The Smell Of Fear
Wherever she was taking me, it was going to be a long journey. All I knew was that I could be led to the slaughter, but why should I be lulled into a false sense of security if that is what she was going to do? Then again, there were a lot of weird things going on as well. “Velora,” I asked.
“Mmm.” she hummed.
“Where are you taking me?”
“We cannot stop moving.” She stops and looks up. “You see the skies.” I glanced up at the usual red, orange sky. There were a few dark clouds and when I say dark, I mean raven black clouds. Though being honest most everything looked harmful. “That is a sign of caustic rain. We need to find shelter. Understand?” she gazed down at me. It was odd, it almost felt like… Vanity eyes were looking at me.
“Yeah, I understand.”
An abandoned diner became our shelter. The building’s interior had long since collapsed. Over our heads hung a rusted metal canopy. It had been abandoned for a long time. The shadows of several people huddled near the building’s entrance testified to a blast that vaporized them, reducing their existence to burned marks on the wall. Just before they died, I wondered what they saw. In line, waiting to be seated. Caught up in a wall of fire. Probably talking about work or something trivial. There was no way they could have even known. The blast gave them enough time to huddle together. Saying the last I love you’s they would ever say. Gone. Only a whisper of ash is left to be carried away by the wind. There was some flesh sprouting on the side of the building, but I guess it’s normal now.
I grabbed a toppled over metal chair as I walked across the ruined lot. Although some parts of the chair were melted, I was able to lift it up. As I pushed on the seat and legs with my hands, I determined that it could support my weight. In the middle of the parking lot, Velora lay on smooth pavement. Almost like a horse lying down, she bent her legs. My feet scrape on the concrete as I drag the chair to where she sat. After that, I seated myself in front of her.
She was really something. Her torso looks as if it would hurt. In light of the mechanical device covering her body, it is possible to see exposed muscle and insides of her body against the metallic armor covering her. She appears to have been cut off up to her stomach but not removed. If not for the horns and ears, her face looked normal. “Why are you staring at me like that?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware.” I said though in all truth it hurt me to look at her.
“Am I that horrible to look upon that you would recoil at my sight?” she asked curiously. In truth, it was indeed unsettling because the metal rods that extended her withered and stitched hands, the visible spine fused with metal plates like a serpent, and the anthropomorphic legs clearly misshaped by some sick torture device that was supposed to resemble a canine’s hind leg, made me feel uneasy.Although whoever did this to her felt the need to preserve her porcelain smooth face. A stamp of normalcy upon something entirely hideous.
“No… it’s not any of that. But I mean… does it hurt?” Her lips curled into a small smile as she wiped the corners of her mouth. “I mean the exposed muscle.”
She calmly replies, “No.”
“I’ll be honest with you.” I muttered. “You scare me.”
There is no doubt that Velora found this amusing. As she laughed, she held her upper body up with both arms. “You have every right to be afraid. When things first went south, I used to be a war machine. My mere presence must have made you feel dreadful.” She said, which brought no comfort to me. In the past, I burned entire cities to the ground by myself. In the eyes of the world, I was a scourge.” As she stretched her arms and let out a little yawn, she said, “sadly, there is no world left for me to destroy.”
My mind kept wandering to the wars of my youth. Bullets and bombs killed people during times of terror. Would they have fought for it if they had known this is what the world would become? Despite my suspicions, I was not surprised. My life has not been taken by her. In the absence of meaning, do machines or demons still pursue their cause? “What are you anyway?”
“I don’t know.” She replied in a quiet tone.
“Are you an android?”
Velora shook her head at the notion. “I am something else.”
In the distance, I saw a drop of the blackest rain I’ve ever seen. A sizzle accompanied the little black drops. It was certainly capable of boring holes in just about anything it came into contact with. “Even the rain can harm you here.” I huddle with my legs on the chair. “What makes this place so untouched?”
“Special metal was used for the roof here.” Velora replied causally. “It will hold up for a while.” With her mechanical blade she tapped her chin, then pointed at me, even though I didn’t feel threatened by it. “What was something like you doing out here in the first place?”
Panicking, I said the first thing that came to mind. “I can’t tell you.” An honest reply, but one lacking in tact. It wasn’t clear to me whether I could trust her. There was silence from Velora. Perhaps I was a little harsh in shutting her down.
