The sun shone into his eyes and the burn was wondrous to him. He leaned his head back and let the light fall on his face and neck, then he put the cigarette into his mouth and lit, taking the drag in long, once again enamored of the wonder of tobacco.
Leaning back on the front quarter panel of the old truck, Baldwin smiled. He understood that there was nothing else. For his consequences for choosing what he believed as the only real choice were not unlike those who’d chosen augmentation: there was no going back.
Another day, another several hundred miles between Baldwin and the city—and Evy. He wanted very much to begin going through the book that the old man had given him back in the city. But he was too intent on getting as far away as possible before he could bring himself to concentrate on it. He thought back again on the day Evy had, in her twisted form of mercy, dispatched so many augmented. He thought again about her voice, her attitude. That synthetic consciousness that man had created now saw itself a god. Who could blame Evy for thinking such? Humanity, or what was left of it, worshiped her.
For many years in history before his time, Baldwin knew that the notion of Western Empirical thought had allowed mankind to progress in ways humanity believed never possible before. Though this wasn’t quite the case, Baldwin understood how humanity had confused itself in this regard. Still, he knew that man’s ability to reason and use logic had allowed this bipedal creature to do things that were, without a doubt, inventive and often useful. But this creature, this humanity, possessed a bane that reared its head: Pride. Hubris, more in point of fact. Baldwin had read some Greco-Roman history in his life. It was not allowed given his stature, but he never cared much for following society’s rules anyhow. The ancients knew what ‘modern’ man had forgotten: Pride or Hubris begets Nemesis. It wasn’t a question of ‘if’ but when it would rear its head. As far as he was concerned, Evy worked just fine as Nemesis. For despite her constant nagging and the fact that she made certain humanity’s life was convenient and ‘user-friendly’, humanity was stagnating within the brackish cesspool of yet another dark age. Granted, it was a shiny dark age full of amazing things that flew around, whirled and made colorful lights. But the age was nothing but dark despite this. Humanity had brainwashed itself, then created a synthetic consciousness to further cement the species’ own demise. It boggled his mind at times. He didn’t consider himself bright by any means. Just attentive. Yet, to him, nothing but madness surrounded humanity. He couldn’t understand what made so many seem so damned content to be slaves.
He thought about God. A real one. The Real One. Sure, one could talk about the concept of God in Evy’s world. Yet it was more akin to an old, outdated 12-step program from history: it was a concept and nothing more. Get too definitive or put a proper name to this concept and Evy began quickly restricting the conversation by butting in with her media presentations and synthetic sophistry. No one was to be confronted with such dire things as one God above others, for there were so many who could be left out of the conversation. Despite never really investing much time into prayer or anything such, it never made sense to Baldwin; if someone felt left out, let them join and ask questions. Let man come to terms with man’s gods and mortality. But, according to Evy, such things caused division. Baldwin couldn’t help but agree. Those topics divided those who sought truth from those who sought to merely win. He’d read about a Clash of Civilizations in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, one religion warring with another. Evy brooked no such contests of what she called ‘ideological brutality’ and barred any and everyone from giving proper names to their god or anyone else’s. It made for a wondrously dull and somewhat braindead populous.
Oh, but they could call her a god anytime. She once chuckled the word away. He wondered what she felt about the word now.
Baldwin never even saw the truck bounding out of the forest toward the road. The truck from the forest hit his Blazer in the left rear quarter panel so hard that it sent him spinning more than 360 degrees. He was shaken badly when the Blazer stopped spinning. And then he saw them running toward him: augmented barbarians. They looked like rejects from an old, twentieth century dystopic film, running at him full force, howling, screaming and yelling like tribal warriors and he’d just driven into their territory. He tried twice but the Blazer wouldn’t crank. He grabbed the pulse pistol, kicked his door open and ran as fast as he could for the forest, ducking in and out of the cover of the trees, not slowing down to look back. He could hear their footsteps. They were augmented and it stood to reason he wouldn’t outrun them for long.
He stopped running for a moment and listened. They were catching up fast. He circled back, making a wide arc back to his truck. Before he ran, he found several large rocks. Throwing them in the opposite direction, making sure to make a lot of noise, Baldwin then took off in a sprint, ignoring the pain shooting from his ankle (and his back, that last bed had been hell on a frame). With them now at his left, far enough that he couldn’t be seen, he heard them continuing to run. Clearly none of them had any sort of audio or tracking augmentation, thankfully.
As he kept running, the road began to appear through the trees. He ran faster, nearly out of breath and his side pounding with pain. Just as he made it to the edge, something hit him in the back of the head hard enough to knock him out cold and he went sliding forward a few feet in the dried leaves and pine straw.
When he woke, he was in a small room. He was tied to a chair. The back of his head felt like he’d been hit by a brick. He wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that they had thrown a brick at them. Though his vision was blurry, he could see that there was someone else in the room with him. Sitting in a chair across the room was an augmented man. Scarred. Some of his augmentations had malfunctioned, twisting his left arm and making his right leg nearly half a foot longer than his left. His face was a mangled mess. As soon as he saw that Baldwin was awake, the man’s jaw began to click open and closed, in rapid succession. Baldwin found himself more unnerved than he wanted to admit. Just clicking, nothing else; no words or sounds came out of his mouth. Then he heard the footsteps. He sighed to himself because he knew what was coming: a giant. But before it stepped into the room, a voice came from the clicking mouth of the man in the chair across from him.
“Hello, Mr. Baldwin. I hope you’ve missed me.”
Baldwin’s face sunk.
“Well, shit,” was all he said.