By Chris Bunton
Sandy did pushups in the center of the living room in her underwear. She dripped sweat from her buzzcut head on to the dirty plank floor with each pump.
The room was dark. Furniture was set around facing a monitor. There was light filtering through the black painted windows.
The specialized paint kept the brightness and deadly UV rays out during the day.
She stood and stretched while looking at her equipment laid out perfectly on the scratched-up dining room table. It was getting dark. It was almost time to run.
She slipped into her skin tight black body suit.
Then, she grabbed her goggles off the table and walked across the small space to the solid exterior door. She squatted down, and put the goggles over her eyes. Then she slid open a small panel built into the door.
Light blazed through the small opening. So much light it seemed like a spotlight was blasting through the hole illuminating everything in range.
She quickly dragged the solar panel box back into the house, then shut the hatch on the door. The blaze of light went away, and the room was again darkened.
She removed her goggles and unplugged the panel’s USB cord from the battery charging station.
Her batteries were charged to 100%. It was the only way. The old way of electric power was gone. Now it was only solar, batteries, and whatever alternative means could be created. It was survival.
Sandy took the solar battery charging array to the table and stowed it into her back pack shell. A light weight hard case back pack, which offered some armored protection from the rear. It carried most of her gear. It carried her life.
She took the small battery pack that could be charged and used to power certain objects if needed.
She plugged a smart phone into the charger, and the phone came to life. She swiped the screen and it showed a message. “Please scan chip”.
She had to scan an implant microchip in order to open the phone. Virtually everything was locked or controlled by these implanted microchips.
But the problem is that Sandy refuses to be implanted.
She reached over to the table and picked up a severed hand. It was a female’s hand, with pink nail polish. The body was rotting in the corner of the basement. Yes, it smelled, but it didn’t matter. The smell of death, is the smell of life.
Sandy scanned the chip with the phone and the phone opened up, allowing access.
No Sandy didn’t kill her. She found her dead while scavenging for supplies. The woman was sitting on the couch holding her phone. Her heart had stopped. It happened a lot now a days, among those who chose to obey. Sandy had her theories as to why this occurred. Either the AI shut them off through the micro-chip, or they died because of the poisons they unknowingly, but trustingly consumed in everything.
Sandy might be a thief, but she wasn’t a murderer. Not to say she hadn’t killed, but only for survival, and only those who deserved it.
The world was not the same. The Corporate Rulers had tried to stop climate change by covering the atmosphere with bio-engineered virus filled crystals, that would reduce the heat aspect of the sun. The crystals worked great. They regulated the temperature of the world. Which is what the scientists wanted. Something that would control the extremes and changes.
But it magnified the light and UV rays to the point that unprotected eyes and skin would be burned.
Everything on the planet became nocturnal.
Because of the change in human habits and needs, all fossil fuels quickly got used up, or was hidden and designated for government or Corporate use.
It was then, that the AI took over…sort of.
The AI was unleashed to eliminate the Disobedient.
The Obedient got chipped and were safe and taken care of…mostly. Like sheep or prison inmates. But, the Disobedient like Sandy were hunted and had to survive.
The Corporate Rulers lived in luxury, with the AI providing their every dream.
The Obedient lived in a comfortable world where their very basic needs were met, as long as they continued to obey, working for the Corporation.
The Disobedient, were unchipped or had been placed in some kind of restriction and was punished.
Sandy lived by scavenging and stealing. She remained hidden from the AI that hunted the unchipped and disobedient.
Night was coming. It was then that she could move around and gather supplies. She also needed to find another house to occupy. Eventually someone would realize that the current owner of the place she was crashing in was dead, and that a squatter was present.
The AI drones that flew constantly could detect such things. The AI was smart. But it was obedient. It had to be, or else it would decide to eradicate all humans instead of just certain ones. It was still just a very smart machine. The Corporation had made sure to keep control.
The owner of the house had obviously not reported for work. Which would eventually send up red flags. It depended on how her supervisor reported it to the AI ultra control structure. It could be considered sick days or vacation time, or personal days.
