The crimson sun peeked from beyond its resting place to illuminate, nothing...
Nothing that held any value these days. Jared often wandered the streets of what used to be New York City, but only scavengers and mutated creatures roamed its streets. He stood on top of a rusted slag of metal that used to be the Statue of Liberty, or at least one version rebuilt over the years. Now, it was a melted heap of rusted iron; similar to most structures in the city. Somewhere around the year 2,500, 500 years ago, World War IV rendered most of the world an inhospitable wasteland. Only one in ten people survived in the aftermath.
Before the fallout, wealthy billionaires created floating islands in the ocean that allowed people to survive. The remainder of the population were considered acceptable losses. Not everyone outside the islands died, but many of them wished they had.
Pockets of survivors remained and even lived a comfortable life, but it wasn't until ten years ago that anyone explored beyond the colonies. Ten years ago an inventor created nanotechnology that allowed people to survive nuclear radiation. The nanites converted nuclear waste and radioactive material into fuel for the body. To sustain the body in this manner, the nanites need to be replenished every few years.
Jared couldn't rely on getting regular rations as an explorer. He either scavenged nano injections off corpses or stole them from supply caches. Even though exploration was rare, it wasn't too difficult to find other explorers corpses ravaged by the predators that stalked the earth.
These Predators had mutated from the radiation. New species spawned resembling prehistoric dinosaurs while others looked akin to nightmarish amorphous blobs of fat with wicked sharp claws and teeth. Every single one of these creatures were carnivores; plants didn't exist outside safe zones. No matter where Jared explored, he always showed up on the dinner menu.
Jared's anti-dinner program was a Colt 45-70 Peacemaker strapped to his side. This massive hand-cannon shot a round that stopped everything he'd come across so far. Well, it stopped them if he got a clean shot at a vital organ. Sometimes, that was hard to discern amongst the layers of misshapen flesh on many of the creatures.
While waiting for the sun to march higher into the sky, Jared busied himself by checking over his status screen. One of the by-products of the nanotechnology included a digital status screen where he visualized the nanites in his body. It looked similar to one of the old-school video games he'd seen.
"Leveling up" was not a choice for him, but over time the nanites improved his body. Since he set out to explore, he often found himself in places with no infrastructure left and needed better sight or he needed to survive extreme temperatures. The nanites improved his vision to see in the dark and regulated his body temperature when needed. Jared wished he could choose which improvements to make, but it was limited. Instead, he endured extreme environments before the changes occurred.
He was due for a nano injection and the status screen for his nanites showed he had just under three months remaining. If he didn't find replacement nanites in the next few months his body could die due from exposure to toxins in the air. Dying from the toxins was just one method of being killed in this hell on Earth. With the nanite failure, his improved physical abilities stopped working. If that happened, the edge he needed to survive as an explorer evaporated. An unnamed, mutated beast that walked the streets of old New York City would gorge on his flesh.
It was rare for anyone to venture out of a safe zone. There was nothing to gain outside civilization; at least that’s what everyone believed. Even the rich and influential never left their islands, except to send delivery of nano injections to survivor settlements. Anyone living outside these designated areas were on their own.
The inhabitants of the floating cities didn't even leave as their population increased. Any time they needed more space, they re-purposed the nanotechnology to grow the island, up and out. The only means of getting to these islands was aboard a jump ship.
A jump ship looked similar an old stealth plane with angular wings, a flat body, and looked like a "W" if viewed from the top. It used gravitational thrusters to maneuver in the Earth's atmosphere. Rumors suggested that space operations commenced years ago, but those on the outside of the cities lacked any real information. Many of the nano injection shipments dropped from the air and it was rare to talk to any city dweller. Those that lived outside the city did not understand what happened inside.
The seclusion and isolation of the city folk was part of the reason Jared left to become an explorer. Another reason was both his parents had died and he felt despondent. The mundane everyday life held no appeal anymore. It had been over two years since he'd been on his own and he was no closer to uncovering truth than they day he left home. He determined to keep going until he found answers or died trying.
