Unsung Heroes: Devon, 2300 AD Chapter 6
By Average Joe
The morning came much earlier than Devon would have liked. A small shaft of sunlight pierced a miniscule hole in dawn mist and perpetual cloud, to land directly on his face. He rolled to get out of it, only to smack his head on his pot. Devon groaned and groggily sat upright.
He scanned the room for Red with one eye as he rubbed the sleep out of the other. He saw no trace of him as he stretched and stood, yawning. He made a closer inspection as he stumbled about the room to regain the use of his legs. Again, there was no sign of Red.
"Red?" he called. "Hey, Red?" There was no reply. He shook the drowsiness from his head as he stumbled toward the door. Turning the knob he found it was unlocked. He pulled it open and peered into the hall. He felt a slight inflow of air off to his left, toward the end of the corridor. Turning his head, Devon spotted Red sitting in a doorway.
As he trod quietly through the hallway he noticed that the open door Red was sitting in lead to nothing. The entire section of building lay collapsed outside, stretching out into the devastated landscape. The left sides of all the rocks shone a dull red-orange with a ray of dawn's illumination.
Red heard Devon's shuffling quite a bit later than Devon would have expected. When he had approached Red to within an arm's length Red abruptly turned his head. Red's eyes were bloodshot, and he did not appear to be the happy-go-lucky lad he met the day before.
"Hey Red. Did you not sleep well? You look tired," Devon stated.
Red pushed himself up, then sniffed and rubbed his nose as he got to his feet. "N-no, I sleep well. Slept. I slept well. I--I need water." Red's eyes never once met with Devon's.
Red turned to the drinking fountain at the end of the hall and depressed the button. He took a couple of mouthfuls and then washed his face in the flow. He smeared the frigid water over his face and rubbed it into his hair. Turning to Devon, yet still not making eye contact, Red stated, "Better get ready. We leave... early, so we can avoid... them."
"Them who?" Devon queried. "The monsters in the area? Or the rats?"
Red started toward the room they had slept in when Devon placed a hand on his shoulder, turning him around. "Is there something you're not telling me? Did you have a bad dream last night or something? You're acting wierd this morning."
Red seemed to fumble over the answer before replying, "Uh, yeah, bad dream. It's just a bad dream. That's all."
"Well, okay." Devon would not push the matter further. He knew something was wrong, and it most likely was not a bad dream, but there was nothing he could do; Red was completely reticent. "I'm gonna get a drink and then pack my stuff. You go ahead and do whatever it is you need to do to get ready."
Red nodded again, then trudged back down the hall. When he disappeared into the room, Devon took a long draught from the fountain, relishing every last drop. After some thought, Devon figured that Red was most likely mourning over his parents. Seeing another human after all these years must have re-opened old wounds.
"Poor kid." Devon stood up and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I wish I could help him somehow." Devon returned to the room slowly, trying to think of some way he could doctor the wound without seeming patronizing.
Devon opened the door just as Red was about to do so, and Red only looked up at him briefly with a saturnine expression before dashing back to his source of water, two small sacks made out of greyish-brown furs in one hand. Devon shuddered and his stomach turned as he realized that they were the furs of a rat-creature similar to the one that had attacked him the night before. Figuring that if he was resourceful enough to use the skins, Red must have also used the meat for--Devon gulped--food.
He vainly attempted to keep a picture of the despicable, malformed creature and the thought of retching out of his head while he gathered his belongings into a little clump in the center of his blanket. Tying the corners together, he shook his head several times to toss the thought out by force. He swallowed hard, throwing the bundle over his shoulder. The thought would not leave him. He did his best to deal with it as he ambled to the door.
He exited and looked to his left, in the direction where Red had gone, towards the drinking fountain. Red was nowhere to be seen. Had he jumped from the door leading to empty space? Devon took a step in the direction of the door when he heard a voice call out behind him.
"Devon, where you going?"
Devon turned, and spotted Red sitting at the top of the stairwell. "Oh, there you are. For a second there, I thought I'd lost ya. Well kiddo," Devon grimaced, inundated by painful memories of the recent loss of his brother, "lets... get going, shall we?"
