Heart of the Myrmidon by Neal Litherland
part of the End of Days anthology
erotic post-apocalyptic romance novella
Release Date: 03/14/2013
When mankind fought the Hyperion War, it created weapons the like of which has never been seen before or since. Now, living below the surface and trying to rebuild, many of those weapons still roam free. Pollux, a titan made to fight a war that ended nearly a decade ago, wanders the streets and caverns looking for some reason, some purpose, to surviving Armageddon. For the veteran of the last battle though, that reason is found in the most unexpected place.
The over-city had once teemed with life. It had been a young metropolis, pregnant with possibility and dreams of a better life. I’d only seen it in pictures; it was like looking at an old relative and realizing that once, a long time ago, she’d been beautiful.
Now her fertility was gone. Her beauty and her charms had been stripped away. She was an old widow, covered in mourning soot and hiding her face in the permanent veil of the blotted Firmament.
Scavengers were drawn to that weakness, and to the disillusionment of the foul, open air. Where people had walked in the sunshine, hooded jackals prowled the pervasive twilight in packs. Ghosts echoed along the hollow heart, and from time to time bright lights lanced through the gloom as transports rumbled over the cracking asphalt and concrete. The over-city would never be clean again, no matter how much it rained. There was nothing that could wipe away the stains of what we’d done to win that last war.
I tugged my hat down and pulled my coat tighter around me. It was the only one I had that fit. It was hot up here, and rising steam congealed into a dirty ground fog as the sky wept like a wounded thing. I splashed through puddles as I turned at the corner of Main and Vine. The sign had been torn down a long time ago, but I still knew where I was. This wasn’t the first night I’d taken to the old streets when the dreams had come and screamed me out of sleep. I wondered idly if it would be the last.
“Hey mister,” a voice called. I turned toward one of the stoops that sat like slack, idiot mouths and saw an old man bundled in half a dozen torn slickers. The top layer had begun to melt, the colors running together into a sad rainbow.
“Could you spare something? Just a gate fee so I can get back below, that’s all I need?”
His voice turned the request into a question as he stuck out one pale, frail hand with the palm up. His other hand was tucked somewhere in the shadows, assuming he still had another hand.
I should have kept walking, but I crossed the empty street and fished a token out of the inner lining of my coat pocket. I didn’t need it, but it saved me the trouble of flashing my unit card to get back inside the anthill. The eyes beneath the hood widened as the old man stared at me. I would have liked to believe he was just surprised someone up here would help him, but I wasn’t so wet that I didn’t know what I looked like. I also didn’t miss the fact that, even though he was on a stoop, we were face to face.
“Take it,” I said, offering the old, copper token. It looked small, sitting there in my wide, white palm.
His gaze darted from my hand to my face then back again. Slowly he reached out with his good hand and took the coin. He shook a little bit but managed not to fumble the token. There was a faded code tattooed on his forearm, and it looked as if he’d tried to dig it out a long time ago without much success. “Now get back down below.”
“S-sir,” he mumbled, standing on shaky legs. He drew himself up straight and clicked his heels together. He drew his other arm out of the bundled plastic rags he wore and raised it in a salute. I returned the gesture. “Thank you.”
“Get below,” I repeated, turning and walking south. I heard the man shamble west toward the Lincoln Gate. I hoped he made it back down and that he didn’t come back up again. This was where people came to fade away. When they would rather die beneath a poison sky than live one more day beneath a rock and steel horizon.
I walked for miles, but I didn’t see anyone else that night. They were there, tucked into wind tunnel alleys and huddled inside abandoned shop fronts with cataract windows. No one else came out to ask for my help. No one came to offer me theirs. Finally, with the rain stinging my collar, I made my way to the Babylon Gate.
It had been the first of the gates built, and it was meant to be a statement about what lay inside. Heavy steel overlaid with motifs of angels frolicking in the clouds with laurel leaves crowning the achievement that would shield those below from whatever happened above.
Now though, more than ten years later, it looked like an old and forgotten mausoleum with the angels’ smiles faded to forgotten leers and the laurels like ivy crawling over the crypt. A statement, if one was necessary, that nothing done by man would last forever.
I got to within a dozen yards of the Gate when the light came on and pinned me down. The alarm buzzer warbled like a dying buzzard, and I held my hands up in the rain. I tilted my head back, letting them see my face under the brim of my hat. I waited, and eventually the old words came through a talk port gone fuzzy with age and exposure.
“Identify yourself,” the voice said. It was the bored tone of a priest that knew people came for the ritual, not for the faith.
“Pollux, Myrmidon, 698254,” I called, enunciating every number carefully so that they would hear it. For a long time there was no sound but the wind screaming as the polluted rain burned it. Then the Gate parted in the middle, rolling back to either side like an iron curtain. There were no further instructions; the days of the guards at the Babylon Gate expecting the Hyperion to come back were far and away now.
I put my hands in my pockets and trudged into the yawning opening before it changed its mind.