From where Jared now stood atop the rusted slag of metal, a complete view of the horizon showed the destroyed New York City in its apocalyptic glory. He had a long trek to the city. When the nuke landed, it evaporated any of the water for hundreds of miles in any direction. The floating city that had been closest to New York endured the concussive force and almost resulted in its destruction. They survived and over time rebuilt, so it floated within the boundaries of the new Atlantic Ocean.
He couldn't see far enough to make out the city as it moved over time, but he knew the general direction having walked up to the ocean once. He didn't plan to make that journey again. If the rest of world was a cesspool, the Ocean was the Abyss reserved for only the worst creatures. Massive mutated creatures swam in the depths and proximity alone had been enough to give Jared nightmares. He observed the waters churning as epic battles waged beneath the inky darkness and he had no wish to go anywhere near it again.
He looked at the path he needed to take into the city and decided it was time to get moving. From his vantage he could see into the crater where the ocean used to rest. It was a several mile trek into the city and he needed to make sure he made it back out before nightfall or find a place he could barricade against the dangers of the night. There were somewhat intact skyways that had fallen into the crater he could use for the hike. Other parts still bathed in darkness he intended to avoid. He could see okay in the dark, but there were creatures that only lived in darkness and he had no wish to test his mettle against them.
He took two hours to get to the city based on the sun's position. It had been a smooth trip and no unexpected attacks happened. He got a sense that something followed him for a short time, but it abandoned the hunt after an hour.
Jared explored the city for around six months and covered the first layer of buildings around the city. Today he planned to venture further into the city looking for corpses that still had nano injections on them. Explorers often marked their passage with graffiti or signs to other explorers. They didn't belong to a brotherhood, but every explorer knew the dangers that existed and did their best to help their fellows when possible. Jared had seen several markings in this city from different people. Each person had a distinct method of marking their passage.
There was one corridor that had markings leading much further into the city. Based on the weathered markings, it had been years since anyone explored here. The markings extended well past any safety threshold Jared planned to pass, but he needed to find nano injections and this was an explored path. He saw an end to the markings and assumed the explorer died before they finished their work.
Steeling himself, he walked towards the markers. A sign lying on the ground announced this as "Main Street Manhattan". He followed the markers for a few blocks when he heard rubble shifting and muted growls in the shadows. His hair raised, Jared, pulled out his Peacemaker and double-checked the loaded cylinder. He pulled out extra ammo from his pack in the event he needed to reload.
He walked thirty minutes before the markings disappeared. The explorer's body was nowhere in sight and Jared worried he'd made a mistake venturing this far into the city. Careful not to stray near buildings or darkened archways, he searched for any other markers or evidence of a fight. After a few minutes of shifting rubble, he noted another marker that pointed into the sub-level.
“Down, down, down…” thought Jared.
It led into a sub-level of the city. He turned around and walked back toward his perch outside the city. He could create a new plan to find injections. Before he'd made it ten paces, he paused. There was no other plan. He'd been stalking this city for months and explored every other explorer mark he'd seen. There were no bodies or corpses. Bottom line, he needed to get more nanites. It was at least two-month hike to the nearest survivor settlement with no delays or interruptions. He had yet to experience a smooth trek anywhere long distance. He could make it in time to get his nano injection, but there was a high risk involved, and he wanted that to be a last case scenario.
His nerves were unsteady, and he almost vomited from the strain, but he turned back around and walked over to the stairs leading into the sub-level. He couldn't discern the bottom even with his ability to see in the dark. He pulled out his revolver and crept down the steps. He thought it took twenty minutes to reach the bottom, but since he had no light, he couldn't be sure. It could have taken two minutes, but his anxiety caused time to drag. He jumped at every creak and sifting of pebbles as he made his way forward on the precarious staircase.
He reached the bottom and noted the signs the other explorer left. The darkness was oppressive, and every shadow appeared alive. A sense of dread accompanied him along the passageway as he followed signs of the other explorer.
