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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Hidden Sunlight - 2. Dreaming No More

As a teenaged boy at the starting half of my adolescence, I had already endured many things beyond the 'normal' experience of others my own age. Most of those experiences were not ones that I thought of as positive; many were very negative and disruptive to my life. Some were downright horrible. Some were intensely strange and extremely unnerving for a quiet kid from a cloistered suburban background.

However, at that point, absolutely nothing could compare to the sheer surreal absurdity of the moment. Stasis? Definitely strange. Derelict ruined buildings, no people? Bizarre and worrying. Diseases and weird mutant creatures? Highly odd and more than a little terrifying. Yet seeing that vicious animalistic mutant probably-alien thing turn into an actual human being, a boy?

Beyond anything I could describe.

Is this real? I guess that I must have been stuck in a state of mental shock for a good minute or more. That thought relayed in a repeating loop through my brain, the proverbial mind's eye failing to advance past what seemed to be stuck in front of me.

Is this actually what I'm seeing? How? Just ... how can it be?

Again, there it was.

When my coordination decided to restore itself and I stood, managing a few shaking steps to the motionless figure, it was all there in exquisite detail. What I saw assaulted my senses and my mind, rebelling against the idea even after a pause for rationality. It rejected what seemed patently obvious. This is impossible. Completely impossible! That thing could not have become a person. There is NO way! How ...

The perceptions filling my senses from this extraordinary scene destroyed that idea as nothing more than an illusion. There was a faint but persistent sickly smell, almost sour and slightly pungent, that grew much more obvious as I moved closer. The ground around the boy looked damp and stained a darker colour. It didn't seem to be blood, or perhaps it was blood in the biology the creature had. Whatever it was, it drenched the concrete and gravel that he lay upon, and although it had largely dissolved, dissipated away during the night or morning warmth, what remained did look sticky, slightly viscous. Again, like blood, only it wasn't any type I knew.

Littering the ground were pieces of armoured platelet as well. They were scattered about his inert form as if they had fallen straight off his body. Yet not full pieces, just shards. Cracked halves, broken ends. Fragments and detritus. The remnants of a creature that had existed but now seemed to have vanished, leaving ... this. A boy. A fucking PERSON. What in the hell happened on this planet?! Why is this ... how is this ...

My thoughts stalled, again. I closed my eyes, pausing. Deep breath. This isn't a dream. It's really happening. Just focus. Be calm.

So what was next? See if he was alive or dead? He doesn't look dead. He just looks like he's sleeping. Like a really deep sleep, maybe a coma. His back was turned towards me and there was a dirty looking residue, an uninviting green-grey pallor smeared on it. I couldn't see much more, because of how he was lying, faced away but it looked like it was on his shoulders too. Probably all over him.

It's as if that creature just melted away completely. Like I threw holy water on a demon, burning the evil to leave something pure behind. A person ...

Then he murmured, a sound of awakening. In one fluid motion, there was a near instant transition from unconscious to reality, in all its inescapable glory. He rolled over, sat up and opened his eyes. I stayed where I was, scared as fuck, frozen as I crouched a foot from him. First, staring at nothing, but then focusing.

On me.

No reaction.

His mouth opened, jaw slackening. Then down, towards his own body. Lifting arms, turning hands over, fingers strumming at the air, still expressionless, silent. Then it struck me. He's bewildered by all this. It's new to him. Completely new. He's seeing this maybe for the first time. Perhaps ever?

Then back again to me, to stare. Wide-eyed. Anguished. Utterly confused. Afraid. His brows furrowed, shoulders beginning to shake. He is as terrified of all this as I am. Then, his chest rose and he inhaled, his mouth opening wider in the unmistakable motion of someone about to scream as loud as they can.

Oh fuck. No ... no!

I lunged forward, my hand clapped over his mouth, body lurching forward in a rhythm with the approach. The sound cut off, stopped mid-yell and he jolted at the unexpected touch. Trembling with ragged emotion, his eyes darted to stare at me as I withdrew my hand as gently as I could allow.

Please. I silently pleaded with him. Please don't scream. I don't know what to do here. Please just be okay. Then it sank in properly as his eyes took every detail of my face in, scanning back and forwards repeatedly. I was assuming some place in his mind, being ingrained undeniably into his memory. Why in the fuck would he be even slightly okay? Would I be slightly okay in his place? What would it feel like to wake up and for everything to be completely alien and different, to not know a thing before that moment?

Well in a sense, I do know what that's like.

I tried to smile. I did my best to put on a genuine, content, everything-will-be-okay smile. Reassure him. Don't give him reason to be afraid. Tentative, my left hand slid across his back without even thinking and he shivered. The sensation of rubbery grimy residue and patches of perfectly smooth skin under my fingertips was immediately interrupted as he grabbed my shirt. Material bunched as the fist shot out, gripping it emphatically, and I thought for a moment he was about to pull me to him. Then it was obvious that he meant the opposite and he was clutching for me, tears welling as he tore himself away from my face, eye contact broken. He shrank against me, curling up tight and pressing into my side like a lost kitten seeking warmth and security, my arm falling now loosely across his far shoulder.

