The Boy and the World Ruined
His eyes snapped open; his breathing ragged and shallow.
Where am I?
He didn’t know what was happening. All around him he could hear screaming, the sounds of gunfire and explosions. The smell of smoke was everywhere, the harsh burnt taste sticking to the back of his throat.
He was standing in a strange capsule. Through the open door he could see bodies lying on the floor of what looked like an old, tiled bathroom, only it was partially collapsed. As he stepped out, someone grabbed his hand and yanked him away from the machine, IV wires ripping out of his skin in a spray of liquids and blood.
In a heartbeat it all came back to him. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, his parents had paid for him to be frozen in a cryogenics lab until they found a cure. It was some sort of weird experimental program at the time, only available to the most wealthy and affluent members of society. It also wasn't exactly legal.
At the time he thought it would be cool, just like in his favourite TV show Futurama. Now, awake in the distant future, he realised he was wrong.
He was dimly aware that he was moving, his numb limbs acting without conscious thought. A girl was pulling him through the rubble that had once been a storeroom. There was bodies here too, flung casually across the ground like toys at the whim of a temperamental child. The sight made him feel sick. The flashes of explosions and the orange glow from fires illuminated the scene in a strange haze.
They stumbled through a crumbling doorway, the girl pushing him sideways just as a bomb exploded to their left, the wave of energy and heat sending them sprawling onto the hard ground.
The girl rose lithely whilst he struggled to push himself up. He was weak, and his arms strained against the weight of his body. As he lifted his head, he saw for the first time what the world had become.
The barren ground was a rusty red colour; dusty and dry with deep cracks running through the earth like dark veins. The trees were thin, black needles reaching up into an unforgiving grey sky. He was sure it was daytime. The sky was illuminated by something behind the heavy clouds, but the light was feeble and strained, bathing the landscape in an inconsistent brightness.
Around him he could see ruins of what had once been a city, now a black skeleton silhouette against the constant flashes of bombs and the glow from fires.
“What happened…?” he whispered.
The girl pulled him up roughly and led him away from the remnants of the building.
“What’s going on?” he yelled as they ran past decaying skyscrapers and broken boulevards. There was barely anything left of the pavement and roads, the cement consumed by the red earth.
The girl said something in a language he couldn’t understand, the words strange but slightly familiar. A moment later, he heard a static noise in his ear and a monotone robotic voice said “They’re coming.”
Confused, he put a hand to his ear and felt a strange device.
“Who’s coming?” he asked.
The girl seemed to understand, and gave him an incredulous look. Her incomprehensible language was translated roughly, static breaking up the sentences.
“…not know? …they must…done that to you…have power to destroy…manipulate memories...”
He was too curious to correct her assumption about his situation.
Static drowned out the translation, but he heard her say “Oomah.”
She glanced over her shoulder, her eyes wide and terrified. She didn't speak even though he could see there was something she wanted to tell him.
It was the first time he had seen her face and he was startled by how young she looked. She was around his age, maybe older, with dark red hair tucked into a dirty old cap. Her eyes were really dark, almost black, and it made him uncomfortable holding her gaze for too long.
They ran around a corner and he felt his stomach twist at the stench of charred flesh, horrified at the scene of death in front of him; a scene of mangled limbs and torsos.
The girls spoke, her words rushed. Again the earpiece translated fragments.
“They…came...our world...their technology destroyed…began…change things.”
He stumbled as a building to their left collapsed with a thunderous crash. He couldn’t breathe. There were mutilated bodies everywhere; women, children. Some were still twitching, the flesh of the bodies melted and disfigured; dripping off the bones.
The girl kept running, her strong grip on his hand the only thing keeping him going.
The static was making his ears hurt. His head was pounding. The reek of smoke and sulphur was overpowering.
“…genocide…hunt us…destroy us…”
The girl pulled him behind a pile of scrap metal just as a group of men in metallic masks marched past with large guns in their hands.
He began to speak when something silver whizzed past them and a sharp, intense pain shot up the side of his arm.
The girl screamed something that the earpiece translated as “…found us!” before leaping up and pulling the boy away from their hiding spot.
A moment later the scrap metal pile exploded, the shards flying in all directions. A sliver of steel cut her cheek and she gasped, putting a hand to her face.
The men in metallic masks were running towards them now and the girl grabbed his hand again, pulling him into a sprint. He tried to keep up, one hand clamped over his wound, trying to ignore the pain and ringing in his ears.
The girl skidded around a corner and into a narrow alleyway full of garbage, the boy right behind her. They came to a stop and she leaned against the remains of the building, her breath coming out in ragged gasps.
She turned to face the boy and froze. Her stance changed immediately and he felt the bottom of his stomach drop.
She pulled a heavy gun from her belt and pointed the laser right at his chest.
“What are you doing?” he cried, his right hand red and bloody from the wound on his left arm.
Then he noticed the cut on her cheek. Her blood was blue.
“Oomah!” she cried.
This time, he heard the translation above the static in his earpiece.
The reality of her words sunk in. He felt ill. Humans were responsible for the war, the destruction of the planet, all the dead and dying around him.
He saw it before she did. A figure rose from behind the piles of garbage, a bulky device in his hand. The boy threw himself at the girl, pushing her over just as they heard a loud bang. Suddenly he felt a pain in his chest, so sharp it was like someone had stabbed him.
He fell to the ground with a grunt, the world fading around him even as he heard more gun shots and a man’s scream. Then she was beside him, her eyes wide in shock, horror and another emotion he was too tired to try to comprehend.
“Why?” she whispered. “…one of them! I would have killed you!”
He smiled grimly even as his vision started to darken and the pain slowly resided.
“I’m so…so sorry for what we have done to your world…to your people…”
As his eyes dulled and his breath stopped, the girl began to cry.
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