Short Story: Forsaken Nightmare

Sunlight fired like pulse-beams through patches of a missing roof. It ricocheted off shattered remnants of a former med-cabinet and splayed itself across the grime and dirt of an old bathroom. A once-white-now-black cast-iron tub edged the room, half-covered by glass doors inexplicably better-weathered than the room.

Grime was smeared like liquid feces across fixtures and walls; the floor a half-inch taller than intended from piled dirt, piled wherever possible. The bits of ceiling still remaining appeared dangerously contaminated, while something piled and rag-like in the tub appeared permanently oil-drenched.

Yet, this was a kind of civilization. A so-called natural one at that– certain as the sun shifting exposed rafter-shadows before altogether tripling its rays across the tattered and oily rag-pile.

It gave a tired groan, stirring enough to resolve itself into the small form of a female Human. She yawned deep, instantly regretting it, then hacked and spit a wad of something. A moment later, she was scrambling for a more-suitable place to vomit.

Or, one that wouldn’t worsen her vomiting, anyhow.

She tripped from a bathroom into a bedroom over a warped threshold. Cool air blasted her face over blinding light as she fell toward a dilapidated corner and wet-heaved. The former bedside table’s remains became the receptacle for her expulsion– to what would’ve been its one-time owner’s dismay.

A cross-wind blew from the home’s open front-face, doing its best to soothe her. She heaved graciously, if that were anywhere near possible. The rubble she’d seen coming in confirmed a few explosives had detonated nearby– probably IEDs from the war, she’d guessed before.

She wasn’t guessing much now; retching with bilious acid, tongue ablaze despite leaking pools of saliva. Gut-punch heaves left her on trembling arms, knees bent beneath her and whole being shivering from flash cold-sweats. Even through layered rags, it cut through her like knives.

She wiped her mouth with a quaking hand, still propped feebly on the other, and clawed her way up rotted lumber. It stank and felt slimy, making her stomach lurch again, but with nothing left inside it, she stilled herself. For now the slime anchored her mind to reality. Mixed blessing that was, it focused her.

Get up, Mal.

“No,” she said aloud.

GET UP, MALAYA!

She was on her feet. Somehow. Her legs were rubber and the rest of her numb, like the moment of death before the mind goes, but she was moving again. Slowly. Deliberately. Had it not been so dark when she’d reached the ‘burb, she might’ve searched the nearby homes for better accommodations. What that might’ve been, she couldn’t imagine, but in daylight, the place was worse than she’d thought.

Of all the former homes, only one other remained in any recognizable condition. The environment made the rest of the rubble obvious as homes, but the most that remained of the least-damaged was a lone, I-beam half sunken into a former basement.

It was as if the whole area’d sustained a direct hit with some sort of planet-sized hammer.

Really, Malaya knew, it was just conventional weaponry. The whole planet might’ve looked the same but she couldn’t be sure. What little she’d seen of it was never so bad physically, but neither was it anywhere near the concept of “good.”

Mostly, it was just “different.”

Malaya rummaged through the last two homes for anything of value but left the ‘burb empty-handed. Her belly roared beneath her soiled layers, wishing to know food as the ruins once had. Nevertheless, she started off on her rubber legs, half-limping from premature aches and an old wound.

She’d left the place she’d called home days ago, never to return. She’d hold herself to that no matter what anyone said. No-one wanted  to be there  anyhow; Bleaker didn’t earn its namesake lightly. It was an internment camp turned refugee shelter– and kept that way four decades too long.

What passed and was built in those intervening years, from a former concrete-walled tent-city, was nothing short of a hell-hole. Unfortunately for Malaya, that hell-hole had been her home– however equally it was also a prison.

She fished an unlabeled can from beneath brick-rubble. It’d probably expired a half-century ago, but she tore at it with the ferocity of a starved, wild-animal– had any but Humans still existed. Nobody knew what started the war anymore, but everyone knew which side lost.

