If you’re procrastinating from writing by writing, it still counts as being productive, right? … um, right? Help me out here…
Okay, gotcha. Anyway, I was perusing some of the flash fiction posted up on Chuck Wendig’s challenge from last week, when I accidentally read through his flash fiction challenge for this week. And then I accidentally used the random number generator. Twice. And came up with a pop culture mashup … and an idea … and suddenly, a 1700-word story to go along with it.
In a dystopian future where the bioengineered simians and primates have taken over, only those humans with selectively evolved genes survived. Now, both species are caught in an existential struggle for dominance over the world where humans once reigned supreme. Think: X-Men meets Planet of the Apes.
~ ~ ~
When the planet fell, it covered the library in dust so thick, that fifty years passed before anyone remembered it was there. Fifty more years passed before anyone thought to dig it out to discover what treasures might remain under the canyons of paper, ink, and sediment.
A single, green beam cut through the dingy murk. It narrowed then widened to illuminate the long, wide room. Phasar adjusted the headpiece that assisted in the control of his light beam. “There, that should do it.”
“Just try to keep that away from the windows.” Adjusting her weapon for an easier grip, Clockwork wiped her face. The grime clung to everything. “The last thing we need is some Patrol to wonder why this old place is glowing.”
The old building had been spared the worst of the immediate destruction and, being neither a food depot nor other sort of supply source, had been spared most of the looting as well. Under the faint green light, the shelves still stood tall, bordering the open area where wide tables still stood, squat sentries waiting for patrons who were long dead.
“Let’s check the tech first.” The rebreather distorted most of Starkiller’s words. The device topped off a Kevlar-articulated bodysuit that regulated the genderless mutant’s body temperature. Without it, any variation in temperature, emotion, or even the thoughts of others, could set off a chain reaction that had destroyed things, including close friends and allies. “There might be something left.”
“Eh, I doubt it.” Phasar rubbed his forehead. The beam of light that his body generated was typically painless; when he used the headpiece to condense and control it, the tech generated a migraine that would last for days and have him collapsing under the weight of the pain if he left it on too long. Made it hard to hide from the Patrols, who would love nothing less than to add one of the more infamous muties to their trophy wall.
“Rough today?” Clockwork ran a finger along the top of a tall, narrow ledge.
“Spots haven’t started yet.” Phasar blinked away the blurriness outside the edges of his vision. “Should be good for another day or two.”
“Let’s get what we need and get the hell out of here,” Starkiller growled. The mutant sat before what looked like a plastic box. Gloved fingers pressed buttons at random on the rectangle tech before the box. “Longer we sit around here yakkin’, sooner we find ourselves at the other end of some Patrol business.”
“I’m going to check the shelves.” Clockwork dusted her hand off on her cargo pants. “Let me know what you find.”
* * *
Behind the ledge, she found only a few books, and what looked like primitive writing instruments, the kind that actually held some sort of paint inside, rather than a tech stylus. Giving up on finding anything useful, Clockwork followed the long curving wall to the far end of the room where the shelves ended.
Stumbling in the dark, she brushed up against one of the strange rectangles hanging on the wall. As she bent down to readjust the tech boot where it attached to her knee stump, she noticed colors, rendered different shades of green and black. She brushed at the rectangle and more dirt fell away. “Huh.”
“Anything useful?” Starkiller’s voice echoed strangely from across the room.
“Some sort of local cultural artifact.” Clockwork squinted at the words labeling the artifact. “Main Street.”
“So, not useful.”
Clockwork chuckled at the dismissal and disdain that her colleague managed to convey even through the rebreather filter.
“Hint taken, flamer.” She rolled her eyes. “Checking the shelves now.”
This deep in the building, a strange smell arose. It tasted of mold and vanilla, of rot and some unidentified floral acid. Clockwork reached up and pulled down one of the ancient pieces of tech—two cardboard pieces encasing a sheaf of paper. As she opened the tech, the smell sharpened. For some reason, her breath caught.
The rows of black marks appeared to be related to Primescript, but were just different enough to render the language unintelligible. The effect was uncanny—at first, she could almost read it, then the script faded into gibberish. Clockwork folded the tech back and returned it to the shelf.
Back in the main area, Starkiller still sat in front of the plastic tech.
“Any luck?” Clockwork gave a wide berth to her fellow mutant, who looked pissed even under the mask.
“Negative,” Starkiller rasped. “I think something might be wrong with the power terminal.”
“You mean, like it ran off a battery?”
“Or something like that.” The mutant slapped the box on the side. “Either a battery, or maybe a solar cell, I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s dead.”
