Chapter 3: Scavenger Discovery

She found somewhere else to rest, a house empty with no dead in it. Poor woman, poor woman, she needed sleep.

But other things don’t, or they don’t need it at night, and they followed her scent and found her there. And they watched her sleeping body with gleaming eyes and something vicious on their mind. They watched, hating, until dawn started to mark the sky with light, and then crept away to wherever nighttime things sleep.

So she didn’t know.

But when she woke she did know another thing. She knew how the tanks worked.

They were for emergencies. Emergencies only. A person in a tank could live, undamaged, for six months, a year, while work was done to fix or cure them – but longer than that and the brain broke down, the muscles atrophied, the flesh became vulnerable. These days (those days?) they were mostly used to grow flesh-shapes with no brain-stems, with limbs and organs for harvest for a sick person.

RED 87 had been in that tank a lot longer than a year. Maybe more than ten years, or twenty, or thirty. It was a wonder she could walk, a wonder that her brain could fire at all. No wonder her memories and thoughts were like a rotten tangle of cloth.

She ran one brown hand over the dusty red of her jumpsuit, trying hard to make it not shake. There was new dirt under the nails that had been baby-clean when she spilled out.

Go east.

The urge, like the urge to eat or drink or shit, unignorable, essential, part of her. Go east.

So tired. So bone-aching tired already. Limbs and muscles sobbing softly in their cases of fragile skin. A headache, from dehydration and constant exertion, lurking at the edge of sensation. Her feet. Oh, who knew feet could hurt so much. They were swollen, would barely fit back in those boots. Those thick socks stiff at the bottom with her blood. She bowed her head down to her feet, and rough hanks of tangled and oily black hair hunkered down over her face. She moaned. Only a day, and how long would she have to walk, how far east did she have to go? Her feet. Her poor feet.

But they went back in the boots anyway, and after the first few stiff and awful steps she could ignore the pain and put it somewhere else in her head. Because what other choice did she have? She couldn’t refuse the east.

Slower going this time, slower work, because a hungry and sore machine is not a capable one. But the city was only so large, only so wide, and the externals were withering away. So not so far, not really. Another day, two, with no clean water and no food and feet that were bleeding. And from then, further, maybe, further still, to the other side of the country where the land flattened down to meet the sea and the sky was huge and weighty. Weeks. Months.

Go east.

When a creature suffers, strange things happen. It becomes focused on the result. Other senses drift away. Red 87’s sight blurred, till she could only see pebbles and horizon, and nothing in between. Intact buildings, rubble, ruin, all passing her like they didn’t matter. She heard only the wind and her own irregular footsteps, felt her heartbeat pounding in temples and throat.

So it says nothing of her capability, of her skills, that she could be surprised – that she could be trudging half in a trance, and find herself faced by another person, having never heard or even seen them. One moment she was walking, muttering a little song she’d made up to herself one step two step three step step all day you can do it red strong and good step step step and then she was staring at feet that weren’t hers.

Red 87 blinked, twice, and lifted her tired head, and was looking at a woman. She was narrow, angular, with very curly hair that she’d cut close to the scalp. There was a face there, too, all sharp lines and freckles. An ugly scar across cheek and lips.

“…the hell?” she said.

“Going east,” said Red 87, politely, like she was sharing conversation with a friendly stranger in a shop. “Got to go.” But then she fell backwards, onto her arse, hard enough to jar her spine.

“Don’t think you’re going anywhere.”

The woman crouched down, arms on those sharply pointed knees (everything about this stranger hard and sharp like a knife, except the mouth, the mouth was soft and full and scarred. Even the eyes, the brown eyes, they were like being cut)

“I can’t…” said Red 87. “No words.”

“Who are you?”

“Dunno!” she laughed. “Going east. My feet. They’re bleeding.”

“Let me look.”

Red 87 shook her head. “Going east.”

“In this state you won’t get further than Old Mutterway before you just die in the dust.”

