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Historical Fiction

The AC hummed, its monotonous buzz barely audible over the sirens in the distance. Even if six fans spun from each corner of the room, it was still hot.

It was always hot.

Weather Control wanted them out of there. Flushed. Hunted, then dead.

An intricate knitting of tubes and cables hummed of static above his head. Strands of light brown hair thrashed, attracted by the ceiling. He grunted in frustration, and moved his chair to the left, its legs scratching the floor.

I have to fix that, he thought, staring at a blue jolt of electricity, carelessly coiling around a fissured tube. The veins, the bowels of District Z32, the blood of the hulking city, their house a cell in a labyrinth of capillaries. They were the thumb, the sole, the bottom of society’s chain.

A tumor for them.

We are trapped rats, he thought, staring at the ceiling. And rats they were. A fake sense of flimsy freedom lingered in their consciousness, yet it was forged, and he knew that all too well. Just trapped rats in a twisted maze, its exits guarded by famished cats, their mouths wide open, urging them to run inside.

Three beeps shook him back to reality, his train of thoughts derailing. Jen watched him with anxious eyes, a thin layer of sweat brightening her with a surreal glow. A sprite, a shiny ghost of redemption, of peace.

Yet her body spoke of anger.

She threw a plastic can on the table, a brown, slimy broth steaming from inside. Her muscles tensed, drawing lines of sinew underneath her skin. Her frightful, yet stark eyes showered him with a distant glance. Worry. Anxiety.

Fear.

Just another day, he thought, eyeing the broth with a defeated gaze.

“Military food again?” he asked, finding it difficult to breathe.

Jen slapped her can on the table and extended a rusty spoon.

“What were you expecting, veal stake? Medium-rare? Or maybe some deep-fried pork-ribs?”

She raised her eyebrows expectantly. He didn’t answer.

Instead, he decided to gape at the wall in front of him. Patches of mold colored it in green, blue and brown shades. An artsy mosaic of corruption and sickness, just like everything else around. He averted his gaze to the left, peering at the world beyond the window. Broken, dead, abandoned. A pile of rubble, a wasteland of concrete, metal, bodies, and androids.

Why isn’t she back? 

He gulped down a spoonful of slime, its acrid taste forcing a grimace on his face.

“I hate this shit…” he muttered under his chin, struggling to inhale.

“Why now, Brom? It’s rich in protein and vitamins. Soldiers eat one can of this… mess,” she said, spinning the spoon inside, “and can function for three straight days in the middle of a war.”

“Soldiers no longer exist,” he replied, slouching.

Breath refused to function. Oxygen seemed scarce.

“That’s another topic,” she said, struggling to hide her uneasiness.

Yet her foot tapped the floor, her fingers rapped the table. There was no hiding it.

“I… need… filter…” Brom croaked, his face reddening. Jen darted from the table and produced a glowing tube from a drawer underneath the sink. Brom opened a rectangular container on the length of his throat, revealing a dark tube. It smelled of sewer and pickled cucumbers. Jen removed the used filter with the swiftness accumulated in years of practice.

Oxygen died out completely, and a deaf pain blossomed in his chest. Struggling, strangled, stranded lungs, their connection with his mouth cut. Wiping the sweat on her forehead, she installed the fresh filter. What a beautiful woman, he thought, admiring her dark eyes. They stared resolutely at the hole gaping in his throat. Harsh eyes, eyes that have seen perhaps a little too much.

She covered the container and ran her hands through Brom’s grizzled hair. It needed a fresh cut, perhaps Adrianne could help.

Why isn’t she back, his inner voice pounded, a little stronger than before.

The blessing of oxygen rained down on him, and his face recovered its pale complexion. Jen flicked the metallic plate stuck to his jaw and sat in front of her supper. He hated those filters, it felt like inhaling stale air, like filling lungs with immaterial plastic. He swallowed another spoon, and his stomach twisted upside down, bellowing.

Jen chewed her lip, the sole of her boot clanking rhythmically against the floor.

“Why isn’t she back?” she asked, eyeing the clock. “She said she’ll be back by dinner.”

Brom shrugged and struggled to down his food. He measured Jen from head to toe and smiled. The only one in the family without enhancements or mechanical parts. It was a feat to remain a full-fledged human, especially for lurkers of the cell. She frowned, her wrinkles changing shape, slithering bright serpents on her olive skin. Brom swallowed the food.

