Prefer to Listen?

            • Reading time:  5 minutes
            • “Writing Prompts Roulette” – Episode 3
            • Artwork owned by Jesse Thimpson:

Reaching the edge of the platform, you slowly pull yourself up until your eyes break the water’s surface.

You’re breathing hard, but stifle it through pursed lips and gnashed teeth. 

You run a hand across your chest, ensuring your pack hasn’t been pulled loose during the swim. 

Operating from memory, you withdraw the sub-compact pistol from your pack’s side pouch.  With a smooth and silent slide, it unfurls from a cube of metal, into a weapon small enough to fit in your palm.

The landing platform opposite is a small circle of scorched grey composite.  A cargo lifter takes up most of the space; it’s a squat and boxy craft with thin landing gears and a rusting access ramp below a pair of fat atmospheric thrusters.

Silhouettes in the lad’s pad’s floor-lighting linger in front of it.  Three guards, their black armour is covered with a layer of water spray, making them glow in the harsh white lighting.  Each holds a rifle by their waists, and their dark ambered visors scan across the waters surrounding them.

You drop back down and out of sight.

You begin counting to yourself.  You’ve sure you’ve made just in time, Elias and the others should have triggered it by now- 

An explosion of shattering glass and splintering composite erupts behind you.  You turn, seeing a hole blown out of the side of one of the tall cell towers.  From it, a shower of glass and synthetic fibres begins crashing into the waters below.

You peer back over the landing pad’s lip.

Two of the guards have their head lifted towards the explosion.  The third, likely their senior, is consulting the display built into his forearm.

The three abruptly exchange glances, evidently involved in the same invisible conversation, then two of them turn and move quickly towards you, their weapons at the shoulders.

You dip below the water again.

Bracing yourself still and silent against the wall, your lungs beginning to ache.  You hear the dull thud, thud, thud of boots as the pass over the walkway meters from your head, and then progress away towards the facility proper.

You wait for their footsteps to completely fade away, then remain in the position until you think you might accidentally suck in a lungful of water.  You slowly pull your head from the water, resisting the urge to gasp for air, and again peer over the platform.

The final guard is standing in front of the cargo lifters’ ramp, his head turned away from you to glare at the growing activity beginning to surrounding the cell tower’s new hole.

You suck in a long breath.  Then pull yourself onto the landing platform.

As soon as your bare feet touch the cold metal, you break into a sprint towards the lone guard.

In a moment, you’ve closed half the distance, your pistol raised and ready.  With such a small amount of stopping power, you’re going to have to get as close as possible to break through the armour.

A few more wet steps, then he spots you.

His head tilts, the edge of the amber visor coming into view, then he whips around, his rifle levelled at you.

You pump your finger against the trigger, sending two bullets towards the guard’s cheek.

In simultaneous retort, the guard’s rifle bucks as a round is sent flying from its muzzle.  Instead of an angry bark and flash, his rifle instead emits a sharp squeal and puff of white gas.

Concussion rounds, you think to yourself, as they slam into you.

One punches into your midriff, and another in your chest.  The blows half lift you off your feet and pitch you sideways.  A chorus of cracks from your ribs follow the strikes, and the air leaves you lungs as you crash clumsily to the wet floor.

You lift your hand towards where the guard was, pistol still gripped tight within your fist.

Another shot lands directly on your hand.  Your hand seems to spin on your wrist before largely disintegrating.  In an instant, all that’s left of your hand are two shattered fingers, attached to your forearm with thin strings of red flesh.

You let it flop to the floor, waiting with clenched teeth for the waves of pain to come coursing through your arm.

A boot comes down on your shoulder, pushing you over onto your back.

The guard stands over you.  The plating around his cheek is shattered, exposing a bloodshot and furious eye.

You try to push him away, but the strength has left your body, and you’re barely able to lift your hands against his boot.

The guard’s head tilts to one side, evidently talking into his helmet, then he frowns and turns his attention back to you.  His eyes scan you up and down.  They soften, but become no warmer, instead regarding you with pity.  “Why do you things keep trying to escape.”  He asks.  The question is for you, but he mutters it more to himself.

Your chest rattle as you draw in a breath, and your ribs click painfully as you speak.  “We deserve freedom!”  You spit, “we’re human beings, not things, it is our right!”

The guard’s exposed eye widens, then twists into a coy smile.

“Is that so?”  He says coolly, “well, I shouldn’t tell you this, but let me let you in on a secret.”

He takes his boot from you and crouches.

As his boot comes off, you get a clear look at the damage the concussion rounds have wrought.

The rapidly expanding pellets have torn holes in your overalls and punched deep welts into your stomach and chest.

You blink, then narrow your eyes at the bleeding welts.  They’re blue.  Thick blue blood?  Blue fluid?  Leaks from your chest and stomach, staining your overalls in an expanding pool of viscous liquid.  Within the patches of torn skin, you can see black cabling and a mesh of glimmering steel that is flexing as you breathe.

You look back up at the guard squatting over you, catching the hint of a smirk in his eyes.

“You’re no sentient being.”  He says, “You think you were born?  No, you were built, and your creators want you back”  

Thank you for reading “Sentient Beings”

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