Just breathe. Don't be upset, don't be afraid. Just breathe. Wasn't sure whether the mantra in my mind was for his benefit, or mine. It didn't matter though. The sense of belonging, the knowing that someone else felt as lost, as estranged, was overwhelming. The intensity of the feeling was powerful and my resolve crumbled, the facade of support vanishing. I pulled him tighter against me, laying my cheek in his hair. I felt connected. Connected in a way I hadn't felt to anyone, even my own family, in a long time.

Connected ...

Then I too began to cry.

-o-0-O-0-o-

The land to the northeast of the ruins was much the same as what I had seen the previous day with León, Carlos and Sofia. The flora felt lively, verdant, but an earthy darker green than expected. Distantly, the upper canopy spoke of age in the thick, curving trunks of oak-like giants, while lower cover peppered the gaps with leafy cherry blossom imitation. Sunlight still made it through, casting dappled patterns, and the scrub and growth on the forest floor was rich, thick, yet not enough to slow our travel.

From time to time it would clear, the forest thinning to loose cover and grass, the occasional stream winding through. My new companion and I made good time, and although I could recall that León had said the creatures would follow the land northwards and intended for us to go east, I still felt very uneasy about nearing either group. The creatures, obviously, were hostile. The thing that I couldn't quite decide on though: did León have the same intent?

Then, there was the matter of the boy.

He went ahead of me, not knowing exactly where we were going, but since I didn't either, his movement was no more than a prediction in the same general direction. Rather accurately, he seemed to intuit my chosen path. He was barefoot and though the terrain underfoot must have been scratchy, sharp and downright uncomfortable to cross, any apparent discomfort didn't register. A sense of modesty -- mine, not his -- meant he was now no longer naked, instead wearing my boxer shorts and t-shirt. Although slimly built, he was a little taller and broader shouldered than me, the clothing following the contours of his body closely. It wasn't tight enough to restrict his agility but it did leave little to the imagination. Though at the time all I could focus on as we trekked through the arboreal pleasure of Lucere's summer was the quality of his form and the way he held himself.

With ridiculous ease and grace, his footfalls barely left a mark in the same organic confetti that my sneakers crunched through. The wispy branches and clinging ferns of the lower cover shifted in ghosting touch as he slipped by, threading his way through as quickly and easily as I imagined a jaguar would in some old American jungle back on Earth. That catlike thing, it's still there even now. Whatever he was, his mind may not remember it but his body?

His head turned, fluidly and without pause as he continued, his stride needless to stop as some other sense guided him forward. Turned to me, his face was, as it had been every time I could recall him looking at me since his awakening, calm. Serene. The beginnings of a smile lurked at the edges of his lips, but never more than a hint. Kept at bay, it always seemed like there was something secret, a happy secret, that he and he alone knew, and was hushing down beneath a surface of contented watchfulness. Then his movement slowed and halted.

I realised I was staring and that I also had slowed right down as I watched him, without even thinking. He had simply mirrored what I was doing, still watching me, eyes religiously locked on my face. The effortless navigation had stopped altogether, head tilted minutely to one side.

Time stood still. The forest was an oil painting, a blurred photographic background and there was just ... him, and me. My breath was gone and again, there was an inexplicable connection.

I feel as if ... as if nothing else exists.

Then he turned sharply to catch a sound, the bubble breaking; unfiltered senses bursting in. He stayed facing to his right, my left, still held in place by concentration. I turned to look, following his focus and then a second later, a rumbling call sounded through the trees. Long, low, a vibrating purring bass that rose slightly as it dragged out, then leaped to a higher pitched wheezing cough, falling down-key like laughter. A second time, louder and more definite, the same rumble that segued directly into a creepy animalised chuckle.

Oh fuck no. Not again!

It was disturbingly close, no more than a few dozens of metres away. Still time to move. Time to put some distance between us and them. I hope we don-

Needless. He was already gone. The space where he had stood was totally empty. Not even a trace that he was ever there.

Oh ... he left me.

Then, movement. Four of them, double file as they pushed through the forest growth, their arrival sickeningly fast from when I had heard the cry. Time to hide. I dived forward towards the massive barrel of a giant oak. Leaning just far enough to glimpse them, one thing was abundantly clear.

They're coming right towards me.

The leader was moving at the speed of a brisk walk. It halted and the others synchronised perfectly with the alpha, pausing precisely as it did. The head went up, neck going rigid and claws flexing and the call came again. A juddering throated note, held until the coughing punctuated it. The three joined in at the last, echoing the ending in stereo.

What do I do? What can I do? My back against the trunk of the oak, the next nearest tree large enough to offer any protection was at least twenty metres distant. The harmless mess of undergrowth was now a vast ocean of infinite plant life between me and possible safety. If I ran, they'd see me before I even got halfway there. This tree is massive though. Maybe I can keep the trunk between us. If they don't know I'm here, there might be a chance.

