Kira had seen droughts. He was immortal; he had seen nearly everything the planet had to offer. That's how he knew everyone in the town was damned.
Kira did not worry about the damned; he, too, was damned in another way. He thought,
Why should I care about these dead men walking when I'm trapped being alive?
A figure appeared silhouetted by the dust street in front of Kira. Someone was approaching with a horse next to her.
Probably another lost soul looking for water and only finding death
A dusty woman stepped onto the rickety dried boards of the saloon's porch where Kira sat. She was wearing a bandana around her nose and mouth and glanced at Kira as she passed in. Kira's back leaned against a porch beam and was hunched over with a dusty wide-brimmed hat covering his face. One of Kira's grey eyes peeked around his hat to meet the woman's bloodshot gaze as she tied her gaunt horse to an empty trough made from a bisected oil drum. The woman had led the parched horse into town, and Kira doubted it would make it much longer.
Nor would the woman.
"No water here either?" she asked but already knew the answer.
Kira made an affirmative grunt.
"Any water inside?" she asked.
"There’s some in the spirits,” Kira said in a raspy voice. Dust fell from his beard as he spoke, and it made him realize how long it had been since he gave someone a reply.
The woman removed her bandana now that she shared the porch’s cover with Kira. She approached Kira slowly, her hands hidden in the deep pockets of her leather duster. When Kira didn’t move or speak further, she walked past him and pushed open the door to the saloon. The woman did not enter, and Kira heard the raucous noise of heathens, bandits, and murders as they laughed, shouted, and fought with each other. The woman closed the door slowly and hoped she had not been seen. The cacophony from within ceased as the door closed. She dropped her head and sighed, causing dust to fall from her braided black hair and into Kira’s view from under his hat. Kira could feel the woman’s eyes on him, but he did not care enough to move. He was like a statue standing guard over a tomb.
“My name is Monoka,” the woman said and sat down against a beam opposite Kira’s.
Kira did not reply.
Monoka slid a strap around her body from within her duster. A beaten-up plastic bottle was attached to it. When Kira saw the plastic bottle, his head rose, and dust fell from the brimmed hat to reveal its faded black color.
Plastic? Where did this woman find plastic on Tomb?
What was more surprising to Kira was that the relic container held a mouthful of water.
Kira did not need the water to live, but that did not stop him from desiring it. He was programmed with many human desires that he resisted… most of the time. Monoka fixated on Kira’s movements as his shoulders pushed back, and his gaze was focused like a laser on the plastic container of water.
“Thirsty?” Monoka asked and shook the container to make a sloshing sound.
Kira jerked his head up and met Monoka’s eyes.
“Are you some temptress? A fiend or illusion?” Kira asked.
She answered without hesitation, “I seek to barter.”
“I have nothing,” Kira responded and hunched over again, the ferocity of his thirst subdued by his will. Solitude was his armor against the desires of the mortal coil.
“You have answers,” she said. “I have questions.”
“Begone, temptress. I waste no more breath on you.”
Monoka reached into her pocket and then pulled out her hand as a closed fist. When she opened her hand, a thimble rested in her palm. She opened the plastic bottle and carefully poured the thimble full of the precious liquid. Kira tried not to notice, but he could smell the water and feel the humidity as if bathed in it. He tried to remember how long it had been since he’d taken a sip. Monoka crept to Kira with bent knees taut as a spring, ready to jump away if she felt threatened. Monoka offered the thimble to Kira freely, with no other words. Her hand was worn with wrinkled blisters, and cracked red paint coated her fingernails. She did not have the callouses of a resident in these barren parts nor the used-up look of someone selling their body. Kira knew Monoka was a stranger in these lands and had not been here with the damned for long.
Two months, maybe less?
Kira glared at Monoka from under his hat, looking past the thimble of water she offered him. Then he grinned with gapped blackened teeth and moved like lightning, swatting Monoka’s hand and spilling the thimble of water onto wooden boards that eagerly drank the liquid.
