Remnants, Part One

  • Posted on January 22, 2017 at 10:33 pm

By No One


Rain sighed and frowned at the poorly drawn map in her hands, increasingly feeling like she was utterly lost. She had followed the admittedly unclear directions as best she could; those damn ruins had to be around here somewhere. If they exist at all, she reminded herself.

It had seemed like a good idea at the time. A map to some vestiges of the Ancients, recently uncovered by the shifting sands, and possibly full of priceless technological artifacts. What more could a relic hunter want?

A more reliable map, for one thing. Her contact was normally dependable, but this was second- or even third-hand info, and she had not been scrupulous enough in vetting it. She had been too eager to leave town for a while, had paid a stupid sum for the equally stupid map, and now here she was.

It was all Sapphire’s fault.

Rain’s usual relic-hunting partner — and occasional lover — had once again been making questionable and downright boneheaded life decisions, and Rain had taken it upon herself to tell the girl just how irresponsibly she was acting. The thing about Sapphire, though, was that she was about the most stubborn person to live since the Calamity, so that course of action, perhaps predictably, had not gone over very well. There had been a quarrel. Rain had felt the urge to get away for a while and had rashly set out on this adventure on her own. And now she was lost in the middle of nowhere.

Sapphire had always been the one with the good sense of direction, too.

Rain sighed again and shook her head; she didn’t want to think about Sapphire right now. Folding up the map, she put it back in her jacket pocket and decided to drive her sand bike up a nearby dune to get a better look at her surroundings and maybe take a quick break.

A brief ride later, she stood atop the small hill, taking a drink from her water flask and craning her neck around in a circle. She noted that her situation wasn’t much improved from up here. The thing about the Waste was that it looked much the same in any direction: quite a bit of sand, a few rocks, hard arid earth. All that was left of most of the world after the Calamity.

Looking around her, there was nary a point of reference in sight, and certainly no trace of any Ancient ruins. Glancing back the way she had come, she wondered if she had made a turn at the wrong “big rock.” The instructions had not been terribly specific about the size that should be considered “big.”

She had daydreamed that, this time, she would find some rare piece of tech that she could sell to live comfortably for a while. Maybe even a generator. Ironically, the settlement where she lived — charmingly named Dead End — had vast supplies of gas, but few devices to convert it to useful power. The machines the tech-heads managed to cobble together for that purpose were inefficient and tended to spit out disgusting black smoke, so a powerful and portable generator made by the Ancients would fetch a fortune from the right folk. Unfortunately, her hopes of such a discovery were fading fast at the moment.

Suddenly, she frowned at the horizon as she noticed a dark patch obscuring part of the sky, barely perceptible at this distance. The sun was about to set but… no, this didn’t look like the natural dimming of the evening. She stared at the phenomenon for a moment, until she discerned, as she had feared, the mass of shadow moving, swirling. If she knew the Waste — and after exploring it for the better part of a decade, ever since she was barely a teenager, she figured she did — that looked very much like a dust storm coming her way.

She spat. “This day just keeps getting better and better.”

The thing about dust storms out in the Waste was that… you really didn’t want to get caught in one. At best, you would be stumbling around blind, trying not to get buried alive as dust and sand did their utmost to infiltrate every nook and cranny of your clothes, and every orifice in your body. If you weren’t so lucky, well, the worst storms would simply suffocate you where you stand, or even flay the skin off your bones.

None of those options sounded very appealing to Rain. The issue, of course, was that she was about a day’s drive from any settlement that she knew of, and the storm spread right in the middle of her way home. She had to find some kind of shelter and fast. While the disturbance still seemed a long ways off, she knew very well those things could sneak up on you in the blink of an eye. Already, she imagined she could feel the wind picking up a little.

Quickly, she rummaged through the pack attached to her bike, took out her long cloak and fastened it around her shoulders, then pulled up the hood over her head and her scarf over her nose and mouth. It wouldn’t help much in the worst of the storm, but might make things more comfortable until then.

Getting back on the bike, she turned on the ignition, and thanked the gods that the finicky machine started up on the first try, for once. She rode hurriedly down the dune, the direction seeming to matter little as long as it was away from that dust cloud.

She drove past a few more dunes, eyes peeled for anything that might offer protection, though she didn’t have very high hopes of finding a sturdy house in the middle of nowhere. Here was a dried-up, stunted old tree, miraculously still standing on a patch of rocky ground, but she didn’t have time to ponder its mystery. It looked like it could barely shelter a few bugs, let alone do anything for her. She doubted it would survive the storm.