A stealthy lean to the side managed to afford me a fragment of sight. Hind limbs bit at the moss as the alpha and his nearest cohort veered left, and the other two right, changing course to avoid the tree as they travelled. They would be passing on my left ... and my right. There's no way for me to hide. No way for them to miss me. On both fucking sides. I am dead.

I pressed myself back insistently into the trunk. There has to be something. Anything at all. I don't even care. I'll take the smallest chance now. The forest floor was open and clear, an inescapable panorama. I had no weapons. The trunk above as I glanced skyward was thick, solid and vertical, with zero handholds and no branches low enough to grab. No options.

Absolutely nowhere to go and only seconds left before one of them walks right next to me and then ...

Sound was magnified now. The faint rasp of breath and the scrape of a claw as the alpha stepped over and past the root maybe two metres away was the loudest thing I could imagine. Loud enough to overshadow the beating of my heart practically in my mouth and the paralysing fear that kept me utterly motionless. As a fore-limb reached for balance, inches long claws slicing into the knotted deadwood for grip close above me, the head of the alpha came into view, the jaw still angled horizontal as the attention stayed forward. Any second now that's going to change ...

Then, there was another noise.

From somewhere off in the forest, an ear-splitting high-pitched cry resounded, seeming to ignore the landscape and pierce right through everything standing between the source of it and my eardrums, as if physical matter were meaningless. It continued on for nearly ten seconds, gaining in pitch and intensity, wavering at last as it died away. The alpha jerked up, initially listening, head raised. Then it vanished entirely, pulling backwards and away. Claws retracted and a frenzy of movement began as they crashed through the forest behind me, urgently charging in the direction of the sound. As the bustle of their passage grew quieter, the frantic hammering in my chest and uneven breaths as I stared at the sky began to slow also.

They're going away.

Going. Away.

I didn't wait to find out if they were coming back. As soon as I could find the mental capacity to stand, I was on my feet and on my original heading, first walking then running. I must have run for a good few hundred metres before I even slowed down, and half the distance again before I was back to a walk.

Gone away. They're gone ...

I don't know exactly how long I walked for, shocked and numb. It could have been minutes or it could have been hours. One or two seconds later and four of those fucking things would have turned me into a ragdoll. I nearly died. Twice. In a matter of hours. They came out of nowhere and there was no place to go. How far have these things spread? Are they across the entire world? Are they a plague everywhere?

Blinking, I realised that the sun was shining in my eyes as it grew low to the horizon, no longer obscured by foliage. I was at the forest edge, waist-high grass and clover carpeting a vast field from the edge of the treeline outwards. Realising how exhausted I actually was, I sat down on the fallen carcass of a forest sentinel. So what now? Then it hit me.

I was, once again, alone.

The boy ran off and deserted me. The only other people I've met tried to abduct me. I've nearly been killed twice. I'm lost somewhere in the wild probably ages from the nearest town. I don't know where my parents are or even if they're safe at all. I struggled not to let out a manic laugh at this point. It just got better and better. I have no place to sleep. Nothing to eat. I don't even know what I'm going to do to get out of this mess ..

The setting sun was the period at the end of all this. This planet is a nightmare come to life. I want to be back on Earth.

Then, a rustle of branches and a swish of grass and standing in front of me as casually as was possible was ... him. The boy. Not seeming to notice my complete stupefaction, he crouched in front of the log and dumped at my feet two rabbits. Large fat woodland rabbits. Dead rabbits. Then he looked up at me, that same almost-but-not-quite smile playing at the edges of his mouth. The message was quite clear.

He caught these on his own. This is for us. Food, for us.

This time I didn't even try to hold it back. I burst into laughter. Amazed, relieved laughter. Every time I thought I was done for, something would come along to change that. This time it was a pair of rabbits. Fucking rabbits! I couldn't stop giggling. Of all the godsends I could ask for.

Maybe there was hope after all.

-o-0-O-0-o-

When I left the Volkov Medical Centre, my shoes were not the only thing I had found upstairs in Albans' office. While the first and second floors had been thoroughly trashed and looted, not everything of value was gone. The doctor had apparently been fond of tobacco; contemporary smokers tended to favour the laser cigarette lighter, as it was precise, efficient, and most important of all: rechargeable. The gas lighter, however, was far easier to start a fire with and right as I roasted the two spitted rabbits over the open flame I don't think I had ever been more thankful for someone else's vice.

He watched the process of building an enclosed fire pit with some interest. I was by no means any kind of boy scout and had never done anything like it on my own before, but I knew the basic principles. Armed with a portable source of heat, it wasn't particularly hard. The concept of cooking was foreign to him, though he seemed to quickly catch on. I wasn't eager to touch the corpses, but thankfully his instincts extended naturally to skinning and preparing them.