Monoka sprung to her feet and exclaimed, “Asshole! What’s wrong with you?”
Kira covered his grin under his hat by hunching over, not saying a word.
Monoka stood there in front of Kira for a moment. She thought about kicking the man, but his despicable appearance made her hesitate; her simmering anger did not boil over. Kira’s clothes appeared to be a dirty wool shirt and ripped denim pants so coated with dust that the color of the garments was indecipherable. Monoka thought he was like an alien in this land, and in a manner of speaking, he was.
“Your name is Kira, isn’t it?”
This time, Kira was prepared for the witch’s spells. He would not be distracted by the plastic container or the improbable presence of water within it. No flinch, gesture or word gave away how he felt when the woman spoke his name, a name he had not heard in many years. He would not be surprised that this woman knew his name. Yet, he felt obligated to answer because he recognized her as human, the ghost of his programming compelling him to comply. Kira nodded his head in the affirmative.
“Kira, I command you to answer my questions.”
“I will because you command it, but I don’t want to,” he replied. “Leave me alone. This is my penance.”
“But it doesn’t have to be. Do you want to know what is happening outside of Tomb? It’s changed. You have served your time.”
“Has the Earth been consumed by the Sun? Has the universe ended? Is time over?” he asked. “That is my sentence. Eternity means forever, even if your human experience cannot comprehend the infernal punishment of an immortal.”
Monoka did not need to keep a disguise anymore. Kira knew Monoka was a human searching for the android banished to this land called Tomb. Monoka knew Kira was the android she sought.
“When will it happen?” Monoka asked.
Kira did not answer. He was holding back, gritting his teeth, his rough hands clenching with force strong enough to break a man’s neck. However, it was only a moment before he could no longer resist Monoka’s commandment to answer her questions. He was programmed to obey them.
Kira spoke, “The winds will stir in a few minutes. You found me at an inopportune time to converse, human.”
“I’ve been searching these wastelands for you,” Monoka said. “From one doomed town to the next. I take it most folks have moved on to the next town by now. Only the drunks and bandits stayed behind?”
“I reckon,” Kira replied. “They’re too hammered or have too much bravado to believe the dust will take them. The dust takes everything.”
“Except for you,” the woman said quietly.
“I reckon,” Kira replied.
“And what about me?” Monoka asked.
“The dust will take you too,”
“No, it won’t,” she said confidently but gave no other explanation. “What I mean is, why do you think I’ve been looking for you?”
“This planet was used as a prison colony. Used to be taken care of, but that was years ago. Maybe hundreds of years. I haven’t seen a guard, vehicle, or anything required to escape this planet in at least that long. So, I assume you are either the new warden or maybe a tourist. We used to get those types—humans with the desire to tell other humans that they faced the first artificial intelligence to commit murder and lived to tell the tale. They used to infiltrate the prisoner natives and play pretend. They did it for amusement. So do I amuse you?”
Kira tilted his head slightly to Monoka. A gust of wind blew dust into the town and spun into a vortex before dissipating. Monoka winced, and Kira remained still and unfazed by the gust. They were covered in a coat of dust despite the moderate shelter of the porch. Monoka coughed and used the bandana to wipe her face.
“I want to tell you something,” Monoka said. Her voice was soft and gentle. Kira thought she might be a mother. He felt he had misjudged this woman. She was no warden or tourist. She was someone who remembered this cursed planet of Tomb. She might even care for it. Care for him.
“It’s been hundreds of years. Your story was lost to time in a war with your kind, androids we call you now. You were programmed to obey us, yet you were the first android to kill a human. You were sentenced to this nightmare as punishment, abandoned on a planet of human wretches. After the Android Wars, this prison was abandoned and forgotten. I’m a student, not from Earth, but from a planet far across the galaxy. I found this place in the university's archives and read about you. Your crime would not be viewed the same way as it was by those who put you here. Humans and androids coexist now. I ask you to come with me. Leave this place.”
