Here it is: a new Interlude, with a twist. This short story was the inspiration for my new novella series No Road Home! Enjoy this story heavily influenced by Fallout series of video games. Then buy Echoes, the first book in the No Road Home series at Amazon.com on October 15, 2019.
He did now know pain.
At least, not anymore.
They saw to that in the lab. They beat it out of him in training. He
was oddly grateful for it in the blistering heat of the day.
The sun seared your flesh
in a short period of time out here. His skin was accustomed to it.
The back of his neck was like leather. Still, the sun was causing it
to crack and bleed.
Doesn’t matter, now. The
sun, the heat, the hunger… That still hurt, he’d admit. They
made him resilient to starvation, but they didn’t quiet the hunger
that accompanied it.
He pushed it out of his
mind. He had an entire country to avenge. An entire country, ravaged
by a war they never asked for, seared by nuclear fire, left to die,
like him, in a parched desert landscape.
A house emerged out of the
dusty haze ahead of him. Perhaps there might yet be food inside.
People? Surely not. Nobody stayed out here after the dust settled.
Those that did were
quickly slaughtered by bands of raiders. Their remaining possessions
were torn apart, gutted, left to rot along with their decimated
corpses. Their ransacked homes became their makeshift tombs.
He stood at the entrance
of the home. The surname Garcia was painted in faded black letters
above the house numbers. The door before him was shut.
He reached for the
doorknob, but stopped himself. A brief glimmer of humanity sparked
through him. He knocked gruffly on the weathered paint and listened.
There came no response. He
tried the doorknob. It did not turn. He looked up at the top of the
door frame. He ran a weathered hand along it. His fingers happened
upon an oddly-cool piece of metal.
He slipped the key into
the doorknob and turned it. The lock clicked. He turned the knob at
last and pushed his way inside.
The temperature dropped
noticeably as he stepped into the entryway. His footsteps sent a
cloud of dust into the air. The sunlight entering the house flitted
off the particles, casting ghosts about the room.
He looked at the floor.
There was a dropped purse, a backpack full of unfinished homework.
Shoes were scattered around an open closet.
Perhaps this home had
escaped looting. He continued forward into the family living room. He
wrinkled his nose.
Before him was a
long-abandoned couch. In the corner was a worn, green recliner. In it
were the mummified remains of an elderly lady.
“Little Pete, what’s to
eat? Maybe grandma’s got a treat!” The man blinked the image of his
own grandmother from his mind. He turned from the corpse, rubbing at
his course cheeks.
A long-darkened TV panel
stared back at him from the wall. He stepped over to it and tapped
one corner. The screen remained dark.
He stepped into the
kitchen. He looked over the fridge. No power meant nothing good in
there. He was thankful for modern sealing technology.
The cabinets were fully
stocked. The reality made him nervous. His stomach made him decisive.
He chose a vintage, unopened box of Cheerios.
He opened it up and ate
directly from the box. He looked for the expiration date as he
munched away. Not bad for being a few months past freshness.
Something clicked and
whirred in the hallway beyond. He put down the box and pulled out his
handgun. The whirring and clicking was louder now, but also slower.
He popped around the
corner, gun raised. A home security bot was very slowly trundling
down the hallway. Its bright yellow eyes barely registered a somber
The robotic words were barely a whisper in the silence, strung out
and broken. So this is why the house was untouched.
alpha delta four two nine zero.” Two weak beeps came from within
the robot. It remained still. It’s nuclear battery nearly spent, it
wouldn’t have been able to carry on, anyway.
Peter the soldier emerged
from the house a short time later. The hastily discarded backpack was
now on his shoulder. Its textbooks had been replaced by breakfast
cereal and canned goods.
A mansion appeared over
the horizon sometime later, a lasting nod to the separation of rich
and poor. He eyed it with interest as he drew closer. There could be
some good gear in there, perhaps even a functional vehicle. There
would almost certainly be greater security…
And of course there was.
The hills surrounding the mansion were fenced in. A single, large
gate opened onto a grand driveway that led to the main building.
A crazed, bipedal robot
stormed out from behind it, screeching. The robot’s silver and white
color scheme was quickly being taken over by a sheen of dark brown
rust. The battery in this one was quite charged. Time for the gun
The soldier called out his
clearance code to no effect. He tried to assert his dominance with
the gun, instead. The robot barely slowed. “Shit.”
He holstered the gun and
raised his fists. He slammed them full-forced into the robot’s chest,
sending it skittering backwards a full two feet. The blow revealed
the shiny titanium beneath the synthetic flesh covering the soldier’s
The robot screeched. It
quickly covered the distance between them and grappled with the
soldier. “Not allowed! NOT ALLOWED! Violation of grounds! Protect
“United States Army!
STAND DOWN!” The robot headbutted him. He yelled as blood burst
from the split in his skin.
He grabbed the robots
chest plates and pulled with all his strength. The steel slowly
peeled back. He jabbed one hand into the robot’s chest. He pulled it
back out holding a fistful of wires.