I was worried that the fire might make us visible, but the pit had enough depth to block the light, while the grass itself acted as an organic curtain. Not only that, but as I concentrated on making sure the meal didn't burn, my companion had cleared and laid down swathes of dried growth as makeshift bedding. As campsites went, it was incredibly basic, but given the lack of just about any kind of equipment and resources, it wasn't half bad.

The meat itself wasn't tender nor tough, and the flavour was sort of like chicken, only milder and a different texture. I had underestimated my appetite for freshly cooked food and it wasn't long before both of us were tossing the bones into the fire and sitting back. Feeling for the first time in a while contented and relaxed, I glanced at the boy. He was watching me sidelong, his air of satisfaction reflecting mine.

He watches me a lot. I seemed to be drawn back to his eyes any time we were face to face. They were a pale slate blue or a light grey, it was difficult to distinguish which was the most true. Not a warm and welcoming colour, nor a vivid lively one; there was nothing at all poetic or lyrical about how they looked. I remember from somewhere the saying about eyes being the window to the soul. It's just colour, but behind that, there's a shine to it, to him. It makes him seem so gentle. Distracted, I shivered, still feeling drowsy though only now realising how cold I was despite the pleasant heat of the fire. It was the warm season on Lucere but at night, the temperature dropped low enough to be a discomfort.

Instantly he moved to me, not even hesitating as his arm slipped around my shoulders, drawing me close. Still clad only in my boxer shorts and t-shirt, the heat of his body promptly began to bleed through the flimsy material as we pressed together, side by side. He really is trying to help me. I wonder, why did he run earlier? When those things showed up. Then I decided that it didn't really matter. He's here, now. That is what's important. I should be thinking how lucky I am that he's here at all. Before I even realised I'd said it, the word slipped out my mouth.

"You're a miracle." It came out low, not more than a mumble. Sleepily I repeated it, more to myself than anything and not caring how stupid I sounded talking aloud when I knew he wasn't going to respond to me since he didn't know speech. "You are ... a miracle."

Then like an echo, I heard a whisper. A repetitive whisper. I turned my head, surprised, and saw him looking at me, his lips slowly moving to form a single syllable, the first of a word I had just spoken. 'Mira'? He can talk! I guess he just doesn't know what to say.

"Mira," he tried again. And again, repeating it to me a second and then third time, as if it were held sacred to him. I couldn't help but smile. I think this is what I'm going to call you. You are, after all, a miracle. The name fits. I lifted a hand and poked him gently in the chest. "Mira." I told him.

"Mira," he agreed, turning away to look at the fire again. Yeah, Mira. Definitely you. I silently affirmed it. Then I lay my head on his shoulder and drifted off to sleep.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Running.

A rush of buildings, concrete and steel, streets and corners flying past as my arms move frantically in escape.

Chest burning.

Blurred alleys, mazes of walls and tiles, smashed windows, featureless unmarked signposts torn and dead upon the ground.

Lungs crying for relief, respite.

A dozen, two dozen, a hundred claws scraping and scrambling; a flurry of slavering hungering animal pursuit. Pushed onwards, I gasp and run still, blinded and terrified by the need for survival.

Limits of endurance; muscles seizing.

No more twists or turns but now sudden open space and a roadway. Across it, a broad clean sign, looming above on two thick metal supports. Then I am still and my exhaustion is not there. A paralysis of fear replaces it, for beneath the sign is a creature. It is the same as those that have pursued me since I first set eyes on them in this miserable place. The same, but it is three times the height of a fully grown man and the air about it ripples with a hazy shrouding darkness, flickering as a second skin.

Impossible.

Terror is all pervasive and I cannot move, cannot think. It is watching down the road, then it turns and the eyes are coals, my hope withering to ash beneath the attention. The head is thrown back and it roars; a furious challenge unlike anything I have heard before from these things. Then the heavy stamp of feet striking asphalt.

I tremble as I stand there, the inevitable approaching. The shaking becomes more violent, but now it is not of my own accord. A hand is on my shoulder and and the world is dissolving and then, the uncompromising horror is gone and all I can see is his face as I am pulled upright, fully awake.

"Mira?" I tried, the dry roughness of a long sleep making it come out as more of a croak. It was the middle of the day and the countryside and his face were the only things I could see. Right then, I was extremely grateful. What kind of fucked up dream was that? I knew he could tell something was up, because he hadn't let go of my shoulder and in another first, he actually looked concerned.

I cleared my throat. "Mira, it's okay. Just a dream. A bad dream," I told him. The look didn't change. Not that he could understand English, but I was sure he didn't believe the tone. I'm not really sure I believe it myself. That was messed up. Those creatures might be unnatural and I know I'm scared of them, but that thing was straight out evil.

It was the second day since we'd left the forest. As I stood, brushing the thatch off my top, already busy forgetting the disturbing nature of my waking, I considered that I still didn't know where I was going. I could only keep a rough sense of direction based on where the sun rose and set, and I had no idea how far I was from the nearest town. At least I still have a goal. Palatus. I was heading north with Sofia and the others, and then northeast after we were split up and Palatus was, um, I think east-ish from Volkov. So that means ... fuck it. I don't really know. Yeah, I'm still fairly lost.

