This is a steampunk story of eight people on a simple mission, which goes down the can.
The Old City
For centuries, the lands of this planet have been a barren wasteland. What is left of civilization is kept inside of large structured cities known as safe havens above the black clouds that blanket the world. Cities of old have become a breeding ground for freaks, humans altered by the poisons of the land, deformed, disfigured, and brutal. They do not eat, sleep, or tire. They attack normal people, because they are that, normal. However, after so long, many wish to learn from these old civilizations, and so a team of scouts is sent to these cities in small, short waves to scan these old cities for all freak ‘hot spots’ or their dens. There is a team of eight scouts, five men, three women, each have a gas mask and are covered head to toe in light metal armor that has a copper tone to it; each carries a weapon fitted specifically to each of them. They are in a vehicle of strange design as they travel across the dead lands of this world. A monitor at the front of the vehicle turns on, showing a visual of a once great city.
“That’s the destination? Interesting, most of the buildings seem to still be intact.” Said Greg, one of the larger men in the group near the front of the vehicle. One of the women put on a back pack with a large red plus on it. “How long do we have there? The air here is just as foul as it is everywhere on the surface.” Chatter arose out of all of them, breaking the silence that had plagued most of the ride. A garbled voice arose on the speakers, “Our E.T.A is fifteen minutes. All of you have six hours, so canvas what you can and head back, try to have an hour before you start heading back. That leaves five to mark what you can. This vehicle is remotely operated, once we hit our time it will leave, with or without you.”
All of the people stood up and started strapping their equipment onto their armors. “Th’ city’s large, so it makes sense for ‘em to send so many at once. Too bad Katherine was sick, man we gonna have uneven teams.” The man looked around the vehicle. None of the others seemed to pay any attention to his words. The man who had spoken shrugged and equipped a rifle onto his back and a handgun onto his side. The vehicle slowed and stopped as they entered into the slopes next to the city. The cracked roads and crumbling buildings gave the darkened place an ominous feeling.
All eight strapped a device onto their waists. One of the men, Leon, spoke with a Germanic accent. “These scanners will mark everyone’s positions. We are here only to map out this place, and mark any hotspots. However, since we do not know how many freaks call this place home; do not be alone at any one time.” The man had equipped a lance on his back and looked to the back as the vehicle doors unhinge and clanked open. The group of eight split into three teams, one going east, one going north, and one going west. The city was dark and smelled putrid, even with their gas masks on. The eyes of the masks glowed as they illuminated their surroundings, as each team set out to map out the ruins of a once great city.
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“We just had to take the route with the most puddles of ‘I don’t want to know’ in it, didn’t we.” John, one of the men in the northern company, complained as he shook off some gunk from the bottom of his shoes. Greg sighed and looked towards the female in their group, “It doesn’t matter where we go. John always found something to gripe about. Whether it is the temperature, the animals, or that sticky stuff he’s standing in now.” John looked down and groaned again as he stepped out of it and wiped it on the wall next to them. The girl rotated a bracer on her arm. “Do you mind if I head up a bit so I don’t have to hear this?”
The man shrugged and a hook launched out of her bracer and the woman climbed onto the roof of the building. She looked as far as she could, using the zoom lens on their masks, and a cloud of purple smoke rose along the path in front of them. “Everybody up! We have haze coming up in front of us.” The two men jumps and quickly started to scale the walls onto the roof where the woman was. No sooner had they reached the top did a thick purple cloud pass beneath them. They heard a clicking noise as their radio, which was on the woman’s waist, fall into the haze. “Well that’s just perfect; we’re stuck up here until the haze goes away.” John kicked an antenna that was on the roof. Greg shook his head and bowed to the woman slightly. “Thanks for the early warning Erin.” He turned to John, “I would rather be stuck up here than dead. Now we either wait here, or we can just stay on the roofs to map this place out.” John shrugged and the three of them started to use the steam jets in their boots to hop along the tops of the buildings.
