Art courtesy zombie2012
For the Flash Fiction challenge Smashing Sub-Genres, the die of destiny chose Post-Apocalyptic and Steampunk.
Gideon’s stomach was telling him it was time to eat. The heat on his skin indicated it was late afternoon. The watch on his wrist had stopped ticking years before.
He wiped his hands on his trousers as he had a hundred times before that day, picked the axe back up and took a few more swings at the tree’s robust trunk. He rubbed his brow on the handkerchief wrapped around his left wrist, noting that past his sweat, it still smelled like her prefume. Scents like that were becoming more and more rare, and he cherished the fact she’d given this gift to him. He didn’t want to linger, however; the idea was to do what he needed to do and get out as quickly and quietly as possible.
Gideon slammed the axe into the tree once more and heard the trunk finally succumb. He hefted his weapon and stepped to one side, watching the tree come down. Past the falling branches, he could see what was left of the steel and concrete towers, vines and foliage of all kinds creeping up their sides, blocking windows, cracking brickwork, obscuring the achievements of man. As soon as the tree was down, he put his philosophical thoughts aside and set about breaking the tree up into logs, kindling from branches, and what seeds and flowers he could gather.
He already had a few piles around him, and he consolidated as expediently as he could. Once he felt everything was in order, he went to his pack and pulled out the flare gun. He loaded one of the blue shells, pointed it towards the sky, and pulled the trigger. The flare soared up above the tops of the abandoned buildings before it detonated, simultaneously releasing a bright burst of light and a distinctive, hypersonic sound. It would be picked up by the Elpis, but it also had a chance to attract the wildlife.
Sure enough, a growl emerged from the bushes nearby. Gideon slipped the cover over the head of his axe, slid it through the loops of his pack, and drew the tranquilizer gun from his hip. He only carried half a dozen darts, and as he loaded one and primed the mechanism to launch it, his eyes scanned the bushes. The source of the growl slowly emerged: a large dog, perhaps two feet at the shoulder, with a broad body and a stout build. In years gone by, it might have seen Gideon as a potential owner, or a playmate.
In this world crafted by the folly of old dead leaders, the dog only saw him as a meal.
Gideon did not make any sudden moves. The dog’s teeth were bared, bits of froth at the sides of its mouth. Gideon had been around long enough and met a few dogs to know that such behavior wasn’t indicative of a rabid dog, just a hungry one. He wasn’t sure if the dog was alone, or part of a pack or family, and didn’t want to put it out prematurely. The Elpis was supposedly on-station ten minutes away, on top of one of the buildings.
“West, you better have been at your post, or I swear…”
At the sound of Gideon’s voice, the dog lowered its posture and growled again. Gideon silently cursed himself for letting the tension get to him. With so many predators growing and thriving in the decades since The Last War, any places outside of Avalon held the potential for death if one so much as breathed too heavily or disturbed the wrong bush. This was no longer a world for humans, and it was only through wits and devices like the tranquilizer gun in Gideon’s hands that men and women survived.
The hound and the man stood staring at one another for a long moment. The rest of the overgrowth and the buildings beyond had fallen completely silent. Even the wind was still. Gideon thought, for a moment, that the dog might back off. Without warning, it left the ground, leaping towards him, jaws opening as it aimed for his throat. Gideon’s arms came up on instinct, pulling the trigger on the tranquilizer gun. The dart struck the dog at the base of its neck, the pneumatic force from the releasing tension of its gears knocking it off course and the anesthetic quickly taking hold. Gideon exhaled and reloaded, feeling sweat beading on his brow.
The dog tried to get to its feet, still glaring at Gideon even as its paws kept slipping out from under it. As it began to pass out, more dogs emerged from the bushes, all growling at Gideon. He primed the tranquilizer again, but knew he wouldn’t have enough time to take down more than one. His gun only held one dart at a time.
A great wind and loud noise slammed down on the clearing, scattering the dogs. Gideon looked up to see the Elpis descending towards him. The airship’s cargo bay doors swung open, and West, lanky and waving, lowered the first of the cables down. Gideon quickly bound up his gains and began tying them to the cables that came to him, riding the last back up into the ship.
“Run into some trouble?” West’s grin was all teeth.
“A couple dogs. Nothing major.”
West began taking a tally, tapping a pencil against his chin. “Not bad, not bad at all. A few furnaces will be very happy with these, and Avalon could use the new trees. Captain Olsen’s going to love this.”
“She could use the break. She had to fight hard to get us out this far.”
“At least you can relax, my friend! Your part in this is over.”
Gideon nodded, but as he walked up from the cargo bay to the gunnery deck, he saw men and women checking and re-checking the machine guns and the main howitzer of the airship, whispers of pirates and scavengers abounding.
He sighed. His hunger would have to wait.