Which? Obviously the one fighting to keep people from living like Malaya.

She wolfed down something stale, rubbery, and equally as frightening as the scent that’d made her vomit. It wasn’t the scent really, but that was beside the point.

She ate, trying to piece together the fifteen or so years of memory she’d collected, and search it for anything of value. A veritable lifetime already; hers. It returned in flashes. Here and there, bits emerging from the fog Bleaker’d kept them in.

They were kids; she knew that much. Too young by the old-world’s standards to be treated the way they were– used the way they were. Most times too, a few disappeared. Here and there. Faces she knew only vaguely, suddenly never reappeared. Girls. Boys. Didn’t matter which.

Now, she was beginning to understand why.

She finished her pitiful meal and began to walk again. Whatever it was she’d put into herself wouldn’t stick around. She walked harder, pieced a little more of the world together. Desolation wherever she went confirmed what little she’d heard as rumors, or was picked up from the kids or elders.

“Adults” were generations gone and more scarred than even Malaya.

Even then, she’d never have traded her life for anyone else’s. Especially when the next morning came, and with the vomited remnants of that terrible meal came something else. Something lower. In her gut, but neither of bowels nor bladder.

It was the greatest relief when she found herself utterly dripping black blood and uterine discharge.

She fell to the freezing ground outside another would-be razed home, and wept gratitude to Gods she knew did not exist. At the very least, she wouldn’t have to be responsible– guilty, for bringing another Gods-forsaken life into this nightmare world.

She wept joy, vomited blood, and fainted.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Still Sleep

The air is thick, muggy.
The effect of too many
pollutants,
toxins,
and age-old ideologies.

Ours is a way,
only violence knows.
One where green grass,
never grows.

When we were young,
we dreamed of such things.
But they were nightmares,
and tore us from sleep.
They made us weep.

Now, before our waking eyes,
the world burns,
and all point their fingers at us.
But we did none of it,
the fuse had long been lit.

Now, the rashness of ignorance,
is a cloud of omnipresent fumes,
that we all must breathe.

And we wonder if we’ll keep.
And we wish we didn’t weep.
And we would rather still sleep.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: In Place of Dreams

I hear sirens in the distance,
over a foreground of dogs barking,
and the passing folly of man’s device.

They called us explorers,
when we reached this land,
then after rape and pillaging,
they called us masters–
And behind our backs, bastards.

Can’t blame ‘em, I guess.
Or at least, I don’t.
‘Cause in the end,
they’ll have their revenge.

We took this land by force, to reverie,
like we took their innocence.
They begged us only to till the land,
instead we cut and bled her, stole her purity.

They called us masters and bastards,
then the sun burned us down,
but we re-rose from the ashes,
and took earth as our own.

And now I hear sirens, and barking, and distant screams;
The latest of us to bake and broil in the evil we wrought.
In the end they got the last laughs,
and we nightmares in place of dreams.

The Pod: Part 7

7.

The Substation

It was very early in the morning, cold with a brisk wind that blew out of the North. We had deliberately stayed our hand, waiting for the opportune moment. In the week of planning and preparation that had followed our scouts return, there was no further advancement. Our scouts kept their eyes on the power station, and our patrols kept their guns ready, but thankfully, in vain. My Colleague and I put together a force of a dozen able-bodied men and women, finished the last of the weapons, and retrofitted capacitors in order to couple with the power station. The militia, comprised of men and women of all walks of life, said goodbye to their families and readied for the fight.

My Colleague and I, in our best attempts to rally morale, prepared a speech. We assembled whom we could to hear it, and all but the furthermost patrols were there. I began reading from notes written down, but soon abandoned them. They were filled with false sentiments, lies concocted to hide and ease all too present pains. These men and women did not need these things. They did not need the burden of false hope. They needed perspective.

