I ran out of gas two hundred miles ago and I’m completely fucked. I’m kicking myself for assuming Empress would have a replacement for my bike. That bitch makes a damn good meal but other than food she doesn’t share anything else.
I walk through a wasteland of dead trees and mist ready to collapse at any moment. I’m freezing despite the warm layered coat gifted to me by the last and only friendly community I passed through. The air is brutal and thin, even through my mask I can hardly breathe. I’ve been climbing these mountains for days now, every new peak more devoid of life and resources than the last.
Empress gave me disgusting protein-packed preserved food and I’m almost out since I’m having to eat every few minutes just to survive the cold. I’ve resorted to devouring the massive roaches found in small caverns in the rock faces and sucking the water from the ice beneath my feet. The wasteland has always been a place where immortal beasts come to meet their fate. Clearly, I am no different.
I maintain my strict regimen. I travel by day, train all night, eat everything I can find. I sleep only a few hours at a time and only when I have to. Everyday I press on through these insufferable black-and-rotten mountains thinking about Eli and how long all this is taking. I think about what I’m going to do to his captors if I find him alive. I think about how I’ll destroy their home if I find him dead.
As I continue through the rocks I find a small half-frozen stream. I sit and refill my cantine, then look closely at the bottom of the ice. Those aren’t roots, I think as I observe the strange tubes that twist beneath the clear surface. I plunge my hand into the icy depths and rip up the strange rope-like vines that run underneath the water.
Outside my borders my ass I think as I shake the water from my fingertips and stand. I spend the next few hours with my head down following the wires all the way up the face of the mountain.
They stop at a smooth rock face and shoot straight up into the sky. There’s nothing to hold on to, nothing I can use to propel my tired body to the peak. I’m so cold I can hardly stand to move around or look for a possible solution, but I know that if I stop to rest I’ll freeze to death.
As I pause to think I take off my sack and reach inside to pull out a hunk of dried and frozen bear meat I made a while ago. I had hung his claws and teeth on my coat as little trinkets, a small reminder of my three minute battle against him and of the old soul I had saved from the inevitably brutal death Nature had planned for him in these mountains. Even though becoming my dinner probably wasn’t any better...I guess that’s natural selection at its finest.
I try to gnaw on the small piece of jerky but I can’t breathe the thin air long enough to do so without my mask. I sigh and put it back on, then throw the rest of the meat down the mountain.
Damn it, I think. Why’d I do that? I’m too fucking cold and tired to make rational decisions anymore. I shake my body and try to bring some warmth back into it, then focus my attention on getting up this goddamn mountain.
The wires are buried deep in the rock face in between pinky-sized cracks. I weasel my tiny fingers in the rocks and painfully pull them out with my half frost-bitten hands. Somehow I get a hold on the wires and use them to rip out the rocks which creates a tiny foothold. In this way I make my way up the rock face gasping for air as I go and holding back tears every time I have to use my fingers to rip the stones away. My knife and bear claws end up being quite useful since I can use them to chip off the surface to open the holes wide enough for my hands and the toes of my boots.
I get to the top and painfully roll over the edge, then lie down to stare up at the gray sky. The mist is so thick I can’t see anything, not even my own hands in front of me or the condensation on my breath. I can tell that I’m on a large platform, as if someone had cut a field out the side of the mountain, or completely leveled the top. The ground feels strange beneath me, it’s cold and smooth. I look down to see a steel plate where rocks should be and I see wires dancing underneath a thin protective surface. They drip down the edge of the mountain as far as the mist allows me to see them.
For some reason, lying there on my back, I cannot stop laughing. It bubbles up from my stomach and the hot breath from my lungs fogs up my mask. Everything is so fucking funny, the wires look like goofy made up cartoon snakes and its the most goddamn hilarious think I’d ever seen.
“Hahaha--ehehehe--I’ll name you...” I hold back a guttural howl as I point at a thick green wire to the right of me. “You’re named Monty,” and I roar with laughter. “Monty! That’s your name. Ehehe--holy shit....my chest hurts.” I try to wrap my arms over myself, but Monty rises up and gets in the way.
Two large black eyes appear on his tiny head. He slithers onto my chest and sits in a coil where he flicks the glass on my mask with his tongue.
“Can you talk too, Monty?” I ask. He shakes his head. “Ohhhh. That’s okay,” I slur my words. “But you can understand me? OH FUCK! Monty, LOOK! Have you ever seen a PURPLE SKY?!”
I point to the clouds where every layer pours purple light all over the foggy surroundings. The light is eaten up by the mist as it cascades from the sky. “Look man!” I tell him. “It’s fucking gorgeous." He looks up, then turns his beady black eyes back to me and nods. I burst into laughter again.