The two of us sat in silence for a while. There was something odd about it. My mind was occupied by the sound of sizzling, but I’m not sure how long it has been since I heard it.
“You know Prina, we enjoy your company.” There was a slight tug on one of her arms as she held on to the other arm. “It gets boring with no one to talk to, you know. It breaks up the monotony of it all.”
It really was a secret… at least Vanity said it was. Then again, if she was… Vanity in some form, she would know this already, to some brief context at least. “So, when you assimilate people, what happens to them?”
“They become a part of me. They do exist, but they do not exist in the same way. I am a collection of their thoughts. The more people that I assimilate, the more I hear them, so to speak. I find it rather annoying, to be honest.” Maybe she wasn’t so horrid.
My heart pounded. “If Vanity, is… do you know her thoughts?”
Velora shook her head. “We could, or perhaps we do, but some thoughts have not been easy to grasp. There are many secrets she keeps from us. I wish she would tell me. During this entire time, I have been arguing with her about what possessions she has kept, but she is so tired. She does not trust us. Sadly, she thinks we will harm you.”
“Why don’t you just… force her too, I mean you could do that right.” I asked even though the expected answer terrified me.
Vanity smirked. “You would not understand… we could lie to you. You would not know. So really, does it matter what we say to you?”
“I am trying to destroy Azergile.” I relaxed completely with her. Telling her everything that had happened to me up until that point. I broke down crying and Velora actually hugged me. “Velora I was so scared.” I wrapped my arms around her and held on. I felt cradled in her arms as if I was a child held by a mother.
Velora said apologetically, “Your plan is impossible.”
I pull away from Velora. “What? Why?”
“Azergile is across the ocean. You would never make it. You would probably die just from the struggle of the journey.” She looked at me strangely. “So that is what she meant.” Velora let me down onto the chair. My face was to my feet and I felt a deep sense of sorrow welling inside me. “There are only two ways to get there?” I looked up at Velora playing with her horns. “One way. Which is what I would choose: an airship? Seeing as how neither of us has one, it’s going to be very difficult to get over there.”
“What’s the other?”
Velora raised her eyebrow. “Under the ocean, through the Amala.” She said it with such disdain, as though she was spitting the words from her mouth. “It’s an evil place. Dangerous is an understatement. They are controlled by the families. They made things even worse than me. Devils dwell down there. Those that get caught in that demonic underworld are trapped in darkness. Constantly in torment. Starved and thirsty. They devour any hope they can find to be left empty of it. There entire life is nothing more than to be torn to pieces screaming and wailing for all eternity.”
I shivered at the horrific description of that place. “So we have to get an airship. Alright.” I said with hope.
Velora rose to her feet. “If you insist on pursuing Azergile, I will be by your side. However, I suggest we hear the word from an AI.”
I thought to myself, “A robot.”. That’s a strange statement. A puzzled look crosses my face as I look at her.
“I see you are not familiar. He is not just any AI. He is very old. In fact he might be older than Azergile. But that is a very, very long way away. We will have to travel by foot there but it will be worth your while,” she said. “It will be shorter if we find a caravan along the way. We can travel with them for a while.” I nodded my head in agreement. “You seem eager.”
“I am.” Looking at the rubble of the city I can’t help but wonder what happened to everyone. “Velora, I don’t understand one thing. Where have all the people gone? You said if we can catch a caravan, that means there are others.”
Velora stretched. “What do you mean?”
“I have seen no one since I was around. I have searched all over this city and I have found no one.” I said.
Velora scrunched her nose. “You found lots of people.”
“No, I don’t mean the monsters. I mean human beings.” I stared at the broken and dead city in front of me filled with wicked nightmares and wondered where they were.
“I am confused. I saved you from several human’s already.”
What Velora said buzzed around in my head. She saved me from humans. What those things were not human. That’s when it hit me. The rules. “No.” I hissed. “It can’t be.” Those things were, were people. I couldn’t help it. My stomach retched, gagging as though a thick brick had struck my throat. The sour taste of vomit filled my mouth as I let it fall to the floor.
As a hand touched my back, I felt a sense of calm. “Are you ok?”
“No.” Screamed Velora as I turned my face towards her. “This isn’t the world, this is a nightmare.”
Velora regarded me for several moments. I can tell she does not know what to do. “I am confused. Did you not know those were people?”