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Over on the east side of the city, the group of two walked up to a cellar door in where the lock was slightly melted. The smaller of the two spoke up with a slightly high-pitched voice. “Yo Craig, you really wanna go in there? Don’t seem right to barge in all casual-like.” Craig shrugged and snapped the lock off of its hinges with the butt of his knife. “Ya’know what Michael, I really don’t care. The people ‘ere have been dead for longer then we been around, and who knows what they could have in these places.” They walked in and saw a large walk in safe covering almost half of the cellar that they walked into. “Like enough credits to leave us on easy street th’ rest of our lives after this job’s done.” Craig started to laugh some as he broke through the locks and the gears started turning. The vault door creaked open slowly. To their surprise it was completely empty except for a single wrapped item propped in the back corner.
Craig sighed, frustrated by the fact that he had his hopes up for nothing, while Michael walked over and picked the object up. He unfurled the wrapping around it. “It sorta looks like a sweet piece of hardware. Know what? I think I might’ve changed my mind ‘bout bargin’ in.” He walked out and held it up. The gun looked like a large caliber rifle with a glowing tube where the casings would have popped out of after firing. Craig smacked the back of Michael’s head and started to pace about. Michael shrugged the hit off and decided to start to walk up the stairs. “Hey! What about up here Craig?” Michael shouted from the rooms upstairs. Craig shrugged, “Who cares about this place?” He opened up the door and immediately the purple haze gushed in. Michael heard screaming coming from down below and saw the haze at the base of the stairs. He slammed the doors shut and ran to the roof. He sat up at the corner of the roof top, shaking furiously as he watched the purple haze engulf the streets below.
The haze went away and Michael walked back down cautiously. He went into the basement and peered around. “Craig, yo man, you okay?” The safe, which was wide open before, was only nearly closed now. Michael walked over and opened the safe back up and fell backwards from the sight of a pile of cracked and destroyed remains with melted metal around it. He sauntered slowly to the roof, wide eyed and sweating. He saw a small group of freaks a few roofs over, ripping a dead body limb by limb. He took up the rifle and growled as he aimed it at them. He fired and a large burst of light escaped from the barrel. The kickback was so strong that it caused Michael to fall backwards. He stood back up and looked at the rifle, the tube had lost its glow, but it looked as if it was returning slowly. He rubbed his backside and stood up to look at where the creatures had been, only to find a black smolder and a blood smearing the area. Michael looked at the rifle and began to chuckle madly as he strapped it around his back.
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The purple haze had moved around to the west and the three whom had gone over there had already climbed to the rooftops. Leon was pacing back and forth, staring at the haze below. “Well, this couldn’t have come at a worse time. Are the radios still functioning Mitchell?” The taller of the two women in his group opened up a device on her arm. “Radio signals are weak. The haze seems to be affecting them. However, if we can set up a com link on some higher ground we could establish radio transmissions with the other groups.” Leon nodded and noticed that the third person of their group was no longer there. “Where did Sarah go?” They looked and Sarah had already moved forward. Mitchell turned up the volume on her mask. “Sarah, get back here you dunce. Are you coming Leon?” He nodded and they both chased after her, using their steam jets.
After a bit they were able to catch up with her. Leon grabbed her shoulder and turned her around. “Are you crazy Sarah, What were you doing?” Sarah pointed at a large building that had a radio antenna at the top. Mitchell sighed “A word of warning would have been nice. Of course you never say a word as it is.” They moved northwest towards one of the larger buildings they could spot. They climbed to the antenna on its roof and Mitchell and Leon sat down to rest. “Well at least our scanners now know the location of this place, seems like a good rendezvous point for the next group. It would be nice to talk to the others. Well… maybe not John or Craig.” Mitchell stood up, stumbled for a second, and then proceeded to try and send out a signal to the others. “Looks like we don’t have enough for a transmission, but we could hook up one of the scanners to track their locations. Even they are acting bonkers.” Leon waited as Mitchell used her scanner to find the other groups. “Well hey now, one of them is less than a mile away. Looks like its Greg’s team. However, I can’t get a fix on east team.”
