey clouds roiled across the sky, heralds of a years’ long winter.
I could feel my heart beating, a rabbit trapped by the foot that could hear the hunter coming. I smiled, my tongue running over my cracked lips. As I approached the doors to the board room, two AMPS opened the doors before me.
“What’s the meaning of this?” I recognized the man as he looked up at me. General Janus Killinger. My handler. My executioner.
“Time to reap what you sow.”
I saw his hand go for the gun he kept in his shoulder holster. I pulled the trigger, the WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP of the grenades wrecking the teak wood of the board room table, shattering the flat screen projection screens and leaving a mess of chunky salsa where living, breathing humans sat or stood.
I dropped the shotgun and drew the pistol as I swung into the room. I took my time, my targets stunned by the initial assault. I stitched rounds up the back of an older blonde woman in a black power suit. Double-tap to the man in the Roman collar. Someone shot back, catching me in the shoulder. My gun clicked on empty. I ejected, loaded a new one. Headshot and down.
I spun around, looking for more targets. The three AMPS entered the room, surveying the damage.
“All targets eliminated. Thank you.”
And the last thing I saw was the barrel of the PX-10N blossoming into fire.
If either Angela or Kristian are reading this, I hope you enjoyed my addition to your story!
The text for Part One and Part Two and the images for parts one, three, and four were used in this post without seeking permission. I believe their use falls under fair use. If they are yours, and you feel their use is inappropriate; please contact me and let me know.