“I won’t bother to sweeten things,” I said. “I’m not going to lie, or sell you false hope. It is not right, and it will not work. The truth is, Humanity is in shambles. Who do you place the blame upon? The inventor and his machine?” There was a sporadic nodding from the silent crowd. I countered, “He is an easy target, no doubt. So was Oppenheimer and his bomb.” This confused the crowd. “Neither of these men can attest to the actions carried out by the intent of those whose hands were placed at both switches. It is, however, at our feet. Every one of us, myself included, sought dreams of glory and triumph through violence– To prove ourselves in a challenge that we would never face, to bolster our egos.” I lost the crowd a little, with these remarks. No matter, I continued on. “It is partially the inventor’s blame, you say, for it was his machine that malfunctioned. This too, is a false sentiment. Perhaps the blame may lie solely at his feet, perhaps he has wished this plague upon the world. I have my doubts. As I look out, I see inside, that so do a great many of you. No, we all know the truth; it is our own fault. Each in our individual way, and collectively, our egos craved an ever-increasing boost.”

I paused to look out among the faces, many worse the wear for my words. It did not matter, morale or not, no man, woman, or child, would have stopped trying to survive. After a tense moment, I resumed my words. “So what is the solution, then? Give our ego the boost of a life time. Give Humanity’s collective ego a boost for the books. Let us look at this honestly, admit that we’ve made a mistake, and paid for it, and fix it.”

A slight applause began to creep from the crowd. It started slow, a few people here and there, before building to a courteous clamor. It erupted suddenly into a full-on roar, the group finally feeling the impact of my words.

“Many have given their lives to fix it, and we have all made payment for it. We live in fear, cowering, remorseful, wallowing in our own pity. This is not the time to make fools of ourselves! Let us win the day! Let us earn that one final boost, erase our mistake from the page, and continue on. Let us eradicate these damned swarms! Are we going to let these tiny bastards push us around?”

A chorus of “No!” gripped the bolstered crowd.

“Or bring us down?”

No!”

“Or scare us into living like caged animals?”

No!”

“Then get your asses ready, and let’s take this fight to them!”

A thunderous applause erupted. My Colleague raised a fist, thrusting it into the air with defiance. The others joined in, chanting a rhythmic “No!” The dozen militia members charged off for the waiting vehicles, and headed for the station. My own fervor got the better of me; I too charged off, my colleague fast behind me. We started the trucks and tore off through the neighborhoods, onto the rural roads. Sprinted for the main road in front of the substation, setting up a defensive line.

My colleague and I gave the militia their orders; distract the masses to buy us time to plant our explosives. They inched nearer the substation, and my colleague and I set off for a path ’round the back. We made our way to a point along the side, and infiltrated through a tree-line there. The first shots came from the militia. We hastily cut our way through the fence surrounding the station, climbed through for the smallest transformers, grouped together in one section of the area. The shots grew louder, more numerous as the seconds passed. There was no time to fear what might be happening. We planted the explosives on the first transformers, moved to the mid-sized ones.

The plan was to overload the largest grouping by taking out the conduits that would dampen their charge. This required all of the smallest, and several of the mid-sized transformers to be destroyed.

We rigged the last charges, and made our retreat. Back on the road, we were taken by a terrifying sight. It froze us mid-stride, our minds unbelieving of our eyes. A massive swarm, continually transformed its shape as it threw cloud-like fists upon the militia. Bodies lay slumped over trucks, some thrown back on the road in puddles of blood. We watched on, aghast. The swarm threw a cloud at one man on a truck. He flew backward, to the ground. It advanced on him with a second cloud. He clambered to regain his footing. In his confusion he missed his chance to dodge. The impact slammed the man’s body into the road, threw small chunks of asphalt into the air. His corpse had been pulverized. He was done for, but a few others remained. We had to act.

My Colleague and I snapped from our trances, hurried to our truck and signaled a retreat. I jumped on the gun to engage the mass. It turned its sights from the fleeing militia to us. I fired inexhaustibly. The truck accelerated, flew forward at an alarming rate. My shots became erratic, missing by miles. The truck burst through the station’s high, front gate throwing me forward.

