I am so, so excited to post the very first part of Mechanical Heart!! Truth be told, this prompt was my favorite out of the three, so I am very happy that it won. XD
The dust from the ashes clouds my lungs, causing me to hack into my torn sleeve, my shoulders hunching forward. I recover from my fit, straightening up and squinting in the morning glare, gazing at the wreckage around me. I scramble over a few rocks of grayish rubble, ignoring the crumbling buildings that tower above me, or the graffiti decorating every solid wall that’s still standing. The morning sun filters through the air, making the dust particles glisten and shift visibly in my sight. I walk over the small path I’ve made through the rubble and bend over, throwing aside an old cigarette butt that someone must’ve thrown into my yard and heading towards the low doorway that cuts into a shambling store, a huge block of concrete almost hiding the opening from view.
“Hey! Get outta here.” I growl to a few bold rats, their beady eyes and scraggly whiskers mocking me from the ledge above my home. They scurry away after I reach the ledge and jump up as high as I can, my small hand barely missing the largest rat. Frowning to myself, I push aside my brown hair and head into the doorway, ducking to avoid cracking my skull on the concrete.
My eyes gradually adjust to the dim light, just like they always do, and I march across the bare rock to where a metal ladder is nailed into the wall, its rungs flaked and rusted. Pushing aside a small spiderweb that is hanging from a crack in the concrete, I place my booted foot on the first rung and carefully climb upwards, my body swinging quickly with the ease of long practice. The ladder creaks alarmingly and the walls shiver just a bit. I absently think for the hundredth time how much longer I have before that wall completely collapses.
Besides having to avoid several missing rungs, my ascent is fairly easy and quick, my head soon poking through the hole in the floor of my home. I pull myself up, avoiding the sharp crack in the concrete. I’ve slit my hand on that stone far too often.
“Trip, come here.” I beckon to my small cat that is curled up on the torn purple blanket tucked into the corner of the room. Trip lifts his black head and regards me gravely as I stand up, kicking aside an old water bottle from a few days ago.
“Yeah, whatever.” I ignore my disobedient pet, instead avoiding my bed tucked against the wall, walking over to the pile of supplies I’ve collected.
“Got something else to help.” Reaching into my sweatshirt pocket, I pull out a small gun, turning it over and over in my hand. “I’ve never shot anyone before. Hope it doesn’t come to that. Right, Trip?” I drop the gun on the pile and sit next to my cat. Trip yawns, his small teeth flashing for a second against his black fur.
Scrambling to his feet, he bounces towards me, his mechanical leg explaining his odd gait.
“Alright, come here.” I scoop him up and cuddle him against my chest, feeling the coldness of his leg with my hand. He meows up into my face and gently nibbles my chin, his rough tongue making me grimace.
“Gross. Okay, watch over the fort, and don’t eat too many rats when I’m gone.” I lay Trip back on his blanket and stand up, quickly grabbing my new gun from the top of the pile, tucking it into the back of my jeans.
Relaxing from the feel of the cold metal against my back, I drop my shirt and jacket over it and busy myself with stuffing my supplies into the old, worn backpack.
“I have the disabler, the skeleton key if I need it, and the mask.”
Trip stares at me, his greenish eyes slowly winking, looking bored with my monologue. Slinging the backpack over my shoulder, I grab the last of the stale bread from the makeshift table I’ve erected in the farthest corner from the ladder. Taking a few bites and hastily swallowing them, I toss the tiny crust bread to Trip.
“Eat the rest.” Not looking back to watch Trip eagerly pounce, I swing down the ladder once more, heading out into the bright sunshine, my back weighed down with the pack.
The buildings tower overhead, and I quickly jog through the rubble, heading for the other side of town, the side that is built, the side that is fixed.
Not a voice or a sound breaks the stillness as I run through the old buildings and fallen concrete. I don’t even know who’s painted the graffiti that stains the walls. For as long as I’ve been here, I haven’t seen many people. Most have moved, giving up trying to survive amongst the dust and the memories of the past.