We had made camp the second night close to a stream cutting through the jumble of grassland and trees. I had been initially wary of drinking from it but Mira didn't seem bothered at all. I now trusted his instincts when it came to basic survival, as they seemed to be well oriented towards doing the right thing. Splashing it on my face and taking a good mouthful felt heavenly, and as I rose, refreshed, I noticed he was looking off through where the trees thickened a bit in the direction of the stream flow with some curiosity.

To the casual observer he wouldn't have looked curious, but I was learning to tell the difference in the subtle changes of his mouth and eyes, when emotions took hold. I knew he could be very expressive, he just ... wasn't. He glanced back at me, pointedly, long enough to indicate he wanted me to follow. Where is he going? Then he slipped away through the trees. Like a damn ninja. I wonder what this is about.

I hadn't gone very far before the brush had become quite dense and I struggled through it, trying to find a path that wasn't totally enclosed in growth. He was standing still and as I reached him, ready to pointlessly complain about a wild-goose chase, I was immediately silenced by a finger to my lips. Then I saw why.

We were concealed by cover still, but beyond that was a steep nearly vertical slope maybe a dozen metres high down into a roughly circular basin, which was a couple hundred wide at least. Not far to our right, the stream gently cascaded down to the floor, where it meandered lazily and pooled along that side of the decline. The opposite side must have once been a quarry because the rock was exposed and damaged at some time in the not-so-recent past. Worn mounds of it, some looking crushed and weathered down to nearly powder, were decorating the wall where the excavation had taken place. There were traces of a dirt road leading out of the site, but what drew my eye and caused me to maintain my silence was in the middle.

A man was crouched near the back end of a repulsor bike. It was hard to tell what he looked like from the distance, but I could see he was rather tall, somewhat bulky and had dark shaggy hair. He was doing some work on the bike and was very engaged in it, not even stopping to look around, concentrating on the task fully. I didn't recognise the make of the bike either, though it looked like a beaten up version of ones I had seen earlier on Lucere, but not back on Earth. Must be made locally, whatever it is. He was wearing boots and a black longcoat.

Then I felt Mira touch my arm and point, off to the left. His sense of perception must have been incredibly acute because I didn't see anything for a second, then I noticed there were shapes, moving stealthily beneath in the gully of the basin wall. They were dressed in scruffy leather and were unkempt, dirty. I counted five and all of them carried weapons, moving hunched over and keeping to the shade of the basin as they approached the man and his bike.

They look feral, like savages. From our vantage point I watched with horrified fascination as the gap lessened between the figures and the man and he still didn't even stir from his work. Then at the last second his head moved and almost simultaneously, the leading figure, knowing he was caught, let out a yell and charged, the fireman's axe lifting to perform an overhead cleave. The man did not shy away, but stepped forward to meet the intruder, the wrench in his right hand coming forward in a powerful jab that smashed into the temple.

Wow.

The second invader was hot on the heels of the first, but the man was already reaching inside his longcoat. An arm whipped up, the pistol barrel in the second's face at nearly point blank range. The boom of the shot echoed round the basin, ridiculously loud. The three following were not much further behind. They were moving full speed now and the barrel flicked around, the roar of two more shots into the third's chest, then another into the fourth's neck. The last reached him and he dodged left, the safety of distance gone, the fifth's knifepoint catching him in the shoulder as it sliced past. I heard the grunt of pain but the man counterbalanced instantly and reversed his movement, his enemy having put too much enthusiasm and no finesse into his attack. Overstepping it, he sprawled forward from the evaded strike, vulnerable. The right arm holding the wrench swung down and crashed mercilessly into the ankle, producing an agonised howl of pain.

Regaining his posture, he turned, a little ungainly, as the last lay writhing and screaming on the ground from his shattered foot. The pistol was raised and steadied, the man clearly uninterested in keeping alive any of his ambushers. Then he fired. Once. Twice. Three times.

Holy shit.

Holstering the gun, he straightened his coat, brushed it down, stepped back across to the bike. Then he leaned down, again oblivious to the bodies lying around his bike, and went back to work.

I was dumbfounded. People must be really desperate if they're willing to kill to get hold of, what, his gun? His ride? His clothes or something else he's carrying? This is like the Wild West. Bandit outlaws, defend yourself any way you can. Then I felt Mira's touch again, gently pulling at my arm. He reached out, pointing again, almost right where I was already looking, but not quite. I followed precisely the line of his finger. It led directly to a body on the ground, the first one the man had felled with his wrench.

It's moving. Oh my god, he's alive. Very slowly he sat up, first onto his hands, then so he was kneeling. Then looking around, dazed, but yet noiseless. Seeing the man in front of him, back turned, engrossed in the bike. His hand closed around the haft of the axe and carefully lifted it, gripping with both to easily wield. He isn't turning around. He won't turn around. He thinks they're all dead. A sort of panic seized me. That guy is going to literally backstab him. I have to do something. I didn't know why, but I had decided I couldn't let this happen. I was going to do some good in this fucked up place, even if it meant taking a big risk.