The swarm gave chase, toward the center of the clearing between the transformers. The truck stopped, my colleague climbed up into the back. The swarm descended rapidly.

“It is good to have known you, my friend,” He said. He smiled a wicked smile, as only a man crazed by the exhilaration of sacrifice could.

“You as well,” I said with a slight bow of my head.

I let out a battle cry, and fired the weapon. My shots hit the swarm that encompassed my vision, but dislodged little of its individual flecks. My friend lifted the detonator from his pocket, flicked a switch. We flung ourselves to our bellies in the bed of the truck. Fireballs erupted on either side of us, searing the area. The swarm gave pause.

Then, with a sound of building electricity, the final transformers overloaded. The swarm, confused by the explosions, stood motionless as the largest transformers blasted apart. A tidal wave of electricity accompanied fireballs and debris that engulfed the area. The gun’s batteries in the bed exploded. Lead-acid sprayed our clothes, burned us, but we dared rise until the swarm had collapsed.

And collapse it did! The electrical wave burst forth, and the swarm surged. It burst into flames like a mortar around us. Electrical arcs discharged into the truck, nearby by metallic surfaces, and melted the gun’s barrel above. The scent of burning rubber mixed with a thousand acrid fumes that spewed skyward in plumes of smoke.

Then, with a final, crackling of electricity, that beautiful rain of embers began once more.

My Colleague and I, pained from the burning acid and choked by the flames, rose to our knees. We watched the swarm burn and fall to dust on the ground. We laughed, cheered with giddy delight, hugged in a celebratory manner as two men who’ve conquered such a beast against our odds might. The day had been won, Humanity the victor.

Epilogue

In the days and weeks that followed the defeat of the massive swarm, we were able to reclaim much of the city and begin rebuilding what had been lost. Though the lives of many were irreplaceable, few felt it a price they couldn’t live with. It was not a foolish sentiment in the least. For either because of many combined factors, or just that fateful speech before the fight, many saw the true villain behind the swarms: It wasn’t the machines that had malfunctioned, and it wasn’t a man who’d built them poorly, it was ourselves. Each and every one of us had contributed to the near-fatal destruction wrought upon our species and our civilization. In each our own way, we learned the dreadful power of our own egos. In this knowledge, a new-found kindness and concern for one another emerged. No person went hungry, homeless, nor without aid in our new city.

Whether or not there are swarms left beyond our little crook in the world, I cannot yet say. No one has since ventured too far into the outskirts. There is no mass-communication left– the swarms have seen to that. As well, we have no time to. When reconstruction is over, we will move toward neighboring cities in search of survivors, and to provide aide and weaponry if need be.

Few things are certain of the human condition, save these points: Firstly, there is triumph in the human spirit that can be found when others suffer unduly. And that beneath all of our desires for greatness, all of our wants to be best, strongest; there is an aching desire to band together as one, and see that boost of pride passed on– At least, in some ways. For Humanity is both its own worst enemy and its greatest ally, and its dreams both beautiful and nightmarish.

The Pod: Part 6

6.

The Militia

With our militia at hand, we began patrolling a large city block. My Colleague and I were the commanders of the make-shift army. We set up high-powered electronic perimeters, assigning shifts to militia-members. It was exciting, invigorating. The local police, thoroughly disbanded from the chaos, came to us for help. Indeed, we offered what we could; a safe refuge, and free meals for those willing to carry their share of work. Though I make it seem more grand than it was, it was inspiring to see what had come of just a few days time.

The city block was barely a mile squared, and only a few places within had been left habitable by the rioters and looters. As such, most people were jammed like sardines into a few small homes. But food was abound, and security a given. It had to be, for this was where we were constructed the weapons. While it was true we had ample defenses there was still the matter of the swarming behemoths, demons, and all other manner of concocted apparitions wandering about. They seemed to have sensed the area was off-limits when their first forays against our perimeters were met with their demise. Since our militia had secured the block, the swarms had re-evaluated their strategy.

