Ancestral

The boy woke...
Charlie lives in a post-apocalyptic world, devoid of people, with barely any memories of the past. So he embarks on an adventure...only he didn't expect to end up being pushed around different dimensions by a person who calls themself 'C'.

And he most certainly didn't expect the truth

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3. Wasteland

Waking up was even worse than before.

Charlie wretched at the nauseous stench enveloping his lungs as he rolled over onto his side and blinked a few times to rid his eyes of the stinging dust that was blurring his vision. The air was stale and stiff and apart from the headache beating drums in his brain: his whole body hurt like hell and his hands were littered with bleeding scratches and bruises. Truthfully, he'd thought that he'd be used to it by then since it always felt like this after travelling between dimensions. However, it seemed to be getting worse each time. Charlie groaned with the sharp stabs that quickly ensued any form of movement but managed to stagger to his feet. He felt like throwing up everything inside of him that was churning in his gut; the suffocating anxiety of unfamiliarity; the burning physical pain; everything. Yet Charlie concluded it probably wouldn't help anyway because his stomach would probably start doing flips again after a few minutes. He winced as he straightened again and glanced around. On either side of him stretched this great expanse littered with broken chunks of scrap metal and dried up grass that huddled together in little clumps every few metres. It looked like they were banding together against the peppering of large factory-like buildings wrapped in barb-wire fencing that abruptly intruded upon their space. He also noticed that the jaded light from the rustic sun of the planet was slowly disappearing and soon he wouldn't be able to see much if anything at all.

His heart still trembled from the shudder of being held at gun point, but Charlie was too wrapped up in the repulsive sickness he felt in his gut to really think about what had just happened to him.

“Hey! What're you doing out here?!”

Charlie jumped and almost tipped forward into a pool of leaden oil sitting by his feet. His arms flailed a bit before a rough hand pulled him back. “Yes?” Charlie smiled shakily at the furious woman before him.

“Ma'am. It's 'yes, Ma'am',” the woman corrected harshly. She peered at a name badge pinned to Charlie’s chest. “C-09, why are you out here and not at your post?”

Charlie noted that 'C-09' was said through gritted teeth. He frowned, “I'm terribly sorry but I don't understand.”

“Imbecile! Your post, C-09! It's almost sun-set! Do you have a death wish?”

“O-of course not...Ma'am!”

Ma'am sniffed. “Then get back to base!” she hissed. And with that she spun on her heels and stomped off without further explanation.

Charlie turned back to the sterile wasteland. It reminded him too much of home to be anything but apprehensive to look at. And besides, who was this Ma'am anyway? He scratched his head looked to see where Ma'am had disappeared off to. Behind him sat a gargantuan monolith with smoke curling lazily out of various chimneys. It had nothing decorating its exterior except a metallic door that was no doubt where he was supposed to go. Ma’am had certainly seemed human enough unlike those weird creatures back in The Box. Maybe Charlie could actually find what he was looking for here.

He gaped as he entered through the front door of the monolith. The room you walked into was filled with people rushing around and disappearing through different corridors that branched off in various directions. A single light source gleamed down from the ceiling in a harsh, almost blinding fashion. No one stopped and no one seemed to even notice Charlie at all. In fact, they weren't talking to anyone. They were all wearing identical black uniforms with these black visors covering their faces. There visors were also decorated with that fish mark C had upon her arm and Charlie had on his bracelet. Why did that keep popping up?

Charlie inspected what he wore. It was the same uniform as everyone else and he was stunned that the pitch black visor didn’t obscure his sight in any way. Surely, the thick glass would tint your vision in some way. “Wow,” Charlie muttered. “I feel welcome...not that I belong here anyway...” He eyed the pair of men with huge guns standing either side the door he'd come through.

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Suck it up, princess. It's not your job to feel welcome,” a dog-like creature snarled at him; its frigid eyes doing little to settle its appearance anywhere near friendly. “What're you doing anyways, Charlie?”

“I-I was...um...” Charlie found himself staring at the long teeth poking out of the dog's snout. “...I was...If you don't mind me asking...what are you?”

