I was no closer to knowing my destination than how I came to be in this wretched place. My lips were as dry and cracked as the desert appearing before me. The purpling sky and a tiny pelt of rain signaled an approaching storm. Shelter would have to be found quickly, the rain is unfriendly in this environment. It seemed the wasteland stretched away from me in all directions, but in the distance a selection of broken structures rose from the earth like gravestones. Dirt and debris scattered across the landscape making the air taste gritty. The destruction of our world had almost been complete. There was very little left of how we once existed.
Closer now, the clamor of bent metal frames and twisted signs could be heard banging out their tormented beats against the empty buildings and hollow rooms, inhabited now only by warm weather. As the air swirled between abandoned car accidents it played out the soft mews of a delicate tune. Twilight bounced off the only surfaces left intact as the sky became darker and the storm took on a startling magnitude forcing me to quicken my pace in search of shelter. My robe wavered angrily in the wind as I ran toward the first solid structure. Inside, I dropped to my knees forcefully and swallowed huge gulps of air as my lungs screamed in agony and the storm began to play its own discordant melody.
The sandblasted walls were chipped in spots where the erosion of time and poor construction had allowed the plaster to weaken revealing the metal frames beneath. Rusting bars probed their way through the brick and mortar only further depicting this place as a portrait of destruction preserved in time, one of misery and dereliction. A quick study of the room gave the impression that it had once been used as a parcel service. Flinging off my pack and placing it on the ground before me, it would be used as a headrest while I drifted off to sleep.
I was startled awake to find myself being examined by a scruffy looking woman with tousled hair and a curious grimace poking out from beneath thick sandy features. She dangled a heavy chain in front of my feet in one hand and a claw hammer gripped tightly by her fist in the other. Behind her stood a rugged fellow in a loose vest and dark hard-woven trousers. They were five in all and none too happy to see me. I sat up on my elbows with a confused look on my face. I’m sure they could tell because it seemed to anger them. The female bent close and pointed the business end of her hammer dangerously close to my eyes, waving it back and forth as if trying to decide which one she wanted to hollow out first. She was stopped suddenly by the rugged fellow who silently placed a large paw on her shoulder.
I was certainly perplexed as I gathered myself up. It was apparent these people wanted a fight. I had been in my share of fights, some I won and some I didn’t, but I always hurt in the same way after every one of them. If it was a fight they wanted, they would get one, but I’ve got to play it careful. You’d think that having a common enemy, humans wouldn’t fight amongst themselves, but that was never the case, and it had never been the case, even since I was a boy.
As a young man growing up I called the library home. It was a stone and tile structure, a relic from the old days when the Earth was lush and green; a burgeoning technological magnificence, before the dark epoch. I remember sparring with my brothers, jumping from post to post, up and down the staircases and between the long stacks of books. It was in this place I learned to wield a sword and prepare to fight…the enemy. Projectile weapons like those from the old days were no longer in use. There was no longer mass production of bullets and the chemicals needed to produce the tiny explosion which propelled the shot were no longer refined. We would fight with what we could find. Axes, bats, bricks, hammers, knives, all the utilitarian devices of a forgotten world now served as weapons in ours. I feared we wouldn’t survive much longer.
I was jarred from my memories for a moment — a time I had almost forgotten — and felt a sharp pain across my temple, followed by a clanging in my ears. My head had been struck by something heavy and the noise filled my mind shattering my thoughts. I found myself on the floor again, this time looking up in a distorted squint. I had been knocked down by the rugged fellow who sought a fight. I scrambled to my feet and dizzily thrust a hand out with my palm extended toward him. I needed time to stop and recollect my thoughts. When I dozed off I had placed my sword behind the counter of the room in which I occupied–getting to it now was going to be a difficult task indeed.
“Wait,” I muttered.
The word erupted from my lips before I had a chance to engage my brain. He stood motionless for an angry moment.
“You wear the cowl of a practitioner of Life,” he growled at me, “which means you are a danger to us! Defend yourself like a man!”
He spat out the last word as if it was distasteful to him, offending his palate. It began to make sense to me slowly. He took my robe as one worn by the followers of that strange religion of Sid Mantelis, the ones who believe their gods will save them from destruction by the invaders.
