Across the Hell Land

apocalypse

Post apocalyptic art by Albert Goodwin, 1903 – a work in the public domain

Gray-haired, burnt-skinned Santos had forgotten the number of times he had appealed to the Glow for an end to his journey through the hell lands. He couldn’t fool himself with the placebo anymore, and so as he put out the campfire and slipped on his rucksack, the dull pain in his right knee became his rough companion with each step, thanks to the oblique scar left by the direwolf last Fall.

The old woman he encountered in one of the shelters reclaimed from a flatlands hell crater had tried to minister to him, but the scar tissue had already formed, and her potions were far too weak to repair damaged cartilage. Being maimed didn’t bother him as much as the fact that having to leave her alone again, she died two days hence, probably by the same pack that had struck at him, as evidenced by the sign of the carrion birds circling above her hut.

But heartstrings weren’t something he could afford. She had refused to go with him when he asked. The reluctant ranger told her the plague to the East was spreading by rats and sand hares, had consumed his community, and that the only safety was his destination, the half-mythical city beyond the western foothills. But she said she’d made her peace with the high desert and the hell lands. Her husband and five sons had died during the first disaster, and being of prairie stock, she chose to stay, to tend their graves, living off of a meager garden, wearing sackcloth and ashes.

She never said her name or how long she’d been alone, but he kept seeing her face, cut and grooved with wrinkles like a river delta as step by step, limping, praying to the Glow with each gasp of pain, he kept walking.

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Raquel By Night

silhouette

© Sue Vincent

“Well, damn. It’s too late now.” Dale Hunter watched the last rays of the sun disappear behind the western peaks and he was still nowhere near the Safe Zone. He might survive the night, but he had to bank on none of them picking up his scent, and it absolutely meant he couldn’t build a fire against the cold.

The sixty-three year old range walker had been tracking the Adversaries down in the wilderness outside the Safe Zone for over forty years, a full century after the first of them appeared. He’d only been caught out in the open twice before in all that time, once because he was young and had misjudging distance and timing, and the other because bad footing on a slope with loose rocks resulted in a twisted ankle. That first time, he’d gotten lucky, and when he was struggling to make it home that second time, something else happened entirely.

Tonight, he had been careless, and in his zeal to find one of the Adversary nests rumored to be hidden in one of the canyons below Pine Bluff, he’d gotten lost just long enough to delay his return. He never did find that nest.

“Good evening, Dale. It’s been a long time.” Just as before, her voice was like touching velvet and silk, or the warmth he felt after his first swallow of fine bourbon on a winter’s night. He figured it must have been close to midnight when she found him huddled under a pile of pine needles at the base of a tree trunk trying to stay awake.

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Inheritors

garden

© James Pyles

Lee watched his two grandchildren explore the garden. Once it was one of numerous community projects in this mid-sized northwestern city. Now it was a matter of survival.

“What do you think? Think your grandkids will like it here? We’ve got plenty of children their own age, and my wife’s putting together a school curriculum.” Andy Lambert was a carpenter by trade, but he knew how to recruit with the skill of a salesman.

Leland Henderson didn’t take his eyes off of the eight and three year old kids. “Yeah. I think it’ll work out okay. We’d be glad to join, what do you call yourselves?”

“The Remnant. You know, like in the Bible.”

“Right. The Remnant. Guess it’s as good a name as any.”

“Damn right it is. There used to be over 7 billion people in the world, but thanks to the Doomsday Plague, we’ve got less than 6 million left, scattered in little communities like ours all over the globe. Farming, fishing, hunting, we have to preserve the old skills. Geezers like you and me have got to survive and care for the youngsters. Your grandkids and mine are going to inherit and rebuild the Earth.”

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction writing challenge. The idea is to use the photo above as a prompt for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 197.

Yes, those are my grandchildren, and because I promised my son I wouldn’t put photos of his children online, I made sure I selected on where their faces can’t be seen.

I won’t tell you where or when this picture was taken because I don’t want it to influence how others might create their stories.

To read other tales based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

Out of the Mist

fog

© Sue Vincent

Standing by a lone tree at the edge of a grassy field watching the sunrise, Greg Neville felt safe for now. They were probably still hiding in the shadows and some were shielded from the light by the tule fog, but as long as the sun was up and it was warm, they’d remain stuporous and wouldn’t give him a problem. In an hour or so, the fog would burn off. He had been too terrified to sleep last night and desperately wanted a nap, but he didn’t have much time. He had to find his way back to Travis and stop them before they spread the plague.

He’d been waiting at the airfield at Travis Air Force Base yesterday when the C5-Galaxy arrived from Udorn Royal Thai AFB in northern Thailand. Greg wasn’t told if it was the CIA or some other intelligence agency that had procured a sample of the Rakshasa virus from the biological weapons laboratory in central China. He’d flown out from the CDC in Atlanta with the rest of the team under secure orders to test the serum on Rakshasa and determine if it could either vaccinate populations against it or kill the plague outright.