I throw my arms to the side. “Of course I did not know they were people. A dog! What made a man into a dog?”
“The nano machines do it. Azergile changes their shapes out of curiosity.”
“No… this is all wrong. What happened to all the cars and the people walking the streets? The sky, the sky isn’t blue and everything is in ruins.”
Slack jawed, the girl with many arms seemed stunned, “You’re from before the AI empires.”
“I don’t know!”
“What is the last thing you remember from before? Before, you were frozen.”
“I don’t know. I was a kid. I remember them telling me they were planning to freeze me because I had a disease that was going to kill me.”
Velora squinted and cocked her head, “So, you remember the old world?” I nodded my head. “Then I truly feel sorry for you.”
We had been in the suburban wastelands for hours since leaving the city. Into the rubble-strewn wasteland. Almost everything was covered in dust. Whatever was once here has been reduced to the earth. In the gnawing teeth of time, the buildings remained nothing more than stumps, hollowed bones of a land long forgotten. Everywhere you walked, precious materials littered the streets like junk. People’s pictures, alive or dead, did it matter anymore?
My legs were aching, so I stopped to rub them. While strong, my ability to walk was not endless. There was a feeling that Velora had an endless supply of stamina. “Velora,” I said. She turned toward me with that proud expression on her face. Even though her armor was dull, it seemed to shine. “I have to rest.”
“Why are you refusing to walk? Come on.” She seemed annoyed by my human qualities. She kept her pace with little regard. It made me wonder if what we were doing was safe. It seemed like she was in a hurry, so I decided to follow after her.
As I continued up the path, I huffed. Within a short period of time, I felt weaker than I had ever felt before. My knees buckled, and I fell onto a soft blanket of dust. As soon as I landed, a plum of dust rose up. Gasping for breath, I rolled onto my back. When Velora stomped her hooves, the ground vibrated, causing the ground to be disturbed. As she stands over me, her form blocks out the sun. As I gazed up at her goat-like legs, I noticed her red hair and the skulls staring down at me. I wheezed, “It hurts too much. I need water.”
“Why do you need water?” Velora asked with such confusion.
“I am thirsty.”
“I don’t understand.”
Eh, she wouldn’t. Does she really know as much as she says she does? I mean, it’s a human trait to need water. “I need water to survive.”
For a moment, her eyes are fixed on me. While I could see annoyance with them, I knew there was more to it. In a bending motion, Velora lowers her forelegs and scoops me into her arms. “I heard humans are fragile and require maintenance multiple times a day. I guess the rumors are true.” She lifted me off the ground and held me in her arms. Her limbs are not complete. They seemed to show breaks in the bone. My legs dangled from her enormous arms as my head rested on her other arm. As she rose to her full height, I could not help but be impressed. As she carried me, she looked much larger than me. Looking over from this vantage point, I could see a considerable distance. It’s amazing how much a few feet can change things.
“Velora,” I said.
“Yes.” She replied in her usual unenthusiastic voice.
“Thank you for carrying me.” She did not reply to me, but I could see a slight glimmer in her eyes and her cheeks raise.
Ghosts drifted from the dusty ruins to the sky as the wind blew across them. The toppled building gave me a clear view of everything. Nothing remained but the powder that had camouflaged the buildings sticking out of the ground. Hard looking spikes, and of course the endless bodies reaching out of the sands. Their homes were filled with things spilling out. We have reached the end of the world. Everything is dead, and nothing can die further. I rested atop a piece of plywood, no doubt discarded from one of these structures, as I surveyed the desolate land. With my hand, I brushed it off, watching it fly away like pollen. “Here, drink this.” Velora held out a bottle of water to me.
“Thanks.” Screwing off the cap of the bottle, I brought the lukewarm liquid to my mouth. It was a precious liquid and I sucked down quite a bit of it. “Refreshing.”
Velora poked at things as she toddled around. As I sat up and walked toward her, I didn’t exactly know what she was doing. “Hey, what’s with all the poking around?”
As we looked over the ocean of debris around us, she said, “Shelter.” But there’s nothing to be found here.
“No, I don’t believe you’ll have any luck finding one here. Let’s go to the next place since it’s getting late.” I replied.
Velora turned her head toward me and stopped. This intimidated me at first as she towered over me. “Your hurt.”