The creature glared agitatedly at him. “Smoke doing weird things to your brain,” it huffed. “Not the first time this has happened mind you. But,*insert grunt of annoyance*, if I have to remind you then I'm Rikki, a Hominis Cane. Werewolf you might say, but full moons don't do nothing. Now explain to me again why you aren't at your post?”

“What post? I didn't say anything about that...although...look. I'd love to be able to answer that question, however I can't.” Charlie had learnt by then that pleasantries didn't tend to gain any hospitality from aliens.

There was a pause as Rikki sniffed the air around them. “Definitely that damn smoke,” he muttered, then added in a louder voice, “right, well, I'll have to show you around then. You probably don't remember where we are do you?”

Charlie tossed up shaking or nodding his head. He was never sure which one to respond with so he settled for a more affirmative, “no.”

Rikki heaved the bag he was carrying onto his massive shoulders and swung an even larger 'canine-esque' arm around. “Welcome to the Wasteland, Charlie. Coming here I guess you encountered Ma'am already, so I don't need to say much...ah!” He waved his arm again, “this building we're standing in? This is 'The Compound'. It's the most secure human-free zone on the planet.”

Charlie's eyes widened. “Humans?! Wh-The humans are kept out? So what is everyone else?!”

Rikki snickered. “You, idiot, are what we call Apparatus Populo. Machine people. Cyborgs for your obviously tiny mind. And your job is to kill all the remaining humans from the great apocalypse. We werewolves only do grunt work.” Rikki grinned, exposing his teeth again, “your post? You're positioned in the First Console room where you keep watch on everything that goes on in the second sector. If a human heat signature gets on the radar. BOOM! You hit them with a blast of energy that will stop their body's systems in ten seconds flat so their death is relatively painless. That is to say, they implode.”

“They implode?”

“Yep. Great entertainment.”

Charlie gulped.

“Well,” Rikki shrugged, “I did say relatively painless.”

Then he grabbed Charlie’s hand and dragged him down one of the hallways.

 

§§§

 

The First Console was a room painted completely metallic silver like a stereotypical futuristic spaceship with pristine leather desk chairs and at least a few hundred mini television screens playing footage from outside on The Compound all over the walls. Cyborgs were typing away at a long desk that stretched around the whole room and they didn’t even seem to notice the arrival of Charlie or Rikki. There was no carpet on the floor except for a soft springy mat that said 'home sweet home' on it. Perhaps that was someone’s idea of a joke, although Charlie doubted that robots had a sense of humour. Ma'am looked up sharply upon entrance. She surveyed Rikki in obvious disgust and then went back to work. It appeared that werewolves were merely useful and weren’t otherwise regarded highly social wise.

“Right,” Rikki said. “This is the place I was telling you about. You basically have the best and easiest job here. All you have to do is sit here all day and press a big red button that makes humans go ‘BOOM’. Sound easy enough? Good. So, I'll leave you to it.”

He grabbed a fervent hold of Rikki’s arm. “Wait, where do you think you're going?” Charlie asked quickly. He still wasn’t sure about imploding people. After all, he’d originally set off to find them. He hadn’t any intention of killing them. 

“Err…I’m going back to work. I have a job you know.” Rikki shook off Charlie’s hand and lumbered away.

Charlie took a deep breath and sat down in the only spare chair in the room. Thankfully it was right on the edge of the desk so he wouldn’t draw much attention to himself. Unfortunately, in front of him were so many buttons he floundered to know what to do with any of them. Rikki had mentioned a ‘big red button’ but there wasn’t anything of the sort in his line of sight.  To one side there was a normal computer key board and on the other were what Charlie assumed to be controls for different things. There was also a head-piece lying on the bench. It looked like it looped around the back of your head and over your ears with a small microphone that hung infront of your mouth and a cord with a metal pin on it that should insert...Charlie gaped at his colleagues, typing away at their respective stations.

It connected into your head. The pin was supposed to go in your head. Charlie felt around his neck and skull. He didn’t have a hole where it would go. What was he going to do?

