Flesh And Steel



Scene Title Flesh and Steel
Synopsis An exchange takes place.
Date July 3, 2017

Empty desert lies silent, spread out for miles. To the far west is a horizon of low mountainous terrain, gloomy grey, an interrupting ripple in the flat. To the nearer east, a thick gathering of storm clouds hang in the sky, and intermittent lightning forks through them, lighting them up from within, showing their misshapen contours. Seconds later, thunder comes rolling, reverberating and banishing empty silence in a low grumble. The occasional sweep of wind flurries from that direction, and sand hisses over sand.

Another sound thrums through the massive silence. The rhythmic clack of keratin and beaten metal striking dusty concrete and rock. A second sound, similar in cadence but not in resonance as steel slams into hard desert ground, a thunderous boom of weight punctured by a shrill scrape of metal.

Foam gathers at the corner of the horse's mouth but doesn't break its stride forward, the rider tipped low, single boot dusty in stirrups. The horse only objects with a head toss as its rider urges it into a curving path, but otherwise obeys, its registry of danger confused as its ears fill with sound, and its nostrils with nothing but the smells of itself, its rider, the storm, the machine.

The machine doesn't curve. It moves in a straight line. It isn't faster, right now, but it also isn't tired.

The rider doesn't look back, more occupied with controlling the animal beneath him, the uncomfortable slam of momentum as it gallops. Up ahead, he can see the distant grey blocks of buildings, indistinguishable from another at this distance, and they seem to grow no larger in perspective as he moves towards them, endlessly. But he isn't waiting for that, he's waiting for—


The horse lifts its front legs, and the rider snatches a handful of mane to stay on, saddle slipping perilously. A commanding growl manages to get the beast under control, yanked around so that he can see for himself the way an explosion he didn't see has resolved, now, into flames, and a cloud of dust, and also — this last thing stopping him from reaching for his rifle — silence. He allows that silence to continue on for a minute, two minutes, and allows the dust to clear, and the flames to diminish, before he climbs down from his horse.

Rifle in one hand, reins in the other, he makes his way towards the robot, an off-kilter limp, his footsteps uneven in away the modest clip clop of the horse's walking pace is not — the scuff of boot sole, and the clank of metal.

The remains of the machine are motionless, and its once gleaming red eyes lifeless.

"Lo siento, der Kamerad."

And he gets to work.

Somewhere in the Mojave Desert

July, 2017

It's dark, now, night firmly fixed in the sky. The journey he's made back to town is marked clearly in the form of machinery dragged by chains and the slow moving, heavy hoof-prints of a tired horse. Robot remains are left in the street, neglected. Around it, a long forgotten concrete village is dark. There are buildings with bullet holes pockmarking its brickwork. There are buildings that are half-collapsed from long ago assault.

There is a building with low light from his lamp touching boarded up windows. Whatever it used to be, it seems like it was soon turned into the site of a last stand that no one remembers. By his meagre light, he eats alone — canned food, eaten without warmth, without tasting it, a dogged and mechanic spoonful after spoonful until he is no longer hungry, which is likely to take some time as he doesn't slow.

The cold of the desert creeps through brickwork.

And then a sound, strange enough that he pauses over his canned meal of tinny tasting chilli. A flutter, like the rapid thrum of tiny wings. Another. And then a metallic hum as a third joins it, and then more, and more, until it is all just one low sound converging in the sky outside. He casts aside his meal and reaches for his rifle, thumping his way to the barricaded front door as this hum grows louder and louder.

And then falls silent.

"Is anyone home?"

A voice rings out. It has no direction. It does not pierce through the other side of the door, or shout from a distance. Instead, it seems to vibrate through the very walls of his building, from every direction, unpleasant to listen to, to experience, like biting down on tinfoil. His hackles go up, a gruff grunt surprised from his chest as his finger curls against the trigger.

