This was written for the 9 Weeks Art Challenge being held on the 9 forum. Each Sunday, contestants are given a prompt, and have until the following Sunday to draw or write something based on that prompt. Week 1's prompt: Draw [or write] a character's first meeting/introduction.
I had never written anything from a prompt before, but it was a lot of fun!
Something was wrong.
Part of him was aware of the familiar sounds – grenades detonating, Gatling guns firing, the rhythmic stomping of mechanical legs – but they seemed a long way off, hovering to the left of his consciousness. A dull throb radiated from the back of his head. He drifted for a while, struggling toward awareness.
He was just starting to consider opening his eyes when, out of nowhere, a deafening bang sounded overhead, inches away. He jerked, arms flying up to shield his face.
Minutes seemed to go by while he lay, frozen, waiting to be crushed or burned or torn to pieces. Muffled shouts and explosions were still sounding nearby, but he slowly realized that the air around him was calm and undisturbed. Bracing himself, he opened his eyes.
It was a small enclosed space. A dome, it seemed like, with the base of it warped enough to let a small amount of daylight in from underneath. More light seeped in from several holes that punctured one of the walls. Above him, he saw the top was dented and cracked. So that had been the banging sound – something heavy had struck it. Whatever this thing was, it had saved him. He supposed he counted himself fortunate.
2's joints creaked as he rose to his feet. His head cleared the highest point of the dome with about an inch to spare, but he had to stoop a bit as he moved up against the spot where the holes were. He looked out through one of them. Smoke, dust and wreckage as far as he could see.
"1! 1, are you out there?" His voice echoed inside the dome. He called out again, banging on the wall with both fists, metal clanking against metal. "1!" Crouching down, he hooked his fingers underneath the rim and lifted with all of his strength. It barely moved. He tried again, digging his heels into the concrete, but it was no use.
The metal wall was cool against his forehead. In the distance he could hear the machines firing volley after volley, punctuated by the slower return fire of the field guns. Canisters cracking against the pavement. Bodies dropping.
What had happened? It was difficult to remember. They had been running, that much he knew...
Smoke. He remembered smoke. Noise. The world turning upside-down.
He had somehow, by some chance, come out of it unharmed. But had 1 been as fortunate? Could 1 be lying out there, just outside his field of vision...
"Stop being foolish," he said, drawing himself up. "There's work to be done."
And there was. He couldn't topple the thing, and he couldn't lift it. But he found that by leading with his shoulder and throwing all of his meager weight behind it, he could push it. It would be slow and exhausting, but eventually he would have to come upon some sort of tool, or a drop in the terrain – or perhaps even 1. Yes, 1 could be out there looking for him, even now!
"He's right," 2 grunted to himself as he pushed. "You really are daft." During a lull in the gunfire, he even began to think he heard footsteps – not the stomping gait of the machines, or the boots of the men, but small ones, that faint tapping of metal on concrete –
He stopped and listened. It was hard to tell with the dome scraping against the ground – there! There it was again. "1?" he called. "Is that you?" In an instant he was over by the holes again, peering out of each in turn, banging, banging on the wall. "1, are you out there? Answer me. 1!"
Another sound, a shadow moving against the sliver of light near the ground – and daylight flooded the dome.
It was far from bright outside, but after such dimness it was nearly blinding. A pair of legs was just visible through the waist-high gap. "Hurry," a voice called. 2 wasted no time. He dove beneath the rim, hearing it clatter back to the pavement behind him. "Are you all right?"
He turned. And there was a moment in which he was far, far better than all right. A moment in which the sounds of the mortar shells, the screams of the men, and his fear for the life of his dear friend all but faded to nothing. "I don't believe it," he whispered.
Before he could muster a more coherent thought, another explosion rent the air, a wave of scorching pressure knocking him to the ground. His rescuer, still on her feet, quickly helped him back up.
"This way," she said.
They ran. His legs ached, his sides burned, and his head still felt as though it had been hit with a brick. He felt like a sloth chasing a gazelle. Yet as she sprinted out ahead, the world again focused to a single point as he caught sight of the numeral on her back.
Beyond his wildest hopes. How he wished 1 were here.
"Come on," she called, glancing over her shoulder, the gap between them narrowing a bit as she slowed her pace. He redoubled his efforts, and soon they reached the wreck of an auto that had plowed into a lamppost. She stopped and waited, gesturing for him to get underneath, before ducking in after him.
It took a while for him to catch his breath. 7, on the other hand, did not appear to be winded at all. She said nothing, simply glancing back and forth between him and the hellish destruction outside their shelter, while he clutched at his chest as though hoping to hold it together.
Finally, when he no longer felt as though he was being split down the middle, he turned to her. Her face was guarded, intent. "Thank you," he said.
"Forgive my foolishness," he went on. "But you're a sight for very sore eyes." The corner of her mouth turned up – not quite a smile, but a start. "Where did you come from? How long have you been awake?"
"I'm not sure. I've just been – I don't remember."
"Try. Think about the sunrises. How many have you seen?"
A crease appeared between her brows. She cut her eyes to the side, extending her fingers out one by one. "Four," she said at last. "I think."
"Four days, give or take... and have you seen any more of us? Was there anyone with you when you woke?"
She shook her head.
"That seems to be the way of things. For myself, at least, and for 1."
At the mention of the name, she leaned forward. "Is that another of us?" she asked. "1?"
Despite himself, 2 smiled. "Yes," he said. "My friend and companion. We got separated earlier."
Outside, a small contingent of soldiers ran past, pursued by one of the machines. The ground shook beneath them. "I didn't see – I didn't see anyone else out there."
"He would have found cover," said 2. "I think I was out for a while, and he might not have seen what happened to me."
These words seemed to have a profound effect on her. "So... he must be looking for you."
"... Yes." Or at least, he was unwilling to consider the alternative.
"Then we need to find him. I came from back that way," she said, pointing, "so we should start over this way, as soon as it's clear..." She trailed off, blinking, as he took her hand.
"Forgive me," he said again. "It's just so good to see – " Youth. Courage. Hope. " – another face."
"Do you think... do you think there are more out there? Like us?"
"I'm certain of it." As soon as he said it, he realized it was true. "Why, if you're anything to go by, there are at least four more waiting to be found."
This time she did smile. He clasped her hand, a wonderful lightness filling him. Of all the ways for two people to find each other, none could have been less likely than this. Yet here they were. What else was possible? What other missing pieces were on the edge of sight, waiting to come together? Perhaps something good could still be made of this world – perhaps something was finally beginning, instead of ending.
"The way looks clear," she was saying. "We should go." She scooted out from under the vehicle and held her hands out to him.
"Now, don't concern yourself with me," he said, creaking to his feet. "These old bones have a bit of trouble keeping up, but they always get there in the end."
"I believe you," she said. "But I'm not taking any chances."