Leaning back in her black leather office chair, Kano sipped her lukewarm coffee and stared out the window. It was awfully bitter without milk or sugar, but it was a fitting accompaniment to watching the world end. Or what little was left of it.
She watched a wave of humanity flee through the hall of polished steel while sirens blared. The cleanliness of the facility felt almost perverse compared to the chaos that enveloped them. Why had they built something so grandiose? It didn’t belong in this world, not anymore. Soon it would be stained with blood, a more fitting color than the austere silver.
There were no enemies in sight, not yet, but she knew most of them wouldn’t survive. Sighing, she went over the evacuation plan in her head. It called for her to leave as soon as the alarm sounded, but she was rooted to the spot. Not by fear or shock but by resignation. There was nowhere worth fleeing to; it was all over.
She and the other personnel had worked to create a haven where humanity would be safe from the horrors ravaging the world. But they couldn’t turn back time. And now their past mistakes had caught up with them. It was all falling apart, and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it.
She watched, filled with a terrible calm as she waited for the end. The approaching doom didn’t worry her; it had been a long time coming. Everyone had expected them to fail, even her. Despite that, she’d done everything in her power to prove them, and herself, wrong. But it had all been for nothing.
What else was she to do but spread her arms and embrace the end? A knock at the door startled her, shattering her focus. She spun around in the chair… and woke up.
Kano shook her head to banish the strange dream from her mind. Her memory of it was hazy, but that only made it all the more confusing. Was the person in the dream even her? It didn’t feel that way. Rapping her knuckles against her forehead, Kano admonished herself not to think about it.
What was the point, anyway? It wouldn’t be of any help. No, what she needed was food. Running her hand through her long black hair, Kano got up. She resembled a slim woman in her late twenties, but she’d long ago lost track of her actual age. In this world, where age had little to do with appearance, it was irrelevant.
However, she still needed to eat, and so she left the collapsed concrete building where she’d been sleeping to search for food in the ruined city. Kano padded through the crumbling city around her. The identical plastic houses were brown with age, most of them collapsing in on themselves. There was little beyond dirt and decay in a panorama of dull colors.
It resembled a wasteland more than a city, without any sign of life. But Kano knew better. There were still living things here, if only a few, clinging to life. Her companion followed behind her, making far more noise as their clawed feet dug into the ground. Kano couldn’t remember where she’d found Nove, but they’d been traveling together for a while now.
Four short horns poked out through the bone plates that covered Nove’s head and most of her body. Along with her long claws, the horns lent her a bestial appearance. Reaching the end of the street, Kano peered around the corner. She didn’t expect to run into much this far from any necromancer’s territory, but it didn’t hurt to be careful. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d run into scouts or rogue abominations—creatures made by affixing synthetic souls to tailormade bodies, most horrific and few intelligent—abandoned by their creators.
“It’s clear,” she said, turning to Nove. Her hulking companion was kin to the monstrous creations they were careful to avoid, but unlike Nove they were mindless beasts. Nove grunted, picking through the rubble near the entrance to the street. Her thick claws swept aside large chunks of building-grade plastic, searching for anything edible.
Kano sat back and watched. Leaving the menial work to Nove was fitting—it was what her kind was made for. Not like Kano; she knew her own purpose for existing was far grander, even if she had no idea what that purpose was. Naturals—those few beings who still had natural souls rather than synthetic—like her were the shining stars of the new world.
Kano was staring into space, wishing Nove would hurry, when a stray piece of debris flew by her head. She stomped over to where Nove was still digging. “You stupid lump.”
Standing with hands on her hips, she glared up at Nove, not intimidated in the slightest, despite only coming up to the abomination’s chest.
“Sorry,” Nove mumbled, not ceasing in her work.
“Maybe I should just carve off a piece of you.” Kano slapped one of Nove’s thick-skinned thighs, which was several times the diameter of hers. “There’s far too much of you, anyway.”
Nove ignored her. Kano would have ended things there, but hunger had given her a temper. “Are you deaf as well as stupid?”
“I’m sorry, okay?” Nove said, raising her claws defensively. “If you’ve got any more complaints, I suggest you leave them until after I’m done doing all the work.”
Kano gritted her teeth. She couldn’t argue with that, much as she would have liked to. “Fine, just… be more careful.”
