Aphelion Issue 222, Volume 21
October 2017
 
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Legs

by Neil Floyd





Grizz Pacher knew he shouldn't have been outside. The sun was sinking fast below the thick night haze. The imps' daytime croon was shifting to their nocturnal calls. Predatory calls. Grizz knew he shouldn't have been outside. He just didn't have a damn choice.

He'd lost his legs in the ambush at the bridge. They'd exploded in a marvelous fashion, the engine's copper components washing the landscape in virulent green. It was supposed to be a simple escort job. Nothing was simple outside, Grizz remembered somebody telling him. It was years ago. He couldn't place the truism with the many faces at the Old Jersey outpost.

Now Grizz was running, clutching his side as he bounded through the dense overgrowth. He nearly tripped over the stub of what used to be a streetlight. He stopped to catch his breath. Another streetlight arched over him like the long necks of the shore-killers that lived in the river near the outpost. The glass where the bulb would've been housed was shattered. Frayed wiring hung down in limp strands. Can you imagine? Grizz asked himself. Light on every corner. All night. Can you imagine?

Something stirred in the brush behind him. Years of muscle memory drew the sidearm from his suit's drop leg holster. The pistol's cool blue slide readout lit up. Full magazine. He fired three shots into the foliage. His target yelped. He heard the wet sound of a dense body hitting the ground. Grizz knew he was lucky it wasn't something bigger. Damn, he felt helpless without his legs.

Grizz started running again. He didn't bother holstering his pistol. The flashlight on the crown of his helmet turned on automatically thanks to the low-light sensor he installed the previous week. He spotted a bank of rusted seesaws and leapt over. To his right, one of the swings on the dilapidated swing set rattled. The next one on the line danced on its metal chains. Then the next. Something was tracking him step for step. A series of clicks came from the direction of the swings. Two long, two short.

He saw a once-colorful jungle gym, blackened from the floods and radiation and summer snows in his crown lights. More clicks. On his left this time. He dove into the jungle gym's metal skeleton. A shadow slammed against it. A gnarled snout snapped at him but couldn't reach. Razor-sharp teeth were inches from his face. The imp's frothy saliva burned on Grizz's skin. He watched the imp struggle for another second and then emptied two rounds into its elliptical head.

A navigation alert chimed in his helmet speakers. He glanced at his wrist display. Before he could open the map loaded into his suit's hard drive, more clicks echoed in the darkness. Grizz shook the jungle gym. It saved his life once but it wouldn't hold much longer. Yellow eyes blinked at him just outside the range of his flashlight. He counted them in threes, knowing imps had a pair for the visible spectrum and one for infrared. At least twenty waited in the dark. A sense of relief washed over him. He had already survived longer outside without his legs than anyone else. In some perverse way, he was ready for the teeth and claws.

A deep and terrible cracking noise thundered through Grizz's suit into his chest. The navigation alert chimed again. Grizz took the time to expand the notification. He laughed as he read the contents. Then one of the imps swooped toward the jungle gym. Grizz didn't flinch. A giant mechanical leg, fifteen feet tall and enrobed in copper tubes, crushed the imp with a hydraulic whine. The second leg of the pair stepped into Grizz's flashlight beam. He immediately recognized the robotic legs--double articulated and recurved under the knee joint--as safety. Savior.

Then a blinding white light flooded over the playground. His own flashlight beam was invisible for a moment before the automatic sensor switched it off. Grizz watched the imps scatter into the woods. He pulled himself out of the jungle gym and followed the pair of legs up to a boxy approximation of a steel human torso. A young face caked in blood and grime popped out of the hatch on top of the chassis. "Grizz! You're alive!"

Grizz nodded. He didn't need the boy to tell him that. "I lost my legs in the ambush."

"You can ride in mine."

"Your legs are gremlin-class. Single-seat."

The boy banged on the ceramic armor. "Damn it. You can't stay outside."

"I don't see no other way."

"I'll walk with you back to Old Jersey."

Grizz knew he shouldn't have been outside. He didn't have a choice, but he had a walking tank escort. Legs. And that was a start.


THE END


2017 Neil Floyd

Bio: Mr. Floyd is a writer and musician living in Philadelphia. His fiction has been published by 365 Tomorrows and Sick Lit Magazine. He is currently finishing his debut novel. Neil can be found online at www.neilfloyd.net and on Twitter @neilTfloyd.

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