A pause. An argument in a brain. The capability still there, but distant from her. “Food,” she said at last. “Water. Sleep.”

“At the minimum. I… know a place nearby.” The woman tilted their head to the side, made her narrow eyes even narrower. “Can get you there.”

Red 87 looked up, at this woman, at her eyes, at her mouth, at her clothes, which weren’t much more than clumsily-woven squares sewn together. “Yes.”

“Come on, then.” A hand, offered and taken. And then two women, one short and soft, round and tender, the other tall and looking carved out of hard wood. One striding, the other limping. To a new place. To the east.

 

I am a monster. Anyway, don’t forget that I WANT to incorporate your suggestions, whether they be tiny (she finds a special thing!) or large (they are attacked by mutants!). Please leave them in the comments. Be aware that really big suggestions may take a few updates to include, and that by posting a suggestion you are giving me the right to use it or not as I see fit, including in future publication attempts.

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Chapter 1: New Birth

Light.

There was… light.

And pain. It hurt, it hurt, every muscle screaming, and she was crying wordlessly, wanting nothing more than an end.

She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t breathe… and light, again, more light, blinding, light and pain pain and light please please please

Then cool air, something solid under back and buttocks and thighs, something cold and hard and gritty.

Pain drifting out of the body, leaving behind an ache and an absence.

She was born from the tank like this, in pain and confusion, breathing hard and whimpering. After some time, she stopped shaking long enough to get on her hands and knees. She lifted one hand and looked at it, wondering. Then around herself.

She was in a room, huge and empty. The floor was grey concrete, covered in layers of dust, now disturbed by the liquid thrashing of her emergence. Other tanks like the one she crawled from sat in rows, equal distances apart. Of the two next to her, one was empty, but the other held a dark and floating shape. The walls in between the tanks were a dingy and chipped white. Somewhere a machine groaned as it pumped dusty air into the building.

She had something to do. Somewhere to go…

She couldn’t remember. Just. East, go east, towards the rising sun. Go east.

She got to her feet, unsteady as any newborn thing, and wrapped her arms around herself. She, walked the rows of tanks, some empty, some carrying other people, like herself. She wiped away the condensation from one tank, and gazed in on the face she revealed. It was distorted by thick fluid. It stirred nothing in her, no memory, no feeling. Who were these people? Friends, family, enemies?

There was a door set in one of the white wall. It was marked with a green sign saying EMPLOYEE EXIT. A smaller sign, this one in red, said PROTECTIVE GEAR MUST NOT BE WORN OUTSIDE OF THE FACILITY.

Through this door was a small, dingy locker room. Rags of clothes hung from pegs. Benches collapsed inwards on themselves. Shower cubicles lurked behind dirty curtains. In one of these showers a skull grinned up at her. She shut the curtain hurriedly.

She stared about for a bit. She was still naked, and cold, and the goo from the tank had dried on her in great pinkish streak.

“Try the shower,” said a high-pitched voice behind her. She turned round, heart suddenly pounding.

No-one there – but there was a small animal, sitting on one of the broken benches. A ?? dog bird rat capybara otter ferret cat?? Cat?? CAT!

Yes, cat.

“You’re a cat,” she slurred. They were the first words she’d ever spoken.

“That tank really did a number on you, didn’t it?”

“Head hurts.”

“Try the shower. Get the gunk off you.”

She stumbled in to one of the shower cubicles – not the one with the skull in it. This one had a dark stain at the base that she tried hard not to think about. She fumbled with the taps until – finally – a burst of freezing water hit her.

“The boilers don’t work,” said the cat. It was sitting well out of the way of the spray. Cat’s don’t like water, she thought, and giggled.

“Rest of building…”

“I don’t know how it’s running. I’m a cat. I thought you might.”

“Why would I…?”

“Never mind that. It’s not important. Do you know why you’re even out?”

“East. Go east.”

“Thank all the gods for that at least.”

