Humanity experienced a life-altering split. The details of how are long lost. All humanity knows is that some went for the stars while the rest were left to rot on a dying Earth. Those left behind hide and salvage what they can from the old world, staying hidden from the star-beings, commonly known as Harvesters.
Scrappers is August’s flash fiction that brings readers into a continuation of last month’s sci-fi horror universe. Enjoy the story in written word, audio, artwork and soundscape.
We try to stay hidden by staying underground. People like me have to go to the surface, though. When we do, we do our best to keep noise levels down and stay light-footed. You’d be amazed at how well satellites can pick up the alteration of the landscape from the skylines. Even the smallest detail—like a footprint—can be detected by their drones. Stealth is all we have until we find a better way to fend them off. There are probably a dozen names given to them. Everyone has a grudge for something they did or someone that they took. The Godly, Gene Freaks, Anti-Sapiens, or whatever your choice of phrase is, we all know them as the Harvesters. The Harvesters always return to Earth. They come for us. They find us. No matter how well we hide.
“Angie, get with it,” came a croaky voice.
My eyes shot up at the sound. A man was looking over at me, the orange hue from the setting sun casting sharp shadows on his leathery skin. The neon green LED lights from his goggles shined right at me. Ruggy, my partner. We had a mission: gather scraps.
“Sorry,” I said. “I wasn’t really here.” My thoughts had dragged off into big-picture nonsense about the world. Our attempts to survive. Stuff that Ruggy wouldn’t care about hearing.
“Keep your mind on why we’re on the surface. I don’t want to be here, either, but there aren’t any options.” He adjusted his rifle under his arm, holding the gun at a forty-five-degree angle, gaze forward. “Magnify your map and stay on course. The operator said there is an amplitude of metal not far from here.”
I adjusted the interface display within my goggles. With a twitch of my eyelid, the goggles change the glass to project night vision. Another subtle eyelid movement caused the UI to zoom in on the map that displayed at the corner of my view, showing a detailed landscape as we walked on the rubble. Well, a map of what everything used to look like.
“These maps aren’t helpful,” I said. “They’re well over a century outdated.” I looked at the top-down view of the geographical location of the map. It showcased skyscrapers, roads, and complete pathways. With my naked eye, all I could see was a charcoal skyline, rubble-covered ground, and nature attempting to grow new green life in between the concrete cracks.
“It’s the best that we have to work with,” said Ruggy. “Us Scrappers always get the low-tech stuff.”
“Isn’t that the truth?” I said. There wasn’t much of a point in discussing the topic. He was right. Scrappers were a low rank; that was why we stuck together. Plus, I knew what Ruggy was thinking: shut up and do your job. It was tough to do just that. We were in the middle of a long-forgotten civilization trying to find old metal scraps, praying that we wouldn’t be detected by the Harvesters—not exactly motivating.
“This seems like a waste of time for us,” I said. “We’ve never gone this far out into The Lost.”
“Yeah, well,” Ruggy said, “we’ve raided the closer past cities. We don’t have much choice but to go farther in.”
I scanned the ground in front of me, squeezing the rifle tight. There were washed-out yellow-painted smooth stones mixed in with grey rocks. These were once roads, and this was what was left of them. I’d seen complete streets in the archive photos before. Never had I seen such large chunks of remnants in person.
“All of this seems surreal,” I said. “These people used to live in peace before it all went south.”
“They didn’t think so. Spoiled pricks arguing over trivial things,” Ruggy said, taking a turn down an archway. “Down here,” he said.
I followed behind him, looking at the massive archway. It was large enough to house a twelve-man transport shuttle. “What makes you say that?” I asked.
“They weren’t happy and tried to change the world, which got us into this mess,” Ruggy said.
“I suppose.” Ruggy had a point. The past civilizations were the ones that brought humanity into a technological revolution. I just liked to imagine there was a better world at some point in time. “They only wanted to do what was good for us,” I said.
“Are you that naïve? Come on, kid.” Ruggy said. “The writers of the history books always make themselves look as good as they can, even if they are on the losing side. I am sure that the Harvesters paint a pretty glorified image of their past, justifying why they do what they do. Good is relative.”
“If you don’t trust the history books, what do you trust?” I asked.
“Well,” Ruggy said, “I don’t trust much. I do know not to trust one stupid book. That’s been the issue with humanity for centuries. We put our trust in a single book. Now, we’re living the greatest downfall from a repetition of history.”
My pace slowed as we reached a massive semi-complete structure. It was about one-third of a sculpted head. A bearded man with a sharp nose and long hair, although it was difficult to tell from the missing pieces, rested sideways.
Amazing, I thought while looking up to the mountain in the near distance. A pile of rubble surrounded the wrecked sculpture’s base. An educated guess would be the head had tumbled down the mountainside during an explosion. That was my best guess. I really had no idea.