“Why are you silent?” she snapped. “Say something.”

“What do you want me to say?” he asked, the new filter still feeling awkward in his throat.

“I don’t know, man! Something, anything. Why isn’t she back?”

“Maybe she’s exploring… She hates this food more than us, so it would make sense.”

Jen sniffed, waving a dismissive hand. The clock on the wall clicked. An ancient relic, a clicking clock. Brom resumed his quarrel with the soldier rations and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“How can you be so calm?” Jen barked, pounding the table with both fists. “You don’t care if she comes back or not, do you?”

Her words cut deeper than any knife. He eyed her calmly, then buried the full spoon between his teeth.

“She’s your daughter too, you know?” Jen said, pointing a finger at the door. “She’s your daughter. What if she fell in a hidden manhole, what if she died? What if she was caught by the Rectors?”

“She’s not a child anymore, Jen. Anne is capable of watching her back… I think she might be even better than me.”

“That’s not the point! She’s not back!” Jen yelled, springing on her feet. Her eyes were watery, yet she refused to cry.

“She’ll come, Jen. Just calm down.”

“But what if she…”

The door slammed against the wall. A hooded figure appeared, her khaki cloak covered in white dust. A sniper rifle, glistening a weathered, coppery shade, hanging loosely on her back, and a one-edged sword was attached to her hip. The best weapon to fight the Rectors, Brom thought. There was fresh oil on the sharp side of the blade.

“You’re late,” Jen spat, her lower lip twitching.

The girl eyed her wearily, and nodded. She discarded the weapons, sinking in a cushioned armchair by the window. A thin stream of blood trickled down her neck, and she looked as if she had wrestled wild elephants. She extended her artificial arm to a shelf on the left. It hissed, broken, uncalibrated. Mechanical fingers wrapped around a bottle, as she watched the amber spirit inside, her teal eyes flickering.

I wonder what she sees with those, Brom thought, as Anne gulped down two mouthfuls of rum. Core eyes were said to poison the body, and the dark vines around her eye-sockets confirmed the rumors.

“I said, you’re late,” Jen said, heating another plastic can.

She nodded and stripped of her blouse, fumbling through her cape. Her ash-blonde hair was soaked in blood pouring from a gash on the back of her head.

“I need some betadine,” she sighed, her eyes glowing unnaturally.

Brom stood and vanished behind a door. Anne staggered to her feet and turned on an old tape recorder. The device screeched a few times, struggling to spin the tape, then filled the room with orchestra wails. Vivaldi, said the writing on the tape.

“What happened?” Jen asked, flinging the food on the table. Adrianne grunted and devoured the sour broth. She reached across the table and downed her father’s food as well. Brom returned, and carefully cleaned her wound. It wasn’t too deep, but still, it was a serious blow. She must have fought a Rector, Brom thought, his gentle fingers cleaning sand and dust out of her skin.

She said nothing.

“Can you stop ignoring me, Adrianne?” her mother said, her demanding eyes showering her. Jen’s face was a puzzle of feelings. Worry, scorn, anger, fear…

Anne laughed.

“You’re like an open book, mother,” she said, touching her bandaged head.

“That's not an answer,” Jen replied.

“A scouting party, mother,” she said, the purple tendrils around her eyes pulsating. “Two rectors, four bots and a drone.”

“How the hell did you manage?” Brom blurted, grinning. The tape screeched, then wailed a high-pitched violin note. Anne eyed the Kar98 lying on the floor, her eyes glimmering.

“That baby is a work of art… I popped a Rector with it. Clean shot, straight through the core. The drone sighted me, loaded its cannon, then blew up. The bots were no big deal, and the second Rector was stupid enough to try and stab me in the back. It just grazed my head, and I hacked its core,” she said, her tongue snapping every word. “You think the Protectorate would learn and update their AI and combat routines. Seems like they don’t.”

Brom sat, the flapping of fans accompanying his indistinguishable blabber.

“I don’t speak gibberish,” Anne pointed out.

“Where were they? I didn’t hear the shots, must have been far.”

“Four streets down, near the canal,” she replied bluntly.

Jen and Brom eyed each-other, worry transfixing their features. The Protectorate had never dared to send troops so close to the border of the district. They were set on flushing them out… As they had previously done with all the factions. Corporate swine. Greedy pigs… It’s never enough for them, Brom thought. He picked up Anne’s gear, setting it in a neat bundle on a shelf.