“Put it in then,” Ma'am said bluntly from her position nearer the door. She was eyeing him from behind her mound of paperwork. Her vulture gaze was waiting for Charlie to make a mistake.

Charlie wasn’t sure what the appropriate reply was. He couldn’t simply state, “I can’t.” That would be suspicious. On the other hand he couldn’t say, “sure,” and kill himself anyway by jabbing a pin into his brain. Either option was just as bad. Yet he took a deep breath and said, “I can’t.”

 “And why not?” Ma'am leered over the paperwork with a menacing air. She stormed over and picked up the head-piece and shoved it into Charlie's hands. “C-09, put the head piece on. That is…unless there’s something you’re willing to share.”

Gingerly, Charlie began to pull it over his head when an alarm went off. The intense tapping of keyboards became even louder as the ear piercing screech echoed around the room, reverberating against the metal walls. Ma'am's jaw clenched.

“What now, Soarven-8?” Ma'am yelled above the din,

Charlie took this as an opportunity to sneakily stick the headpiece back on the bench.

Soarven-8, a young man sitting near Charlie, shook his head in confusion. “The radar says there's body heat radiating from near the vicinity but I can't see anything from the screens. What about everyone else?!”

All the cyborgs scanned their screens quickly. Then they all shook their heads in unison.

“Well, we can't have a human in here because we're not human,” Ma'am concluded. She looked like she was about to throw her papers across the room. “Must be a malfunction of the system. L-26, go and report this to the engineers. We can’t afford for mistakes like this to happen ever again!”

Charlie's hand tightened on the arm rest of his chair till his knuckles turned a deadly shade of milky blue. It was obvious what had happened. The scanners had somehow picked up his heat signature. If he didn’t escape soon he was as good as dead. Ultimately he had to get back outside and find a way out of this dimension before C found him. Charlie was had taken note of what that C had told him back in The Box and he wasn’t fond of dying that much. “How about I go check the security cameras in the, um, the hall?...Ma’am…” Charlie offered.

Ma'am raised an eyebrow and sneered. “There's no security cameras in there, C-09.”

“Oh…” Charlie’s skin grew clammy. “How about I go report the incident with L-26?”

Ma’am peered closely at Charlie. “I’d rather you stayed here in the Console room, C-09. Now,” she moved closer, “are you sure there’s nothing you want to tell me?” She put a finger on Charlie’s forehead and withdrew it, inspecting the droplet of sweat resting on the nail. “Because I’m all ears.”

Charlie stood up and made a dash for the door. He ignored the alarmed cyborgs that tried to grab at him and he ignored anything that was going on behind him or around him. His blood was roaring with adrenaline, his feet were slapping against the floor and the sirens were pounding into his ears. He just needed to get out of there.

“AFTER THE HUMAN!” Ma'am bellowed.

With his heart pounding against his rib-cage Charlie tried frantically to undo the door that separated him from the hallway but the bolt had been locked and he needed a code which he didn't have to open it. Breath after breath wasted the energy Charlie needed to pry to door with his hands, but his breathing was almost erratic with panic. The creak of chairs being pushed back brought to his attention that all the others had stood and where watching him. “Open,” Charlie pleaded. He banged his head against the door as if the applied force would somehow work. “Come on! Open please!”

Ma’am was stalking across the Console room floor with a murderous glare glinting behind her spectacles. Charlie tried shaking the door again to no avail.

Then the sound of metal grinding against metal reached his ears and the door swung open. Charlie almost cried with relief at the sight of Rikki was staring at him with wide eyes. He shoved Charlie out of the room and slammed the door shut. “Run,” Rikki whispered urgently.

And Charlie didn’t argue.

 

§§§

 

Now, being chased by rampaging cyborgs was scary enough just thinking about it but when it actually happened then the horrific implications of the situation really hit home. Moreover, escaping with a werewolf made it all the more surreal.

When Charlie had taken that first step outside his house he hadn’t even fathomed that this may happen. The encounter with C and Gray had been enough to upset his stomach, but now Charlie was running for his life away from robots and he simply couldn’t comprehend how he’d ended up in this mess. All he’d wanted was to find his family and hopefully regain his memories. Charlie wondered if that was too big a favour to ask of the universe.