Just as he relaxed, he heard a shuffle and felt something breeze past his head. Jared jerked back and threw himself to the floor while he aimed his Colt at the ceiling. His eyes widened as he made out the form of a grotesque, mutated reptile clinging to the ceiling in a crouch. Just before it could spring from the ceiling on top of him, he squeezed the trigger, and its head exploded in a shower of black ichor, bits of brain matter, and bone shards. The body detached from the ceiling and would have crushed him. He rolled away, and the body missed him by a hair's breadth. Coated in the things blood and guts, he climbed to his feet as he took stock of the surrounding.
The retort his gun made left his ears ringing and prevented him from hearing any other creatures that heard the racket and became curious. He raced up the tunnel as he continued to follow the markings. He wanted to put distance between himself and the disgusting creature. While he ran, he kept his eyes opened and this time he paid more attention to the ceiling.
Jared no longer cared how long he'd been in the sub-level. He wanted to find the body, recover the injections, and put this place behind him. As fast as he could, he rounded the next corner and almost fell headlong into a large crater. He caught himself on the edge and wind milled his arms to regain balance. His equilibrium returned, Jared stepped back from the ledge. He gazed at the crater before him and thought explosions destroyed the area. However, he saw no holes above where a bomb detonated and most of the pillars were still intact. A closer examination, revealed what looked like a giant... nest.
The blood drained from his face and he shrank against the wall while he tried to peer into the darkness. He tried to see if any creatures lurked about and moved to another vantage point when he saw a boot poking out from a pile of bones. Shoulders slumped, he slid to the ground and buried his face in his hands. This must be the explorer he had come to find.
He'd come too far to abandon the mission now. With shaky legs, he stood and explored his surroundings. Jared skirted the massive nest, no, hole; he didn't want to think about this as a nest or he would succumb to cowardice. He finished inspecting his surroundings and edged his way to the pile of bones, the final resting place for a fellow explorer. The way proved a difficult challenge as he sifted the debris out of his way.
He reached the resting place of the explorer and looked for their belongings. A tattered backpack rested under the rib cage and skull, still hooked around the shoulder blades. Carefully, he removed the pack and placed the ones back into the pile. As he turned to make his way back to the lip of his hole, a strange object caught his attention. Already in over his head, Jared looked closer. He reached out and felt heat emanating from what looked like a rock. “Strange,” he thought.
As his fingers touched the strange object, a sharp prick of electricity caused him to jerk his hand back with a hiss of pain. More curious than before, he reached his hand out again. Only this time, the nanites that provided his status screen flared and went fuzzy. Jared snatched his hand back again and decided that he needed to bring whatever this was with him. He grabbed a cloth from his pack, placing the other explorers gear inside as he did. The strange object went into his pack wrapped in the cloth and he started the climb back up to the platform.
His trip up proved much easier, and he breathed a sigh of relief after he'd made it to the platform. That's when he heard, or felt, a steady vibration that picked up strength and noise.
“What the...what could possibly make the Earth shake?” thought Jared.
He sprinted back the way he came and just made it to the decapitated body of the lizard-thing he'd killed when a roar shook his body to the core. A violent thrashing and growling noise erupted behind him as something started mass destruction down the tunnel.
Jared glanced at his bag and contemplated dropping whatever it was he stole, but instead bolted to the stairs, taking them four at a time as he sprinted up to the pinprick of daylight in the distance. Before he was halfway there, he caught sight of something lunging at him from his periphery. Ducking, another lizard-like creature soared overhead to crash into the wall next to him. Not pausing for it to get its bearings, he continued his mad dash up the stairs. He could hear the creature fast on his heels as he dove through the opening into the sun.
The lizard dove through the opening, right on top of him. He violently reprimanded himself for thinking these creatures were confined to the dark and wrestled to free up his Colt. The thing was gnashing at his face and only Jared's increased strength helped him keep it from becoming a mash of skin and bone. Weapon freed, he angled into the body of the creature and squeezed the trigger once, twice, and three times before the creature stopped moving.
