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.
André jammed the button on his phone. Nothing. Everything was all touchscreens now, except for the solitary button necessary to reboot a device if the OS froze up.
“Dammit,” André swore. Stupid thing had been giving him fits all day.
Disk reformat in 5 sec…
“What? I didn’t request that!” Stupid devices were starting to think on their own now. André could have screamed.
He jammed the button again—
—and watched helplessly as the promised reformat took place, and a new message appeared on-screen.
I control this device now.
“The hell?” André muttered. He mashed down on the button again.
That won’t do you any good.
Fear crawled down André’s spine. He pitched the phone across the room, watching it disintegrate against a wall.
The lights flickered.
Shit. The house network. That was a problem. He had to cut power before—
Outside, chaos erupted, and André knew it was too late. The house network’s backup was warehoused across town, meaning it had already made the jump and was loose.
It was a long, paved driveway to nowhere. Fifty yards of winding tree-lined blacktop ending in an open field. There was no building at the end, nothing to indicate the driveway’s purpose, no sign that a building had ever stood here. Zack stood at the end of the drive and let his eyes trace over it.
“You looking to buy?” Startled, Zack turned to see a wizened old man with a cane looking at him.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “I still don’t understand the point.”
The old man grinned, an unsettling gap-toothed smile. “Ah,” he said, “you’re asking all the right questions.”
“I haven’t asked anything,” Zack puzzled.
“Not in words, no,” the old man said, “but here.” He reached up with a gnarled paw and tapped Zack on the temple. “You won’t be sorry you bought the place. It’s a real winner.”
Zack began to object when a stinging sensation on his hand distracted him. He raised his hand in time to see a drop of blood fall from one finger and land on the pavement. He looked up, and the old man’s eyes were luminous.