Her own chances were growing slimmer as well. The wind was now definitely much stronger, and a few particles of sand and dust had caught up with her, bouncing harmlessly off her clothes. She knew they wouldn’t remain so innocuous for very long, though.

She felt numb. It would be a really stupid end to die on such a hare-brained adventure. She selfishly wished Sapphire was there with her. Not that the girl could do anything about the storm, of course, but it somehow seemed less miserable to die alongside a friend.

As the morbid thought went through her mind, she noticed a pile of rocks on the side of a dune. She nearly ignored it — the mound seemed hardly big enough to provide much cover — but something about it caught her eye and she turned for a closer inspection. As she got nearer, she noted the rocks in question were, in fact, rectangular and flat, hardly looking natural at all. Bricks? Could this be related to the ruins she had been looking for?

Heart in her throat, she pushed her sand bike as fast as it would go, eyes fixed on the rubble. There, it looked like… yes! The corner of a building jutting out of the sand. She drove up close, got off the bike, then crawled partway up the dune to get a better look. The structure had probably been buried for a century or two, but a random shift of the sands had uncovered a small part of it. She could see a corner of the ancient roof, quite the worse for wear, with a big hole in it opening up a passage to the inside… and to shelter.

This was possibly the place she had been looking for all along, and it seemed she had found it just in the nick of time. She half-ran, half-stumbled back to her bike, grabbed her water flask and the food she had, and threw those in an empty backpack. She pulled out a tarp she kept in another bag and spread it over the bike, fastening it in place. She couldn’t very well take the vehicle with her into the building through the roof, but she could at least protect it as best she could. It wouldn’t do to have its engine full of sand when it was time to leave.

The storm was getting much worse now. Her cloak was whipped this way and that by the wind, and the dust stung her eyes, making it increasingly difficult to see. She made sure to mentally take note of the position of the bike so she could find it again if it was covered in sand, then ran to the buried structure.

The “roof” was only at waist level, so it was no trouble to climb up and stand at the edge of the hole that was to be her entrance into the building. Peeking down, she saw that a big pile of sand had already fallen into the room below, and figured she could probably drop herself onto it harmlessly. After a quick prayer to Lady Luck asking to keep the whole thing from collapsing while she was inside, Rain jumped down.

She landed on the heap of sand, skidded down its slope, and fell on her ass when she reached the bottom.

“Ow,” she muttered as she got back to her feet, though the injury was more to her pride than to her body.

She began dusting herself off, but more dirt and sand was continually falling down through the hole in the ceiling now, making it a pointless endeavor. She fervently hoped this entrance would not get completely filled in, but still decided to quickly move further into the building before the storm managed to bury her even down there.

Her haste nearly proved to be a fatal mistake. As she was about to go through the only door out of the room, she suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, grabbing on to the door frame to halt her momentum, when she noticed at the very last moment a thin wire stretched across the opening at ankle level.

She took a deep, slow breath to try to calm her suddenly hammering heart, very grateful for the instincts she had developed over years of this line of work. The thing about relic hunters was that some of them didn’t take too kindly to competitors. Some will even leave traps behind to prevent others from looting ruins they intend to return to, or possibly just to be dicks.

“Nice try, assholes,” Rain said through gritted teeth as she very carefully lifted one foot, then the other, over the suspicious wire.

On the other side of the door, she saw that the thread was connected to a small box off to one side. She wasn’t entirely sure what it did, but she was reasonably certain that anyone who triggered it would have a very bad day, so she steered clear of the device.

She let out a deep sigh, pulled the scarf off her face and shook the sand off her cloak, then allowed herself a gulp from her water flask.

“Alright. Escaped the storm, avoided the deadly trap. Now… let’s see what treasure we can find around here to make this trip worthwhile.”

She was in a corridor with a few doors leading off to the sides. Picking one at random, she found herself in a large, strange room filled with a maze of thin shoulder-high walls, creating a series of enclosures that each contained a table, a chair, and possibly some shelves or cabinets. Some kind of workplace of the Ancients, maybe? She wondered what they used to do here.

Everything was coated with a thick layer of dust, except for the floor, which had clearly been walked over by a few people more recently. The same jokers who left that little “present” at the entrance, no doubt. Rain would definitely have liked to have a word with them, especially if that word was “stab.”

Wandering around, she realized with disappointment that the assholes in question seemed to have already taken most objects of interest. The thing about Ancient ruins was that they were a lot less valuable if you weren’t the first person to loot them.

