Beacons were quick, he’d grant them that. They still absolutely sucked as far as comfort went. Rick broke off the straps on his arms, his legs, and his chest. Once that was cleared out, he kicked open the door and stepped outside the relative comfort of his beacon.
He had no idea where he was. Light wasn’t plentiful, but the entire area was bathed in the faint glow of light pollution from scattered lamp posts, fires, and the lights from underneath the new city. Shattered poles, what might have been lamp posts, littered the roads around him. Directly in front of him were several large ruins. They must have been apartment buildings before they were reduced to their foundations. Beyond that was an impenetrable miasma, the Fog that was omnipresent in the old city. Rick had seen it before, but it didn’t dull the edge of fear. There was no way of knowing what was beyond the fog, and what he didn’t know, it was wise to be cautious of.
He took a couple of steps around the wreckage his beacon caused. It hadn’t seemed to cause any real damage, which he was thankful for. He’d heard stories of beacons landing on camps, on people. The aftermath was usually bad for the one doing the landing, and well as anyone underneath the beacon.
The first step was to get his bearings; having come down to the old city before, it was vital to know the layout. Remembering his maps, he tried looking for any landmarks. What was left of the CN tower, also called the Spike, peaked above the Fog in the distance. West, Rick thought. The Spike is to the east, so we must be on the west side.
Keeping to his word, he looked inside his beacon for the standard issue flare, which he found in short order. Two seconds later, a green font of light erupted right next to his beacon, striking out into the sky like a green lance. Smiling, Rick began to venture outward. He needed to know precisely where he was.
Darkness enveloped her. Panic gripped her. Sight, suddenly returning as her eyes tore open and searched for everything and anything.
She was still alive, but felt pain in her left side. She tried to move. The pain wasn’t so bad, she figured. Using her right arm, she tore off the straps that held her down and fell to the floor of the pod.
On her hands and knees, she panted trying to catch her breath. Never a-fucking-gain, she decided. Drop pods are shit. The metal flooring felt uneven, in some places she noticed a crack where the stress of landing had been too much. A slow hiss came from outside; she didn’t know what from. Her own breathing sounded slightly laboured, but no hints of gurgling or other problems. She was fine. Her side hurt.
Get a grip, she thought shaking her head. Get your stuff and get out. Look for the flare. She looked for the storage compartment: her sack was there, intact and without any damage. Grabbing the sack, she rose and opened the door to the outside. What she saw surprised her.
The woman had grown up in the undercity, in an area filled with small fires and perpetual smokey haze. Some of the chemicals used in the destruction of Toronto had a difficult time going away, and were flammable; one such chemical was called Poisonrain. Poisonrain made for near permanent lighting, as the fire would eat up the fumes of the chemicals, burning into a clear smoke without really diminishing the amount of chemical left. Poisonrain was dangerous, and had to be handled incredibly carefully lest it burn, poison, or otherwise harm the handler. Still, with proper care, light wasn’t too rare. Only when one ventured out of the relative safety of the group, and into the ‘unsafe’ areas did she find herself truly in darkness. Just like when she was attacked.
This darkness was far worse. Only the eerie glow of the undercity allowed for any vision, which was almost nothing. As she stepped out of the pod, she took the flashlight from her sack and turned it on.
Now that she could see, she sighed in partial relief. She was surrounded by trees: husks and burnt out trunks, she thought, correcting herself, not trees. Trees were alive. These couldn’t be. Taking cautious steps forward, the woman began to explore her surroundings. She stood at the base of a hill covered in logs, sticks, and upheaved pavement. On her left she noticed the wire frame of a crisped stroller lying on its side. A breeze blew by, and caused a wheel on it to squeak as it swung to and fro. Looking up the hill, a second look showed a small group of metal bicycle frames, the rubber on the tired having fell off long ago.
The wind blew again, causing the sticks above her to rock against one another, a wooden chime of a dead forest. She clenched her jaw, and decided that going up was far better than staying down here. From the top of the hill, she reasoned, she could better see a flare. Not that she needed the hunter to survive, but having him around would still help. Guns had that effect with the right people.
She tread up the hill, every step causing her to flinch slightly as twigs broke and pebbles scraped. Calm down, she reassured herself, you’re far from where you were last time. Whatever attacked you won’t be here. The darkness around her, however, continued to surround her. Her flashlight was good, and illuminated a fair amount. She couldn’t point it everywhere, however.
A crackle, from the right. She came to a dead stop, straining to hear. Another one, behind her. She spun to catch what was moving, but came up short. Nothing. To her right, a creaking sound, long and drawn out. She turned to look, but was slammed to the ground. Her head suddenly ached. She tasted blood. Don’t panic. Solve the problem.