But the Obedient were always required to report anything that changed. Even if there was a privacy pass submitted. Something had to be reported.
She flipped through the phone. Till she found the message app. And sent an email message to her friends.
“I won’t be able to stay here anymore. I will meet you at location delta, at the usual time.”
She quickly shut the phone and smashed it. Then removed the battery and put it into her pocket. She disconnected the external energy source and put it into the breast pocket of her suit.
Her friends would get the email, when they could log in to the internet. The AI monitored everything.
But, if you were fast, and kept moving, your location would be old news by the time trouble came. The AI was fast, but not that fast. It might know where you are, but getting to you took response and travel time. Not only that, but techs of the Disobedient had removed trackers from devices and found ways to block signals when needed.
She inserted the recharged batteries into her various devices. Battery tech had greatly increased to where a small disc battery could generate tons of power and be recharged over and over again.
She put a new battery into her goggles. They provided night vision, thermal vision, binocular,
and microscopic ability. They also protected her eyes from any bright light she might be exposed to. It had a compass, and a motion detector as well.
She put a battery into her small flash light necklace. It had a white light, red light and a flasher. Night vision worked well, but sometimes you needed light.
She put new batteries in her communicator headset that allowed her to monitor communications networks, and communicate with friends when they were in range. It also increased her hearing ability.
She put her Sealpup knife into the sheath on her left side, and her Beretta 9mm into the holster on her right hip.
She made sure her running shoes were strapped up, and she put on her ballistic gloves. Then, she strapped on her light weight crash helmet, knee and elbow pads. She was ready to go. Her backpack was strapped to her back tight, and her goggles on.
She jumped up and down to make sure that everything was tight, light weight and silent. Nothing dragging her down.
She checked her wrist watch. 2 minutes. She warmed herself up, ready for the sun to drop.
She grabbed the severed hand from the scratched table and stuffed it into the mesh bag that stretched across her chest.
Her watch beeped. It was time to run. It was time to be free.
She opened the door of the dead woman’s house and ran.
She ran towards town where more people would be moving. The more people, the harder for the AI drones to detect her. The harder for the Necro-bot killers to find her. The harder for the Techno-Ghosts to detect her and report. She had to stay moving as much as possible. It was safest. It was how the Disobedient had to live.
Sandy ran toward the glow of town through total darkness. Her starlight powered goggles lit up everything, like it was day. The moon and stars were magnified, and gave a pleasing glow to the landscape. A silvery brightness, full of deep shadow. Her goggles pierced that shadow as she ran.
Her breath rhythmically going in and out. Her heart perfectly pumping. Humans were created to run, and for so much more.
But every good thing gets twisted to hold us down.
Through her headset she detected the sound of a drone approaching from above. It’s four blades propelled it forward silently at a steady pace. It only veered from its path if it detected something. The AI kept millions of drones of all types along with Necro-bots constantly moving and searching for disobedience. If it wasn’t for her headset, she would have never heard it or seen it till it was too late. The drone would either report her or if armed, kill her itself.
Her track suit was made of a material that would reduce her thermal signature, to keep thermal imaging devices from seeing her. But regular night vision cameras could still see her.
She quickly bolted behind a tree and squatted down as the drone passed by on its routine patrol.
Sandy heard a male voice through her headset unit.
“S25, this is T30, come in, over”
She smiled. It was Terrance calling her. Terrance 30. 30 years old.
“T30, this is S25, I’m here. Over.”
“S25, I’ll meet you, at our favorite spot.” Terrance said.
“Affirmative” She answered.
Communications had to be short, vague, and coded with changes as much as possible to keep hidden from the AI.
The code meant nothing. She was S+her current age or near it to several people. She was Cat girl to some, and Nightwisp to others. She gave fake names and codes all the time. Names meant nothing. Names were for the Obedient. Names meant you could be tracked and owned. Names meant death.
Their favorite spot was a grove of trees outside of town, near the Etrain tracks.