"I thought as much." This voice is also female. Prim. Sharply English. "You don't have to come out if you don't want to, but I do hope you will. For now, I can hear you perfectly well."

His silence is distrustful, his breathing heavy, deep chested.

"You have my attention. Isn't that what you wanted?"

Another flutter, just outside the boarded over window to his left. Silence. Finally, he speaks. "What do I call you?"

One might imagine, with this next line, hands pressing together in pleasure as she says, "There you are. But I find it hard to believe you don't know what to call me. For the sake of— protocol, let's say? You may call me the Director.


"And you, now — you've introduced yourself already, although you're very lucky that anything was transmittable after the mess you made. What's more, our readings detect that you've removed the negation gas chambers, but I don't imagine that was a precaution, was it? Thor. God of thunder."

"No," he agrees. The rifle lowers a little as he sets his back against the wall. "Comes in useful."

"Our sentinels are considerably useful as well." The singular voice seems to scatter, shattering like glass and turning into a thousand facets of itself as its surrounding, unified quality betrays itself into being that of a thousand parts, with a static hum thrumming through her words. The air tastes like metal, and feels like static. "You may, now, give me a reason not to extract the cost of my machine you destroyed from your flesh, pound for pound, dear."

With his initial startle out of his system, the man inside the building — Thor — does not sound afraid when he responds, his tone neutral, strangely disaffected: "We have more to offer you and your operation than flesh."


"Si. In return of the things we need to accomplish our offering."

A tsk tsk does not translate very well through this strange, surrounding apparatus, but manages it all the same. "Then it seems as though the immediate debt will not be rectified by way of bargaining. That won't do at all."

The return of that buzz in place of that voice has him moving again, standing in the central space as that nerve-tingling hum fills the air, like something taking off, white noise all around. Intellectually, he knows that whatever's outside, a rifle won't do anything for it, but he lifts it anyway as he eyes over the interior of the building — the wooden door in front of which he's yanked furniture. The windows boarded over by hands long since gone, with the occasional inch wide crack for visual. The weaknesses in the rotted ceiling. The air vents.

And then, outside, that buzzing shifts, seeming to converge somewhere to the east wall, and despite that he can't see through brickwork, he tracks it with his hooded gaze.

The sound of a screaming horse manages to trickle something colder into his bloodstream.

It takes more time than he is comfortable with, standing stock still, and then finally the terrible sounds of a dying animal fade. The buzzing swells, lifts, and eventually fades too, and he backs away, coming to sit down with a scrape of metal heel. He releases his steely grip on his rifle by a fraction, but doesn't set it down.

Even when he finally falls asleep, sitting, back to the wall, he doesn't set it down. Dawn is beginning to tinge the sky when he wakes, the cold stiff in his bones, his lamp dead. At first, he imagines he woke up from discomfort, from the struggling sunlight, until something sounds out — again, he realises.

Impatient honking.

There's a certain nihilism to way he allows this to summon him out of his shelter. Shoving aside furniture, stepping out into the empty street, sparing not a glance towards the corpse of the horse lying several feet from the corpse of the robot. The already warm, dry morning wind tugs at his black clothing, his black hair, the strange grey light of the desert mild and yet forcing him to squint as he holds his rifle at his side like he's forgotten it's there.

It idles on the far end of the street. Armored, army green, a military scouting vehicle. Over the driver's station, a hatch flips open, and a man appears. From this distance, it's hard to make out his features, save that he is likely a man, and that he has on sunglasses despite the early dawn dimness, and grey hair that flutters under persistent wind.

The figure raises an arm, and gives a big wave.


Despite the distance, his shout carries easily in all of the nothingness.

"God of thunder! You need a ride?"

The god of thunder glances backwards. The flies have gathered in his horse's eyes. He abandons what he'd gathered inside his shelter within — ammunition, canned meals, antibiotics, explosives, one tattered Bible — and walks forward.

One foot after the other.

Boot scuff. Metal clank.


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