She took the flashlight in one hand, and readied her pistol in the other. Both now were pointed from where the attack had come from. Nothing. She waited a second. Still nothing. I’m waiting, she thought, where’d you go asshole. Another creaking sound came from in front of her. Where the fuck was the sound coming from?
Something grabbed her leg and started dragging her violently along the rubble. The initial shock of being dragged had surprised her. Kicking and swearing, the woman was pulled along the dirt and rubble before the ride stopped. She looked down at her ankle where she was being held, and could barely believe her eyes. A vine, no a root she corrected, had wrapped around her ankle and had dragged her to the base of a husky old tree. Nothing else happened for a moment, and the woman had a moment to contemplate her situation. What the hell was a root doing around her ankle? Maybe she had tripped and fallen? She was probably hallucinating, dizzy from a concussion that the drop pod had given her. She tried to pull her leg free, but could manage it.
A deep, rumbling noise came from below, and the dirt around the base of the tree began to fall away. As it fell away, she started to see shapes in the dirt: bones. Human bones. Suddenly, the world came into clear focus: she was going to die if she didn’t do something.
The root resumed dragging her, this time directly into the new hole in the ground. Responding instinctively, she took her pistol and blasted the root around her ankle, free her leg. The root pulled back with a large crater marking where the slug had hit it. Now was the time to run. She pulled herself up, and ran as fast as she could in the opposite direction. She sprinted past where she was initially attacked, and noticed her rucksack had fallen off. She slowed, grabbed the sack, and went right back to running.
A low groan surrounded her, and the forest seemed to come alive. A thin branch lashed out at her face, stinging her cheek. She ran faster, her breathing coming in short gasps as she leapt over a swinging root attempting to trip her.
“What the fuck!” She shouted, her voice box straining to keep her voice at a reasonable level. “Fuck!” she cried as another plant struck her across the face. She looked up ahead, and noticed a green light projecting upwards. The flare! That bastard actually got the flare up, and it wasn’t too far. She could make it!
Surging with newfound energy, the woman pounded the ruined roads winding through the forest, brushing away branches and dodging the thicker vines. One massive branch came at her face, swinging dangerously; she was quicker, however, and slid underneath the branch, and blasted another one swinging directly at her.
Suddenly a hail of fire came from the side, shredding another attacking limb. “Keep going! Run to the flare!” The hunter let loose another volley from his repeater. Looks like he’s helpful after all, she thought.
“You’re late! Move!” She bolted past him, and took a couple pot shots at tree limbs up ahead, blasting branches off and sending flaming splinters everywhere.
The hunter didn’t say anything and followed directly behind her. The air was filled with the tapping sounds of his repeater, the cracks of her pistol, and the smell of burning wood. The world was a blur of darkness, flashes of fire, and a solitary green light acting as a beacon of hope.
She suddenly burst into a clearing of rubble, and the trees fell away behind her. Less than a second later, the hunter burst out from the encroaching branches, blasting left and right indiscriminately. The woman took several shots to help his escape, setting several limbs on fire. A root tripped the hunter, causing him to fall flat on his face. Several roots quickly began to drag him back into the woods. Bringing her pistol to aim, she blasted two of the roots dragging him back. He took something from his belt, and swiped at the remaining branches, setting them ablaze. He scrambled back to his feet, and got into the clearing. The branches receded, and eventually the forest grew still.
She had gotten out alive.
He grabbed the side of his rib cage. Despite the obvious pain of being smacked in the side by a what amounted as a log, nothing had broken. The armor plating had done a good job of keeping him mostly in one piece. His coat was torn at the bottom, but not so much that it could’t be fixed. All in all, he thought, a winning start; nothing broken and no one dead.
He looked at the woman. Her hair was a complete mess, with dirt and twigs jutting out of it every which way. She was breathing heavily, and pointing her gun at the enclosure they had just escaped.
“It’s okay, they can’t reach this far. We’re safe for now.” He watched her arms drop by her sides as she swallowed and started to breath in and out in big, deep breaths.
“Look,” he started, “but I have no idea what the fuck just happened either. Trees don’t fucking attack or move. Especially dead ones. I think we can tell Royce that something is fucked.” He re-clipped his repeater, and checked the damage to the blade he had used.
It was a top of the line heat-blade, something he had wanted to add to his kit for a while. It was nice to have in close quarters situations. As far as he was concerned, it just earned weight, and then some, while suffering little damage. He sheathed the dagger, and started making his way back to his flare.
He stopped when he heard the woman start talking. “Two things. First, nice save, Rick. Second, we are never using drop pods again.”
He nodded. “Yeah, they’re kinda shit.”
End of Part 6