The dirigible floats a hundred fifty metres above red dust and twisted metal. Engines that haven’t fired in a dog’s age are corroded and quiet, and the craft wanders the sky aimlessly, the shifting air currents the only thing now to give it direction.
The giant airship’s envelope ripples and billows, the airbags contained within filled with barely enough gas to keep it aloft. It floats lower in the sky now, and soon enough the dirigible will find itself on the ground.
The craft carries only a fraction of its original payload. The remaining ordnance is tetchy and volatile after lying dormant for so long, and the dirigible’s inevitable landfall will be a sight to behold — were there anyone left to see it.
A lone mechanical voice from the burned-out husk of a city below is all that heralds the airship’s passing.
“Greetings, Loyal Customer™!” it calls out — but only for a short while. Soon, it too falls silent.
The wind howls, blowing red dust in heavy clouds.
The dirigible sails on, indifferent.
[Originally published at Ficly]
That was the only word Georgette could think of to describe the mountain of a man standing before her. The blacksmith-turned-airship-captain was a disfigured hulk, made all the more repulsive by the stub that was all that remained of his left arm.
But she had to admit that the man had talent commanding a crew. Especially when they were trying to outrun one of the fastest trains in the Northern Territory.
“What’re you gawping at, lass?” he barked. “Back to it. No time for woolgathering!”
Georgette turned her attention back to feeding the furnace, reaching up periodically to wipe the smoky haze from her goggles.
They were running way hotter than normal, and she just hoped that the airship’s envelope wasn’t glowing too much as a result of the overtaxed engines.
We’re dead if anyone on that train spots us, she thought. We’re most likely dead, anyway, even if we get there before they do. She was surprised the volatile gas above them hadn’t already ignited.
Maybe we’ll get lucky.
[Originally posted at Ficly]
I can still feel the hole inside the day you left. It pains me greatly every day. Sometimes I double over and wish to die, the agony is so great. I don’t know why you did what you did, only that somehow I must have been the cause. Why else would you have done it?
My fingers can still trace the curve of the scar in my stomach, the one that you put there, and I can still feel the weight of the bundle you placed deep within my belly. You told me never to lose it, never to remove it — and I haven’t. I never will. I will carry that regret with me for the rest of my life.
[Originally posted at Ficly]
He walks slowly, each lumbering stride carrying him a dozen leagues. Entire villages are crushed beneath his feet; whole nations are shaken by his passing. He cares not one whit. He strides through them like they are grass. They are insignificant in his eyes, for they forgot him long ago.
He chatters with himself for, as the last of his kind, there is no one else with whom to talk. He is the lonely god — and he is stark, raving mad.
“What will it be, Bronze? What will you do now?” he asks himself.
“This,” he replies.
He stoops, and the land beneath him shudders. With his hand, he scoops up a mountain, brushing away dirt and stone until only the thumb-bone of a titan remains in his palm.
“Ah,” he says. “Right where I left it.”
He grins and plops one end of the bone into his mouth, sucking fiercely upon it.
He stands again, and resumes his plodding. The lonely god will not come this way again.
He has that for which he came.
[Originally posted at Ficly]
Sand blew through the broken glass and ticked against the metal skin of the clockwork mannequin behind it. Dressed in a tattered waistcoat, its gears and joints shrieked and popped in the dead air as it attempted to pivot on its rusted pedestal.
“Greetings, Loyal Customer™!” it called out to no one. “We have the best boots and buskins—”
A harsh whine of metal.
“—try a pair on!”
The wind howled through the dusty street before the mannequin, shifting small dunes from one side to the other. Tumbleweeds raced past, bouncing off broken buildings on their way to nowhere.
“Corsets, top hats, monocles! We have—”
Clanging, banging gears. A puff of smoke and the smell of burning copper.
“—al Customer™! You have only to ask!” The mannequin continued its pitch in spite of itself. It jerked right, once, and became still, its voice holding out just a moment longer.
“Loyal. Loyal. Loyal. Loy—”
And then it froze, silent as the human shadows burned into the boardwalk beneath it.