It is not a stretch to think there might be some capabilities for collective self-preservation in the swarms. It is more of a stretch however, but by no means impossible, to believe these swarms had begun thinking for themselves. Perhaps they had devised a means of inter-communication; their programming was already sophisticated enough to work as a group containing individuals– this was their purpose, after all. A swarm’s behavior dictated many things, but without complex intelligence necessary. What lends doubt to this last point however, is the coordination of the last attempt on our perimeter. The swarms have greater means of intricate processing than the average insect swarm. This, I assume, has allowed the change in their goals. They no longer appear target individuals, but instead, groups. This, among other things, suggests a communication, perhaps even a central leadership.

The attack, though in itself not indefensible, displayed a tactic astonishing to even the simple minded: They came at us from all sides of the block, as if to divide us and overwhelm individual groups. The swarms managed to injure several of the militia’s patrolmen. In the disorder that ensued, a few managed to breach an unguarded section by flying high overhead toward the block where we lay in hiding. There is an immovable contingent of weaponry hidden on either side of the main buildings both at street level and atop the roofs. These few guns are more than enough for our protection, and were invaluable in this skirmish.

We eliminated the breaching swarms with that most spectacular of raining fire that signals their demise. Nonetheless it appeared then, as it does now, that they had collectively learned tactics. They had transformed from masses of picturesque nightmares, bent on murder, to full-blown, intelligent beings ready to sacrifice themselves for whatever cause a machine might have.

Thankfully, since then we’ve neither heard nor seen them. The militia has prepared a scouting party for search and reconnaissance. Speculation suggests they are near a large substation south of our perimeter. If true, it would be advantageous for both sides. While swarms in their individual masses are still vulnerable to electrocution, if banded together in a large enough group they might be invulnerable to our weapons. If such is the case, the power station’s massive electrical-charges would be all the energy we need to patch the weapons into, and eliminate even the most massive of swarms.

Even if we are able to strengthen our weapons, the possibility of high-voltage traps is a real danger. As well, the massive swarms’ power draw from the area might ground our guns, making them useless. It is a heavy burden on all of our shoulders that we might see an unfavorable ending to this fight.

Whether or not the news that returns changes anything is not something any would wish to speculate on. There is no point in riling ourselves up. We must focus on a supply run before we can mount any sort of offensive.

Sometimes I think of that young CEO, whatever his name, to fuel my anger and hatred towards these swarms. There is no way now that the man can ever reclaim any title to a fascist throne. I have to wonder, is hidden away in one of his mansions? Is he cowering in fear, or laughing in the face of his fortune and fame amidst the chaos of his shortsighted ambitions? More importantly, did the man surround himself with these Pods? Was he slaughtered outright like the countless others who’ve died at the hands of their own, deluded dreams?

Our scouts returned with word that the swarm is amassing at the substation. They were able to meet with our caravan from town. Travel is slow from desiccated streets, but our people continue to be well fed. The attack is to be planned. My colleague and I suggest detonating homemade explosives within the substation. Any possible chain reaction they much cause would send surges of electricity through the area, that might be capable disabling the swarms. Afterward, we would inevitably begin mopping up the last of the surviving swarms of nanites. Most we have discussed this with agree.

It is a curious thing to plan attacks on microscopic creations, once so prevalent and revered by our society. Now we must hunt them without mercy, for that is what they’ve shown us. It may be a fatalist assertion, for there is no way for them to show mercy, they’ve no concept of it. It’s possible they’ve no concepts at all, though the concept of domination appears to have emerged within them. It is possible, so sophisticated is their programming, that they were told to learn from our dreams to help make them a better experience and present us the greatest challenge. In the grand scheme, this is humanity’s dream: To triumph as one group over adversaries whom view us as enemies, forgoing regards of our own petty differences we’ve concocted over the eons.

