Al turned a circle, weapons dripping blood into the ground around zir. It hardly mattered, everything was already bloodied and soaked.
When ze was sure there were no more coming, ze knelt, finding clean patches on the clothing of the dead to clean zir axe and short sword.
The axe was little more than a bludgeoning weapon at this point, it had been a long time since Al had been able to sharpen it. But it worked, both to hit and to block, while zir sword flickered quickly, finding ways behind guard and armour that really shouldn’t have been possible.
But that was how ze worked. It was what kept zir alive.
Al could remember the day the Ixan arrived. Joy shot through the entire community, and for a moment, it seemed like there could be peace, a higher purpose achieved. The greeting the Ixan gave seemed to promise this.
Greetings, friends. We are the Ixan. Your messages reached us. We extend the hand of friendship to all living creatures on your Earth. We await your response.
But, the rich and powerful, instead of forming diverse delegations and treating with the Ixan, turned inwards, fighting amongst themselves about who and what and why, and how to keep it all secret from everyone else.
The Ixan didn’t care about the rich and powerful, though. Their ships came down and everyone who wanted to was given the chance to speak to them, as they researched.
That was their downfall, Al figured. All the atrocities, added to all the assholes probably messing them up like they messed up every single learning AI model ever invented. It was no wonder the Ixan retreated. Their last message had been 12 years ago, to the day:
Greetings. We recall the hand of friendship, though we are glad to call many here our friends. Any of those who wish to join us, we will take home. They will not regret their new life.
Humanity has misrepresented itself, yet we are glad of this. We can remove the threat before you even pose it.
Hear this. We will leave in 10 of your days, and speak from now until then only with friends.
We will then return in 12 of your years, and remove the threat. Any useful components will be mined and used to further races better than you have shown yourselves to be.
No more communication will take place.
After the Ixan had found them wanting, and left with a promise to return and turn the planet to slag, the whole planet split. Those that could, the ones with the money and power, deserted them all. First holing up in defensible positions and bunkers, and then just…leaving. They fucked off to the moon and built themselves a lovely place, served by mechanical things they’d built. Ze had seen the pictures. And the videos. They sent them to remind everyone down here that they were rabble. Expendable. Nothing.
Al pulled out a first aid kit from zir hip bag and taped homemade gauze to the few wounds that were more than mere scratches. That would hold them until ze was home.
Home. That was a laugh. A cave that fit Al, some supplies, and a fire on the inside. One that scraped every time he had to squeeze in and out of the tiny corridor in the rock that led to it—at least being on the constant edge of starvation had made zir skinny enough to make that less onerous, Al thought bitterly.
Ze shook zir head and holstered zir weapons, taking a different route home. Today’s scavenge was a failure, and would bring gang members down on zir head if ze wasn’t long gone, without a trail to follow, by the time they came to check on their dead friends.
It was rare to see someone like Al. Aboveground. Alone. No gang backup. No underground place to return to. Ze had been alone for the last 12 years.
While most people froze, the death sentence not quite able to reach them, a 14 year old Al was moving. Ze ran from the foster home, took the opportunity available to stock up as much food and other supplies as ze possibly could. So many ze had to bury them in three places, as well as stack them in zir cave.
Once people digested, the wars began. But they didn’t last. The people with the nuclear codes were already figuring out how to leave. The tanks and planes were there, but it wasn’t long before they were all sabotaged, shot down, or just blown up.
Guns ruled for a while. But, as a finite resource, ammo eventually ran out, and there was nobody making more.
So they returned to basics. Bladed melee weapons. Bows and crossbows. Back to seeing the whites of their eyes. If you paused or flinched, you were dead.
Of course, Al tried to avoid trouble. Taking different routes, finding back alleys when in built up areas, using camouflage and anything else ze could think of. Usually it worked well, and ze had gotten good at feeling places out. Who might be there, what might be available: ze had developed an instinct for it.
Today, ze had been sloppy. Making zir way across open ground, zir guard had dropped, lost in thoughts of how the final moments of the planet would feel. What ze would see and feel, if anything.
