Just a little thing I had submit for an antho. Since it was not accepted, I figured I would share it with you.
“It’s up here.” Mavryh clambered to the top of jagged remnants of a fallen aircraft, their excitement barely contained as they pointed to the horizon. “There. Do you see it?”
They rolled over the creaking hull, spinning around and folding their legs neatly beneath them. Their eyes traced over the glittering splendor concealed by swirling violet clouds. Seven silver spires scintillated in the harsh desert sunlight, beacons amid the ashen earth. “Netty, come on!”
Antonia slithered her little droid form around her companion’s ankles, using her singular mobile tendril to wriggle up and around until she could to perch on their shoulder. She shook the crust off her plating before focusing her sensors, eyeing the direction of the excited finger jutting out to the horizon. “I’ve told you before, there’s nothing out there.”
“It’s right there!” They shook harder, as if their waving would reveal their vision to her.
“Mavs.” Her metal eyelids creaked as they lowered. She watched the swirling tunnels of sand block out the sun in the distance, the deadly dance of sharpened particles threatening to consume all that dared to reach it. “There’s nothing there, love. Only rust.”
Mavryh let out a dejected sigh, scooching forward to drape their legs over the precipice. They wish they could get her to see, to connect with them one more time. But Fate had other ideas, separating their senses into two separate mediums, living and mechanic. Never to feel the connection with each other again.
Seeing the discontent in her companion’s expression, Netty rose up and rested her orb-like carapace against their cheek. They hummed in response to her gesture, the caress of her sun-baked chassis reassuring. She coiled her feeler around their arm, squeezing with the closest equivalent of an embrace.
“Can’t we at least go investigate?” The plea in their voice sent ripples through Antonia’s synthetic neurons.
She let out a sympathetic chirp. “Getting that close to a dust storm is not a good idea, Mavs.”
“I’m telling you there isn’t a storm there.”
“Babe…” She couldn’t meet her partner’s sorrowful gaze. “Let’s say there was something. How do we know others haven’t already been there? Dangerous people?”
“There’s more to life than just surviving. We can’t just wander the dust for the rest of my life.” They hugged their knees and buried their face into their arms. “I’m so tired.”
That desperation, the fixation. Antonia knew what they were going through. Their obsession with a new way of life had gotten them into trouble before, and they suffered grievous consequences. While they had learned from some of their mistakes, the fire inside them could not be quenched.
There was no reasoning with them. “Fine. Let’s go.”
The journey through the graveyard of civilization left ample room for meditation. Winds curled through the hollows of fallen monoliths. Their once shining forms of steel and glass reduced to skeletons, their support beams sharpened to wicked barbs. Steady repetitive creaks directed the flow, the sound coming from the charred remnants of walls and tiles swaying in the breeze.
Antonia pulled at Mavryh’s arm, stopping their walk just short of the treacherous landscape. “That’s right through Jackal territory.”
“We’ve got past them before, we can do it again,” They assured, crawling through the fallen carapace of a high-rise. Their partner could only utter a worried whimper as they dragged her through the crumbling rooms.
Slow, meticulous movements guided them through the structure. They took care to test out each surface, taping a toe here, pressing a palm there. And when they found a safe foothold, they strained against their natural movement, pulling themselves up while stifling their grunts of exertion.
They climbed to an overturned hallway tall enough for them to stand straight. The windows were at their feet, and the floor became the side wall. Heights were never a concern for Mavryh, and they glanced at the sands rippling beneath them, revealing traces of rusted steel walkways.
Antonia did not share the same sentiment, her eye scanning through every hole and gap for a distraction from the elevation. A disturbance snapped her into alert, tuning out the wind from her aural receptors. “Wait.”
Voices. Delicate clinks of metal hitting a hard surface. Thuds of fists slamming the same object.
Antonia led Mavryh to a gash in the wall, pointing across the street with her barbed digit. There four contenders were sitting beneath a shelter made from a precariously hanging balcony supported by chunks of concrete. A table made of vehicle paneling sat in the center, four seated figures huddled around hiding hands of crudely constructed cards. Each tossed bullet casings in turns, muttering calls as their game continued.