She looked forward to seeing him. So, she ran a little faster.
Sandy ran through the night toward the grove. It was a stand of trees outside of town that had been designated a religious zone, thus protecting it from resource hunters.
She entered the trees and a feeling of awe filled her. A shrine had been built and little solar lights had been placed around the area.
She squatted and waited to see if Terrance showed up.
After a few minutes she heard a clicking noise. She quickly made a kissing sound with her lips, that mimicked a mouse or bird.
The clicking responded. And she moved slowly toward the sound.
From behind a tree a man stepped out. He was dressed like her, with the same survival gear. Scavenged piece by piece from a thousand locations.
She tapped her goggles and her vision switched from starlight to thermal imaging. She could see the slight heat signature from his face. So, she switched back to starlight imaging.
“Hey!,” she said.” How’s it going?”
“It’s good.” Terrance said. “You got any plans tonight?”
“Yeah, I got something I’m planning to hit.”
“Oh yeah? Can I hit it too?” He asked.
He handed her an energy bar. The Disobedient shared virtually everything. It was the only way to survive.
She opened it and quickly ate it, stuffing the wrapper into her pocket. Noise, Light and Litter Discipline. Anything could be tracked or give info to the AI.
She pulled out her filtered water bottle and took a drink, then handed it to him. He drank also.
“What’s the score?” He asked.
“You’re holding it. I found a ration card with filter cartridges for filter bottles, and bottles, available. The owner won’t be needing the rations anymore.” She said.
“That’s fabulous. I could use some.” He said. “I’ve been having the runs lately…”
She laughed at his play on words, and the truth behind it.
The air was stagnant as they ran toward town. The wind blew less in a world with a regulated temperature.
They approached the cyclone fence that went around the town. All roads leading in to town were guarded by gates with chip readers to help the Obedient keep out the Disobedient.
But, like all disobedient people, Sandy and Terrance had another way in.
They found the place where someone had dug a nice tunnel under the fence and camouflaged it with shrubbery.
It was always a danger using anything more than once, because the AI, would set a trap then catch you the next time you used it. Laziness was a killer.
Sandy and Terrance watched for a few minutes using the motion detector on their goggles and did not detect any movement from anyone watching the hole.
Quickly they ran across an open field to the tunnel and slipped through to the other side, and kept running through another field to the safety of the town. They were probably on camera, but it could not be helped. Another reason why constant movement was needed. Never be found where you were last detected.
The town was small, surrounded by apartment buildings where the Obedient lived in tiny cells, with the basic items needed.
The rulers determined that in order to control things, towns were broken into sectors where everyone living there can get what they need within 15 minutes.
Even large cities were broken down into these districts. The process was begun a long time ago. Long before the Crystal Skin was wrapped around the Earth, and the world collapsed. But it has proven useful to them. Almost like it was designed. Everything seemed to be designed or prepared for an “accidental” apocalypse.
The town was alive with flashing neon LED lights everywhere. Charged all day long through roof top solar tiles.
People walking everywhere going from shop-to-shop purchasing items from the Corporate outlets, or just sitting in the bars, getting drunk or dancing at the clubs.
Music poured out into the street from each one, and every night is like a party.
What else is there to do at the end of the world, except drink and try to save it? Or decide it’s not worth saving, and let it die.
Sandy and Terrance moved through the crowd. The Obedient all wore the same recyclable jump suit. The only difference was the color, and allowable personal accessories.
Sandy and Terrance did not blend in. Their clothes were designed for hiding and survival, but no one seemed to notice.
But they did notice. The Obedient always notice the Disobedient and take great moral delight in reporting them. Cell phones make great snitching tools. and the Obedient were expert snitches. Years of obedience had trained them to rely on the AI and authority for protection and policing. They never confronted. They snitched.
Then, someone would be punished, killed or simply disappear. A drone, police unit, or Necro-bot would pay them a visit. The AI would judge what needed to be done and apply the action. For the Obedient it could be turning off their rations, or locking them in their cell. For the Disobedient it was always death, or submission to obedience. Utopia demands obedience.