She did find a glass vase that had possibly once held some plants, but now only contained dust. Someone back home might be willing to pay for this, so she delicately put it in her pack.

She gave a cursory look through each enclosure. Some of them had those machines that the Ancients really seemed to love, left on the tables. “Computators” or whatever they were called. Even the tech-heads couldn’t figure those out, though, even if they had the juice to power them, so they were essentially worthless.

In one of the cramped pens, she found a small, strange device made of plastic and metal. It had two pieces linked together with a flexible joint. Trying to determine its purpose, she was startled when, pressing on one of the pieces, a tiny U-shaped fragment of metal came flying out of the end. Perplexed, she wondered if it was meant to be a weapon of some sort. It didn’t seem to be very effective at that, surely the little bit of metal couldn’t hurt that much. She shrugged and put the device in her pack anyway, as a curiosity if nothing else.

She did manage to find a few pencils that had been left behind as well, and pocketed those. People always needed pencils. There was a ton of paper all over the place too, though a lot of it fell to pieces when she tried to pick it up. The sheets stored in cabinets seemed to have fared better. They were inscribed with the runes of the Ancients, but many also had a blank side and could probably still be of use.

Rain stared at one piece of paper, trying to divine meaning from it, but she had never learned to decipher the writing of the Ancients. Sapphire knew some of it and had tried to teach her before, but it just didn’t stick in her mind. Giving up, she sighed and stuffed a bunch of sheets in her pack.

If she couldn’t find any real treasure, she at least knew a few tech-heads who would pay for paper to write their notes on. She could probably use some more, in fact, so she went on to investigate the next enclosure. Pulling out the drawer of a small cabinet revealed, as expected, some folders containing more paper. As she added those to her meager findings, her eye was drawn to a yellowed magazine seemingly hidden at the bottom of the drawer.

Curious, she picked it up, and her eyes went wide at the picture of a woman on the cover. A nude woman, with long blonde hair tumbling down to her large, proudly displayed breasts, a hand coyly hiding her sex from view.

Rain swallowed and, though it was silly, instinctively took a look behind her to make sure she was alone. “Well, what do we have here?” she wondered out loud.

Carefully turning the creaking pages, she found the inside of the magazine was just as alluring as the cover. There was a whole series of pictures of beautiful women, mostly naked and posing sexily, not shy at all about exposing every part of their bodies. Leafing through random pages, Rain saw a redhead bending over to take off her panties while smiling at the viewer; a black woman, eyes closed in pleasure, one hand on her breast, the other pressed against her pussy; a pale brunette and an Asian girl, kissing and exploring each other’s body.

Her eyes focused on that last pair for a moment. The girls looked like they had barely reached adulthood — a few years younger than Rain herself, maybe — and both had lean, petite bodies and small breasts. Most definitely to Rain’s taste. The sequence of pictures grew increasingly explicit, with the women exchanging torrid gazes while fingering each other, then taking turns eating each other’s pussy, with titillating close-ups of the action.

Rain bit her bottom lip, now feeling some heat spreading out from her own sex. Now this relic could be worth quite a bit, she estimated, but at that moment she thought she might just keep it for herself. She had not been with anyone for a while, after all. Sapphire had been “busy” with that strange girl, and Rain’s attempted wooing of the cute tomboy apprenticed to the blacksmith had not been very successful up to now, so these pictures were really getting her motor running.

She had half a mind to take a break from looting and explore in more details the secrets of Ancient indecency — maybe while her fingers did some exploring of their own. It seemed like a very poor moment for that sort of thing, though, what with being stuck in uncharted ruins with who-knows-what around, so she reluctantly decided to leave that off until she had at least scouted the whole area. With some great restraint, she sighed and carefully stored the dirty magazine in her pack, meticulously making sure it wouldn’t get damaged.

Still, if the dust storm lasted a while, she definitely had an idea of how to occupy herself.

She left the large room and moved on to a smaller one dominated by a long table, which she recognized as a dining room. Immediately, she went for the cupboards and drawers, looking for any easily carried metal objects, which were always in high demand since they could be melted down to make all sorts of useful things. Dejected, she found that a lonely spoon was all that had been left behind. Grunting in frustration, she still added the utensil to her collection; every little bit counted since it didn’t seem likely she was going to hit paydirt around here.

The sink was still there. A big chunk of metal, but it would be very awkward to carry back, even if she could detach it from the countertop. She ignored the large box that the Ancients used to store food. She knew from experience that either it would contain only dust, or she would be freeing an advanced mold civilization that just might try to take over the world.

