by Jacob Lawrence (Writing as Henry Jakubs)
That mere sound, the voice of another, burned away his need for secrecy and caution. Barreling out of safety, he found himself running down the debris laden streets, drifting into the alleys that lined the concrete forest that surrounded him, snaking his way through the maze of ruined homes, shops, and apartment buildings with a grace that could only be attributed to the recklessness the situation had forced him to embrace.
With each step, the cries for help grew weaker, more distant, and the need to find them, whoever it was, only grew stronger. The very thing that had protected him was now a hindrance, and just as he burst onto an unknown street, the smoke was gone, and the sun bore down upon him, its radiance blinding.
The towering buildings that surrounded him were created to block out the harsh rays, and had they been restored to their former glory, they may have succeeded, but what was once beautiful, titans that had risen up in hopes of touching heaven, were now desiccated husks, shredded beyond recognition. Some had been reduced to piles of rubble, others had toppled into one another, but many were just leaning, threatening to crumble beneath their own might.
The cries for help were gone, and as he spun around, searching, his eyes fell upon a small café, the storefront blown inward. He raised his hand, blocking the cruel light that was quickly disappearing as the clouds that blanketed the sky overwhelmed it. He saw movement beneath the rubble, a slight shudder as bits of concrete tumbled from the mound that lay inside the shop.
There was no hesitation as he threw himself at the pile of stone, metal, and wood, searching for whoever lay beneath. Even the largest pieces were easily tossed aside as an almost frenzied strength surged through him, and fiction shattered reality.
“Help,” he could barely hear it, the voice was frail, feminine, the word drawn out, but it was real, and an almost fanatical sense of determination took hold of his pale blue eyes. Effortlessly, he dragged a large slab of concrete out of place, revealing ashen, torn, flesh. Digging through the debris, he began to expose more of her, delicate fingers trembling as the woman began to sob beneath him. She was growing quieter, weaker with each second, and as her strength faded, his seemed to flourish. He was going to save her, no matter what.
Wrenching a rather large, and entrenched, light fixture from the pile brought about a horrifying discovery; a speaker, labored breathing coming from it, had been buried there. As the realization consumed him, there was suddenly an explosion, and as he turned, he could see one of the skyscrapers clearly through the gaping hole, falling towards him.
There was no time to react as his fingers coiled around the cold, dead, flesh that had been planted there. The man watched as the high-rise came crashing down around him, and the skyline lost another of its beloved giants.
As the dust settled, and force rippled through the dying city, the clouds darkened, and rain began to fall, almost as though the very sky mourned the loss of this lone stranger that had walked beneath its grace.
Then, something began to move inside the storm, a swift, unnatural, motion that belied anything man had come to know. A drone descended from the clouds, lording over the graveyard of stone. Just as the first had revealed itself, others followed, until they riddled the sky, hundreds of machines poised above one of humanity’s greatest metropolises.
Their engines roared, dancing upon the currents and updrafts that the flames so lovingly created. Hatches opened along their underbellies and turrets began to extricate themselves from the machines, barrels whirling, before they suddenly opened fire upon the downed building. The bullets shredded through concrete, and as dust wafted up into the air, the drones did not stop their onslaught even as the intense heat began to warp their weapons, mutilating their own bodies as they sought to cleanse the man from the face of the earth.
It wasn’t until the Gatling gun clicked empty on the first drone, the apparent leader, that the seemingly endless torrent began to abate.
There was nothing left, the entire block had been demolished, and only a knoll of rubble remained. As the drones flitted about, sensors buzzing, searching for any signs of life, the leader made its way down to the street, investigating the carnage they had wrought.
Just as it reached the buildings it had so cruelly cut down, the drone began to shudder, metal shrieking as the hardened blast shielding began to crack, before suddenly folding in on itself, crashing to the ground. The other drones hovered there, waiting, as the debris slowly rose up to meet them, floating high above the leveled block as the man revealed himself.
Although his clothing was torn, even the shower curtain he had so pitifully modified had been reduced to nothing, his body was perfect, pristine, there wasn’t a scratch on him. As his body began to shake, and hatred twisted his features, the earth shuddered in rage as his gaze fell upon the machines that hovered so nonchalantly above the city they had so eagerly destroyed.
The rubble suddenly stilled before raining down around him, entrenching him, as one of the drones opened fire, unleashing hell upon the man they had so desperately tried to kill. As the rounds slammed into him, the ammunition collapsed upon impact, falling inert upon the ground, useless against him.
Then, without warning, he was gone, only a plume of smoke erupting at his feet betrayed any sign of movement. He had disappeared faster than the drones could process, but they did not idly sit by, waiting for him to show himself again. The entire swarm began to buzz about, whirling, like a murder of crows forced from their perch, as they searched for him.
The surviving spires began to quake, their walls collapsing as an unseen force slammed into them. Dust rose from the buildings, a momentary indication of where he was, and the machines could only react. There was no way to predict where he may go, no algorithm that could account for his insane abilities. As the assailants began to fire indiscriminately, the concrete giants that humanity had created, which had housed their dreams and aspirations, were destroyed not by their fateful enemy, but by the strength of the lone survivor that had sought solace in their shadow. The weakest of them began to fall, girders screeching as it toppled down, taking its own revenge as many of the drones fell with it.
They were cannon fodder before the might of a man that was in no way ordinary, that didn’t seem to be a man at all. The drones were never meant to succeed, that was never a possibility, and yet they remained, fighting a foe they could never equal. It was a battle against the impossible, fending off the improbable, but still they fought, not because of their coding, or the orders sent from above, but because something had to.
Each of them met the cruel fate of the first, their components shattered, crushed to pieces, as their lives were viciously terminated. The man danced amongst them, his power passing through the very armaments that made them so deadly, rendering them impotent, before sentencing them to the harshest of fates. They weren’t just destroyed, the machines wasted away. Their composition rapidly aged in his mere presence.
It was all conjecture of course; no one truly understood this man’s limitations, what he could do, nor did the machines care. They had but one objective in mind, that he, like all other humans, had to be eradicated.
To be continued…