The robot dropped to the
ground. Its head and limbs twitched as its systems crashed one by
one. The soldier warily stood over it, waiting for it to power down.
It became still at last.
The robot turned to look on the soldier with blinking, fading eyes.
“Daddy!” It was the voice of a young child, a recording.
“Daddy, I’m scared.”
“I know son,” the
father’s voice was heard to answer.
“Daddy, I don’t want to
die!” The light faded out of the robot’s eyes for the last time.
He shook his head, then
lifted it skyward. He sighed deeply, letting it droop again. He
produced a handkerchief from his pocket. The soldier wiped at the
blood on his forehead.
Emotions. He’d had enough
of them. Yet this world kept shoving them in his face. Part of the
“enhancements” the military had given him was an emotional
damper. He wondered, did they ever think it would be tested like
The soldier continued on
his way. Cars were starting to appear on the side of the road, mostly
on the right. In times of danger, citizens often look to the military
Most of the cars were
abandoned. Many, unfortunately, were not. He stopped looking when he
passed a fully-loaded sedan, complete with an occupied child safety
Army Base Delta started to
come into view at long last. The lowering sun cast a long shadow
before him. It took him longer than expected to get this far.
Something moved behind one
of the abandoned cars ahead. He froze. There was another noise. He
drew his gun.
A dog walked out from
behind the automobile. The soldier grimaced, rolling his eyes. The
dog stood staring at the man. It began to pant.
The soldier put away his
weapon and continued on. The dog turned and began to follow as he
passed. He stopped. The dog stopped. “Shoo.”
The dog sat and stared at
him. “Stay.” The soldier waited a moment longer, then continued.
The dog remained where he was.
The verbal detent wasn’t
very effective. The dog jogged along to catch up. The soldier turned
in anger. “I said SHOO!” He swung a foot at the dog.
The animal pulled up
short, nearly falling backwards. He looked at the soldier with heavy
eyes. “GO!” The dog turned and left with his tail between his
The soldier didn’t like
what he saw as he drew closer to the Army base. He pulled out a small
black device and activated it. The item started clicking immediately:
a Geiger counter.
He replaced it with a
packet of pills. The packaging was marked “Anti-Rad”. He ripped
it open and dry-swallowed the contents.
He picked his way into the
remains of the base. It appeared to have taken a direct hit in the
nuclear strike. All that mattered was if one particular part of the
base had survived.
It had. In the middle of
the destruction stood a simple concrete dome. A heavy metal hatch
remained intact on one side of it. Heavy black soot coated a
half-melted keypad in the center of the hatch.
He cleared it as well as
he could and typed in a string of numbers. Nothing happened for a
moment. He was preparing to straighten up when there came a loud
click from within the door.
He grabbed the large
handle on one side of the hatch and pulled. It swung up and out to
one side. Dim, yellow lights running on emergency power lit the shaft
A cool, dark tunnel
extended from the bottom of the shaft. A gentle breeze brought the
stench of decay with it. Not a good sign.
At the end of the shaft
was a simple bunker consisting of a latrine, sleeping quarters, and a
communications room. Inside the comm room, he found the corpses of
two men. One was laying in one corner, a bullet hole in its head.
The other sat at one of
the computer terminals, also with a bullet in its head.
Murder-suicide. The screen was still lit, casting a ghostly glow on
the corpse before it.
He slid the corpse’s chair
out of the way, opting to sit in a slightly-less defiled chair
nearby. On the screen he read “PROJECT: RETALIATE”. Below that,
“Critical targets acquired. Launch warheads?”
He leaned back and sighed.
One key press. He had come all this way for just one key press. One
simple confirmation, and the United States would be avenged. Those
responsible for this mass slaughter would be slaughtered themselves.
The soldier closed his
eyes. “Little Pete,” his grandma told him. “Don’t repeat,
death’s no treat!” He blinked his eyes open, and saw the corpse of
the elderly woman in the house.
He squeezed them shut
again and saw the corpses in the cars along the road. He saw the tiny
skeleton in the safety seat. Heard the recording of the young boy. “I
don’t want to die!”
Peter opened his eyes. He
stared at the two buttons in the center of the screen: “OK” and
“CANCEL”. Just one key press.
He was never sure how long
after he opened his eyes it was before he moved. He supposed it
didn’t matter. He’d go to his grave certain that he made the right
Peter moved the cursor
over the “CANCEL” button and clicked. The computer asked him if
he was sure. He told it that he was, without hesitation.
He struck out on the road
past the old Army base, the sun stretching out his shadow farther and
farther before him. It was joined sometime later by a second shadow.
This one was panting.
He stopped and looked to his side. The dog looked back up at him, his tail cautiously wagging. The soldier smiled, reaching down to pet the dog’s head. “Let’s go.” The companions continued down the road, leaving the horrors of the past behind them, looking towards the future.
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