“No, now listen to me.” I began to implore to him.
“No, you will listen to me; there is no reasoning with your kind!” He interrupted and shot me a quick distrustful glance.
I barely had a chance to react before his powerful hands were upon me, tossing me over the counter–exactly where I wanted to be. I fumbled around for a moment searching for my sword, when I heard the female ask,
“Looking for this?”
She gripped my sword by the hilt and allowed it to dangle heavily. Fear and anxiety washed over me in a cold sweat and for a turgid moment I didn’t know what to do. The rugged fellow eyeballed me from across the room, and then in one swift movement he leapt the counter. Suddenly we were face to face again. He lunged at me with a mighty fist — my instincts took over and we began to fight.
I dodged and felt myself deliver a powerful blow to his side with my left fist. His skin was much softer than the rough alien hides I was used to and I watched as he lost his footing slightly. He was obviously not expecting someone of my build to return such a devastating jab. He regained his breath and I tried again to communicate to him.
“I don’t want to fight you;” He looked stunned, “our fight is with them.”
I motioned with my palm open to nowhere and watched as he pulled a blade the length of my arm out from behind him. He sliced into the air and I narrowly missed having my stomach splayed open and the contents pouring onto the hard tile floors of the abandoned post office. I yanked down a metal stand displaying packing boxes of various sizes between us, reached for the ceiling joist and kicked him hard in the chest. He floundered for a moment, but to my dismay he seemed unfazed. Across the room the others stood ready; if I attempted an escape they would surely kill me. I needed to get to my sword.
It was an ancient implement I liberated from a shipping container when I was a youth – when I found it, I could barely lift it. Over time, I read the tales of knights and warriors in books, and it became an essential tool for survival. Countless alien intruders met their end at the edge of my blade. I feared, in this instance, I may be outmaneuvered. Somehow, I needed to get us outside.
I had dodged several of his attacks and it seemed I lacked the willpower to kill another human. Suddenly I saw a chance and my lips curled into a clever smile. I studied the flow of his open vest and took my opportunity to make use of it. Quickly I dropped to my knees and waited for him to get close. As he drew near I thrust a wiry arm into the open sleeve of his vest and spun around until my back faced him. Quickly I slid my other arm into the remaining armhole in the vest and grabbed his wrists slamming his knife hand into a metal counter until the weapon dropped. I then bent forward slightly and brought the back of my head crashing into his nose and mouth repeatedly until he was bleeding from both orifices. I lunged backward and forced him into the wall behind us. Dazed and off balance he had no counter to the attack, I lurched forward and flipped him over my back sliding my arms from the vest. He sat lamely with his head bent forward and his arms sagging at his side. I scrambled for his knife as I watched the others rush the counter and deftly slid it under his throat holding up his head. Using his body as a shield I sneered at them,
The others slowly put away their weapons and stood silent as I released my grip from around the rugged fellow’s neck and helped him up. A sharp pain splintered my brain again and I blacked out dropping to the floor.
I awoke alone in a warm room dimly lit from above with fluorescent tubes that ran the length of the ceiling. I must have been carried to this location. I was left unrestrained which led me to believe I was not held prisoner. I looked around and found my bag and sword had been placed neatly against a moldy wall in the silent room. I searched and found that none of my items had been disrupted and that nothing was missing from my belongings. I gathered my pack and slipped it over my arm and sheathed my sword in the leather scabbard I had designed which fit diagonally across my back and slowly moved toward the door and down the hall.
Walking endless corridors filled with the ambient light of fluorescent tubes lining the ceilings of an abandoned underground structure I found rooms filled with the boxes of discarded electrical wires and mechanical gizmos the use of which completely evaded my discernment. Slowly I came to a dimly lit entranceway where it appeared people slept and ate on cold tile floors. Kitchen utensils, the implements for eating and rotten food lay scattered about the floors. As I continued further I thought I could just make out the sounds of grinding; metal against metal. Perhaps an ungreased machine lurked in a darkened corner of the facility. I crept cautiously toward the lifeless din as the smell of burning oil filled my nostrils. A horrible thought entered my brain surreptitiously.
