Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

For the hundredth time, I glassed the area. Nothing on visual, nothing on thermal. I bumped the gain until individual grains of sand stood out in stark detail a thousand metres up the broken road. Nothing. Winter was setting in and game was scarce.

I clicked my teeth and subvoked. “Rover, move out. Keep two hundred metres fore and South of me.” A cheerful, synthetic bark sounded in my aural ‘plant.

Through the binos, I could see Rover. Though massing 90 kilos, he moved with enough grace and stealth to shame a snake. Had I not known his location, I couldn’t have spotted him. I shouldered my gear, slung my rifle and made off.

I tell myself that I wrapped Rover in faux fur to mask his metallic frame. To blend in better. The truth is I miss dogs. After the supermarkets had been looted of their last scraps, pets were the first things on the menu.

I had been off planet when it happened. I didn’t get the news through military channels. It came from my wife. Somehow she had managed to cut through the military blackout and reach me. “John, everybody’s dying. Earth is quarantined. I…” The message ended. My wife’s last words still keep me awake some nights.

I swiped the smallest skiff I could find to escape detection. It was small, no torch drive, so I fit it with a stasis couch. No hurry, I just wanted to get home. I should have stayed away.

The Christers, in an attempt to wipe out their ancient enemy and hasten the return of their slain god, had released a virus in New Medina. They didn’t care if they died in the ensuing pandemic as long as the ‘godless towel heads’ died as well.

The virus targeted the brain, destroying the higher functions. Billions died within weeks. The few million survivors, the Afflicted, were hollow shells of humanity. Mindlessly they ate, slept and fucked. The virus itself was no longer communicable. By chance or design, it had mutated into an endogenous retrovirus. It was now only passed through parentage. I was safe.

I topped a rise in the road. I lifted my binos, scanning the plain below. The trees had thinned here. Success. I knew prey would be more plentiful in the lower regions. You could always tell the Afflicted by their shambling gait. I could never figure out how they managed to move fast enough to catch something to eat.

“Rover,” I spoke aloud, not bothering to subvoke, “close in 25 metres, fore and South.”

Casually I walked into their camp. They had constructed rudimentary shelters from whatever detritus they could cobble together. They were gathered in a tight cluster to retain body heat. The gift of fire was lost to them.

Their dull eyes fell on me as I approached. Slowly rising to their feet, they regarded me warily. They shuffled towards me, hunger in their eyes. They were a pitiful lot. Threadbare clothing hanging from emaciated frames.

“Rover. Sic.”

In a blur of polyester fur, stainless steel teeth and literal razor sharp claws, Rover bounded in and dispatched the group of twenty or so with efficient violence. Not one for excessive force, Rover broke off his attack and returned to my side after the last creature was dispatched.

“Good boy,” I said, running my fingers through the matted synthetic fibres covering his head.

I had hoped for a grouse, maybe even a deer. But an Afflicted will do in a pinch and I was hungry. Not much meat on the bones, but the brains are tasty.


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