“Nah, I am not. I can walk.” I said.
Clearly, she wasn’t happy about something, but hid it… like Vanity did. Let’s not get into that. With an open palm, I rubbed the side of the house as I ran along the dusty old road. As I turn back to Velora, I shout. “Well, are you coming?” She nodded and followed me.
It was unbearably hot. My face was drenched with sweat as I floated in a sea of sand. Beyond the swirling haze of sweltering heat, I could see a mountain. “Velora, look at that.” A large iron building. From a distance, the building looked like a military installation or laboratory built into the side of a mountain. At least, it appeared that way from a distance. In spite of this, the walls of the building were scarred. In the past, there must have been a battle there. The place seemed vacant now however, so they must have failed in their defense.
She replied, “That’ll work.”
Our path crossed a large field that was open and sand-filled, remnants of painted lines visible in the sand. There was no doubt that this was a parking lot. My attention was drawn to the massive armored front door of the building. “I think they locked the doors.” I replied, banging my fist against the metal.
“That is not a problem.” She smirked and struck the metal with her scorpion’s stinger, ripping through the interior of the door. Silicon circuits and wires spilled out as she yanked her tail from the shadowy hole. The door opened with a thump and a loud creak.
Wide eyed I shouted, “Wow, I didn’t know you could do that.”
After she had retracted the blade, she slipped past me, razor spikes and all. “Just my tail, young lady.” I looked at the deep gash in the inch thick iron plating. It amazed me at the strength of her tail, but also at how strong she was.
“Well I think it’s cool.” A toothy grin crossed her face as she led the way into the dark building with an air of confidence that suggested she has a good understanding of the place. Upon entering the dark lobby of the building, there was a gigantic crystallized tree which was quite striking.
I was deep in awe of the tree when Velora’s voice broke my trance. “I will search this building out. You wait here.” she said.
My heart sank as I cried, “What? I want to come with you, this place is beautiful!”
Shaking her head, she stated, “I am not comfortable with that.”.
As horrific as the things I have witnessed thus far, there are likely to be many nightmarish evils that I have yet to encounter. The truth was, Velora was right. Shame. “Fine.” I huffed and folded my arms. Perhaps she would allow me to explore this place once she had been through it herself. Then again, I never really knew how large this complex was. As with the colony I came from, the interior of this building was impressive and I could tell it once was alive. Now the ravines were dry and dead.
It seemed as if she had spent a long time in the poorly lit corridor. I waited for what seemed like an eternity. The thought that Velora had grown tired of my presence filled me with a certain amount of worry. My voice echoed in vain as I called out, “Velora, you didn’t leave me, did you?” From the black bench I was sitting on, I slowly rose. Standing in the foyer, I looked down the dark corridor.
There was something about this feeling that I could not shake. My heart racing, I decided to brave the darkness and venture into the shadowed hall where Velora had entered. It was mighty dark. As I cowered down, alone in that shadowy place, I decided I would venture into it myself.
As the hallway continued, I was drawn to a dull glow at the end. I decided I would begin my search there. I followed the glow as I moved down the hall, to a room whose walls were lit by a bright light. Before entering the room, I held my breath as I approached the threshold. The polished floors seemed like they were made of water, and the ceiling projected a sky like the one in my colony. The room was lined with crystallized white trees.
A bench stands in front of me and I sit on it. It was amazing, it really was amazing. These producers knew what elegance was, yet they seemed lost in their own world. Who designed these structures? Who created the nightmare outside? As if these buildings were shrines to what was right in the world, and the outside was all that was left.
This room was furnished with polished white metal that was trimmed in gold and silver. It was surrounded by crystalized plants and floating lights suspended in mid-air. These floating lights seemed to exist out of thin air. Although shadowed, it was evident that the walls were also windows for a larger complex. Tube lights surrounded by gold metal shed a bright white light as they travelled downwards. I could barely see the electricity trapped within the blue glowing circular objects. There were rivers of water flowing; connected to an elaborate network of tunnels. Like the room, it had crystallized wildlife as well.
Turning my head, I noticed something moving in a dark hall. “Velora?” I questioned the dark. My body stiffened as the creature began walking towards me. Despite my best efforts, I did not receive a response; and as I was ready to call again, I realized that it was not large enough to be Velora. The creature, a quadruped, walked out of the darkness into the light to reveal something that appeared to be a massive bear without fur, but not quite like one.