What a strange and terrible platitude to behold, but perhaps it has been the solution all along; for now we do band together as one. We have risen up as a unified group, protected the weakest of us, fought together whilst bypassing the prejudice, bigotry, and indifference that has otherwise been so prevalent. The road ahead is no doubt filled with either victory or tragedy, triumph or terror, hope or hopelessness. In any case, it will be a long road.

The Pod: Part 5

5.

Provisions

We deliberated a while on what to do next. After a period of rest, we concluded that the weapon must be mounted in an appropriately sized vehicle or trailer, powered by a gas generator meant for homes. We set about procuring the supplies.

Perhaps looting is the more apt term. The truth was, upon emerging from his home, My colleague and I found the scene worse than before. Looters were abound. The city had descended into all-out anarchy. Windows were being smashed all down the street. Homes were broken into, their owners still fighting for their lives and valuables. Some rightful residents were able to gain the upper hand, throwing their opponents into the streets bloodied and bruised. Others, lost in their own rights. Soon the thieves were seen running, light-footed, over bodies as they carried out their victim’s possessions.

Luckily, several levels of security on my colleague’s home protected his workshop and our weapon. The windows were of high strength Plexiglas, meant for use in tall office-buildings, thicker than normal. His front and rear doors were constructed of double-ply steel, set in heavy frames and bolted shut. Even the basement workshop was barred by one of these doors in addition to electronic and analog security locks. These were not the fruits of a paranoid man, but rather the result and value of the contents of his workshop. His work was not primarily his own. Very little was, in fact. Most consisted of several multi-million dollar projects of small research firms that, because of his idiosyncrasies, he was allowed to work on at home. Being that he was a well-respected man in his field, his employers readily gave such allowances.

After acquiring all that we would need from a hardware store, we hurried home in a large pick-up truck, stolen from a new vehicle lot. With the insanity around us, the crime was hardly unwarranted. Upon returning home, we found an eerie sight: The streets, previously filled with looters, rioters, and all manner of human-detritus, were now devoid of life. The neighborhood and surrounding blocks were silent. Had a mass exodus begun and concluded in so short a time?

We rolled to a stop outside his home, hurried inside to gather the weapon and any necessary tools, whilst the question festered in our minds. With the batteries aligned in the truck’s bed, there was just enough space for the alternators between they and the generator to connect to the weapon. My colleague set about configuring the weapon while I bolted its heavy tripod into place.

It was then that a sound came, shattering silence like a gunshot. It rocketed overhead from the West with a high pitched whine. It Doppler shifted, grew louder, passed by invisibly, then sank to a lower frequency. Then, once more, from the distant East.

It could not be true, could it? No man was so foolish, so short-sighted to dream it, were they?

It came at us from the West again; a beast possessed of an unnatural, synthetic survival, sonic-booming overhead. The shock-wave from its low flight and high speeds shook the truck, nearly deafened us. I worked faster to bolt the gun’s final leg down. My Colleague readied the batteries, switched on the gas generator. The gun climbed to a low rumble. The power increased, the rumble shifted higher to a whir its own. It was then that we glimpsed it, hovering on the horizon, studying us. Without conscious thought, I grabbed at the gun.

The massive fighter jet seemed to notice my intent and made for us. It began a passing run, spitting out imitation bullets composed of the nano-bots. They chipped at the ground, punctured cars with as much velocity and intimidation as their real counterparts might.

I had no fear. It was not an option. Not for a mind so bent on firing the weapon. I judged its trajectory, fired. The weapon’s concussive wave shoved the truck forward several inches. The blast of electricity traveled faster than anticipated, attracted to the mass of minute robots. It struck the nose, emanated through-out the swarm. The plane dissipated mid-attack, the bots fried and raining ember to the ground.

The weapon had worked. We knew what must be done. My colleague and I set off to gather as many survivors and materials as possible; to build weapons and an army to fire them. In time, all could be put right.

