Finlay Bryden

School: Balwearie High School, Fife


The sleek prow of the sky-borne craft cut through the grey clouds below. At the helm, a gnarled hand rested on the tiller. The sun threw its first rays of the day onto billowing sails and cast radiant golden light all through the morning. Wrinkled eyes took in the scene. It seemed wrong and disrespectful for something so beautiful to exist after all the atrocities.

Ten minutes later, he dipped the prow below the smog, and his sense of tranquillity faded. The rusted cityscape that sprawled below him reminded him of the horrors that had passed. The corroded dystopia was a sea of hot burnt orange, punctuated only by patches of wilting vegetation. Wiping his forehead, he glanced over the side of the vessel and caught something glinting between two pinnacles of red.

The anchor clanged solidly and came to rest on a low roof next to the towers. He shinned down to the roof and jumped the few remaining feet to the ground. He knelt down on the dusty pavement.  A small box, glowing fiercely with blue light was sitting on the pavement. 

The blue cube fitted well into the player. The technology it contained was practically ancient; no-one used anything electrical any more. But this was precisely why he had kept the player. It whirred, and projected a map of the region onto the white wall opposite it. 

"Bullseye!" he muttered under his breath. His voice croaked from lack of use. A blue pinprick, invisible unless sought after, adorned the top left-hand corner of the map. 

He locked on the controls of the ship. It cruised silently through the stifling darkness, every creak stolen by the empty void. He drifted off to an uneasy sleep. No sooner had he done so, it seemed, than the entire ship swerved violently to one side, listing harshly to port. The man flew out of bed and raced to the bridge. He ran to reach the starboard flank and peered over the edge. His beautiful ship had a smouldering hole in the side. His hands balled into fists. He sprinted towards a brass cannon at the prow. From his seat, he dropped the muzzle to the ground. It was heavily wooded and he couldn't see anything. A red blaze of light erupted from the forest on his left. He dropped the cannon's barrel downwards and was wrenching the trigger before the enemy projectile hit. Another explosion shook the ship. His cannonball gouged out a crater below and a large portion of forest floor flew up and splattered on to the underside of the hull. 

He had decided already that the ship was unfit to keep flying. The ship could be mended, but only with tools and time, neither of which he had. He would put down at first light, attempt to conceal the vessel, and carry on along the small track he could make out below him, winding towards the compound.

As the sun rose, he moored the ship in a small clearing set apart from the road. He trudged along the cobbled track and thought about what he would find at the end of the road. 

After three days of sleeping rough and eating rougher, he reached the foot of the hill. The steps up to the compound were more like a ladder, so steep he had to pull himself up a few of the granite slabs. The door at the top was smashed off its hinges, a huge block of cast-iron strewn aside outside the building. That meant that whatever had broken it had superhuman strength, or came from within the building. A lump formed in his throat as he thought of the assault on his ship the previous day. The floor inside was faintly sticky, and dark. Other than the floor and portal of greyish light coming in from the door, it was entirely possible he'd simply stepped off the Earth, and into space.

A light slammed on. It was a basic halogen, but it lit up the room to the shadiest corners, hanging from a domed ceiling. In the middle, barely visible was a fancy desk with an old-fashioned typewriter on it. A few feet away, surrounding the desk were thirteen gargantuan cylinders filled with oily-looking liquid and with a body hanging inert in each. 

Except one. The far right cylinder had a gaping hole just under a quarter of the way up. The water had drained down onto the tessellated floor, staining the mosaic of triangles on the floor. A small plaque, dripping with the substance read: 

"THIRTEEN. Heavy firepower. For use only in emergencies." 

It was at the bottom of the tube. There were matching panes all the way along. He had a bad feeling this was what he was looking for. He remembered what happened last night. Even with biological enhancements, surely nothing could have survived the inferno he dropped on it.

* * *

He’s in a clean, clinical waiting room. A woman emerges from the door and beckons him. They emerge in an operating theatre. A twisted body is lying on a metal trolley. Its arms taper off into three whip-like tendrils, curling around a stubby funnel. Its slit-like eyes narrow. The number ‘THIRTEEN' is emblazoned on its chest. 

* * *

His head snapped up. He couldn't succumb to the memory now, but it lingered along with a snapshot of that hellish red haze. He had been young, power-hungry and itching to change the world. But never like this. He turned his attention to the typewriter, still thinking of his past. THIRTEEN had been the most aggressive of them all. Perhaps that explained its escape. 

The typewriter was ornate and old-fashioned, with rudimentary instructions for use on the side. ‘1 - Type serial code. 2 – Type disaster. His fingers moved swiftly across the keys. 1380. Return. 

Radioactive Armageddon. Return. 

Radioactive Armageddon was the radio’s analysis. When there still was radio.

The typewriter clicked. A tinny recording said:

"Information accepted. Dispensing sentinel SEVEN: Toxic Cleanser” 

The oily liquid drained away in capsule seven. Hinges creaked and a wiry being in a hazmat suit stepped forward. It turned its Perspex-clad vision towards him. A sound at the door stopped them. From the tumultuous rain which had begun outside, a familiar shape emerged. THIRTEEN, with multiple body disfigurements stepped in from the doorway. It levelled its arm-weapon at him and SEVEN. SEVEN produced a high-velocity water cannon. It levelled and fired. An arc of water flew towards THIRTEEN, knocking him back. 

At the side of the room, he slumped against the wall. It was his fault that the global population had been decimated to a few thousand; his fault the world was destroyed. With the sentinels his government had created, he thought he was invincible. He had attempted to seize worldwide control. His arrogant self had pushed too far and an experimental radioactive bomb been detonated. The worldwide governments had, with supernatural speed (and the help of thirteen sentinels), created this bunker as a last, desperate resort to provide some hope. He had immediately seen the error of his selfish ways and had tried to make amends. He hoped he had succeeded. 

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