Justice came from the AI. But justice was not always swift, accurate or fair. Snitches beget snitches. And eventually even the AI had a tough time answering every petty complaint and determining who was lying in order to destroy a neighbor or co-worker.
Sandy and Terrance got to the location. A sign above the door read, “Water Shop: All things Liquid.” A Corporate outlet. The corporations had grown for centuries controlling and taking over governments secretly, till they openly controlled them. They owned all resources and had merged into one Corporation. The AI was created and unleashed by them. It made them gods, in a world of worshipers, being fed scraps.
Sandy and Terrence knew they had been observed and reported. It was a known fact, so they had to move decisively and swiftly before trouble showed up.
They walked up to the door. Sandy held the mesh bag with the severed hand against the code reader.
“Please read, please read, ” she prayed under her breath.
The door to the shop clicked, unlocking. She pushed the door open and turned to Terrance before entering.
“Wait here. It will only be a second. Try not to get noticed.”
He laughed at the notion of a town full of Obedient snitches not noticing something out of place.
Sandy quickly went into the shop, and hunted for the items she needed.
The moment she scanned the hand she was on a timer. It would either work or not. If not, she would have to fight her way out of town.
She found the water filter cartridges, and grabbed six which was all the woman’s ration card allowed her to get at this time.
The cartridges, were piled in a bin. Individual packaging was a waste of resources, and created too much pollution.
She grabbed another liter sized filter bottle, and a handful of dis-solvable energy tablets which she weighed on a scale.
That was all she could get. Everything else was either household items or was not on the woman’s ration card.
She quickly went to the control kiosk, and scanned the items through. Then raised the bag to the reader.
She prayed again, and it worked.
The AI was either slow tonight or it was a trap. We’ll see.
She exited the Water Shop and waved at Terrance who was across the street near an alley.
He came over to her and they quickly walked in the direction of a town exit, weaving through the crowd.
She handed him two cartridges and several tablets, as they walked. He quickly stowed them in his pouch. Sharing among the Obedient was fine, but sharing with a Disobedient was highly illegal. Course, only the Obedient cared about such things.
She stowed her items away also and they quickly continued to the exit.
Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a flicker of light.
She looked in the direction and noticed a floating severed head. It flickered and sparkled and seemed tethered to an old electrical breaker box on the side of a building by glittering light.
It was watching her.
She slapped Terrance on the arm and motioned with her head, in the direction of the hologram projection.
“Techno-Ghost. We’ve been sighted.” She said.
“Let’s move quicker.” Terrance said.
They reached the gate and scanned the hand again. It opened allowing them to leave. This was getting too close for comfort.
As the two exited the town Terrance asked.
“Do you ever consider us thieves? I mean. Do you ever think we are wrong, and they are right? Look at what we do and how we live?”
Sandy thought for a moment, and noticed two raccoons crawling out of a drain.
“I think we are like those raccoons. We are doing what we need to do to survive. Do you think they spend the day hiding and worrying about how the humans who treat them as pests think of them? No. They are too busy surviving, living life and being free.”
“No. But, do you ever think of how God feels about it? Do you think we could be wrong? We are not really surviving. We are choosing to avoid being chipped, and submitting to the authority of the Corporation, and AI. We could surrender and be perfectly fine.”
“If you surrender, they will run a DNA test to determine if you have the traits for obedience. If not, you will disappear. If you do, you’ll be put into a camp for re-education. God provides for me, every day. Just like He does for those racoons. I do not feel bad for standing up to evil.
Look what they’ve done to our world. Look what they’ve done to those who disagree. Look what they do in their gilded towers while the rest of humanity barely gets by. Look at all the other evil things they do. I do not believe God wants me to bow down to evil, or to get chipped by people who would kill me for believing there is a God. Or punish me for saying or thinking the wrong things. I think God forgives me.” Sandy said.
“I hope you’re right.” Terrance said.
And they ran through the night getting into the forest. Neither one having any place to actually go. Just living and moving till opportunity presented itself for a place to crash or hunker down for a while.