They’d almost reached the main entrance hall and the severe light was starting to bathe their faces in the pristine white of the meticulously clean floor. Charlie wasn’t entirely sure why Rikki was helping him. And he didn’t entirely care since he was so very grateful to the werewolf for unlocking that door. The look on Ma’am’s face had reminded him so much of Caera it had flipped Charlie’s gut again.

Rikki grabbed Charlie’s hand and dragged him along till they were both well past most of the cyborgs stationed by the various doorways; canine legs straining. As his grip began to slacken he fell forward onto all fours and started running like a dog. Charlie stumbled for a few steps before regaining his balance and picking up speed.

“What on earth happened in there?! First anyone knew something was wrong was that bloody alarm! Then all those tin-heads were commenting that no humans were actually spotted outside the building. And then I heard this banging coming from the First Console Room and when I opened the door you came tumbling out. So why was Ma’am pointing at you and saying, ‘Get him’?” Rikki puffed. He looked exhausted and sweat was beginning to plaster his ashy brown fur to over his eyes. Charlie was pretty sure he was in a very similar state.

“You know how the radar detects humans?” Charlie managed between gulps of air. His legs and lungs were already burning from the effort. “Well, I'm human. And now I'm a wanted human. I’m also don’t know why you ever thought I was a cyborg in the first place! I mean, sure, I have a uniform. But do I like a robot to you?!”

They'd reached the wasteland. The hot, tainted air didn't help matters when trying to regain a steady heart beat or a comfortable flow of oxygen. Furthermore, a thick fog was descending from the sky; possibly a consequence from all the pollution. Rikki's tongue was lolling out of his mouth and his heavy exhales of air reminded Charlie of his pet dog…what had been his name?...that was it…Coco. Rikki reminded Charlie of Coco.

“Where to now?” Charlie peered at the horizon. There was just more compounds and virtually nothing else. The sun had long gone and the equally smoggy moon was washing everything in a faded glow.

“Well, let’s think here. There's the city; where humans find refuge from the Cyborgs,” Rikki pointed out. He propped himself onto his two back feet so that he was walking again. “I was there before I managed to get into the Compound. They always have a spare place for a new refugee; the city I mean. That's why I'm helping you, by the way. It's personal.”

Charlie clutched his sides as they began picking up pace again. The cyborgs weren’t far behind them but they were being weighed down the heavy weaponry so Rikki and Charlie had a chance of escape if they were fast enough. After not having any food for a food twenty-four hours, however, Charlie wasn’t convinced his legs could manage that.

“So there are other humans?” Charlie asked.

“Sort of,” Rikki replied, not looking at Charlie, “I'm not so sure about now...it's been a while since I was there. Ten to fifteen years. I'm around twenty five now so...yeah. Fourteen years. At least most of the buildings will still be intact and if we’re lucky then the humans will have some un-spoiled food.” Rikki's pace was faltering as they raced across the sparse, dried up grass. He had pulled out a water bottle from his belt and was gulping it down like there was no tomorrow. The industrial fumes must've been making his body temperature unbearably hot considering his fur and thick uniform.

Charlie wished he had water too but then again he didn't want to know what was in that water. He wasn't sure if it was safe for human consumption or not. He swung his head around. By now, for whatever intention, it seemed the Cyborgs had stopped chasing them. “They've stopped chasing us,” Charlie grinned triumphantly.

Rikki jeered at Charlie’s apparent naivety. “It's because it's out of their territory,” he stated, “they never go out here.” He skidded to a halt. If possible, where they were standing now had less vegetation than the Cyborg’s territory. How anyone could survive out there baffled Charlie. Rikki was sniffing and scratching at the ground frantically. “Hold up a moment. Where's the Safe Haven?” he said feverishly.

Charlie, not noticing Rikki’s alarm said, “Let me guess. That's where we're going? Why do humans need a ‘Safe Haven’ anyway? And why do the Cyborgs want to kill them?”

Rikki shook his head. “I’d rather not answer that right now. We have a bigger problem on our hands…I don't understand this. They must've moved camp,” he huffed. “I swear this was where I saw them last.”