The 6 had been on zir before ze could run, so ze had stood zir ground, weapons free.
“You do not belong here, this is our turf.”
Al nodded, “I didn’t realise. I can leave right away if you show me the fastest route.”
The leader grunted a laugh, “Fuck off. You join us, or you die.”
Al sighed, “I never was a very good team player, sorry.”
While the leader frowned, working out the meaning, Al had taken two steps, grabbing zir weapons as ze dropped to the ground, sliding into the leader’s legs and delivering a crushing axe blow that caved in her skull, as she fell.
Amidst the enemy now, Al whipped the bloodied axe around, blocking a tentative blow to zir left, and used zir feet to launch into the next body that was in front of zir, sword piercing his chest, up through the ribcage and into his heart.
The remaining four came on, angry at such easy losses.
Al stepped back, away from the two bodies, and waited, axe held in front of zir face, sword down, angled across zit midsection, feet spread backwards, thighs taking zir weight as ze crouched, ready to move.
Two of the four came straight at zir, the others two attempting to flank.
Al almost smiled. This was too easy. These were not people used to applying battle tactics.
Al stepped sideways twice and easily brushed aside the defence of the left flanker, driving zir sword up through his jaw and ouit of the top of his skull, then pulling back, another two careful paces putting zir out of reach again.
The three stopped and looked at each other, unsure. Al could feel their thoughts: this is not what was meant to happen.
Al bared zir teeth, face bloody, and all three came at once.
The rest was a blur of weapons. Al felt zirself cut, some of them deeply, but they really stood no chance. Ze hadn’t survived this long without the ability to do things like this, and ze thanked zir krav maga instructor every day for the teachings ze had learned and adapted.
The final three were down. Guts boiled out of one, another lost their lifeblood through a sword stab to the groin. The third, ribs broken, lungs and heart pierced, still struggled to breathe.
Al knelt, saw the pleading in her face, nodded, and produced a dagger, which ze stabbed into her left temple. A quick death.
Ze hated hurting people. Al knew it was ironic. But there was never any joy once the fight was over and the thrill of battle adrenalin washed away again.
So, home ze walked, and scraped into zir cave.
Ze lit the fire, enjoying the warmth as the smoke was drawn away by a natural chimney that Al had widened. The smoke exited some way from zir cave, and the tunnel was far too small for anyone to fit.
Ze looked at zir calendar. Ze had checked and rechecked the dates. Ze had no need to go and find food, other than the need to be outside.
Warm and fed now, Ze banked the fire and fell into zir bed, hoping the end of the world would come while ze slept.
Loud crunching, cracking sounds woke zir and ze got to zir feet, grumbling about not even being allowed to sleep as the planet was destroyed.
Ze shuffled out of zir cave and looked around. There was no sign of any destruction.
Ze frowned at the ship that had appeared a few days prior, and wished ze could talk to them. But it seemed the Ixan had thought of that. A message scrolled across some sort of screen, high in the sky:
The threat is being eliminated. Your tides are being held in place until we are done. The moon will then be replaced by a satellite that will mimic its orbits and effects.
The Ixan have continued to watch, and will soon step onto the Earth to greet those that remain, and are worthy. Those who are not yet worthy, will be given the chance to prove themselves.
Al wondered if ze was worthy or unworthy. Were the killings to be marks against zir? Or would the self-defense, attempts to avoid it, and fast finishes when ze must fight, count in zir favour?
Ze found ze had little energy to wonder too hard. One way or another, at some point ze would find out. Until then, ze would continue to live. At least the Ixan presence might make the gangs go into hiding, until they were pulled out to face justice.
Al squeezed back into zir cave and set the fire burning again, hanging a pot over a spit and spooning in coffee. Ze had rationed this, not wanting to run out, but today was most definitely a coffee day.
Ze listened to the fire, waiting for the water to bubble its readiness, and listened for the approach of…whatever Ixans had for feet.
Buy me a coffee!