Gods on Repeat
I picked up my pace, realizing Ruggy had continued without me. Once I caught up, I said, “It isn’t all from one book, though. There’s bureaucracy, corruption, and human greed to take into account.”
“True, but they shroud it in justification from their holy books.”
“Yeah, it is tragic. We kept repeating the past.”
“It’s ridiculous. We used to believe in super beings, gods, in the sky that judged our lives. The last ‘holy book’ was science, and it was just as bad as the rest.”
“And the scientific revolution wasn’t much different from religion,” I said, looking at Ruggy’s leathery face.
“Why’s that?” he asked.
“Because the Harvesters turned themselves into gods in the sky, judging us.”
Ruggy chuckled. “How poetic.”
I couldn’t tell if he was being his typical unenthusiastic self, or if he was actually impressed with what I said. It was hard to know with Ruggy; he always had the same attitude towards anything.
The two of us continued down the uneven path, hopping over large clumps of city remains and the few plants that had grown over the past world. Looking at it all made a part of me want just to go back to the cruiser and give up. Gathering scraps was tedious, and The Lost was depressive to look at. It wasn’t like I had much choice, though. Scrapping was all I was good at. I didn’t have any other skills that could help humanity survive. There were no educational systems for me to go to. People that possessed knowledge from the past carefully chose who they shared that info with. We had to operate this way. With no time for everyone to learn everything, we learned one skill fast and stuck to it.
The Harvesters were technologically advanced, mentally superior, and physically herculean. We couldn’t wait around for people to make wishes about what they wanted to do. The higher commands would run us through rigorous tests, analyze what we performed best at, and that would be what we’d do until the day we died. It was that simple.
“Here’s food for thought,” Ruggy said as he reached the top of a steep rock. “Playing off of what you said, about the Harvesters being living gods and such . . . ” He extended his hand for me.
“Yeah?” I asked, taking his hand to pull me up.
“You ever fathom that humanity has just repeated itself?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, panting and looking down at my health-cuff. The screen lit up with a flick of my wrist. It stated we were just over fifty kilometres from our cruiser. I thought that was a lot, but seeing that Ruggy hadn’t even broken a sweat made me feel like a goof. I’d have to get on a tighter exercise routine when we got back to base.
“The Harvesters,” Ruggy said. “They were us at one point. Gods are only projections of what we wish to be. They had the means to become that, and become that they did. Perhaps humanity has gone through similar routes in the past, and religious books are just history books about them.”
“You mean like what the Babblers are doing?” I raised my eyebrow with a smirk. The idea was humorous. “You know Babblers are just desperate to find meaning in all this by speaking about it like some prophecy.”
“Exactly my point. The Babblers are no different than any prophet. I take it you never got familiar any of the archive’s religious texts?”
“No, can’t say that I have,” I said. “I’m a Scrapper. I rarely have time to read.”
“Yeah, but you’re also in your twenties. Ah, don’t worry about it. I was a baboon at that age, too, chasing all the fucks I could get.”
My nostrils flared. Who did Ruggy think he was, summing me up as some young, horny, uneducated kid? He had a way of belittling people. But unfortunately, I had to work with him. Scrappers stuck together once chosen—Scrapper’s code.
“Anyway . . . ,” Ruggy said after my prolonged rage-silence. “Perhaps the past religions like Christianity, Hellenism, Hinduism, you name it, all had holy men who saw things for what they were.” Ruggy brought out his hand. “I’m not saying this is the kind of stuff that I believe in, but just playing off your idea.”
I smirked. “Really? You know a damn lot more than I do about religion. You sure you’re not becoming a Babbler?”
“Zip it. Just throwing the idea out there that maybe this isn’t the first time humanity has surpassed itself and went for the stars, leaving the rest of us down here.”
“It’s a wild theory.” I wasn’t sure what else to say. Ruggy knew a lot more about humanity’s past than I did, and it wasn’t worth challenging him. As he put it so delicately, I was just a young, horny kid. His statement had me wondering, though—was humanity just repeating itself? Did the past civilizations turn humans into gods, like the Harvesters? It was a crazy idea, and no one truly knew the truth. History was distorted. The details of how they went for the cosmos and left us here was a convoluted—and confusing—rabbit hole that wasn’t worth going down. Trust me. I’d tried. Every ‘fact’ about how humanity’s split began contradicted itself.
I followed behind Ruggy as we continued down the mapped-out path projected on the goggle-screens. Of course, the goggles could only estimate where we went. It wasn’t like we had any satellites to work with. Satellites would be a giant flag to attract Harvesters. The chips’ processors were attached to our health-cuffs. They did some weird science-algorithm-tech thing that was beyond my understanding. All I knew was that the map talked to the cuff, and they could estimate my steps with the city’s map’s size.