“Right. Well, we should keep on moving then.” Charlie had no desire to stay put for too long, however Rikki didn’t want to budge. So Charlie knelt down, resting his aching body for a moment. His splintered knee was slowly healing. Abruptly, Rikki pulled Charlie to his feet. “They're following us.”

“But you said they never-”

“Not the Cyborgs, Charlie. Humans. Thank heavens, they've found us!”

Unexpectedly, a cold metal pressed harshly against Charlie's back. It dug through Charlie’s clothes with a dangerous precision and if they pressed any harder it would leave him with a nasty gash in his back. Rikki had a gun pointed at his skull, causing Charlie to think back to C’s confrontation. Charlie, wanting to glimpse who their attackers were, jumped back from the blade.

“Don't move!” a shrill voice ordered sharply.

Charlie stifled a laugh as he took in the owner of the voice. The voice belonged to a short boy with short cropped sandy hair. Charlie shook his head and held up his hands in mocking defeat. He couldn't believe the boy was threatening a werewolf and a person twice the size of him.

“I don't understand,” Rikki said from beside him. “These aren't humans.”

The boy pressed the gun deeper into Rikki’s head.

Now that he mentioned it Charlie could see that they were actually being surrounded by what looked like humans. It was their blank eyes that gave it away. Only the boy had a burning ferocity in his face that differentiated him from a machine.

“Probably rogue Cyborgs. Banished or something?” Charlie suggested.

“Rogue Cyborgs?” Rikki growled at the boy. “Cyborgs are about as loyal as they are stupid. I’ve never heard of a rogue Cyborg.”

“Hey, it was just a guess.”

The boy had lowered his knife and pocketed it into a small sheath hanging by his side. Their conversation seemed to have sparked something. “Are you rogues too?” he asked.

Charlie shrugged. “I guess. We’re being hunted by the Cyborgs. It’s because I’m human if that's what you're thinking.”

The boy did a quick flick of the wrist and all the weapons carried by his comrades were lowered. “You can't be human,” the boy sniffed. “I'm the last human in this wasteland. Are you a trick or something? Did the Cyborgs send you to spy on us?”

“No,” Charlie said slowly. “And besides. Would we tell you if we were spies?”

The boy glared daggers at Charlie’s remark. He evidently didn’t appreciate being talked back to. “Follow us then,” he said crisply.

Charlie and Rikki were shoved forward as the group began trudging towards the oncoming emptiness infront of them. The ground was stony and the air was even more scorching to the skin the further they walked. When the hour mark had passed Charlie's steps were labouring due to his unfit condition. He leant on Rikki’s massive shoulder who seemed to be having similar problems.

“My name's Cade by the way. I'm in charge of the Safe Haven,” the boy said without looking at them.

“I'm Charlie,” Charlie replied.

Cade stiffened but continued walking. His hand pulled out a mobile device from his pocket. “Listen, I just need to call someone. The Safe Haven needs to know we've got two newbies.” He dialled and said something into the receiver before smiling and facing Charlie. “They're waiting for us.”

Charlie straightened and gawked as an enormous campus just seemed to pop up out of nowhere. It wasn’t like the intruding hostility of the monolith or the compounds. The Safe Haven had homely tents spread around a giant fire-place that roared with a friendly wildness Charlie hadn’t experienced since The Box, and before that his school’s yearly camp. There was also one small concrete building sitting in a corner that had bathrooms written on the wall.

“They've renovated,” Rikki grinned.

Rough hands took hold of their arms and plonked them down by the fireplace. The strange smell of burning vegetables and meat took over the stench of the polluted air. It made Charlie feel incredibly sleepy.

“So…you didn’t answer my question before. Why do they target humans? The Compound I mean.” Charlie stared meaningfully at Rikki.

“I dunno,” Rikki admitted. “They just do I guess. It started way before I was born so you’d have to find a historian or someone pretty old to tell you that.”

“Right.”

And then they sat in silence.

Charlie hated silences. He'd had enough of them being alone in that post-apocalyptic world on his own.