A mask of nothing was covering its face, except for a giant nostril and a row of razor teeth. A large portion of sharp bone protruded from where it should have had paws or something else. Hyperventilating, the creature sneezes into the room, sniffing the air with its massive hole in its head. After getting up from the bench, “Velora!” I scream out in panic. I amble behind a tree. The creature moved with an unnatural speed as if it was in stop motion, sniffing the bench where I had just been.
Continuing to scream, I back away from the tree and enter the dark hall. I looked up to the end of the hall and saw another dark figure blocking my way. I shrieked “Velora!” as my voice cracked. A dull weeze escaped my lungs as I huddled up. A hand glided over my head to gently rest on the top of it. My stomach sank as I looked up at the figure in the hall. I realize it’s Velora. It was almost impossible to see her face past the armor and skulls but I knew that was her for sure. Her boney fingers left my hair while she stood guard. She had come to save me.
With all four of her arms, Veleva seized the creature and speared the creature’s leg with her blade arm. The two pieces she created spasmed on the ground, making silent gasps for air. Then she tore it as though it were nothing more than a piece of paper. The blood was everywhere.
The quiet voice that emanated from Velora scolded loudly, “Silence. Follow.”
“I told you to wait in the lobby.” Velora said.
She was silent the entire way back to the lobby, even when she was preparing our meal. She now hurled heavy words at me. “I… I got scared.”.
As she explained, “This colony was compromised. All the humans were twisted. It was indeed a Biogenetic lab, which essentially served as a laboratory for the creation of monstrosities, which were then released on the world to destroy and kill all they liked.”
My lips quivered with the very words that I uttered. “Why would they do that?” I asked.
As Velora sat up and stretched her limbs, she commented, “I am not sure why humans are obsessed with killing each other, but otherwise, it appears that their experiment has resulted in people being messed up.”
My eyes were drawn to the rations that Velora brought back. “Well, at least we got food and water from this.” Brown containers sealed in clear plastic. My guess was that the nanomachines maintain a constant temperature and get rid of any mold in the colony. “Hey Velora, I think I am getting sleepy.” I said to her.
“Although it’s quite primitive, I know you need sleep. I’ve spoken with the others about it. They didn’t forget, so we filled me in. That’s fine with me, I’ll wait by your side.” Velora said.
“You don’t sleep?” I asked.
“No.” she simply stated. I found myself comfortable with the thought of being guarded when I slept. Even though she appeared to be something out of a horror movie, Velora was quite charming. I snuggled up close to Velora and closed my eyes, enjoying the strange but welcome sensation as she glided her fingers through my hair. The feeling was strange but welcoming as I drifted off to sleep.
My eyes opened to find Velora standing behind me. I stretched my arms out and yawned. I blinked my eyes a few times and stretched as I gave my self some time to wake up. “Thanks, Velora, for everything.” I said groggily.
“That’s only because I find you curious.”
As I picked up a ration and tore off the top, I asked, “In what way?”
Velora adjusted herself as I rested my back on her leg. “It just comes naturally to me.”
“So, is it night or is it day?” I asked.
“Not sure. The dark haze and the lights in the sky reveal nothing. Just that haze.”
My mouth started to water. “Nothing in this world is as it used to be. Hmmm, I wonder what God thinks of all this.” I began sipping at the mush pack in my hand.
“The creation of Azergile has now come into being and the God of men has ceased to speak.”
I ponder that thought, had God gone silent. “I don’t think he has. Perhaps they just weren’t listening to him. While I can’t remember their faces I remember my Father saying that we had abandoned God. He prayed still though. My Mother did too.”
Looking down at me, Velora said, “Did he heal your illness?”
There was no way for me to determine what my illness was. I contemplated that thought and replied, “Well, my sickness could perhaps save the world.” It is true that if they were to cure me, there would be no type of remedy, no hope for humanity.
“This was caused by the science of man, not your God. Your God may have watched the horrific events, but he did not intervene. Foolish, you trust in such a God.”
I drank the ration while saying, “You can look at it that way or you can see it another way. God brought me this far and he will see me through. After all, he brought me you.” Velora was silent, unable to express herself in that silence. Nevertheless, her head pat would follow.
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