Leon and Sarah peered over her shoulders. “That is strange, wonder what happened. Hopefully they didn’t get trapped in the haze.” Sarah nodded and looked off to the side. She tugged on Mitchell’s arm and pointed at Greg, Erin, and John, who had been going their direction. “Ah! Finally, some good news. Let’s meet up with them and see if they have had more luck then us.” The three of them went over to meet up with them on a large building with a faded sign. Sarah dashed over and hugged Erin, nearly knocking her to the ground. Sarah was easily the shortest out of all of them at 5’5”. “Yes sis, I’m happy to see you as well.” She patted her head and John walked up to Leon. “Hey, any idea why we weren’t informed that there was haze here. Hell there might even be a haze factory here fer all we know.” Leon was about to speak when Greg walked up. “John, we were all given the same information. Acting like a brat for something we were easily able to avoid is just stupid. Now sit in the corner, shut up, and let the adults talk please.”
John curled his fists, but did what Greg said and walked over to the corner. “Sorry about that Leon, any who, what’d ya find?” Leon shook his head, “Not much I am afraid. We found two hot spots and a radio tower, which is how we found you guys.” Greg shrugged, “Thanks to the haze we haven’t been able to mark much either. However, I think the haze might be emanating from the center of this city. If we shut it off its producer, we can continue like we hoped.”
Leon nodded his head and Mitchell walked them. “Hey, we have a problem.” She motioned Leon to walk with her. She sat on the ground, as well did Leon, and held up the scanner. “We picked up the eastern team’s scanner.” Leon clapped his hands together. “That sounds like wonderful news, however, you are not the type to say one thing yet show another.” Mitchell nodded, “I was only able to pick up one of the scanner’s, the other one’s signal just gone. I think one of them might have been caught in the haze.”
Leon looked at the scanner and foiled his arms. “Well it’s moving towards the center. Looks like whoever it may be; they decided that they should see where the haze is coming from.” Erin got Sarah off of her and walked up to Leon with Greg. “What is the plan exactly, if we touch the haze we will be melted down to our bones, and we have already used up an hour of our time before we head back.” Sarah walked up to them, grabbing onto Erin’s arm. She tugged it and pointed out into the distance. All of them were confused until the eyes on her masked became smaller, as they do when they zoom. Once they zoomed they saw, what they think they saw, a large nuclear power plant that still seemed to be active. “How in the world is that still running?” Greg unstrapped his sword from his back and pointed in that direction. “That’s probably where the haze in coming from, we shut it down, we kill the haze. Then we can get back to randomly going down streets to mark an old dead city in relative peace.”
The group started hopping from roof to roof heading to the distant factory. John started to lag behind the group, for he thought it was ridiculous that they were going to the source of the haze. Erin looked back and started to yell at him. “John, hurry up already!” She waited at the rooftop of what appeared to have been an old office complex. John caught up to her. “That weird goop I stepped in earlier must be affecting my jets. I can barely get off of the ground.” Erin smacked her face with the palm of her hand and crouched down to look at them. “Now stay like that for a minute honey doll.” Erin stood up and stomped her foot on the ground. “We’re trying to do our mission and all you can think of is acting like a jackass! That is just unbelievable!” The rest of the group stopped after hearing Erin shouts a few buildings over.
All of a sudden the ground where they were standing started to crack from Erin’s stomp. “Move you two!” Yelled Mitchell, but it was too late, the ground had sank into the building below. They got to the hole and called to them, listening for anything from them. The dust started to clear and they called once more. Both Erin and John groaned as they were on top of a pile of rubble. Greg and Sarah jumped down to assist them while Leon and Mitchell searched for a medical kit in Mitchell’s bag. John stood up groaning and holding his side. “See what you did woman. Don’t get all pissy at a joke next time.” Erin rolled over onto her back and held her leg, at that time Leon and Mitchell jumped down with the essentials from the kit. “Something’s wrong with my leg, I think I may have twisted something.” Mitchell scanned her leg, and sure enough her ankle had been sprained.