Red hopped down the dark stairwell, unlit by illumination natural or artificial. Devon soon followed, though more carefully, through the gloomy foyer of the first floor.
Upon exiting, Red bowed his head and his ears perked up a little. Devon was about to ask him what he was doing when Red hushed him. Red slowly raised an arm and pointed in front of him, slightly off to his right. He then raised his head and opened his eyes.
"I don't hear anything that way. We should go there. Probably safer."
Devon almost interjected when Red simply dashed off through the debris, hopping over rocks and boulders while never missing his footing. The two previously empty fur pouches bulged and flapped at his sides. Devon followed as quickly as possible, but always fell hopelessly behind until Red stopped to listen for signs of life. This pattern continued for a few hours, until Red stopped to take a break.
"Here," Red stated flatly as he handed Devon one of the pouches at his sides. "Drink."
Devon took the pouch and loosened the tight knot around the top. He squeezed a little bit of water out of it into his mouth, noting a slightly musty flavor.
"Why'd we stop?" Devon inquired, handing the pouch back to him after pulling the cord taut again.
"Clearing ahead. It's dangerous. We need to rest before we make this run."
Devon's muscles tightened. He was going to have to face the dangers of Lab Sixteen after all. "Well then, bring it on. As long as I've got you here to help me--"
Red's face flashed a pained expression for a moment, and Devon could not help himself from asking why. "C'mon Red, what's going on?" Devon grabbed him by both shoulders, forcing him to make eye contact. "What's got you like this all of a sudden?" Red's eyes filled with pain as he threw off Devon's grip.
"You're right. We should go now before it's more danger. Dangerous." Red sprinted through gaps in the ruins with nearly inhuman speed and agility. Devon could only run after him.
Devon meandered through broken slab and fallen stone until he found the clearing Red spoke of, but did not see any sign of Red. In fact, Red's footprints even disappeared. Though commonplace for those who travel on the debris instead of through it, the lack of footprints dismayed Devon greatly.
"Red!" Devon yelled. "Hey Red! Where'd ya go?" Devon took a couple of steps into the clearing. Everything around him appeared menacing. A sickly purple and green plant writhed in a distant corner, the tail of a rat twitching in the hole at the top of a bulging sac. Pebbles clattered from the tops of piles of debris at the sound of his voice. Even the craters in the ground seemed menacing, as if they would suddenly leap up and strike him down. His shadow clung to him at the bottoms of his feet, seemingly fearful of the environment as well. Voiceless phantoms fluttered past him, tearing at his bloodstained cloak, clawing at his skin. Devon curled into a fetal position around his pack and screamed.
"Hello, human," a deep, grating voice snarled at him. "Your time has come. I hunger, and you're dinner."
A tentacle wrapped around Devon's neck, paralyzing him. His body went slack at the creature's touch, loosening the grip on his pack as he was lifted into the air. He could feel his life force draining into the creature; he grew weaker and weaker by the moment. It pulled him closer, turning him around to get a better look. In doing so, Devon got a better look at it.
Everything about the mutant was proportioned incorrectly. A bulbous head rested on an abacus bead-shaped body, which was held up by two long, skinny legs. Its crimson skin bulged with muscles and protruding veins, pulsing with every heartbeat as it drew the energy from Devon's body. Long green tentacles were wrapped around the creature's neck, seemingly to keep the overweight head from simply falling off. One of these tentacles was wrapped around Devon's neck, lifting him a few feet into the air. It's head bobbed in a sickening mockery of a nod, and a lipless mouth sneered at him while colorless eyes stared coldly into his own.
Sharp, cold pains began to streak through Devon's extremeties, gradually working their way toward his heart and his head. He heard a thud and realized that he had completely lost control of his arm muscles and dropped the world's future in a heap on the cracked asphalt.
"It's going to kill me..." Devon thought. "P-please...no..." he pleaded weakly to the monstrosity. "I--I... agh..."
"Oh, yes. You die now." The creature's tentacle tightened around his neck, and Devon felt his face grow cold. Each breath was becoming more agonizingly painful to take than the last, and he was unsure how long he would be able to hold out. His mind was becoming increasingly blurred, and he could not think coherently enough to formulate a plan of escape. And what was more, the red freak seemed to enjoy watching the struggle.
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