“They are too close,” Anne said, her guttural voice barely audible. Brom nodded.

“Are we in the clear?” Jen asked, interlacing her fingers. She seemed wise, motherly, yet Anne knew better. She was broken, and scared, too defeated to stand up and fight. Even though she had mothered her, she was despicable. Anne pursed her lips, frowning.

“For today, probably. I haven’t seen any other intruders.”

“I don’t understand why they put us at the border,” Jen yelped. “I mean, out of all the people, why risk the life of the best demolitionist and the best scout.”

Precisely because we’re the best… You’re pathetic, Anne thought.

She curled her lips into a smile, then grabbed Brom’s hand.

“Father, it would be best if you brought a gun. Just as a matter of precaution,” she said. Brom rubbed his forehead and vanished again.

Peace. If only for a second, peace. Low humming, distinct buzzing above, the static field pulling her hair up, the sound of Vivaldi…

“I know what you think of me,” Jen said, taking a seat across the table. She faced Anne, her eyes rheumy. Anne shrugged.

“You despise me. You think I’m a coward,” she said, voice shaking.

It was true. She was a coward, indeed. A spineless shook who dared call herself a member of the Z32 cell. Yet, she was her mother, and she had suffered enough. Anne’s hands moved as if out of instinct, grasping Jen’s fingers.

“I… don’t despise you, mother. I just have a different viewpoint. I know I can be harsh sometimes, but I don’t despise you.”

She believed her.

Jen shook her head in acceptance. She opened her mouth to say something, then froze.

A bang, then their ears rang like a struck church-bell. Anne touched her ear, and her sensors picked up the warmth of blood. She looked at her fingers as if to receive the visual confirmation of something she already knew. She tensed, then turned her head.

Where there had been a door, now there was just a gaping hole. A squadron of Rectors clicked their spider-like steel legs, their built-in machineguns pointed forward. Anne swallowed, her eyes flickering intense shades of teal.

Brom dashed in, his colossal body moving as swift as a panther. He held a grenade in his hand and a Deagle in the other. He saw Anne trying to dash for her Kar, then a short bang followed. A bullet smashed her skull, and she crashed lifeless, her face falling in the broth leftovers.

His heart stopped.

Jen twisted on her heels, her visage a dreadful sculpture of despair. The Rectors clicked and riddled her with a hail of bullets, the sheer force of the execution propelling her body into the wall.

His heart refused to beat.

Thump

Thump

With a crazed battle-cry, he removed the pin of the grenade, then slammed his fist against his chest. A beeping sound followed. Three beeps and they were all going to hell. For some reason, he wondered whether machines have a hell of their own, but soulless creations had no place in the afterlife.

They had no life to begin with.

He threw the grenade, and the second beep followed. The Rectors turned and aimed their smoking barrels. Life was different when sixty-four machinegun barrels watched him from the other end. It seemed more meaningful, each-split second weighing heavier than the one before.

The grenade exploded, guns fired, pain followed. He gritted his teeth and lunged forward like a small bear, blood spluttering out of his body. He felt no pain, just a strange calmness, as if he was the surface of an abandoned fountain. Stale, putrid… Infested with death.

The third beep clinked, it’s echo overlapping in his mind. Vivaldi’s orchestra played a slow tune in the background, as everything around him caught fire. At least I take a few of these bastards with me, he thought, as whiteness set in.

***

Sunrise spew tongues of red and pink across the sky. District Z32 was a mirror of it. Flames engulfed the rubbles, as droves of Rectors trampled everything, leaving destruction in their wake. In the distance, Gaunt city shimmered silvery glints.

At the outskirts of the district, a lone Rector clicked five of its eight feet, its core pulsating hues of azure. It dragged three carcasses behind it, one of them displaying a pair of teal-core eyes. They flickered lively, two orbs of electricity surrounded by dead flesh and bone.

Clouds gathered above, and rain rattled down violently, engulfing the flames. Weather Control had no reason to scorch the land anymore.

  




November 29, 2019 19:37

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3 comments

Ana Govindasamy
16:53 Sep 27, 2020

This is amazing! Keep doing what you're doing Viktor!

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Sadia Faisal
17:00 May 22, 2020

great story, please follow me and like my story if you like it

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Viktor Rain
15:09 May 26, 2020

Sure thing. I have followed your profile, though right now I'm caught with my BA and final exams. Once this whole period of chaos settles down, I'll gladly read your stories :D

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