“Looks like we’re almost there,” Ruggy said.
“So, the operator found some jackpot from their AI algorithms or what? I still don’t get why we had to come out this far,” I said.
“I don’t know, Angie. That isn’t my department, nor yours. They tell us where to go, and we get the scraps. That’s all.”
“Right,” I said, while tightening my grip on my rifle. We had never gone this far out into The Lost before. The fact that we’d left our cruiser so far behind made me uncomfortable. If a Harvester were to show up, we would be on our own. We couldn’t outrun them—that would be pointless. We had no transportation—we were sitting ducks on foot.
Ruggy brought his rifle up as we turned the corner. The smell of burning metal picked up. This was abnormal. Burning smells meant someone had been here recently. Nothing should be burning in The Lost. Those fires and explosions happened long before our time. I used my eyelids to navigate through the goggles’ interface. The screen projected a keyboard and message thread between Ruggy and I. My eyelids twitched in swift movements, stringing together alphabetic characters into words.
DO YOU SMELL THAT? I typed out in the chat.
YEAH, KEEP YOUR GUARD UP, Ruggy typed back as he descended a rocky, narrow path.
I felt the sweat build up in my pits and on my palms. Whatever this was, it wasn’t part of our standard protocol. The operators typically had us find piles of rubble to dig through and snag metal. This was something different. We continued down the path, creeping slowly to avoid loose rocks. The last thing we needed was to make noise. Ruggy reached the end of the steep decline to where the path opened up. Smoke rose from the open, charcoaled ground. Even with the goggles’ enhanced vision, neither Ruggy nor I could make out what was in front of us.
I raised my rifle as I reached Ruggy’s side, stopping right in front of the opening.
My eyelids moved, typing, I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING.
NOR CAN I, Ruggy wrote.
YOU SURE THIS IS THE RIGHT PLACE? I asked.
YEAH, CHECK THE MAP YOURSELF.
The map was pretty accurate when it synched with the health-cuffs. Plus, there was only rubble all around us. There was nothing of interest here other than this mysterious smoke and burning smell.
WHAT DO WE DO? I asked.
WE’RE SCRAPPERS. WE SCRAP WHATEVER IT IS.
Ruggy stepped forward. He didn’t look back, expecting me to follow. I had to. Ruggy was right—We were Scrappers. With that in mind, I took a deep breath and marched alongside Ruggy into the smoke. As we got closer, the smell heightened and gave me a strange stinging sensation. It overpowered my senses, and I couldn’t smell anything else. Shit, I wanted a mask at this point. Scrappers always got the leftover supplies and never the ones we needed. At least we had the goggles. They kept our eyes clear as we moved through the unknown. I stayed slightly behind Ruggy, making sure nothing came from his sides or behind us. We entered the thick of the haze, not able to see beyond a few feet. As we stepped further in, the smoke morphed to an orange-red hue.
BURNING, Ruggy typed.
IT’S A CRASH? I responded.
A roar erupted from the brighter flames farther ahead. We raised our rifles as a humanoid silhouette rose from the flaming ground, deformed from the light. Large limbs reached up for the sky, too large to be human. The roar morphed into a howling groan—a sound of agony.
HARVESTER, Ruggy typed.
YOU SURE? I replied.
POSITIVE. WHAT ELSE CRASH-LANDS ON EARTH?
HARVESTERS NEVER CRASH-LAND.
MAYBE. BUT THERE’S NOTHING ELSE IN SPACE.
WHAT ABOUT THAT THEORY YOU JUST CAME UP WITH? PAST CIVILIZATIONS GOING FOR THE STARS?
SHUT IT, KID. DO AS I SAY.
SHOOT FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER.
I exhaled. A part of me was annoyed. There were so many questions that we hadn’t answered. We were making choices that were beyond our rank. Whatever we were witnessing was not a Scrapper’s role. Harvester or not, this was something we needed to report. There was also the fact we could end up killed. Scrappers were about stealth and retrieval, not engaging in combat.
WE SHOULD CALL IT IN, I typed.
WE CAN’T, REMEMBER? Ruggy replied. WE’RE ON A LOCAL CHANNEL. HELPS WITH STEALTH.
LET’S GET BACK TO THE CRUISER, THEN. THE OPERATORS WILL WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THIS.
WALK 50K? THIS THING WILL BE GONE BY THEN. WE SHOOT IT, CALL IT IN.
I wasn’t sure what else to say to Ruggy. We wouldn’t be able to make it back to the cruiser, report the finding, and expect to find whatever it was we’d found to be here still. Action was needed. Besides, Ruggy had his mind made up regardless of any protocol. He wanted to find out what this was. I had no other choice. I couldn’t leave him behind—Scrapper’s code.
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