The fall of footsteps caught his attention.

“You two. Up.” Cade pointed at them.

“What's wrong?” Rikki asked quickly.

“Nothing,” Cade said, genuinely smiling at them, “it’s dinner time!”

 

§§§

 

Dinner turned out to be more of an event where everyone tried to get as much food as they wanted or could fit on their plates without being hit or kicked in the head. Charlie swore he saw at least two concussions occur in the scramble. He watched in amazement at the scurry of feet and hands in the mess of human and cyborg limbs. Even Rikki could be seen tackling someone for some chicken. Eventually he dived in as well, grabbed a couple of charred carrots and a small chunk of beef and pulled out just in time before his eye got poked out with a fork that came flying through the air.

Feeling pretty successful about his dinner, Charlie began to nibble on the food. After having gone so long without solid, fresh nourishment this was almost heaven for Charlie.

Rikki came over with a whole chicken held comfortably in his mouth.

“Ift's diff'rent to when I was here,” Rikki garbled through the poultry nestled between his teeth. With a quick bite the chicken disappeared down his throat.

“Um…yeah. You really like chicken don’t you,” Charlie observed.

Rikki guzzled the remaining chicken wing on his plate. “I love chicken!”

Charlie laughed. He felt like Rikki was the first honest friend he’d made so far. Hopefully, he wouldn’t mind helping Charlie on his quest.

“So, what did you two do to deserve banishment?” Cade joined them and leant back so he was resting against a tent pole.

“Rikki helped me escape.” Charlie kicked at the dirt, laughing dying down. “From The Compound that is.”

“Is that so? Your friend must have come from around these parts to know about The Haven. Even the Cyborgs don’t know about us. So, considering you’ve travelled such a long way, you'll need a good sleep then. I think we have spare tents in the somewhere. Come on. I'll show you.” Cade stood and guided them through the maze of canvas and smoke. Finally Cade stopped and presented Charlie and Rikki with a set of makeshift tents sitting by themselves. “You’re lucky we have spares. They should already have bedding and spare clothes already in there. If not then you can come out and tell me or anyone else that isn’t too busy eating. Have a good night.”

“Yeah,” Charlie mumbled. “I'll try.”

 

§§§

 

A long agonised scream woke Charlie up instantly. It sent his head spinning from the high pitched screech. And it took him a while to register that it belonged to him. He was screaming because a Cyborg had just wrapped a cord of rope around his neck. He was screaming more precisely, because he was dying. Through the bright, silvery moonlight Charlie could just make out the figure of Ma'am and a few others. Rikki had his legs and arms bound with a similar material that was constricting his air flow.

“Stop screaming! You're just wasting your breath human,” Ma'am sneered. She bent down. “Now tell me, how you gained access to The Compound.”

“I don't know,” Charlie gasped. “I don't know. I really don’t know.”

“You're lying to me,” Ma'am hissed.

“But I don’t!”

An exasperated sigh. “Just tell her, Charlie. You haven’t got anything to hide anyway.”

Charlie's eyes darted towards Cade who was leaning against the tent wall. The moonlight caught his arm and showed that symbol again. The fish symbol. Now that Charlie thought about it he had noticed that same image engraved onto the hilt of Cade’s knife and the barrels of the guns the rest of the Safe Haven owned.

“C?” Charlie asked quietly.

Cade sneered. “For the last time it's Charlie,” C sighed impatiently. “You only call me C so we don’t get confused. If anything you should C since you’re not the original. Get it? Now tell the damn lady because, I’d rather you just get your death over and done with. I don’t have all day. I think I’ve waited long enough trying to figure out how to move between dimensions. Wouldn’t you agree, Charlie?”

“But I don't-” The cord tightened around his neck and Charlie made a strangled gasp.

“I'm sorry,” C apologised randomly. “I truly am, but you really need to learn how to co-operate.”

And then all the breath was taken from Charlie. He slumped forward and hit the ground at Ma'am's feet who grimaced in loathing.

“Filthy humans,” Ma'am spat.

Then the Cyborgs left the Safe Haven with Rikki and C in tow.

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