Greg and Leon helped her up. They looked over at John who was lying on the ground again. “Get up you prick, you stood up well enough on your own.” Erin looked at him as air steamed off from his suit and he started to convulse. He kept at it for a few seconds, and then he laid still. Mitchell started to scan him, but put it down and shut it off. She went next to his head and took his mask off. Leon started to shout. “Mitchell! What do you think you are doing?” Mitchell sighed and turned to them. “It doesn’t matter, one of the filters on his mask broke and he started to breathe the poisoned air.” The others walked over and jumped at the gruesome sight. The skin had dried and his hair pulled from the skin. His eyeballs had sunken into his sockets and they blackened. His mouth was open and it looked as if his entire body was being mummified. All of them stood around him for a second, watching the horror that the poisoned air could inflict onto them. Sarah walked over and tugged at Leon’s arm, pointing at the factory again. “I know Sarah, we should keep moving, mourning for the dead here will make you dead yourself.” Mitchell activated the suits morphine injectors to help Erin move by herself. She bowed to her and then they used their jets to jump out of the hole and to continue towards the factory.
As they made their way they marked a few buildings as hotspots. “How can you tell without looking inside Leon?” Leon looked away from his scanner and pointed at the base of the building. “If you look at the windows you can see the blankets of dried blood that the freaks use to mark their homes.” Erin looked over the side, seeing the window, and shuddered. Leon looked at her. “We will get there in about ten minutes, if we can shut it down within thirty we will have thirty left before we need to head back to the vehicle.” She nodded and stood up, wobbled a bit, then leaped ahead of everyone. Greg scratched the back of his head and turned to look at Sarah. “You ever think she tries too hard Sarah?” Sarah looked at Greg and shrugged, and they all started to jump again.
They came up to the large factory which had haze pouring out of every door on the lower levels. Leon looked at it, shaking his head. “Dear lord, this place is larger than the base. How will we find the source?” Greg took a minute to mark it on his scanner. “We could just nuke the place. That would stop the haze for certain. That is if we can clear from the blast radius, of course.” Mitchell pulled Leon to the side. “It looks like the east team’s one scanner is already in there. How should we go about this Leon?” Leon looked at the others, and then looked back at Mitchell. “They still do not know about the status of the east team. We should tell them before we enter, if we don’t and we meet the one who is there, it could cause problems.” Mitchell nodded and walked up to them, taking about two minutes to explain the situation.
Greg sighed and looked at the factory, zooming in with his eyes. “It doesn’t matter really. Teams lose members all the time. Although, there is only one of them now and that may have a psychological effect on a person out here on the surface.” Erin looked around, “Let’s save the chit-chat for later. There is a small bridge we can take from that silo over to the main building.” The group nodded and headed over to the silo, crossing the long, rusted bridge cautiously. They climbed onto the roof and continued going across it until they came up to a skylight. “No point in this anymore.” Greg said as he drew his sword to smash the window open. Erin stopped him before he could swing. “Hold on, let Sarah handle this one.” Sarah, whom had unusually large bracers, held one up to the skylight and a gun jutted out of the side. She clicked some buttons on her bracer and a loud shot shattered the entire skylight. Sarah looked at Erin. “That was very good Sarah.” Sarah jumped and hugged Erin for a bit, Leon was off to the side and face palmed himself. “As every freak now knows we are here.”
One by one they all jumped into the darkened building, their eyes shined green for when they activated their night vision. Leon looked at the small lights “Some of the monitors are still working. They should have lost power decades ago, but here they are.” Leon turned on one of them and scratched his head. Mitchell walked over to him. “Old-age technology, truthfully more advanced than what we have now. I can barely make out any of this gibberish.” The other three walked up and stared at the monitor as well. All of than stared at it for a few seconds, then Sarah hit a random key. Mitchell turned to her and shouted. “Sarah, what do you think you’re doing?!” All of a sudden the screen changed to show a map of the facility. Mitchell was silent for a bit, and groaned when Sarah started to pat her on the head. They scanned the map as thoroughly as they could, then turned the monitor off and headed for the generator room.
