The Price of Living – a #FlashFriday story

Picture by Jan Bommes via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by Jan Bommes via Flickr Creative Commons

Desi slammed the door shut behind them and slid a bolt across. Whatever was inside this old surgery, whatever it had been before the war, it couldn’t be more dangerous than what was out there in the ruins of Barcelona. Peering through a filthy window, he saw nothing moving in the street, but that didn’t mean they were safe. Some of the robots could fly. He’d heard some could tunnel.

By the time he turned around Carina and Javier had already disappeared from the waiting room, leaving a trail of blood. Desi dashed after them, gun still in hand, and found them in a treatment room. Blood was dribbling from Javier’s wounds down the sides of a couch.

“Look.” Carina turned around, the grey controller for a wall mounted device in her hands. “Proper medical equipment. We can save Javi.”

“Put that down,” Desi demanded.

“He needs this.” Carina peered at the machine, trying to work out how to switch it on.

“Stop it.” Desi grabbed the controller from her hands and flung it into the corner of the room. “It’s a machine. We can’t trust it. It could be on their side.”

With a groan Javier tried to sit up, then slumped back, the charred mess of his chest rising and falling with ragged, irregular gasps of breath.

“He needs this!” Carina snatched up the controller. “He’s going to die!”

“If you switch that machine on we might all die.” Desi pointed angrily at the device. “Have you forgotten what happened to Laia and Miguel? They thought we could use that old computer, and now they’re dead.”

“Mother of God, you’re killing him Desi!” Carina grabbed Javier’s pale hand. “Look at him!”

“You’re killing him,” Desi snarled. “The more time we waste here, the less time we’ve got to find bandages or something else we can use.”

“Bandages won’t do.” Carina starting flipping switches. “He needs more than you or I know how to do.”

The memory of Laia’s burned body filled Desi’s mind. The smell had been the worst of all. She’d smelled so beautiful in life, but the stench of blackened corpse had made him vomit. All because that computer had told the robots where they were.

He had to stop this.

All it took was a squeeze of the trigger. Carina froze as the roar of the gun filled the room, the bullet burying itself in the wall.

“Step away from the machine.” Desi trembled with fear at the thought that he might hit her. He had to be strong.

Her face stiff, eyes burning with anger, Carina turned to face him.

“Hands up,” he said.

She obeyed.

From the couch, Desi gave a groan. His left leg twitched and blood misted his breath.

“You wouldn’t,” Carina said.

“I don’t want to die.” Desi was firmer now, his heart beat slowing to something like normal. “Not at the hands of some mindless, compassionless machine.”

“Compassionless?” Carina nodded toward Javier, his breathing becoming ever more shallow. “Do you have compassion, Desi? Or has it been written over with the programming of fear?”

Desi’s finger tightened on the trigger, anger driving him. How dare she suggest he was no better than a robot? He just wanted to live.

Javier coughed – a terrible, wet sound, the desperate noise of someone else struggling to live.

All the anger left Desi, replaced with a different determination. He lowered the gun.

“How does it work?” he asked.

* * *

This story came out of a game of Watch the World Die that Laura and I played a while back, in which we played out a robotic and environmentally driven catastrophe. If you like world building, story telling games or just thinking about apocalypses then I recommend trying out Watch the World Die. It’s quick, simple and entertaining in a dark way.

And if you’re looking for more science fiction then my collection of short stories Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is free on the Kindle today – please check it out if you enjoy scifi.


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