As she was about to leave the room, movement at the corner of her eye made her spin around, pulling out her belt knife in the same motion. After an instant, she realized it was only a long horizontal mirror set in the opposite wall, and she chuckled at herself.

She walked up to the mirror for a closer look. It was about a foot in height, and wider than she was tall. A mirror this size would be worth a lot, but it was quite cumbersome. Even if she managed to bring it back to her bike somehow, it would be difficult to ride around with such a large object. She wondered if she could possibly break it two or three parts without shattering the whole thing.

While she pondered her options, she used her sleeve to wipe off the centuries-old grime from one section of the mirror and peered at her reflection. She rarely had the opportunity to look at herself in a good-quality mirror. She turned her head to one side, then the other, taking in her brown skin dirty with dust from the road, dark neck-length hair tied back, piercing blue eyes. Not quite magazine model worthy, she thought, but still not bad at all, in her own estimation.

She blew a kiss at the mirror, chuckling to herself, before turning and walking away. She figured she would return later to decide what to do with the mirror. There was no sense in lugging the big thing around as she explored.

Reaching the end of a corridor, Rain found herself on a second-floor balcony that stretched along three sides of a huge lobby area. Walking up to the railing, she saw that the real entrance to the building was down below, though of course it was now filled with sand. Holes in the ceiling had added more piles of sand here and there, including right next to her on the balcony.

Fissures ran across the marble floor below, possibly damaged by centuries of earthquakes, or even during the Calamity itself. An earthen section of floor might have once been a small indoors garden at some point.

It must have been a beautiful building long ago, and even now it remained rather impressive despite the decay. They didn’t make structures this grand anymore.

A worrisome metallic groan suddenly pierced the silence of the chamber. Rain slowly lowered her gaze to the balcony floor under her feet. Surely the addition of her insignificant weight was not putting excessive stress on the structure? Then again, it was really old, probably rusty to boot, and holding up the weight of an unplanned-for quantity of sand.

Rain took a cautious step back. The balcony didn’t appreciate. It groaned again, shook, and suddenly threatened to topple, the floor pitching forward into a slope and throwing her against the railing. She quickly spun around and tried to lunge for safety as best she could on the unstable platform, but it was at that moment that the whole thing gave out.

Time seemed to slow down, and she could only watch in horror as the balcony detached from the wall and she found herself in free fall. The floor below still came up alarmingly fast, though, and the impact rattled every bone in her body.

“Ouch,” she managed to mumble after a long moment. On the other hand, she supposed that pain was better than not feeling anything at all. Opening her eyes suddenly seemed an arduous task, but she eventually succeeded and stared at the ceiling for a good while. It seemed a lot higher than it had been a few seconds ago.

Groaning, she rolled to her side and was relieved to find that moving did not seem to bring about new pain. She managed to sit up, frowned at the shattered pieces of balcony around her, frowned at the spot up above where the balcony used to be, frowned at her pack fallen next to her. She gave it a nudge and heard the jingle of broken glass. So much for the vase.

There came a deep rumble from beneath her. She watched in renewed alarm as one of the cracks in the floor seemed to grow and widen distressingly. “Don’t you dare!” she shouted at the floor, but it ignored her protest. If anything, it started disintegrating faster.

She tried to scramble to her feet but she was still dizzy from the fall. The ground shook, fractured, then collapsed entirely, once again dropping her into empty space.

“Shiiiiiit!” she screamed as she tumbled down into unknown depths. Her eyes darted around wildly as she fell and latched onto some sort of dangling cable. By pure instinct, her hand lashed out and grabbed hold of it, halting the fall with a jarring wrench of her shoulder. She gripped the cable tightly and hunched her back as crumbling debris fell all around her.

After a moment, when calm seemed to have been restored, she dared to open her eyes and slowly let out the breath she found she had been holding in. She hazarded a look around and noted there seemed to be some sort of basement floor about six feet below her, now strewn with rubble. Roughly the same distance above her head was the jagged hole in the upper floor. The cable didn’t quite extend that high, but it looked like she might be able to reach up and pull herself out.

As she was pondering whether it would be wiser to go up or down, the cable seemed to give way under her weight and suddenly dropped her a foot lower. “Oh, come on!” she railed against the unfairness of life. Before she had time to make any decision, there was a snapping sound above as the cable broke off completely, then once more she was falling.

Her head hit against something on landing and her vision went black.

Continue on to Part Two


No comments on Remnants, Part One

  1. Quinlan says:

    Post-Apocalyptic, that’s different. It’s got my attention.

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