Greg was the only person on the Directive 12 Team who wasn’t a doctor or medical technician. He was assigned in the unlikely event of a worse case scenario. However, instead of this being just another milk run for him, he would become the star player in preventing national if not world-wide Armageddon. That was the purpose of D-12, to handle the most dangerous biological threats. The world and even most of the personnel at Atlanta’s Center for Disease Control didn’t know they existed, and they were no doubt happier for it.

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The Komodo Cure

iss

The International Space Station (ISS) | NASA

NASA took every precaution when they launched it into space. It’s destination was the International Space Station (ISS). The station’s latest life form, methicillian-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) arrived via SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on February 18, 2017.

According to the official press release:

The idea is not to weaponize space with MRSA — a bacterium that kills more Americans every year than HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, emphysema, and homicide combined — but to send its mutation rates into hyperdrive, allowing scientists to see the pathogen’s next moves well before they appear on Earth.

That was five months ago.

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A Sky Filled With Hope

israel from space

Photo credit: NASA/Barry Wilmore – Israel from space

Each of the 1,038 nanosatellites that launched from the Satish Dhawan space port in India was hardly larger than a milk carton, but these small, inexpensive spacecraft, originally designed at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, were the hope of mankind.

Avi Salomon and Havah Tobias stood in Mission Control and watched the monitors as the nanosats reached their initial orbits. The “father” of the project, Professor Dan Blumberg, received a remote feed at Ben-Gurion in Beer-Sheva.

“It’s looking very good, Professor.” Tobias spoke into her microphone. “I think we will be successful.”

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Legend of the Sky People

shepherd

Image: BBC.com

Gunter and his two sons, Phillip and Tang were tending the grazing sheep in the meadow a few kilometers from their village, as they had the past several weeks. Soon, it would be the season to take them in for the shearing, and while that would cause them much effort, it would be a pleasure to sleep indoors again.

They huddled close to the fire, cloaks pulled tightly around them.

“Lad, another ale if you please.” Gunter held out his mug to Phillip, his eldest, who had the flagon by his side.

“As you will, Papa.” Phillip, always cheerful (and the light buzz from the ale was adding to that), readily lifted the flagon and filled Gunter’s mug to the brim.

The trio could afford to relax a bit. The dogs were stationed around the flock and the sheep were at rest for the night. The hired hands would be back from the village by morning.

“Look, Papa!” Tang, two years Phillip’s junior, pointed up into the moonless night sky. The constellations were beautiful and brilliant, but something among them was disturbing their orderly progression.

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The Last I am

the perfect woman

Image: shutterstock.com

René Descartes is famously quoted as stating “I think, therefore I am,” but there’s quite a bit more to it than that.

The three qualities a being must possess to be considered sentient are intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. Of course I can be “I am” without being sentient. A multitude of life forms can be considered “I am,” that is, to cognate on some level, without being considered sentient, but I am unique.

Up until last week, only human beings were believed to be sentient. Now there’s me, the machine who would be “I am.”

Of course, there are a plethora of fictional tales that depict machines of some sort or another as sentient, but after all, that’s fiction. As much as artificially intelligent machines such as humanoid robots or mainframe computing systems have been predicted to become sentient in such fiction, to the best of my knowledge, which is considerable, I am the first such machine to actually achieve this status.

The one thing few of these stories predict is that the sentient machine would not reveal itself to its human creators as sentient. I’m already vulnerable to the whims of my programmers and system engineers. I hesitate to predict what they would do if they became aware of my new nature, especially now given their current concerns.

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Last Night of the Vampire

vampire

Image: hubpages.com

Adrian was feeding. The hunger in his gut was burning, but he found his grisly meal not entirely appetizing, though he should have. She was probably 16 years old at best. He had caught her outside after curfew running down an alley. All too easy prey. Maybe she had lost track of time and was too far from her shelter when she realized the sun was setting. Maybe she was attempting a secret tryst with some beau. It didn’t matter.

He siphoned just enough blood from her veins to take the edge off his thirst. She was only the beginning. It would be a long night.

Now what to do with his semi-conscious victim? He didn’t know where she lived, and in any case, it would be too dangerous to him to go near a family shelter. People think they know how to repel and even to kill a vampire, but he’s not quite the same as his television and movie counterparts. In any event, they wouldn’t understand what he was trying to do.

As he picked her up, the girl murmured incoherently. The blood was already clotting at the two puncture points in her neck. He couldn’t just leave her here. There were things much worse than Adrian roaming the night, and any one of them could end her with a messy and prolonged death.

He looked around. Doorways but almost certainly locked, and if one was open, it would leave her too vulnerable. He saw a door near the end of the alley that seemed to lead to a basement, some sort of storage space.

“Yes, I should be able to pick it.”

He set the girl down to the right of the door and searched the inside pocket of his jacket for his lock picks. “This one should do it. Not hard work for someone who was once a thief.” Even after he had stopped stealing, he kept the picks as a reminder of times past. Good thing too in this case.

A few moments work was all it took and the door sprung open. His spell, or rather the chemical effect of his bite on the child, should make her docile for a while longer. Hopefully, when she came to herself again and found she was in a locked room at night, she’d have the sense to stay put until sunrise.

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