What do I even have to work with? I looked around and down. Trees. Sticks, grass, lichen, moss. Stones. Stones? Stones. Mira was watching me as I ducked and grabbed for several, searching for one the right size and heft. Standing again, I clutched my find, then eyed the rising figure behind the man. Then the stone in my hand. It's big enough but they're so far away. I don't know if I can throw it that far, or if I can hit him.

No warning, Mira's fingers were on mine, softly but insistently prising it out of my hand. What are you doing? He faced me fully, his look reassuring, the touch lingering. My stomach knotted both at the intense apprehension of risking myself to help another and the unexpected warmth that came from the look he gave me; and also at the unsettling pleasant feel of his hand on mine, just for that moment. Then he turned, without even stopping to judge for distance or accuracy and in one graceful flowing movement, he threw the stone.

It soared through the air in a perfect arc of effort, the curve of the trajectory ending right as it struck the interloper solidly on the back of the head. From the distance, we could hear faintly the sound of the impact and he staggered, momentarily stunned. The man looked over his shoulder, up from his bike and then, without breaking a sweat, did a full 180 and backhanded the hapless ambusher across the face with the wrench. His head jerked horizontally and he dropped like a rock, the blow probably enough to break his jaw if not his neck. Then for good measure, he crouched down over the again-defeated, the wrench rising and falling, to make very sure the job was, this time, completed.

I let out a breath of relief. My friend can instinctively track, hunt and skin animals. He can also hit a target the size of a dinner plate with a rock from at least a hundred paces. That is a skill. Then I realised that the man was not tending to the body or his bike any more, he was standing with the rock in his hand and looking up to where we were. Not right at us since we weren't in the open, but near. His voice cut through the renewed silence, a thick eastern European accent immediately detectable, though unlike León he chose English at first.

"I know you're out there. Rocks don't throw themselves, mm?"

Both of us had turned into statues. We pretty much just saved his life. Maybe we should ... go down? Caution stopped me. I need to be more careful if we're going to survive. He could be dangerous. I don't know anything about him. He might shoot us as soon as he sees us.

"Come! I wish you no type of harm. You did me a favour! So come!"

His voice echoed much as the gunshot had, his arms held up in the air welcoming his silent benefactor. Welcoming us. Still, I held back. What if it's a trap?

"You can remain hidden then. I wish to thank you. I would offer you something in return?"

Something in return. Fuck. Maybe ... maybe he can actually help?

Hesitating only a second, I stepped forward, ignoring the brush scratching at my arms and jumped over the edge, half sliding and half falling down the scree to the basin floor. I knew Mira was behind me without having to look. Determined, I didn't stop to let doubt in as I approached him, the man staring as I marched up until I was just beyond his reach. His eyes were wide, incredulous, probably from seeing two children appear from nowhere. Taller than I thought to begin with, he had a mane of chestnut hair that spiked up behind his head messily, curling round his face in sideburns that devolved into a small but lush pointed beard. He had a wide mouth, large prominent nose and very serious eyes. Also, from the way he shifted as he stood, a slight limp, something that I had not noticed during the attack.

"It was you two that did this?" At this range, the accent was still there, but now a rich baritone, smooth and full. He let out a short hearty laugh. "By God, I did not expect to be rescued from near death by children!"

"It was us," I confirmed. I just hope you are as friendly to us as you seem. "Well, it was me that had the idea, and him that threw the rock."

The man chuckled. "Well you have fantastic timing and he has a good throwing arm. I am glad you did what you did. You certainly saved my life from these wretched vagabonds. Rare to see any act of generosity in the times we live in, so you have my thanks. I am in debt to you." He wiped his free hand on his coat and extended it towards me. "My name is Konstantin Dmitri Andropov. It is an honour to meet you."

Haltingly, I reached forward and then shook. "My name is Shay. Um, Shay Andersen. This is Mira. Please don't be offended if he doesn't talk much. He's very shy." Which is true, in a way. He's only spoken a single word to me. Interaction with people is not a strong point.

"No offence is taken Mr Andersen," he said, with no hint of sarcasm in his voice at all, merely a friendly formality. "My curiosity begs to ask of you why you both seem very free of the infection, but first I will offer you aid. I do not imagine either of you are out here just for vacation time, huh? So, if there is something I can do for you, if you need food or to be taken somewhere?"

Food sounds good, but taken somewhere? Palatus! I have to get to Palatus!

"Well actually, there is somewhere I want to get to." Pause. How much do I really tell him? Tell him ... enough. Just enough that you don't sound like the world has gone completely crazy. Which it has, but everyone else has been living with it. I'm out of place here and I don't want others to realise that or I could be in big trouble. He was looking at me expectantly, a patient set to his jaw as he awaited my response. "My parents. I was going to meet them at Palatus. Could you take us there, please?"