“Cats can’t talk.”

The cat started grooming one leg. “I’m a special kind of cat.”

A flash, knowledge just beyond grasp, something important. A memory. Cats, lots of cats, wired up to machines…

“Special cats.” She closed her eyes. “Something to do with me…?”

It looked at her again, with bright, clever green eyes. “Well done.”

She was clean. She stepped out of the shower. The cat stuck its tail in the air and twined around her ankles. “Clothes.”

“Try the lockers.”

In one locker there was a remarkably well preserved jumpsuit thing. It was red. On the breast pocket, a number. 87.

“Red 87,” she said. It meant something, rang a bell somewhere.

“Is that your name? I know humans are weird about names.”

“I don’t know.” She wanted to cry with frustration. “Why can’t you say?”

“I don’t know either. I just decided to come here and wait for you.”

“Why?”

“Curious,” said the cat. “Anyway, if we have to call you something, Red 87 seems good enough.”

“Humans don’t have numbers,” she said.

“Sure about that, are you? Miss can’t-remember-simple-things?”

“I-“ She shook her head. Wet hair slapped across her face. “Warning,” she said. “Beware… enemies? Maybe enemies? Are you an enemy?”

The cat stared at her again. “Not me,” it said. “But there might be others. Beware, indeed. Can you use a gun?”

“Yes,” she said, with certainty. “I can. And I know…” mind racing, images in front of her eyes. “Foraging hunting fire-building survival eat bugs knife fighting killing hiding bodies escaping.”

“Good things to know out there,” said the cat.

“My head,” she said again. “I was in the tank. For something. It was important…” She looked up at the cat with helpless blank eyes.

“Sorry,” said the cat. “Can’t help you. Just a cat.”

“Real?”

“I am physically present and talking, if that’s what you’re asking. Hadn’t you better be going east?”

“East. Towards the rising sun. Something…”

“I really hope your memory comes back.”

With that, the cat sauntered off, through a small hole in the walls, and was gone. The woman – Red 87, as she supposed she now was – was alone.

She ran her hands over the jumpsuit. It was soft and faded with age, but still good and strong. She wondered if someone had left it here for her.

Into a corridor. It too, was white, and along the walls were stripes of different coloured paint. Blue, green and red. She rested her hand against one of them.

She knew things. She could feel them jostling around in her brain, like fish in a too-small pond, but she couldn’t reach them.

“Red is… testing. Blue is…?” she shook her head. She couldn’t remember. But there was a brief memory of offices and computers and… “Green is out. Green is out!”

Where’s yellow? There should be yellow, too. Did they paint over yellow?

Did that even matter? Green was out.

She kept her hand against the green paint and followed it. She took the stairs, not the lift, and kept following green, and ignored the open doors that she sometimes passed, the ones that opened on rooms that she half knew and that she didn’t want to see now.

As she went on, the hallways became dirtier and dingier and more destroyed. There were holes in the walls now, opening into rooms that were sometimes completely collapsed. Once she stumbled over something that slid away from her with a skittering sound, and when she looked, she realised it was a human bone.

Eventually, she reached a corridor that was completely blocked by rubble except for a small, person-sized gap at the top. She climbed up, grazing her bare hands and feet on the broken apart concrete and steel, and wriggled through the gap.

She found herself in a large room that might once have been stylish and grand. Large window frames opened up onto a blinding world outside She lowered herself onto a huge overturned desk.

As she walked away from her second birth and into the shattered city, orange eyes watched her from the shadows.

 

OK, please leave suggestions for things to include in the next chapter in the comments. What will Red87 discover out in the shattered city? What strange things will happen to her? It’s up to you! Well, mostly me, but some of you, too.

Don’t forget that by suggesting something you’re giving me permission to use it as I see fit, here and in the future.

The cats in this episode of Lone Rambler out of Lost City are thanks to @ragesinggoddess on twitter.

Chapter 2