My boot almost catches on a sharp rock, causing me to slow my pace and take a breather, squinting in the morning light. My breath heaves in my lungs, and I feel the slow catch in my chest, the only indicator that I’m separate from the others, that I’m from a different lifetime, a different age.
Placing my hand over my heart, I press just a bit, closing my eyes as the feeling subsides, allowing me to forget the metal in my chest. This illusion of normalcy won’t last, I know. The Cleansing changed everything, and the remaining Peers were hunted down and destroyed, the last remnant of what we used to be reduced to ashes.
Shaking away my memories, I pick up the pace, leaping through the rubble and trash with ease, my muscles knowing the way better than my brain.
Soon I emerge from the wreckage to a very different sight: well-paved roads with crisp, white buildings, lights on even when it’s daylight. People stroll the sidewalks, some well-dressed, some not as much.
I step out onto the road, running a little to appear as if I’ve been walking on that sidewalk for a while. I pull my hoody over my head, blending in with the pedestrians easily.
Keeping my eyes peeled for Inspectors, I walk quickly towards my target, a unassuming grocery shop. The store looms up in front of me, and I stop right in front of a clean alley that leads to the back of the building. Pretending to tie my boot, I wait for a well-dressed businessman to pass me before whirling and nonchalantly sprinting down the alley, my boots hardly making a sound on the smooth concrete.
Turning the corner, I kneel down and quickly take off my backpack, pulling the black ski mask over my head, not caring about my long brown hair that hangs out. Pulling my hoody over that, I’m nearly unrecognizable and that’s exactly what I’m going for. Glancing up and over my shoulder, I hastily pull out the alarm disabler and jog to the back door.
“Where is it, where is it?” I mumble to myself as I run my hands over the smooth wall of the building. My fingers slide over a tiny hole and I silently cheer, realizing I’ve found the built-in utility box.
Reaching into my bag, I pull out a somewhat rusty, but still serviceable, screwdriver and hastily pull off the box. Reaching in among the tangle of wires, I place the small alarm disabler in position, its rough clamps pinching the correct cords.
I leave the door slightly open, so if I have to make a quick getaway, I won’t need to come back for my only disabler. I’ve done this too many times to make that mistake twice. Once the alarm is disabled, I stand up, grabbing my gun out of my backpack and walking up to the door, peeking through the glass.
No one is in sight, just as I predicted. Laying my hand on the door handle, I twist, then frown. The door is locked, and for the middle of the day, that is unusual.
“Come on…” I grit my teeth and lean my weight on the handle, exerting more pressure until I hear a snap.
The door swings open, almost throwing me to the hard ground. Catching myself, I silently and skillfully sneak through the back of the store, the storage area, until I reach the doorway leading to the back of the cash register.
The cashier’s head is turned away from me, his focus on a small book he reads intently. Silently cursing to myself, I lean back against the wall, racking my brain for an old trick I can use to distract him.
A sudden tinkling scares me and I jerk upright, startled out of my thoughts. Looking around the corner, I relax, realizing that the sound was of the shop door opening, signaling the cashier to straighten up and greet the customer.
Elated, I watch as the customer asks the cashier a quiet question, following the clerk away from my hiding place, obviously looking for something among the shelves. This is my chance. Tucking my gun into my pocket, I slide away from the wall and dart quietly towards the nearest shelf, grabbing a can of pre-made tuna, and a small loaf of bread. Kneeling down, I peek under the shelf, watching the feet of the customer and cashier that are still walking away from me. Opening my backpack, I stuff the supplies into the back pocket and slip forward again, grabbing a pack of crackers and high-protein hardtack.
“What are you doing?” A shocked voice speaks above me. I raise my eyes and stare into the astonished cashier’s face. Jumping to my feet, I grab my backpack strap and run, slinging it over my shoulder.
“Hey!” He shouts behind me, his surprise gaining me a few extra seconds of precious time. Dashing around the desk and out the back, I grab my alarm disabler from the utility box and head out of the alley, ignoring the banging of the door behind me and the angry shouts.
My speed has saved me before and I need it to save me again. The busy streets will hide me, and I should be able to disappear into the flow of traffic.
Slipping off my ski mask, I stuff it into my pocket and keep running, out of the alley and into the street, my half-open backpack bouncing on my back.