Konstantin looked taken aback and then his response turned neutral, as if I wasn't really talking very much sense. "You want to go to Palatus," he stated. "Are you completely sure about that?"

I nodded. It's the only piece of knowledge I have left about my family. If I can search for any answers, that's where I should start. "Absolutely. One hundred percent sure."

"Well then," he murmured, slow and soft. "I shall keep my word. I will take you, as far as I can. I owe you this much at least."

"Thank you."

"No, the thanks are mine. Shay, Mira." His smile was broad, pleasant and not at all malicious. I think I can probably trust you. Probably. You don't seem like the betraying type. "Now, please give me another minute or two, I must finish rewiring the secondary power regulator on this thing and then we can get out of this place." Coat swirling, he was back to the bike, reaching for a toolset on the nearby dirt. My mind though, was already far away. Finally, a way out of here that didn't involve walking, kidnapping and wild animals.

Palatus. We're going to ride to Palatus. At last.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Repulsor bikes could be very fast when pushed to their limits, though as we cruised through the backroads, Konstantin assured us that it was the safest and most anonymous way to travel. Provided, of course, that we avoided the main byways in and out of towns as they were usually watched. He didn't say who watched them, but my guess was either savages like the ones that had attacked him or the creatures or something else I hadn't yet seen that was equally horrible. At the moment it didn't matter because I was too focused on seeing my family again.

It took only a fraction of the time to ride the distance that we'd walked over the last couple days. Only minutes later we pulled off the road and he brought the bike to a stop. The road continued, sloping downwards into the valley towards the town itself. He dismounted first and before I could move he looked at me sternly and spoke.

"You can see the town from the edge of those rocks over there," pointing to the lip of the bluffs that surrounded the north side of the valley. "Since you clearly have not been here before, I think it best you get a look before anything else."

Never been here before? What is he talking about? "I don't want to see the town, Konstantin. I want to go to it. I didn't come all this way to stop out here."

"You will need to do this first, Shay," he said, shaking his head slowly. "Trust me. Go to those rocks. See for yourself."

I looked at him, questioning. He gave away nothing. So, I walked across, hauled myself up the outcropping that was no more than my own height and looked down. There, in front of me in the valley, it lay.

Suddenly, I couldn't breathe.

The town was in ruins. The small houses and businesses were smashed apart, the larger buildings skeletons blasted clean of their flesh. Devoid of movement, stripped of life, cleaned down to the barest bones of existence. Little more than a hollowed out emptied shell, with no trees, no animals, no people. Lifeless wreckage. I didn't want it to be true, but the truth was there in front of my own eyes. There was no denying it.

Palatus was well and truly dead.

So .. one hell of a first few days for Shay. But .. things are just starting to get interesting! Took me a while to express this one into writing, so three will (probably) be a little faster in the production. Hope you enjoy it :)
Copyright © 2013 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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Interesting take on a zombie themed story. I'm really enjoying it. Hopefully Shay is as smart as you've portrayed him and realized what the readers have already. A gene modification virus has gone out of control (weaponized?) and infected everyone. Somehow Shay can cure them. Perhaps it was his experiment that acted as a catalyst for the infection?

 

I'm looking forward to the survivors' reactions when they find out that Mira was one of the fully infected and I hope Mira regains more of his humanity as time goes on.

 

Thanks for sharing your story, it's very good.

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On 05/26/2012 08:15 AM, Rebelghost85 said:
Interesting take on a zombie themed story. I'm really enjoying it. Hopefully Shay is as smart as you've portrayed him and realized what the readers have already. A gene modification virus has gone out of control (weaponized?) and infected everyone. Somehow Shay can cure them. Perhaps it was his experiment that acted as a catalyst for the infection?

 

I'm looking forward to the survivors' reactions when they find out that Mira was one of the fully infected and I hope Mira regains more of his humanity as time goes on.

 

Thanks for sharing your story, it's very good.

Thanks for your review, glad you enjoyed it :)

 

Post-apocalyptic worlds have always held an interest for me in fiction (and in games also). Some might regard the end of mankind as being a somewhat morbid topic for fascination, but when the rules of civilisation and law collapse, human behaviour changes in some disturbing and enlightening ways. All pretense vanishes so people can survive. Heavy stuff!

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What a great chapter. I love the imagery, the emotions, and suspense.

Sure, I have loads of questions, but I'm enjoying this story just the way

you're telling it. I look forward to chapter three.

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Well stellar what can I say but wonderful chapter. The images you create are wonderful. Looking forward to more.

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Definitely hooked me, Stellar. It will be quite a ride based on what you've written so far to see/hear what happened while Shay was in the chamber. Like Rebelghost, my first suspicion was that the gene therapy went awry, but I can imagine other scenarios as well. Looking forward to the coming chapters!

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I am definitely hooked as well. I really want to see where you are going with this.

