The Waking Edge - 1989
After the Rain - Julian Bills
(page 2/10)

After the Rain

Julian Bills

The spectral audience began keening again. Richmond was tired of it. He cursed himself for having taken the bottle. The sun was coming up or was it going down? His time sense was completely smashed.

He kicked a can at his feet. There was little else to do. It felt like gel against his toes. He would have been well away had the tablets been barbiturates but no such luck, nova-mescaline its previous owner obviously had a disposition for tripping out before the first detonation.

He surveyed the horizon again. The old twisted tree survived, brown and grey mottle leaves, nuclear driftwood. The white shapes of his audience clung to the concrete girder, shouting at them did nothing to exorcise, they danced and rippled.

Richmond sat down on a piece of frozen concrete. He felt in his jacket, produced a lighter and empty cigarette packet. Idly, he touched the lighter to the crisp white plastic, it went up in a pall of black smoke. Flame forming a demonic face before guttering out.

He scratched his neck where it was sore, rediscovering the carbon jack there. He wondered why he had not been blinded from the initial flash, infra-red going straight to the cortex. The networks world be dead now. Not a single bank transaction, they had been that way since the first air burst.

He slept soundly.

Servos whined. The sky brightened towards dawn. Moon low and orange-sick. Richmond pulled himself up, his back shot with sweat. The ghost of the drug gone. He peered out over the rubble.

A pair of snake-yellow eyes emerged from a pile of street signs and shop facade debris not twenty paces away. Any other detail he did not catch, he ducked. Something thrashed free. The rhythmic drumming of metal on brick followed. He did not look up until it was nearly upon him.

I uttered some kind of gibberish. Its head inclined downwards.

Then, "Welcome to Hotel Savoy. You're welcome to every service."

It bowed briefly.

Richmond shook with relief. A Japanese import, nothing, hill folk seldom did. He looked attentive though, trying to figure out what it was searching for. The droid jerked about, apparently having grasped the situation.

"Most sorry. I appear to have lost my way."

"That's okay, so have I." He grinned sheepishly, as if to reassure it. The droid could be useful if he could convince it to leave with him.

Silence. The android had frozen.

Was it listening? Not a military droid, not as he had memorized, anyway. He walked over to investigate a collapsed wall, there could be food under it. Straining motors, the droid followed.

He turned. "You coming with me? Perhaps find Hotel'!" He gestured towards the uplands, a pencil blue line in the early sun.

"Yes, perhaps I find Hotel with the help of Sir"

The speech was badly articulated. He had no time for a microlaser though. Stomach was his major problem at the moment.

He spent the better part of the day gathering provisions, the ruins were more fruitful than he thought likely. A panic zone. The android shifted walls well, what he found under them was unrecognisable.

By late afternoon he had a number of cans. In emergency it would do, but he'd rather not risk it without a counter of bio-med pack.

He squatted on the ground packing the tins into a canvas satchel. The droid resting, fuel cells being refreshed. Richmond squinted at the android, sun burned phosphor in his retina. It had frozen again.

The drone appeared out of nowhere. Black mottled green. Trailing weaponry, sense pylons no prefab smile, so it could not be American. He did not know what to say but bowed likewise. The droid turned slowly and picked its way across the remains of the hotel. He noted the V-Tech carapace joined to the lower torso, like a beetle six legs extended outwards, perfect terrain management. Pity the control unit was so poor.

Japanese. He followed.

It turned corners at right angles, following imaginary corridors. Richmond glanced at his hands, no side effects apparent. It stopped, looking for something, recognition failing. He said and remote cameras like a robber fly. A dribble of decals, tamga signs down the side - friendly. Nev Chamberlain scrawled across its front in white gloss. Dust sheets flared beneath it. Richmond wiped his eyes.

He was ready to run forward but he could see something moving toward the drone. A dust plume shifted. It was a survivor or a scavenger, he was running towards the drone, arms flailing.

Over the burst of turbo fans he heard the pop of a dart. The figure fell face down, arms worshipful.

Richmond hit the ground. The droid was hidden already.

The drone gone, he recovered his tins and stretched himself. The android looked at him, blank stare as ever, as if asking something.

"They sold out, kid. You coming with me then?" The droid shambled forward