[Originally posted at Ficly]
The tiny craft’s re-emergence into real space was unremarkable in every way. No flash of light to mark the rift it tore in the black, no radio or gravity waves, and even the EM radiation typical to subspace travel was dampened so as to be indistinguishable from the universe’s own background noise. The ship was decked in a non-reflective nano-material that absorbed all forms of energy that struck it, recycling it back through the hyper-efficient engines for a continuous, if nominal, power supply. And so, for all intents and purposes, the craft was invisible to all but the most advanced surveillance tools.
And in this part of space, perfect concealment was tantamount to survival.
“Feather the engines back,” Harking commanded. “Drift us from here.”
“Aye, sir,” the pilot replied.
“How long until traversal?” Harking inquired.
A pause while the pilot did the math. “Just under three lights, less than 30 minutes at our current course and speed.”
“Barely good enough,” Harking muttered, “but it will have to do.”
[Originally posted at Ficly.]
Smoke drifted lazily from the barrel of the Ladysmith.
“You didn’t have to do that.” Kathryn’s gaze fixed on mine.
I glanced at the body sprawled out beside her and chuckled. “I know. It’s just kind of fun.”
The waitress sidled up to me. “More coffee, sir?”
“Sure, sure,” I replied. “And another serving of those wonderful hashbrowns, if you please, with my compliments to the cook.”
Kathryn smirked. “She didn’t even look at the body. I think they’re a little too accustomed to your routine.”
“Of course they are. If Marj wouldn’t keep sending those damned messengers at breakfast…” I replied.
“Still, you really don’t need to keep shooting them.”
I shrugged. “I don’t like the messages they deliver. The day Marj sends one I like is the day I get out of this business.”
“The business of shooting the messenger.” Kathryn’s delivery was deadpan.
“You know what I mean.” I sounded petulant. I didn’t care.
“Alright,” she said. “I’ll ease off. For now.”
Helluva way to start the day.
There was murder in her eyes. He saw it clear as day.
He rubbed the tender spot where she’d hit him with the blunt — and his heart skipped a beat when she pointed the barbaric weapon at him.
“You’re not actually going to use that thing, are you?” he stammered.
“Oh, I should,” she seethed. “I should use it to take you apart piece by piece.”
He licked his lips nervously and cast about for an escape, but she clearly had the advantage.
“C’mon,” he pleaded. “Can’t we be civilized about this?”
“Ha!” she laughed mirthlessly. “We’re way beyond civilized here, Robert.” She paced around him, where she had coldcocked him.
“Bastard!” she hissed. “All this time I was looking for my boy, I came to you for comfort! All this time…” She gasped, trying to catch her breath. “I looked everywhere for my boy — and all this time you were feeding him to me, a piece at a time!
“I should kill you!”
He smiled, then, a psychotic glint to his eyes.
“Yeah,” he smirked, “but didn’t he taste wonderful?”
We broke the world, cracked it open from pole to pole. Lit the planet up and burned it with fire from within. We had to. It was the only way to get rid of them.
It was a doomsday weapon, of course. A last recourse. God knows we’d tried everything else. Nothing had worked. And so we did what we always swore we would never do, despite the fact that we had built the weapon anyway. We knew that, push come to shove, we’d use it, even while we were telling ourselves we wouldn’t.
It sure as hell was better than the alternative.
And so now we walk the surface, just the four of us, protected by our armored suits. So far as we know, we are the last of our people, the last of our kind, and the last living things anywhere on the planet. Our world is dead now; it will never recover. But at least they can no longer have their way with us.
It is a fair trade.
André stepped outside to a world in bedlam. Billboards flashed alternately among binary output, machine code, and actual ads. Vehicles were strewn about the highway like so many child’s toys, their operating systems completely trashed. Most of the city’s droids were on the fritz, as well, and the rest were clearly inoperative. Nothing with a computer was working the way it should.
“Dammit,” André swore again.
This was the ultimate hack. It had to be. Nothing else made sense. What made it ultimate was that both his phone and his house network had been firewalled to the gills. He knew the firewall had been impenetrable because he’d built it himself. He’d tested the final version exhaustively by bragging about the firewall’s strength on the Net. Every hacker, cracker, and code jockey in the world had bombarded the ’wall with their best utilities. None had been able to break it.
So where had the breach come from? And why had it started with his own system?
It didn’t make sense.