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Wow, you are the plot master! Amazing storyline here! I like everything about it, especially the way it is told. Shay is discovering this new world exactly as we are, and seeing it through the perspective of an overly mature teenage boy is a great POV. I feel bad for him though, it doesn't sound like he is going to find what he is looking for in Palatus. I am also very intrigued by Mira. Strange enough that he morphed forms from a predator to a human boy, but with all those physical abilities, it makes me wonder if that was something that he had before he got changed into a predator (what I am assuming happened, I could be totally wrong) or if it is remaining instincts that his predator nature held. Very interesting, and I am fascinated. Can't wait to read the remaining chapters, I am definitely hooked. Thanks for sharing!

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On 08/10/2012 11:46 AM, CassieQ said:
Wow, you are the plot master! Amazing storyline here! I like everything about it, especially the way it is told. Shay is discovering this new world exactly as we are, and seeing it through the perspective of an overly mature teenage boy is a great POV. I feel bad for him though, it doesn't sound like he is going to find what he is looking for in Palatus. I am also very intrigued by Mira. Strange enough that he morphed forms from a predator to a human boy, but with all those physical abilities, it makes me wonder if that was something that he had before he got changed into a predator (what I am assuming happened, I could be totally wrong) or if it is remaining instincts that his predator nature held. Very interesting, and I am fascinated. Can't wait to read the remaining chapters, I am definitely hooked. Thanks for sharing!
you're welcome, thanks for reading :) You bring up valid questions regarding Mira; certainly one wonders how much of his ability is due to his animalistic prior form or to some kind of training. Bear in mind, he is physically around the same age as Shay, perhaps slightly older.
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Poor Shay. It just gets worse and worse, although I have to admit I never expect it to be as easy as that. I think Shay needs to get used to the fact he and Mira are pretty much alone, and pdq too.

I like the way you've written the built up/non built up areas. It's almost as if they were in the jungle then in the slums then god knows where. I can 'see' where they are and who they are.

Beautiful writing and an exciting story

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Great story, kinda surprised at the fact that Shay really hasn't caught on to the fact that it's been more than a few days since he was put in the stabilizer. You would think that he would realize that something isn't right and his parents won't be found easily or at all. At least he has Mira at lest for now.

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On 05/20/2013 04:31 AM, Daithi said:
Great story, kinda surprised at the fact that Shay really hasn't caught on to the fact that it's been more than a few days since he was put in the stabilizer. You would think that he would realize that something isn't right and his parents won't be found easily or at all. At least he has Mira at lest for now.
He does realise this fact rather soon, he just underestimates the duration.
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I am most definitely hooked on this story. It is obvious that a great deal of time has passed since Shay was placed in the stasis chamber.

I look forward to reading more and really getting into the story. I am glad I stumbled across this. It is so nice to read a story with correct spelling and grammar for a change!!! Thanks!!!

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On 05/22/2013 11:26 PM, Gene63 said:
I am most definitely hooked on this story. It is obvious that a great deal of time has passed since Shay was placed in the stasis chamber.

I look forward to reading more and really getting into the story. I am glad I stumbled across this. It is so nice to read a story with correct spelling and grammar for a change!!! Thanks!!!

Thank you :) I am glad you are enjoying it.

 

Shay certainly has been there longer than anyone thinks, though I will leave you to speculate about how long that actually is ;)

 

I've been painfully aware of grammar and spelling all my life, which is just another part of the whole deal of Being Different. It makes me a perfectionist when it comes to the technical structure of what I'm writing; it drives me rather crazy if my style is inconsistent and doesn't meet that standard!

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How does a creature turn into a human and now it appears he (Mira) can speak, is skilled and concerned about Shay. Was that dream of a giant sized creature significant. How will the shock of seeing the city in ruins hit him, as reallity now sinks in (we're not in Kansas anymore Toto). Great chapter, thank you.

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WOW, this really has me interested. I am guessing that Shay won't be seeing his parents anytime soon?
Now he has made another friend? maybe? Shay is getting stronger? So far he hasn't behaved like a 14 yr old
who has lost everything and not sure where he is?

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On 11/26/2015 12:45 AM, Ashdaw said:

WOW, this really has me interested. I am guessing that Shay won't be seeing his parents anytime soon?

Now he has made another friend? maybe? Shay is getting stronger? So far he hasn't behaved like a 14 yr old

who has lost everything and not sure where he is?

Well, he is trying to find his parents, but he is unusually smart for his age, beyond his years. There is still a great deal for him to understand and come to terms with yet.

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Wow what a great chapter:yes: I love the images, the taste of fear, and a well place rock so well done:yes: So much to come to light and oh yes unanswered question yet to be discovered. God I am loving this story:yes:

:worship::worship::worship::thankyou::2thumbs:

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1 hour ago, Albert1434 said:

Wow what a great chapter:yes: I love the images, the taste of fear, and a well place rock so well done:yes: So much to come to light and oh yes unanswered question yet to be discovered. God I am loving this story:yes:

:worship::worship::worship::thankyou::2thumbs:

Lucere is a dangerous place. There is so much left to uncover though.

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