I continued down the warm corridor until I found a doorway leading into a filthy restroom. In it I found the discarded remnants of outer garments soiled by time and great use. Dark weather-beaten leather trenches, scarves and boots thrown with disregard. A tiny faucet peered down into a large basin. Against the wall stood a mirror and I found myself staring at a man I did not know. I had become old and thin. My dreams have become brittle and fragile. The headaches have increased in duration and frequency. It feels as though my soul is becoming torn and the memories of someone else’s thoughts have begun crowding in and taking residence in my mind. As if I am remembering something that has happened to another person, almost an apparition; the vagueness of which is only conquered by its persistence.
Once when I was twelve, maybe thirteen, I remember them coming. I remember the sounds of their footsteps as they crunched the burdened ground beneath them; of screaming and frightening gurgling filling the museum from within. They took my parents. We didn’t stand a chance against the power of their weapons. It was then that I decided I would hide no longer and swore vengeance against the outsiders and their task. I was disturbed from my thoughts by a quiet hand on my shoulder and soft serious eyes beckoning me to follow them. He was dressed in coarse clothes which appeared to fit just right and bore a faint smell of filth that seemed to consume him.
“Where are we?” I pressed him.
“You are among friends,” was his reply. He continued, “You are safe here, you will find all the comforts you need.” His tone was refreshing.
He led me out of the washroom and down the long corridor, past rooms fitted with large glass windows. It appeared we were in some sort of underground research facility that had been abandoned centuries before and rediscovered. It was now inhabited by a group of people comprising the last remaining humans who resisted the alien occupation of Earth. As we came upon one room something remarkable stared back at me. There were two men dressed in white lab coats; one sat studying a small machine with images flickering across it, the other stood in front of the thing which gazed at me from behind metallic eyes. I could smell the odor of grease and oil. Wires and cords ran the length of its frame as it sat perched on the edge of a table. It labored momentarily, then began to rise, but was restrained. After a moment, it waved. I lingered for a moment watching its lifeless eyes study me intently. It was a machine with a human form. Almost human form, I must say, because for the most part it was twisted steel and gears. The face was soft and organic in nature, like peering into a stream and having one’s face distorted in the reflection. Its gesture was calming which gave me pause; I had never seen such a creature. It then attempted a smile. I put my hand to the glass and smiled. I could feel an emotion welling up inside me that I had not felt for some time. The man who was escorting me put his hand on the nape of my neck and I began to weep. I realized after a turgid moment that I missed my family and that the emotion building inside me was anxiety.
I turned to him and through misty eyes asked, “Can I stay here with you?” he nodded solemnly.
“I’m sure you’re starved, you’ve been out in the wastes for a long time, from the looks of you.” He said as he turned and began leading me away. “We’ve been attempting to reverse engineer them for a while now, the robots, but with such little power to devote to the task we find ourselves at a disadvantage scientifically.” His face contorted into a grimace, as if the thought of their failure rested on his shoulders.
I ate hungrily. The meat was not unlike that of a mangy wolf or buzzard found in the wastes. He sat at the steel table across from me as I shoveled the warm meal as quickly as I could and in between bites we spoke.
“Is this a safe place?” I quizzed him.
“We come and go under cover of night. The Mogglogians have not discovered our location and we take great pains to keep it that way.” He answered calmly.
“We gave them that name. It’s from the sound they make as they murmur to one another.” he stated directly. “Speaking of which, did your parents follow the vetruvian process when naming you?” He asked casually. I didn’t even look up from my meal. I knew what he meant by the question. The vetruvian process was an outdated model for naming offspring involving the purchase of names based on vowels.
“No, they did not.”
“I only ask because you will find that most of the survivors here did. They are the last of their kind.”
He studied me intently as he offered the information. I could tell he sought to discover whether my parents were nationalists. I debated quietly on discussing my lineage with him. After a moment of thoughtful deliberation I offered,
“My family was not wealthy; I grew up in the wastes.” I was being interrogated.
“You must excuse me. Understand this, my friend, there are many spies among us. We remain constantly on guard against them. When Po and the others found you in the wastes they weren’t sure if you yourself were not one of them.” he bitterly discussed, “But you stood your ground and showed great courage and strength. That is admirable.” he looked away for a time, then locked eyes with mine and said, “We could use you.”