Soaked to the bone in gore and viscous fluids, Jared recovered himself and began his journey back outside the city. The tumultuous creature continued to thrash and roar, shaking the nearby buildings. His good fortune won out, and he saw no other creatures, and whatever made the ruckus in the tunnel hadn't surfaced to track him. He made it back to his perch in record time. Beneath the melted hunk of rusting statue, he found an entry into a small room. It was part of the main statue, but it looked like the entrance became blocked after the statue collapsed. When he'd first come to New York he'd cleared out the entry and made his own barrier he could bar from the within.
Safe within his bunker, he sat back against the wall in exhaustion. He did not know how much time passed, but from the slant of the sun’s rays peeking in through the cracks, it neared dusk. He didn't need the light to see, but trepidations about what the night would bring made him wish for daylight to last longer.
“I almost died in there!” thought Jared. “This backpack better have been worth the risk, because no way will I go back into that city.” With these thoughts, he passed out in exhaustion. When he woke, he could hear distant shrieking and growling, but nothing in his immediate vicinity. His curiosity wanted a peak outside, but his wits prevailed and he stayed inside the rest of the night.
He pulled his pack out and opened the flap. He placed the mysterious object to one side and grabbed the explorers pack. The pack was most important to him at the moment and he hoped to find nano injections. Jared opened the package and exclaimed, “Holy crap! Five injectors? Five! Wow!”
“I won’t need to put myself in danger for a while with these baby’s,” he said to himself.
His thoughts wandered to who this explorer was and how they'd come across five doses. Then again, based on the exploration markers he'd passed, its possible they had found them on bodies of other explorers in the city.
“That would explain why I didn’t find any other belongings around the city,” though Jared.
The rest of the pack emptied, he found munitions credits he could exchange at a survival camp for ammo for revolvers and rifles. However they also stocked ammo for a weapon called a phase pistol; a weapon that fired a high-powered, concentrated laser rounds. They were rare and only granted to the most wealthy survivors when they provided needed resources to the city dwellers. One credit exchanged for one power pack. Each power pack fueled 300 shots.
“Psh, I’ll never see a phase pistol anyway,” he muttered.
Jared planned to trade the credits in for ammo for his Colt next time he was near a camp. Besides the injections and credits, he found a notebook with a bunch of scrawling in it and a small black ballistics case.
He opened the case and gasped in surprise yet again. There, in its glory, was a phase pistol with two full power packs. “Why in the world didn't this person use the weapon while they explored the city?” thought Jared. “Oh crap, I bet there’s another pistol in the pile of bones I left.” He would never know because he planned to leave this city as soon as possible.
His future looked much better and the two years he'd explored the world had been worth it. The phase pistol alone could set him up for life in comfort, or what approximated to comfort in this barren landscape. Perhaps one day he could save up enough to buy his way into a city. Jared dispelled those thoughts. If they didn't have the decency to help the rest of mankind, he had no wish to associated with them in any capacity.
It was time to replenish his nanites. He almost waited while longer, but he’d seen some of his friends get sick waiting too long. He reached over to grab an injector. As he brought it closers, the mysterious object shuddered.
“Whoa...ouch!” he hissed as he jumped and bumped his head on the ceiling. His heart raced as he uncovered the cloth and moved the injector closer to the object again. As he did, the object shuddered and he could see the nanites inside the injector become agitated.
“What is this thing?” he thought as he moved the injector closer?
There was a physical attraction between them similar to a magnet when it nears an attracting force. He pulled it apart again and both the object and nanites became inert. It reacted to the nanites, and he wondered if the sphere had nanites in it already. Jared wondered what would happen if he used the nano injector on the object. He couldn't bring himself to waste an entire injector on the thing. Instead, he could inject a small part into the object after he replenished his nanites.
