Escaping Earth

Writing Prompt: In the post-apocalyptic world few humans remain and powerful sandstorms sweep the planet. But, there is a colony of humans on a starliner in space. You are attempting to escape earth in a rickety spaceship with only your cat for company.

The Earth had passed on. What was once a rich and bountiful paradise was now no more than a derelict void of dirt and dust and death.

Great cities lay in ruined shadow having fallen through the crust of Earth’s crumbling core. A savage heat raged from out the heart of the centre of the Earth burning what little life remained, boiling what water still lingered.

It was the creatures, those that lurked beneath the crust, that had finished off humanity. Solemn silhouettes of fire like spectral beings of a blazing crimson colour with eyes as black as soot. They climbed from the depths to roam freely the surface world, no longer fearful of the things that had so long ago driven them deep down below.

And if these wandering forms of fire didn’t find you, then the plagues of the scorched planet surely would.

Yet there were survivors despite how unlikely that might seem. There were a handful who had worked on the lands to craft vehicles capable of reaching what was known as Earth’s Escape; a Space Station, a liner in orbit around the deathly ruins of its home.

Wick was one of the few trying desperately to make his way towards the liner, towards hope.

He had been left behind by his father, abandoned by his aunt, only to watch the few friends that remained fall victim to the near uninhabitable new world.

Sly, the silver furred feline Wick had found feral in the dumpsters of a fallen New York City, was the boy’s sole surviving companion. And a boy Sly was, at barely nineteen years of age, with so much to learn of life and building space ships.

Was there really any hope that his tattered ship might fly?

**

Wick rose from sleep with the ever present Sun of a long-dead Earth, the lands obscured before the unabated rays of constant heat. It had become natural to wear a helmet or a head guard both day and night, not that night ever really came. The only darkness to be found was underground, if you dared risk facing the creatures that might come for you.

The shell of a storeroom that had sat outback of an old tavern, that was where Wick had made home. A mattress had been lain flat in the corner, meant as a bed, covered by a curtain that was held in place by hooks driven into what walls still remained.

Shelves, sturdy frames of metal, had been set about the storeroom in such a way that you could only approach the bed from above, by climbing over them. There were burnt bodies hanging from the iron shafts that reached out from the net of shelves. It was either them or me. Wick reassured himself, still unsettled by the sight of men and women – bodies, nothing more – strewn beside the carcasses of some less human creatures.

Wick tried not to look at the faces of those he’d killed as he clambered over the shelves, the bullet holes still fresh in one too many skulls. He patted his side instinctively, checking his revolver was still holstered at his hip, then he groped at his back to feel for the hilt of the curved blade in its sheath. 

You won’t be needing them much longer. He reminded himself, remembering his promise – that he’d leave such necessary weapons behind once he was safely aboard the Escape.

Coming down the far side of the shelves, sliding on his backside, Wick could feel the steady burn of the Sun’s rays, he could hear the constant drone of dust devil storms. Stopping for but a moment he adjusted the visor of his helmet to take in the view. Despite the death, the decay, the derelict cities, it was still beautiful in its own peculiar way.

The storeroom stood atop a small hill, a hill formed from the impressions of explosions that had worn away the lands around it. From on top the perch of the hill the shadows of a distant city (New York, perhaps) could be seen, the bare skeletal structures of buildings wearing away before the heat and the winds and the onslaught of those foul creatures from below.

It seemed strange to Wick, to feel some sense of dread at ever leaving this horrific place. This place was his home, Earth was his home, at least it had been once upon a time. And had it not been for those that came before him then Earth might still have been his home. But as is the way with curious minds that lust after power, they can never leave well enough alone.

“Sly?” Wick called out, though the message wasn’t delivered from his lips. There were speakers set in the sides of his helmet that threw his voice out to the world around him. “Sly? Come here girl. I’ve got a tin of sardines.” Wick slid his bag from his shoulder, unzipping one small compartment, and took out a rusted tin without a label. As he pulled back the lid, a gloved finger pressed inside the ring pull, sure enough sardines revealed themselves inside.

From somewhere close by Wick caught the sound of a dustbin lid being knocked over and clattering against the ground. Wick had made certain the storeroom was surrounded by such things as bins with loose lids and bells on strings as a sort of early warning system against intruders.

Them came Sly, a furred feline staring up at its alien protector – a man wearing an absurdly large helmet fastened to a suit of thin cut leather. The visor of the helmet was opaque black and never once had Sly seen behind it. The suit itself was tanned white, ending at gloves of a tarnished yellow and boots of a like colour. There were pockets covering the suit, a belt with pouches of depleting ammunition strapped across the chest, a radio that produced only static swinging from one side, and a revolver hanging from its holster on the other.

“You like sardines, don’t you Sly?” Wick crouched down, holding out a single fish for his feline friend.

Sly looked at that hand distrustfully, slowly stalking the dead fish that dangled from its grip. One step, then another, and with a short jump Sly was upon it, gobbling down the dried out treat of an age gone by.

“Good girl.” Wick buzzed through his speakers, patting a gloved hand over the cat, “Now, I need you to listen up girl,” Sly’s ears may have pricked up but it was impossible to tell, the poor thing was barely flesh and bone, “we’re making a break for it, for the outer limits.” Wick mimicked the taking off of a spaceship with his had, and laughed, “I think that old rust bucket I’ve been working on is about ready to fly.”

Wick froze, he’d heard a sound like heavy footfall from where the dustbin lid had fallen. In a second his revolver was out and primed to fire. The noise came again, this time sounding closer.

Wick’s heart took up a beat, racing beneath the confines of his tightly woven suit. “Someone’s here.” Wick nodded to Sly.

Sly sat back, let out a weak meow, and gestured with her paws to the sky.

Wick followed Sly’s paw and saw a mother bird nesting in the gutter of the storeroom. A bird? He cursed himself, holstering the gun, watching as the mother bird’s last feather came loose in the winds and drifted down from the nest. How in hell did it get up here?

It wasn’t uncommon to see birds, their kind had survived well enough, better than most that is. What seemed odd is that this bird had chosen to nest in open guttering without a single lick of protection from the Sun. Most birds had adapted to living in burrows or the hollowed out hives of trees. It was rare these days to see a nest out in the open.

“You want one?” Wick flashed Sly a smile, though the cat couldn’t see it, “It’d be a nice treat, for both of us I think.” licking his lips Wick slowly made his way over to the nest, trying not to scare the mother bird. He would need to grab it and wring the life from its neck instead of shooting it. It wasn’t just that Wick couldn’t afford to waste a single bullet on a bird, but that the bird would likely explode if shot and then dinner would be ruined.

Creeping ever closer to the nest, watching the mother bird with unblinking eyes, Wick readied himself to pounce. Then he heard it again. A sound like heavy footfall not coming from the nest at all, but coming from behind him.

“Sly?” Wick buzzed out, watching as the mother bird took to flight.

The world fell deathly silent all around him, and as Wick turned to see what was coming up the rear he caught the shadow of a figure in his visor, the blur of a hand coming down.

Copyright © K R Perry 2019

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