Along the way they noticed bits and pieces of humans that had become freaks, and had called this place home. “Mutant trash, they’re brainless, hopeless, and numerous.” Mitchell said as she kicked a hand that was on the floor. Erin rubbed her hand on one of the burn marks that was on the wall. “Hey these burns are fresh, strange, do you think it was the east team?” They shrugged their shoulders and Greg started to walk forward. “They don’t have anything that could completely destroy the freaks like this.” They jumped when they heard the moan of a freak coming around the corner, all of them prepared their weapons, but the narrow hallway left much to be desired. The freak walked towards the corner and heard them, its moan growing slightly louder. Then a loud bang screamed from around the corner, and after a blinding light, the freak had turned to ashes.
Michael walked around the corner, dragging the rifle he found behind him, and kicked the pile of ash. “Damn freaks, all so worthless, all of them, they should turn to ash, turn to ash.” Mitchell walked in front of the group going towards him. “Michael! Oh thank heavens you’re alright.” Michael turned his head and cackled. “More freaks, this place crawls with them.” Mitchell moved back for a second. “Michael? Are you okay?” He raised his rifle and shot a round at Mitchell’s chest, the round bounced off of her armor, sending her flying into the group. Mitchell was gasping for air as the chest cavity of her armor had caved in. “Mitchell! What the hell is wrong with you, Michael?!” Michael tilted his head in confusion. “Didn’t go to ash? Maybe this is getting weaker. I guess I should shoot them more.” The gun started making a high pitched noise as the container in the middle started to glow brightly.
The group ran, Leon carried Mitchell on his back and tried to keep up with the others. They finished turning the corner when they heard a loud bang. Michael had been flung back into the wall by the recoil. The enlarged shot crashed and caused a small explosion into the wall, the resounding shock wave caused Leon to fall over. “Get up! The midget finally went nuts!” Greg helped Leon up and they ran and ran, without checking to see which way they were going. After a bit all of them were panting, they checked their scanners. “We’re nowhere near the generators now. This could end very badly. We have less than an hour before our transportation is made to return back to base.” Greg and Leon helped fix Mitchell’s chest plate as best they could. She gasped loudly and started breathing normally.
“Yes, good news now. Mitchell sounds like she’ll be alright, but hardy in any condition to be running around here.” Greg helped her up and she staggered, leaning against the wall with exasperated breaths. “I’m… I’m fine, just move on while I’m here, I can locate you guys at any time.” She held up her scanner and it had everyone’s dots, including Michael’s. Leon shook his head, but Sarah walked up to her. She stared at her for a moment, and then hugged her. Once she stopped, she nodded her head and started to walk down the hallway. “Sarah wait!” Erin ran after her and so did Greg, Leon looked at them for a second then looked back at Mitchell. “This is stupid of you, you know that right?” Mitchell shrugged. “But you know what’ll happen if I stay with you guys. Sarah understood, I just hoped that all of you would as well.”
Leon sighed and nodded his head, walking towards the rest of the group still trying to catch up to Sarah. Erin caught Sarah by her shoulder and turned her around. “What is wrong with you? You can’t just leave her.” Erin yelled at her for a bit before Leon walked past them. “We need to shut off the generator. Let’s do it while we can.” Both Erin and Greg stood silent for a second before going to catch up with him. After a few turns they entered a large room with pipes everywhere. Leon drew his lance as he noticed freak marks on the walls. “That may not be necessary with Michael running around shooting everything.” Greg groaned and turned towards her. “Don’t remind me. I’m still wondering where he got that rifle. Anyways, we need to find, by the schematics, a light-ish red pipe. It should lead us right to the room itself, and we can skip having to remember: right, left, left, ri-.” Erin threw her hand in front of Greg’s face. “Okay we get it, anyways that’s our pipe over there I think, and dang it’s big.”