“It’s the most beautiful, motherfucking thing I have EVER SEEN!” I try to catch the purple rays in my hands. I’m so so cold but I can’t stop sweating. It soaks through my suit and seeps through my back onto the metal floor. Monty slowly sinks through my chest in a puddle of salt water and I steady him on my stomach where it’s slightly dry.
I attempt to roll over as my insides spasm with the pain from laughing so hard, but I’m too cold to move my overly numb pins-and-needle limbs. I’ve lost feeling in every part of my body, everything is so pleasant and tingly and bright and scary and hysterical.
Monty looks at me and then speaks. I can’t process it, I’m too busy laughing at the purple sky. “A trespasser?” he says. “How did it make it all the way up here?”
“What?” I ask, then dissolve into giggles once more. I’m absolutely breathless, I’ve never had such a hard time with my lungs, not even when I smoked way back then. But my heart beats so slow...it’s so cold but I can’t stop sweating...
“There’s something wrong with it,” says a second Monty as he slithers onto my chest to address the first.
“Whatever it came to do,” says the original snake. “It’s harmless, it’s mask must be inoperative. It’ll die soon. Just kick it over the edge and leave it. Let’s finish our patrol.”
Both snakes morph and grow. Their eyes expand into a glass shield and the bottom of their heads turn into a mask like mine, their bodies climb off my stomach and turn scaly and humanoid. I squint against the glare of the purple sky and recognize an all too familiar scene: me half-paralyzed with two Legion guards above my face.
I concentrate as hard as I can, the blood moves a little faster through my chilled veins and my vision clears a bit. I punch through the glass of the first guard’s mask, grab his nose and pull him into me. The other jumps in alarm and takes out his gun but doesn’t fire as I disappear underneath the hulking body of the first holding him only by the nose.
My fingernails break through his synthetic flesh and I grab the metal underneath the inside of his cheekbones. He tries to use his hands to pull himself off of me but I stay plastered to the ground as the other tries to wrestle us apart. I twist his nose and watch as it turns like the hands of a clock within my grasp. I firmly wrench it from his face and he spews blood and oil all over the front of my nice coat.
“THAT’S RUDE!” I yell as I glance down at my ruined clothes. I reach to the back of his mask and grab the nape of his neck, then jab in my fingernails and pull the entire control apparatus from him body. I let his lifeless shell tumble off of me, still holding his nose and kill switch in my hand.
The second Monty comes straight for me as soon as I throw off the first between us. He points his gun and unloads into my face before I can stop him. Too breathless and frozen to move I lie there and take it.
The bullets pepper my skin but they stop at the bone underneath. The glass of my mask momentarily protects my eyes before it explodes into a million tiny pieces and the bullets mash into my brains. His magazine runs out and he just stands up in horror as I roll over unharmed. I put my hands in front of my eyes and slowly use the skin from my palms to push out the bullets and return to a relatively normal state, gasping for air.
“Aw,” I say, as I pull my palms out of my face. I cough and try to breathe the ruthless oxygen-deficient air, then painfully sit up and put my head between my legs to see if that would make it any easier on my lungs. “That hurt,” I tell him.
He hastily grabs his radio to make a call. Before he can press the button on the side I swipe his legs and knock him on his ass. I slide over to him and snatch up the gun he dropped along with his radio. I crawl on his chest and stick my knee on his throat, then rip his mask off his head.
“COME HERE, BOY!” I scream as my world spins and the purple sky flickers. I must look terrifying, a smashed mask barely covers a half-mutated still-healing busted-up face, my skin slightly blue from the lack of oxygen and the nose of the first guard still hanging from the tips of my right hand.
“You see this shit?!” I yell with all the air I can muster. I point at my maimed face with the nose as pieces of the bullets continue to pop out one shell at a time, my skin still stretching to cover the holes. He can’t do anything but gasp and grovel as I press my knee further in his neck. “Wanna know what this feels like you pathetic green snake?!”
I spear the wire-like pupil of his left eye with the muzzle of his gun and twist until I can pull it clean from his face. I drink in his pathetic gurgling cries of agony, then smear the eyeball off the edge of my weapon until it falls on the ground beside us.
I pound the gun into his face until there’s nothing left. When he is no more than pulp and spare parts of machinery I reach to his neck and pull out his kill switch, putting him out of his misery. I hastily grab his mask and pull it over me. As soon as the oxygen floods my senses I sit back and breathe deep, allowing my burning lungs to relax and heal.
I push myself off the guard and rise. The lavender mountain lurches and sways and I fall to my sit-bones once again. There I collapse on my shoulder blades and watch the purple clouds turn gray once more, then blue, then black...