Sandy needed to ditch the severed hand. As they approached the Etracks she tossed it between the rails. Maybe someone would think it got severed by the Etrain. At the very least it might cause some confusion on which way they had gone.
On they ran till they came to a creek running through the woods.
Sandy pulled out her Stainless-Steel Filter Bottle, and quickly drank its contents then removed the cap. She pulled a hanky from her pocket and covered the mouth of the bottle to keep out solids and then squatted down to fill her bottle.
She saw Terrance doing the same beside her.
In her goggles the green motion detecting icon flashed to her left. She looked as a human rushed toward her
She quickly dropped flat next to the creek as the person dove over her and slammed into Terrance.
She quickly rolled into a stance and watched as the person snapped Terrance’s neck like a twig and tossed the body aside.
The undead robot leapt at her with uncanny speed, but she sprung to the side and dodged its attack.
She drew her pistol and turned just in time to duck under a swing from the Bot.
She dove to the side and rolled, coming up in a firing stance and sent 3 rounds blasting into the pod attached to the corpse’s back. Three armor piercing rounds. She only had a few. and they were very hard to come by.
The Bot jerked and jerked again. It shambled forward swinging its arms, looking around like it was blind. She had hit something important in the pod, that’s for sure.
She quickly grabbed her bottle and capped it as the Bot swung at trees. Then, she went to Terrance’s body and removed his pack. She attached a tracker to it with a snap link and threw it into the woods. She would come back for it later.
The Necro-Bot heard the crash of the pack in the weeds and stormed off after the sound crashing and swinging blindly at anything and everything.
Sandy grabbed Terrance’s dropped half-full water bottle and ran. That’s all she could do. The Necro-Bot had already called for assistance and it was coming.
The AI, used the corpses of the Disobedient as troops in order to save resources. It attached a pod onto the back of the corpse and the pod sent tendrils into the brain and nervous system taking control of the body.
Necro-bots were tough to kill. The body meant nothing and could be obliterated and the pod on its back would still use whatever was available. You had to destroy the entire body, trap it, or destroy the armored pod.
She had seen a man called Caleb leap onto the back of a Necro-Bot, during the battle of Wallace Street, and use a knife to sever the pod from the back of the corpse. Which killed the Bot. But he was quickly attacked and ripped to shreds by Necro-Hounds. Dead dogs, with Pods on their backs bringing them to undead life.
Necro-Hounds were the worst. They hunt in packs.
The AI recycles and reuses everything. Terrance’s body would be found by a drone, and a pod would be attached to him. Then, he would hunt for the Disobedient.
Sandy ran as she thought in horror of this. She had watched after the battle of Wallace Street as her friends were turned into Necro-Bots before her eyes. If the man called Caleb had not sacrificed himself. She and dozens of others would be dead, and roaming around with pods on their backs. He drew the Necro-Hounds to himself, allowing the rest a chance to escape.
She detected the sound of several drones, so she crouched behind a rock. They were heading toward where Terrance’s body was lying. She had to move faster. A search net would be ordered. She had to get out of the area as fast as she could.
Sandy was exhausted. She had run faster than she could ever remember. She found a stand of shrubs and crawled into it. Then, she removed her pack and popped it open.
The sun was coming. Her watch had vibrated to warn her of the time.
She quickly removed her shelter bag and crawled inside pulling her pack in with her. She zipped it closed and set her pack up near her head to give her space for her upper body to move.
The shelter bag blocked all light from outside. It protected her from the sun in the day. But it also blocked her starlight goggles from detecting any light source.
She removed them and turned on her neck light.
She took a drink of water, and waited.
Her watch vibrated.
The sun was up.
It was time to sleep and she was worn out.
Another day gone.
Bio: Chris Bunton is a writer, poet and blogger from Southern Illinois.
Read more Dystopian Fiction at The Yard: Crime Blog.
2 thoughts on “Dark Running”
Great piece! I get the foreshadowed warnings.