“Excuse me, pardon. Thank you. Sorry.” My shoulder bumps several people as I start crossing the road.
“Stop the kid with the backpack! Thief!” The frenzied cashier suddenly bursts out from the alley. I look over my shoulder in alarm as several pedestrians turn to stare at me and a few begin to walk towards me.
“Time to go.” My legs reach out and I’m sprinting, hard. All I can focus on is dodging the families and small children that are walking to and fro through the streets and sidewalks. The cashier’s heavy footsteps thud behind me and I glance over my shoulder and increase my speed, realizing that a few Inspectors have joined the chase. Curse their stupid sense of justice.
My hair whips behind me and white, upscale buildings flash past me. I pump my arms, trying to get every bit of speed out of my feet. The catch is beginning to bother me, and my chest hurts.
I guess I didn’t see it, or I forgot it was there. A large speed bump rises out of the ground and my food catches on the edge, throwing my body through the air until I crash onto the concrete and roll onto my back, groaning.
“Got you, young lady.” The cashier is panting up a storm when he catches up to me as I’m trying to rise to my feet. The other Inspectors surround me, their white coats glistening in the sunlight.
I slowly rise, putting my hands up. The cashier and the Inspectors visibly relax when they see how young I am. I put the most innocent expression on my face as I can, and raise my large, dark-brown eyes to the face of the closest Inspector.
“Why aren’t you in school?” The typical question is addressed to me by the cashier.
“My mom sent me to buy some supplies from my uncle’s shop, and I saw this cashier start chasing me, so I started running.” I reply blithely, keeping my face innocent and expressionless.
“Hm. And what’s in that backpack of yours?” An Inspector steps forward, his gloved hands extended to rip the backpack from me. I back away a little.
“It’s my backpack. It’s a present for my uncle.”
“Well, then you’ll have no problem with me looking in it.” His face is starting to look suspicious and I wince inside, realizing that I overdid my lie a bit.
“It’s my backpack, you can’t have it.” I whine, trying to sound like a spoiled child. I sure don’t look it thought. My jeans are worn, the ends tucked into a pair of scuffed boots, the laces knotted and broken in several places, and my jacket has seen better days.
“Be a good girl and hand it over.” The Inspector holds out his hand and steps forward.
I shake my head mutely and hold it a little closer. If they get their corrupt hands on my pack, I’m dead.
“You know, you’re an interesting character, young lady. Are you trying to hide something from me?” The Inspector stops advancing and peers into my eyes.
I know what he’s hinting at. I can’t let them know, I can’t let them know.
“What do you mean?” I ask, my voice small.
“I mean,” He reaches a hand into his jacket and pulls out a small device, something that looks like a flashlight without the bulb. “You seem too young to be involved in crime and theft, yet I couldn’t imagine a mother letting their daughter skip school for an uncle’s birthday.”
My eyes are fastening in horror at the device, a Scanner, he is holding. “There’s no call for that.” My voice is starting to tremble.
“Oh, you know what this is?”
I realize my mistake. The Scanner is extended towards me and a slow beeping issues from the speaker at the bottom.
“Stand still, my dear. This shouldn’t take too long.” The Inspector passes the device over my chest just as the beeping becomes a high-pitched whine. His eyes widen and he stares at me.
I jolt into action, slashing his face with my backpack and pulling the gun from my pocket, firing it in the general direction of the other Inspectors and the cashier. They duck, cowering on the ground.
“She’s a Peer!” The Inspector’s voice is filled with rage.
I don’t wait to see if they get to their feet or not. Forgetting my bruises, I almost fly over the ground, fear lending wings to my feet. My chest hurts more than ever, and I’m afraid that the Scanner has done something to me, something permanent.
I know the penalty for running from an Inspector. But I also know the penalty for being a Peer. I remember all too well what happened to the last Peer I saw caught on the streets. My breath comes in gasps. I need to decide.
That was a lot longer than I intended it to be. Oh, well.
Tell me what you think!!
(it will hopefully get more “intriguing” later on… but for now, I have no plot line whatsoever XD )