Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 07 - "Away From Home"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

air-conditioned hell

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy,Horror,Sci-fi - Published: 2008-12-09 - Updated: 2008-12-09 - 932 words - Complete

Justin peered around the next corner. His heart was racing, his lungs burned, his side ached. At times like this, he seriously envied Max’s athletic abilities. I’m gonna end up becoming a hell of a runner myself simply by surviving this!

But for now he could take a break, as the hall was empty as far as the eye could see.

In the long run, he found very little comfort in that. If it was a trick, it wouldn’t be this place’s first. Since his encounter with the cleaning robots, he carried one double-barrel power pistol in hand, but kept his other hand free to operate controls, though always ready to draw from one of the holsters he had taken from the stiffs in the closet.

The emptiness only served to underscore the same questions he had been asking since he first set foot in this place. Where the hell are all the people? Why are their machines trying to kill me? This just doesn’t make any sense…

For a while, he had tried to look everywhere at once, but he quickly gave up on that idea. If he had somehow managed to lose this NK-525, then all he had to do was avoid sounding any more alarms. This whole experience had left his ears, and his nerves, ringing.

He had scarcely slept in the past forty-eight hours, and he felt utterly paranoid.

Somewhere along the way, he had heard stories about what happened to people who went too long without sleep. Stories of people seeing things, hearing things, losing touch with reality. It would start, as he was discovering for himself, with the slow breakdown of his ability to concentrate, making serious thought harder and harder. The Cyexian ringleader Slash was said to be like this, and he had seen it for himself on that fateful smuggling run. An insomniac, she was called, and if things kept up this way, he feared he may yet learn what that exotic- (and rather sinister-) sounding word meant.

The scenery here was creepy enough without hallucinations.

Exhaustion dragged at him as it hadn’t since his time at Pullman Mine Camp. His feet were sore, his knees and elbows were bruised and battered from hours of crawling through shafts, and in spite of the swig of water he had taken from the bottle only a minute ago, his mouth was still dry. On top of that, the feeling that he had somehow walked farther in one day than he had in his entire life. The place itself was neither hot nor cold, and what little ventilation there was felt forced. Everything about this place chilled him to the bone, yet he also felt hot and dazed.

He was starting to feel like he was going to—

Justin snapped out of it as he heard the by now all-too-familiar sound of tracks on metal plating. And by the sound of them, only a few intersections away and closing. Its incessant patrols were moving closer and closer to his position, and once it caught his trail, the nightmare would start all over again.

“Damn… it…”

Justin started forward, meaning to run. But the weight of fatigue and despair— of walls slowly closing in on him, of total futility— smothered his burst of adrenaline even as it started. He settled for stumbling several steps.

Pulling himself together, he scrambled over to the nearest closet. And when he tried to open it, it demanded a password. Same with the next one, and the one after that. When the third closet barred him, he just about screamed, picturing NK somehow locking all of the doors by remote or something.

And when the fourth door slid open without resistance, he ducked in.

One last, desperate idea… he thought as he huddled in the corner. He trained one of his guns on the control panel, meaning to disable it if the Enforcer stopped at this door. One last, desperate idea for the last desperate man in this automated hellhole…

Huddled like this, he made a smaller target.

Facing the door. It dawned on him with a dull sense of horror that he was now sitting in the exact same position as those two bodies in the other closet. That thought made him feel all the more desperate as he awaited an end more violent than any he had pictured in the Triangle State.

In his current jangled state of mind, it was all he could do to steady his aim with both hands, playing it as it comes, as he always had.

After a few moments, each longer than the last, those ominous tracks finally rolled back into earshot. For Justin it was maddening, the way they seemed to slow down as they drew nearer. He was increasingly certain they would stop any second.

Justin held his breath as the Enforcer rolled past, and then, after a few short ages, away from the closet. Somehow the hi-tech hunter had passed over its primitive prey. Later, he would come up with a few theories about that, but for now it was all he could do to exhale an impossibly long sigh of relief as the dreadful sound moved away from him.

In moments like this, he still wondered whether the thing— or something like it— had already done away with Max, or if his friend had somehow managed to survive.

Yet before he knew it, here in the mysterious sanctuary of the utility closet, he finally fell asleep into the troubled dreams of an exhausted mind.
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