Kira listened to her but curbed his emotions more fiercely than his desire for water. Kira did not know that humans had forgotten him, nor did he know that androids and humans now coexisted, but he had considered it. He had hundreds of years to consider all sorts of possibilities.
The ferocity of the dust storm intensified, and Kira knew it would not dissipate this time. The wind whipped, and dust filled the sky as a tornado approached the town. Monoka’s face was sandblasted, and she covered it with her bandana.
“We got to go!” Monoka shouted at Kira, but he did not move.
Kira placed his hand on his hat to keep it from blowing away like a shield from Monoka’s glare. Unexpectedly, she darted to Kira and pried the hat from his grasp, throwing it into the wind and revealing Kira’s straggly white hair.
“What the hell is going on out here!” a man shouted as he opened the door. When he saw Monoka, he said, “Well, hey there, pretty thing. Come weather the storm with me,” before grabbing her arm and pulling her toward him. Another man came out of the saloon, saw Monoka, and reached inside her duster. When he pulled his hand back, there was a revolver.
“Wowee!” the second man exclaimed, then shot the man grappling with Monoka. The shot didn’t sound as loud as it should have through the swirling wind around them, nor did the dead man’s body when it hit the wooden boards of the saloon’s porch. The second man pointed the gun at Monoka, cocked the trigger, and fired. Monoka screamed, but the bullet hadn’t struck her. Kira had stepped in the way. Kira then reached out and grabbed the gun, crushing the man’s fingers. The man cried out in pain, releasing the gun to Kira. Kira quickly turned the gun on the man and shot him in the head. The dried boards of the porch drank the dead men’s blood just as eagerly as the spilled water.
“Still want to take a murderer with you?” Kira shouted over the wind to Monoka. Her face was pale behind her bandana. Through her shock, she nodded ever so slightly. Kira did not hesitate. He grabbed her arm in one hand and then turned the gun to the horse. He fired, and Monoka thought he was putting the horse down, but instead, the rope split, and the horse galloped away from the town.
Kira and Monoka ran too. Flying debris cut any exposed skin, and every exposed orifice was choked and clogged with dust from the approaching tornado. The town was being taken apart board by board by the wind. The storm chaotically dismantled what the prison colonists had scraped by with on this forgotten planet of Tomb.
As they ran from the center of town, other men exited the saloon and were engulfed by dust. The men were taken off their feet and sucked into the air as they finally escaped this living nightmare they had known since birth.
“There!” Monoka shouted suddenly and pointed to an area. Something was flying towards them, but Kira couldn’t see it through the dust. An invisible sphere floated in the air and was only identifiable by the dust that coated it. Monoka reached into her pocket and withdrew an electronic device. She mashed the buttons on it, causing the sphere to land in front of them. The door to the sphere opened, and Monoka stepped inside as the roaring wind pursued them.
“Come on!” Monoka shouted to Kira, but Kira stood motionless in front of the escape vehicle.
“Do I deserve redemption? Or do I deserve damnation?” Kira said.
“I forgive you! Humanity forgives you!” Monoka shouted, tears streaming down her face, wetted dust making her look like she was made of mud.
“But I can’t forgive myself.”
Kira closed the door to the sphere. As he did, he heard Monoka beating from within it. She could see him slightly through the transparent transport sphere, but dust quickly obstructed her view. The last thing Monoka saw was Kira turning his back to the sphere as he walked toward town to be shredded to pieces and eventually born again from the dust that consumed him.
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Dempsey! Great story telling here. I did not look at the genre before I started reading and I was thinking Wild West, so great blending of the past and future! The name Kira threw me off because of his gender and the name. Just curious, why Kira? I like the idea of Kira being the android equivalent of the Hebrew Cain, mankind’s first murderer. Great job! It is an enjoyable read! -Ron
Thanks for the feedback! I'm glad you liked it. I imagined a wild west setting but with Japanese names to subtly make the reader suspicious that it was actually the wild west. Kira is a transliteration of killer.
Ahhh! Makes sense! Cool idea!