He was being poked, a repeating stab of agony. Gone, and then back. He probably felt it so keenly, because, unlike the other competing agonies – his ankle, his right hip, his skull – this was a jabbing, again and again. It had been enough to wake him, to draw his consciousness back up to the point he could take in the smell of smoke and metal and cold frost, to taste the dryness of his mouth and a shallow breath of cold air. The repeated jabs of agony were enough to first make him groan, then when that didn’t stop the torture, for Abek Goa to – at least partially – open his sticky blood encrusted eyelids.
Yes, he realized, something was poking him. No, some one was poking him. With each painful jab, it became that much clearer. Short. He was looking down at it… no him… or her? Dirty face, with matted hair, and wearing clothing made up of scraps and rags. A child, it had to be, or a dwarf. Whatever it was, it was wielding a bent metal rod, and was just about to stab him again.
“Stop it,” he wheezed out. Oh, he must be in bad shape to be in this much pain and still alive. And how could he be looking down at the child? Unless… unless he was trussed up.
That would explain why his arms were the only part of his body that didn’t ache.
The child, again very possibly a girl, took a few steps back; stared up at him.
What was a child doing in a place like this? And what kind of place was this? He forced his pounding head up to an angle that looked at more than just the dirty and snowy ground.
Ruins… the ruins of a southern city. Dusted with snow, collapsed by age. And he was tied up, standing, against something, arms outstretched, numb, bloodied. Even with his blurred vision, he could tell his clothing was splattered from his jacket to his boots.
The child regained her courage, stepped forward and poked him again.
“Ahhh,!” he cried out. “I told you, stop it! What do you think you’re doing?!”
The girl seemed to think about that for a moment. Did she understand? Could she speak? It would be a good thing if she could. He could convince her to help him out of this.
“Checkin’ the food,” she finally offered in a semi-fearful semi-defiant challenge. Yes, he was now certain, a girl, young; barely half his height. That didn’t necessarily make it easy to tell her age. He was taller than most.
Food? Streck. Maybe it wasn’t good she could speak.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, pretending confusion.
She poked him again.
He cried out again.
“Food ain’t supposed to talk.”
He took in a few haggard breaths.
“And who told you that,” he growled, having had enough of the continuing agony.
“My da,” she brightened, smiling enough to show some ragged yellow teeth, “He knows what food should do, and what it shouldn’t.”
“Maybe I’m not food then,” Abek offered. “And you should be cutting me down from this instead of jabbing me with that.”
The girl looked at him from a couple different angles.
“I don’t think I should,” she slowly decided. “Da says food can be scary. Food can be dangerous. Food needs to be tenderized!”
And with that she gave him a viciously hard poke that made him almost scream.
“I think there are other things you should be more afraid of, girl,” Abek finally forced out between painful breaths. “I’m the least of what you should be afraid of.”
That got the girls attention. She lowered the rod, stared up at him.
Too much cloud, though. No way of telling how long before the eggs go off. Not until one does
“What should I be afraid of?”
“You’re afraid of the mechs, aren’t you?”
She stared at him.
“Your scared of them, right,” he urged.
“I know the mechs pretty well,” he told her. “I can help you and your da, help protect you from them.”
“We don’t need protection,” she told him, smiling proudly. “We have family.”
“Family can’t protect you when the flyers come,” Abek told her. “But I can.”
“Mechs aren’t coming,” she told him. “Ain’t the time of year.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Abek told her. “I saw one on the way here. It had long legs and arms that ended with cages. Just the kind that likes to capture little girls.”
She seemed uncertain for a moment, waggled the bent rod.
“And you’re exactly what its looking for,” he caught her fearful gaze. “I can protect you from it. You just have to cut me free.”
She dropped her rod. Did he convince her?
She looked up at him with her big round amber eyes, as if trying to make a decision. And then they both heard a sound from the distance – the rumble of an explosion.
The girl turned around and started running. Maybe not.
“Da!” she screamed. “Mechs!”
Abek Goa turned his aching head back and forth. He wasn’t alone. Kel was similarly trussed up a few meters to his right. He wasn’t moving much though. Maybe he was unconscious, maybe dead.Goaturned his attention back to the fleeing girl.
Yeah, buddy, this just might be it.
Go to Chapter 1 (go here if you’ve just started)