They all walked up to the pipe, which seemed big enough so as they could just walk inside and not have to crouch or crawl. Sarah put her head up against it and waved to the others in a small panic. They put their heads against it and heard the groans of dozens of freaks echoing inside of the hollow pipe. They all searched around as the groans grew louder. “Run.” Everyone looked at Leon, because he said it quite quietly. “Run now!” They bolted for the doors as pipe after pipe started to burst with freaks trying to get at them. They ran down the hallway, climbed and descended stairs, turning again and again with the map this time.
Greg looked behind them as everyone started to slow up. “God dang, this place is like one of the airships that we served on. It’s like a condensed maze.” Leon opened up a door and looked inside. “It’s the generator room, or at least some bridges above the generator room.” He walked out onto them and looked down at a large structure that had haze coming out of a few broken pipes. “Well, we found the source, and it looks like we would need that console to be able to shut it off.” Greg started to scratch his head as Leon walked back and started to look at the rusted metal bars holding up the bridges. “How on earth are we going to-?” He was cut off by a loud bang as Sarah had used the cannons on her bracer to shoot the console. After a small explosion and some fizzles the generator whirred down and the haze started to dissipate from the machine.
All three of them were speechless as all of the bridges started to collapse and plummet into the haze below. Sarah tapped their shoulders and waved at them to start running for the roof. “You two head to the roof with Sarah, I will go get Mitchell.” Erin shook her head. “Do you think you could possibly reach her? We have a bit more thirty minutes before we have to be back at the truck.” Leon started to walk off. “It doesn’t matter. She is like family to me, and I will see to it that she remains alive, no matter what.” They nodded their heads slowly and ran, following the map to find the quickest route back to the roof. They got outside and looked relieved as the haze had almost been completely eradicated from the ground level.
“We’ll use the steam jets to speed jump to the transport. Then pray that Leon and Mitchell will get to us in time.” They ran across the bridge from earlier then started to jet from roof to roof, flying past buildings to the transport at the south end of the city. Once they had arrived, Erin looked at her scanner. “Come on Leon, you only have ten minutes.” The three of them got inside of the vehicle and a static voice turned onto the intercom. “Where is everyone else?” Greg looked up at it. “Leon and Mitchell are on their way. Is there any way to extend our time?” It was silent for a moment. “Negative. The vehicle is automatic. Once the time has been reached it will bring you back without delay.” The three of them stared out into the city. Erin looked at her sister. “They’ll survive, right?” Sarah looked at Erin and nodded, but went to sit down at her seat.
The doors closed and the time had been reached. Greg, Erin and Sarah sat down and the vehicle started to take them back to their base. Greg smacked the wall and looked at the monitor that held the view of the city on it. “This mission was a complete bust. Only good thing that happened was that we were able to shut off the Haze generator.” Erin looked at her sister who looked as if she was sleeping. “Maybe that was the actual mission. Seeing how we wouldn’t have been able to do much of anything until it was gone.” Greg nodded and sat back. “Let’s just rest for now. We’ll be back at the safe haven in a few hours.” Erin nodded and went to rest on the padded seats.
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The sky was still black and the ground was still bleak as the noises of the city were faded from time. Two figures, their armor covered in blood, stood at the south end of the city and looked ahead. One carried a large rifle on their back with a glowing glass tube where the ammo would be held. The other carried a large lance on his back. Leon turned to Mitchell. “Well, looks like we have a long walk ahead of us. Do you still wish to carry that big rifle on your back Mitchell?” Mitchell nodded her head and looked at him. “We’ll need it if we want to make it back in one piece Leon. Getting it off of Michael was hard enough, and the dead lands are named that for a reason you know.” He nodded back to her and the two of them headed off into the wilderness, onwards to the place they call home.