A pile of spiked armor and weaponry sat next to them, just within arm’s reach. It was obvious they were not from a band of nomadic travelers, but amid the gangs that reveled in the decay of society. Finding conflict and wreaking havoc for the simple desire to terrorize.
Mavryh patted Antonia’s head, reassuring her as they crept down the hall. But before they could sneak another step further, a disturbance shattered the silence above them. A raucous snort followed by a series of groans as someone stirred awake.
Antonia squeezed the arm she was coiled around, hoping Mavs got the message. With a nod they took a step back, keeping their eyes fixated on the gaping hole in the ceiling. Their nerves spiked as they watched booted feet scoot through the gap. Soon boots extended to knees, and suddenly a shirtless human form jumped down to their floor, shuddering the structure with their weight.
The gang member blinked at the intruder with the curious robot attached to their arm. Both parties regarded each other in shock. Before the thug could open their mouth to shout, the duo bolted backward.
“Shit!” Mavs exclaimed, thundering back through the corridor. Antonia could only squeal in agreement, her limited form useless to their flight.
A thunderous BOOM erupted behind them, and their hearing was reduced to a shrill whine as the thug’s weaponry discharged. They could not hear Antonia’s cries as they frantically dove to one side. They pressed their hands to their ears, trying to shake the sensation away. The ground bounced beneath them, threatening to steal their footing.
Suddenly they were yanked to the side as Antonia threw her weight against them, guiding them away from another shot. Disorientation began to overtake their limbs as they attempted to steady themself.
They took one more step, and felt the wall give in around their heel. A chasm split open, tearing through the broken window near them. Their ankle caved and they were sent crashing to the ground. A burst of white light tore through their vision as they cracked their forehead against the sill. Dizzyness began to whirl around their senses, and they could barely process Antonia’s desperate tugs against their shoulder.
Gravity swept them up as they rolled over, leading them downward through the opening. Time flickered around them, strobing between darkness and sunlight. The journey abruptly ceased with a crack of searing lightning igniting their chest.
They felt their arm slip to the earth, the wet sand at their fingertips was strangely warm. The sun began to set around them, the distorted voice of their love fading in the distance.
“Mavs!” Antonia cried out. Her tendril folded around the spike of a rusted pipe protruding from Mavryh’s chest. She commanded her exoskeleton to morph, jagged teeth snapped from her frame and clamped on. Sparks burst through the air as the shriek of rending metal gnawed on the material. “I didn’t leave you, you’re not allowed to leave me.”
The commotion attracted the attention of the nearby gamblers. Taking arms, they charged for her, slinging a flurry of shouts and whoops.
“C’mon, c’mon!” She squeezed the piping harder, attempting to speed up the process while the impending attack party drew closer.
The squad leapt up at her, brandishing their pointed implements. But just as they began their descent, a rumble of thunder shuddered the earth. Sand rushed up to meet them, battering them across the street. Soft thuds piffed through the air as each thug landed on their backs.
Antonia watched in astonishment as the sand solidified, forming a fortress surrounding her. She coiled around Mavryh, sheltering them from whatever supernatural influence was playing with them. Her body froze as she watched a figure slip through the barrier, a tattered beige cloak fluttering around their feet.
Nothing but a pair of glowing silver eyes looked at her, all features concealed by their hood. They seemed to take no notice of the world around them, focusing in on the two misfortunate beings before them. They glided toward their quarry, watching them with an unblinking gaze.
“Stay back!” Antonia warned. The ridges surrounding her head snapped out, fanning into sharpened plates like a frilled lizard. Arcs of electricity sparkled between each petal, and she flitted her weaponry toward the strange creature.
But the being paid her no mind, kneeling at Mavryh’s side.
“Back off!” She lashed out at them, launching her coiled body for a strike at their neck.
The being snatched her just under her head, and her circuits screeched as they injected a pulse of electricity from their palms. The shock scrambled her senses, and her body refused to obey her commands. She could only watch helplessly as the being delicately laid her down next to her companion.
“Hey-“ Her thoughts spoke, but her vocal mechanics would not comply.
The being reached out a glistening skeletal hand to Mavryh’s body, gentle brushes of their fingertips examined the wound. A shock of realization hit Antonia as she watched them perform their strange ritual, her struggle from her drunken state amplified.