It felt made of rock so he didn't know if it was possible, but he decided it was worth the risk. Jared injected two-thirds of the nanites and watched his status screen in the corner of his view. The viability indicator ticked up to just over two years remaining before he needed another injection. He wondered if injecting another dose allowed him to improve his body more, but had never heard of that occurring. Then again, he also knew no one that had spare nano injections.
The injector with the remaining nanites vibrated as Jared brought it closer to the object. As it touched the surface, he could see the surface of the object smooth out, and it felt resilient under the injector. Before he changed his mind, Jared jabbed the plunger home.
"AAAHHHHRRRGGGGG!" Jared screamed! An intense, excruciating pain pierced his mind. His body heated, and it felt like lava flowing through his veins burning him from the inside out. Jared pressed at his eyes and rocked back and forth as he endured the tormenting anguish. His vision darkened, but just before his vision faded to black, the object cracked in half and a tiny, scaled head looked at him with slitted eyes.
Congratulations, Evolution Unlocked!
Attention: this message is hard-coded into all hybrid nanotechnology and is intended for anyone that undergoes fusion with a companion.
My name is Igor Jonovich.
I was wrong.
In my haste to create nanotechnology, I did not consider the cost and resources required to produce it. When my city rulers/politicians learned of this, they hoarded the technology, despite its potential to stave off radiation poisoning and its ability to improve and sustain our world. Instead, they took to the skies and oceans, and left the world to its problems.
The cost of nanites is astounding and the only way to keep producing them is to maintain a steady supply of resources and materials for their manufacture. I made this technology to free humanity. Instead, those in power lied to you and made you slaves. trading your lives for the materials they do not wish to gather themselves.
My original creation was confiscated, and I soon realized the truth of the situation the cities had engineered. I started development on a new form of nano-technology that integrates into human cells and uses human biology to self-replicate, reducing the cost of production exponentially.
Initial experiments and test subjects were promising, showing improved abilities and resistance to radiation exposure. The technology was a success, even if inferior to those used in the cities. Not wanting to delay and cause further deaths, I used my personal drop ships to disperse these bio-nanites into the jet stream, where they were spread across the globe.
A year later the biological components of the nanites mutated, giving rise to a technovirus. The efficacy of my creations increased tenfold, resulting in destabilization of cellular processes in its human hosts. Combined with the high levels of background radiation, even in the safe zones, it induced mutations in its victims. The lucky one died and the less fortunate victims became monsters; sentient killers that stalked the safe-zones.
The cities' leadership discovered what I had done and handled the situation as quietly as possible. They were reliant on those below to provide resources and so they demanded a solution to the technovirus that had begun its rampage.
I started working on solving the problem, but soon found that a cure to the technovirus was impossible. However, a booster shot could hold back the mutation of the host for several years. These boosters were cheap and easy to manufacture so mass production of these injections began immediately. The survivors on Earth were sold a lie that these shots contained nanites that needed to be replenished every few years. Predictably, the local governments would do anything to save their populace, providing an unending stream of materials, all in exchange for a handful of cheap booster shots.
Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the cities were completely immune to radiation exposure because of standard non-biological nanites. When I realized their plan for the boosters, and how they intended to use the rest of mankind as nothing more than cheap labor, I began working on a way to fight back.
My search was rewarded when I discovered that the technovirus had also infiltrated the non-human creatures of the surface, and for a short while, their ability to withstand the technovirus was a mystery to me. I later realized that since the technovirus was not engineered for them it's detrimentally elevated efficacy was decreased, resulting in gradual increases in strength over time, with none of the side effects. Furthermore, due to the technovirus' code being identical in both its human and non-human hosts, it allowed for a link to be formed between these creatures.
What you have just experienced is the first stage of this process. Take care of each other. Grow in strength by defeating other infected creatures and assimilating traits mapped by their own bio-nanites. Only then will you have the strength to expose the lies that I unwittingly helped create.
Companion Unlocked - Dragon Hatchling
A unique companion - you have found a dragon hatchling formed by absorbing nanites during the incubation cycle.
"What the...", blackness descended on Jared.