“I don’t know what Psi-on expected us to find here,” Clockwork said. “All we’ve found is antiquated tech and mold. I think some of the shelves are growing mushrooms.”
“Was worth a—”
Clockwork tightened her grip on her weapon, raising it half an inch. “What? What is it? You hear something?” Her own sense strained, but all she got was more mold and that weird, fruity smell.
“Nothing.” Starkiller tugged at the long cord that dangled from the plastic box. “Thought I heard something.”
“Sweet evolution, you gave me a heart attack. Jerk.” She kicked the chair with her prosthetech. “I’m going to check on Phasar. See what he found.”
* * *
Clockwork followed the light until she found Phasar tucked away in a nook, separated from the larger, open area of the building by a wall of waist-high shelves. The tech on these shelves was thinner, more colorful under the murk. They set off an area where small chairs, now rusted and grimy, sat lined up in a semicircle. The chair at the end had tipped over onto its side.
“What’ve you found?”
At the sound of her voice, Phasar jumped and turned. The grime had left strange tracks on his face.
“Does it ever get to you?”
“Whattaya mean?” Clockwork frowned.
“You know … just, being here.”
She didn’t know how to answer. Instead, Clockwork reached down and pulled one of the devices off the shelves. Opening it, she found, under the layers of water damage and mold, more bright colors and drawn figures. There was no Script on the pages, just a story told through reds, blues, and animals. This must have been the repository for the children of the time period. Understanding dawned.
“I try not to think about it.” Clockwork gently closed the tech and slid it back on the shelf. It had been over a century since any human child had sat in these chairs, or pored over the stories in the pages of tech along these shelves. For more than fifty years, there hadn’t been any human children anywhere, disadvantaged during the uprising by their lack of selectively evolved genes. Only the mutants remained, and they were fighting a long yet inevitable war of attrition.
A searing portrait of blood and pain crashed through her reverie.
“Oh shit—get your shit together—they’re coming!” Clockwork racked the slide of her weapon and turned on her good leg, the tech that kept her mobile whining against the sudden acceleration. “Starkiller—exfil, now!”
Behind her, the green ambience went dark as Phasar dialed up his headset to lethal settings.
“Let them find our ash.” Starkiller stood, kicking back the chair as he rose and planted both hands on the table next to the futile, plastic box. His hands glowed red, then orange, then erupted in blue fire. The sparks drew circles and lines around the tabletop before flashing into a blaze of white-hot flame.
Satisfied that the conflagration was well on its way to consuming the entirety of the building and all its useless tech, Starkiller followed the other two toward the front of the library.
Clockwork led the way through the open doors and into a smaller entryway. She paused in the shadows, Phasar covering her back as Starkiller slid into position behind them both.
“Anyone coming?” Starkiller’s gravel tones filtered, disembodied through the gloom.
In answer, Clockwork closed her eyes. The short future-jumps that jarred her vision from time to time were easier to see if she closed out the competing visuals. “Patrol, about three hundred meters out and closing fast.” She opened her eyes and cast one last sweeping gaze around the outside. “Follow me. Stay close.”
Adrenaline pumping, she slipped through the doors and dashed across the open area. Her compatriots waited until she had melted into the shadows of the alley across the street before following, one at a time. Starkiller’s shadow had barely faded when the tromping boots of the patrol arrived at the clearing.
* * *
The leader of the patrol, a tall, well-formed Chimp sporting lieutenant rank on his shoulderboards, shook his head sadly as he watched the blaze. Set aside from the other ruins as it was, he wasn’t worried about fire spreading. Still, to see such an old artifact from pre-uprising times disappear in smoke was regrettable.
“Any sign of the intruders, Red Patrol?” The question crackled over the radio. Lt. Sigmar picked up the handmic and keyed the receiver.
“They were gone before we got here. Pursuit unsuccessful. Request fire support, over.” He double-thumbed the receiver to signal end of transmission.
Next to Sigmar, the Patrol Sergeant, a grizzled old Silverback, shook his head. “Damn shame, this old place. Destroyed. And for what?”
“Have the troops set up a perimeter. Keep this place secure until Fire Control gets here.” Sigmar replaced the handmic. “Tell them to keep an eye out.”
The Patrol Sergeant saluted and left to begin moving the troops into position. Some of them would take a crouch outside the building—others would scale whatever buildings or outcroppings they could find to open up a wider field of observation.
“Damn shame,” Sigmar muttered to himself, echoing the Patrol Sergeant, as part of the roof collapsed into the blaze. “Damn, dirty mutants.”