New legends were invented to pacify the questions of the next generations. Stories spoke of Death themselves was overworked after the Event, outsourcing their efforts to impartial beings that wandered the wasteland. Appearing from nowhere, their duty to claim the fallen, as well as those who had escaped their fate. Harbingers. Carriers. Angels. They went by many names.
Without warning, the being slid Mavryh off their confinement, placing their body on their shoulder. They then reached out and picked up the little droid.
Her struggle ceased, a tender euphoria filling her synapses as she was carried off. The sandstone walls loosened, flowing into churning columns, spinning and swirling around them. Trails of light bled into the mass, soft pastel hues illuminating the dust.
The foray ended with a rush of wind casting all matter aside to reveal a great fortress in front of them. Seven gleaming spires impaled the sky with its splendor. Violet clouds refreshed the ground with a gentle fall of water. Gilded doors etched with clean lines of geometric carvings were illuminated by the sunlight.
As the Harbinger approached, the gates opened to them and they stepped into the gleaming glassy halls. No reflection shadowed them as they traversed, no footfalls marked their gait. Lines of optical wires traced symmetrical patterns over the walls, tiny sparks of neon light zipped past, lighting their path toward the inner sanctum.
Inside the chamber was like a time capsule from two opposing eras. The obsidian flooring ceased, covered by fertile earth. Grasses and wildflowers sprouted from the soil, offering a plush walkway. The glowing lines that traced the walls split apart into a chaotic network, encased by a verdant web of ivy and fruiting trees.
The Harbinger continued on, the leaves beneath them tickled by the fluttering of their cloak. Puffs of dandelion seeds took flight around them, chased by dots of neon light. The tiny synthetic insects collected the devious plants and carried them off, planting them in sporadic places within the soil.
An ancient tree guarded this monastery of life. Its canopy caressed the quietly murmuring systems overlooking the environment controls. Wires twisted around the craggy bark, streaks of light coursing energy along its body. A symbiosis no one had thought possible.
This haven was a relic from a past time. Where progress was automated, and complacency reassured the masses.
The harbinger knelt and laid the body down at the roots of the tree, which graciously accepted the offering. Vines steadily creeped over the departed, lowering it into the soil within its comforting embrace. Soon the flesh was no more, the bones concealed by the greenery, taking them into the harbor.
Then the harbinger took the head of the droid in their hands. They stroked the forehead of the ocular device, causing it to stir. The chassis slowly peeled open to reveal the inner workings of its cerebral functions. The servant of Death delicately plucked a chip out of its port, rotating it around their fingers.
They reached up to the sky, and a silvery vine descended to meet it. The tendril wrapped a blinking green leaf around the chip, plucking it out of the Harbinger’s hand. It then retreated to bring the treasure to its woodsy master.
The droid was laid next to their companion, woven through the grasses where they lay. The earth kissed their metallic form, the rust patches spreading through their carapace. White blossoms sprouted from the remnants of the duo, a wisp of oxidation rising to the air.
The neon lights of the network morphed, two bright spots of purple light spawned into the netway, shining through the glow of soft blue. They soared through the power lines, swimming in synchrony amid the data streams. Their paths connected, and their forms collided into a flame that radiated beyond the living neons.
The Harbinger regarded the scene, then turned away and glided out to complete their next task.
A breeze brushed over their cheek. Gentle. Cool. Not searing winds that lashed their flesh. They opened their eyes, finding the soft glow of a rising sun. It peered over rolling hills of prairie grass, the breeze sending ripples over each living blade.
They were propped against a fruiting tree, its textured bark brushing against their back. Clover sprouted up between their fingers, the soft scent of flowers tickled their senses.
“You’re awake.” They raised their head to meet the voice.
A woman stood before them, wearing a flowing pastel dress. Her long hair moved with the wind, and her soft smile regarded them warmly. She radiated just like the day they met her.
“Is this real?” Mavryh refused to blink, fearing that she would vanish.
She reached out an arm to them “Does it matter?”
They let her pull them to their feet, exhaling deeply as they took in the softness of her skin. Their gaze fixated on her sparkling eyes, the flush of her face. It felt real.
“I’m…” The words would not pass their lips, tears seized their voice.
“Hush.” Antonia pulled them close, wrapping her arms around them. “I won’t let go.”