2039 - Northern England.
Fourteen years into the new world order and there are no possessions, no religion, and no countries to kill or die for. There's even no hunger if you're prepared to eat the reconstituted cellular bio-protein sludge in your food allowance. But the promised egalitarian Utopia of world peace is further away than ever. Life itself, is getting shorter and more brutal.
Bomber stepped out of the cab into the chill dusk breeze. Across the weed-strewn tarmac was a drifting smell of burning and the faint whiff of a sewer. Curiously, lines of roosting birds crenelated the top wall of a lo-rise multi-storey car park in the near distance. Dark irregular shapes of the town beyond hid the runs and alleys that only the locals knew.
Bomber stood with Leffy, Upend, Porrin and a bunch of others who had not bothered to introduce themselves. Leffy acknowledged he was there.
“You up for it if they've been followed by scavs?”
Bomber shrugged like it was a stupid question.
Leffy was sneering in the half-light.
“Never know with you southerners.”
Bomber thought he might be joking, and a word of warning crept into his voice.
“You ain't got to worry about me.”
From the darkness came a pitiful group. Small, dumpy women with a couple of gangling sickly teens. They looked like they were dressed in home-made tunics and backpacks fashioned from layers of industrial sacking. They were held together with belts of knives and improvised weaponry.
Their man, a bull-like and pugnacious celt, was brought out of the truck where he'd been lying ever since he'd been carried back from the battlefield. He insisted on easing himself off the tailgate and tottering on his own two feet toward the group. He clutched his bag of plunder to his chest.
Bomber watched the reunion as Upend glanced between a proximity scanner and the signs of unexpected movement in the heavy shadows. Porrin adjusted his night vision goggles under the torn hood of an improvised helmet. Suddenly, Upend was pointing into the mouth of a black alley, half blocked with collapsed masonry.
“Something moving that shouldn't be there!”
Long rifles slid from shoulders and converged on the alley. Leffy spoke sideways to Bomber.
“Wanna go with Porrin? He'll spot for you.”
Bomber showed no concern, shrugged once and followed the thin, stooped figure of Porrin forward to the alley. Porrin stopped, inclining his head slightly to interpret the picture from the night vision. Little bright green beads of light were rats' eyes, in lines along the bottom of the wall. Dark blocks of shape were fringed with the faintest light. As they approached, Porrin tucked the rifle into his shoulder and crept forward. Bomber's feet crunched on broken glass and the side of his leg moved the skeleton of a tipped-up shopping trolley that scraped and toppled its garbage.
Porrin froze as the noise brought movement into the night vision. A head and shoulders started to peer round the flapping lid of a large wheeled dumpster that lay sideways in the alley. It was small and dodged timidly in and out. Porrin hooked the end of the rifle under the dumpster lid and flicked it upwards, watching the bright outline of his target coalesce with two others in the back of the dumpster.
There were whimperings and cries, like a whipped dog begging to be left alone.
Bomber was ready to light up the dumpster, but Porrin seemed to relax and straighten up, letting the flap of lid drop back into place.
“Relax, matey. It's just a nest of kids.”
He seemed to raise his rifle again as though considering. Bomber had lowered his own.
“What are you doing?”
Porrin had a cold sneer in his voice. “You smell that? They're eating their own shit. They'd be better off dead than waiting to be found by the skin traders.”
“Who are the skin traders?”
Porrin wondered where Bomber had been hiding.
“They sell the parts. Don't you know anything?”
Bomber was shuffling, as though turning to go. Porrin huffed with mild amusement.
“What's the matter? You as gutless as they say? Go on. Blast 'em, if you want.”
Bomber could only see black shapes of surrounding architecture and the dark empty mouth of the dumpster. He knew that the moment he opened up, the muzzle flash would momentarily illuminate the interior and he would see the pitiful targets in their wretched state.
He turned away. Like Bug said. Enough killing.
Random Skies: Rishek is the ninth episode in a series of speculative fiction set in a parallel world where the surely unthinkable has already started to happen.