Buckyball being attacked by N.O.G. (nano-engineered-organism)
Illustrated by Elayne Griffith
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“Men have become the tools of their tools.”
– Henry David Thoreau
Like a nebula, I watched the glass shatter and burst into a cloud of glittering shards, spilling countless droplets of blue liquid. Looking up to a night sky illuminated by fractals of fireworks, my contacts enhanced them with a pageantry of fiery figures. I didn’t understand then as phantom visions flared to life that we were just particles of stars, nothing but shadows in shafts of falling photons.
Five thousand bleeding feet and soulless eyes follow me day and night. Specters from afar, shadows on my trail, but never a sound, never any closer, only the distant ebb and flow of shuffling soles. For six months I have traveled the wasted landscape, a Moses of these monsters, but the worst monster is the man reflected back at me through the eyes of all my victims. Since the nanocide, I hunted down every living survivor, and now only two remained, this man before me, and the woman still ahead.
My eyes leveled at the last man between me, and humanity’s future.
“Logan!” The lunatic yelled my name and grabbed fistfuls of sand, trying to anchor himself to the world of the living. “If you kill her, you kill us all!”
I squinted, reached out my armored hand, and just to amuse myself, curled my fingers into the shape of a gun. His eyes grew wide as I said, “Bang.”
He screamed, fingernails tearing at his chest as the nanos shot from my suit and spread across his skin. Within seconds they reached his brain, and what was left of him collapsed in a twitching mass of flesh.
With a flourish, I blew the imaginary smoke from my imaginary firearm while the misty cloud of bots returned to my liquid exo-skeleton. I turned away, and my last mode of transportation gave a snort as I walked over to him.
“Shhh,” I said, stroking the stallion’s smooth black skin that rippled like dark oil under my hand. “Only two of us left now. Only two little monkeys jumping on the bed.” I laughed aloud at the one thing in the world that wasn’t funny: the fact that I could count on one hand how many living, breathing humans still walked this planet. I laid my forehead on the horse’s neck. It felt nice to lay my head against his warmth even if it did smell like plastic with a dash of ions.
A sizzling noise caught my attention, though I knew very well what the sound was. The specialized bullets were disassembling the body molecule by molecule. Soon it would be like the body had never existed at all. Dust to dust. Atom to atom. Amber grasses rustled, and I closed my eyes to better feel the breeze and smell the earth. Earth. That’s all we ever were and ever would be. Beneath my feet lay the bones of billions, the decayed bodies of many living things. Like morbid armor, the planet wore a crusted layer of death, a mesh of infinite interlocking links between our greaves of grief.
“A bit harsh, don’t you think?”
She stood above the remains, arms crossed with that flirtatious smirk I loved so much.
“Elise.” My eyes always softened when they gazed upon hers, even if I loathed seeing her.
“He was your last friend, you know.”
With a shake of my head, I looked at the dry ground. “No he wasn’t. Not anymore.”
She tossed her long dark hair behind her shoulder. “Why? Since when?”
“You know why.”
With a cocked hip and cute pout, she asked, “Am I your enemy too?”
Giving a short, forced laugh, I glanced down then back up at her. She was gone, and my smile faded. “No.” I whispered. “Just wrong.”
At first I’d fought the visions, the hallucinations of a traumatized mind, but now I embraced them. She was my only companion, other than the thousands of walking corpses at my back.
My only other non-hominid companion, Buckyball, shoved his large head against my chest.
“All right. All right.” I smiled. “We’ll go find her, and maybe we’ll find some new shoes too.”
Unwelcome, but all too familiar, came the sound of skin scraping across ground. Raising my eyes to the nearest hill, I saw them stop, all five thousand of my ominous followers, and the shuffling tide became ragged waves of breath. Silently I suffocated under the weight of their empty stares, this gaunt garrison, this constant reminder of why the gun should be aimed at my own flesh. All I could do was look for shoes made for tiny feet, and hope that one day little arms would wrap around me in a loving embrace once again.
With effort, I tried to ignore the horde, and heaved myself up onto Bucky’s back. His skin-armor shifted and slid to adhere my armored legs to his sides. No amount of sudden maneuvering would dislodge me. We were like one animal. Soon as I was astride and secured, our minds synced up. Now we truly were one organism. Since I was the more intelligent species, and stronger minded, Buckyball trusted me. He’d go anywhere I told him to, even off a cliff if I so wished. Never would I find a more trusting and loyal friend, certainly not in a human anyway.
He could sense where I wanted to go, the distant abandoned city, so he threw his head high, black spikes protruding then retracting along the crest of his neck, and made for the overgrown buildings at a good clip. I thought of my purpose, my reason to keep going, Elise. She was the last one. Clouds of insects chattered and buzzed, clacking their wings, as we disturbed their private lives in the high-rise grasses. Bucky’s drumming on the hard-packed dirt was like a lullaby, the swaying of his stride soothing me into a rhythmic existence. Ahead stood the sinew of humankind’s ingenuity, while behind followed the ghosts of gods.