The Pod: Part 4

4.

My Colleague

I arrived at my colleague’s amid frightened traffickers that fled for the city’s limits. Common sense suggested this was the best of options, unknowingly propelling themselves from one rampage to another. Everywhere The Pod had been sold, manufactured, or used, swarms had emerged in the tens of dozens. It was utter chaos. My colleague and I were the only ones, it seems, to have been working the problem. Even then, we were the only two so near a solution. There was a certain glib satisfaction in that knowledge, that I must admit, came from my primal nature.

Instincts of this type had been ever-present since my defeat of the swarm-bear, and I daresay I was thinking faster and clearer than I’d ever had. It is an odd thing to know when One’s own strength in a crisis has risen above that of the majority around you. I was clear headed. My mind focused on each step and the one that would follow. All around me however, was mass hysteria: I saw a woman beating a man to a near pulp in the street. Clearly he was her husband and only wished to bring some order to his deranged wife, but she refused to listen to reason. With a final blow, he reared on her, struck her back. He ran off, cursing the woman’s name as she lie on the sidewalk, blubbering, incoherent, but otherwise uninjured.

It was a horrific sight to behold, but it was hardly apart from the norm of this chaos. I fear I may not do it justice. Every vehicle that lined the street had been over-turned and set ablaze. Dead lay here and there, the dying caught in the ghastly throes of this insanity. Driving was no longer an option for escape from residential blocks. Even if one had somehow preserved their vehicle, they would never have made it through; shot going past, or car-jacked by denizens. The problem was summed up in a thoughtful moment of clarity as I surveyed the land.

These were the fruits of our labored dreaming. The chaos, disorder, and death, awakened terror of dreamers, myself included, whom wished to prove themselves in that strange land beyond waking life. This was the price we had paid for having our dreams fulfilled– or at least, manipulated. Inevitably, if society survived this maelstrom, it would be considered an “industrial accident” caused by a manufacturing defect from the first line of Pods. There would be a public apology from that young, quick-witted CEO; perhaps a recall or stipend to those who had lost the most. After a time, it would fade from the minds of man through lawsuits in a veil of public relations. Such was the way that it had always been, what could change that now?

When I arrived at my colleagues, I knocked heavily on the door. It flung open to the end of a rifle’s barrel. My Colleague was poised with his weapon drawn, not bothering to look out the window. He lowered it, looking me over peculiarly. I still wore the odd, yellow, rubber suit– something that had escaped my mind as I’d wandered down the streets. He ushered me into the foyer quickly, bolting the door in my wake and rambling on about vultures and tyrants.

He stood for a moment there, apologizing for the rifle and the state of things. His eternal hospitality was amusing in the advent of the chaos beyond his doors. At least for me, his manners had survived intact. After another moment, he ushered me down the stairs and into his workshop. There, electrical components were strewn about across a dozen benches, amid an otherwise immaculate organization. Above each bench were sets of tools designed for different states of work, pristinely separated and categorized.

He led me in deeper, while explaining of an issue creating a capacitor that would sustain and recharge large amounts of electricity. Until now, he had been working under the assumption that the charge would have to be relatively massive. He believed new capacitors had to be invented, as well as a renewable power source. When I told him of the minimal charge necessary, he was elated. It came to him then, what he would need; an alternator and a massive series of car batteries.

The problem then became about size. Somewhere between eight and ten automotive batteries were required, along with a constant, external source of power for the alternator to recharge them. It meant starting from scratch once more, and with little time, we set to work building the firing device itself before tackling the problem of mobility. We knew what needed to be done, but where the supplies would come from was beyond us.

We finished the weapon after measurable labor and looked upon our achievement with pride: a massive four-foot tall rifle, mounted on a heavy, steel tripod. It would work, provided we could procure the power source. The alternators and lines for battery charging were ready, and awaiting connection. The weapon would take a short time to recharge between shots, but there was no doubt; it would do the job.