Once Nove had gotten through most of it, Kano decided to move on. She was getting bored, and it didn’t seem like they would find anything here either way. Walking off at speed, she left Nove scrambling to catch up. She could hear her booming footfalls behind her, growing closer as Nove jogged after her. Not so much as glancing back, Kano kept up the pace, walking with extraordinary speed.
She approached the large, mostly intact, building in front of her. By the looks of it, it had once been the home of a wealthy family. But that wasn’t why Kano was here. She’d noticed the sickly sweet smell of red mold coming from inside. Shattering what remained of the door jamb with a single kick, she strode in. Red mold covered a large portion of a wall beside her, feeding off the plastic.
Four men, each dressed in rags, sat hunched over beside it. They had the lumpy, half-finished-looking features characteristic of cheaply made ghouls—simple beings made by attaching synthetic souls to whatever organic matter was on hand. They stared at the broken door, gray eyes widening. Kano hadn’t expected there to be anyone here, but she was a fair hand at improvising.
“Gimme your food!” she shouted, moving to assault the nearest of them on general principle. There was no reasoning with the likes of them; anyone living out here was savage or without any will of their own. She had no problem killing them either way.
Their eyes focused on her, mouths gaping. Seeing her advancing, they scrambled to grab the crude pieces of metal that served as their weapons. She slammed the nearest ghoul’s head against the wall before he could get up, splattering his brains across the concrete.
Looking past the next one in line, she realized there wasn’t much left in the house. She sighed and picked up the rusty iron rod beside the corpse. It was a little long for her to use with one hand, so she gripped it with both and drove it into the gut of the man rushing at her. The metal must have had an edge to it—it punched right through his flesh.
Stopping to appreciate its efficacy, she nearly lost an eye to a similar piece of metal. She leaned back, and it grazed her cheek. Disgusted, she bunched up her fingers so they formed a single point and jammed it into the offender’s own eye. He collapsed screaming, and she thought to herself that it served him right. Advancing on the remaining two, Kano was about to say something witty when she realized she had, in fact, been shot.
“Ow,” she said, looking down at the hole in her torso. The amusement she derived from the shocked expression of the shooter as she closed on him somewhat made up for the damage to her body. He was frantically trying to reload his primitive single-shot weapon, which was little more than a repurposed pipe.
“Here,” she said helpfully, and tore it out of his hands. “Like this,” she instructed, and then she beat him to death with it. The last ghoul ran for the door, and she let him go. She was getting bored of killing them; they were dull people, whoever they were.
Hearing a scream from outside, she recalled that Nove had been following her. Her anger, forgotten in the heat of battle, bubbled back to the surface. While contemplating how best to express her displeasure to her companion, Kano spotted something golden adorning one of the bodies. She rushed over and took it from their wrist.
The golden links were held together by a piece of wire, but it was indeed a gold bracelet. Cooing in delight, she put it around her wrist and held it up to admire it. When Nove came charging through the doorway, she jumped.
“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded, spinning around with murder in her eyes.
Stumbling to a halt—no mean feat considering her size and momentum—Nove was opening her mouth to reply when Kano shouted, “Never mind that; I don’t care. Look at this!”
She held up the wrist with the bracelet and displayed it to Nove, who reached out toward it on impulse.
“No!” Kano shouted, jerking her arm back. “I swear, if you so much as touch my bracelet, I will end you.”
Sheepish, Nove put her hands behind her back. “I just wanted to look.”
“Well, look with your eyes, not your hands. Your big, stupid eyes. What possible use do you have for such large eyes?”
Unlike Kano’s irises, which were a mixture of blue and green fragments, Nove’s were gray. Nove shrugged. “Was this worth it just for mold? I hate eating mold.”
Kano scooped a handful off the wall and popped it into her mouth. The taste was nauseating, but she was hungry enough to eat anything at this point. It beat eating ghoul flesh. “Starve, then, I don’t care. But if you don’t eat now, you can be damn sure I’m not going to buy you anything else to eat when we get back to town.”
“Why not?” Nove asked, prodding a body with a clawed toe. “It’s my money, too.”
“Please, you barely earn your keep. Don’t pretend like you deserve an equal share, particularly with how much you eat. What are you good for, anyway?”
“Well…” Nove replied, looking at a loss, “I can carry… heavy things…”
“So can a cart, and they don’t eat anything.”
“I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal about this; it’s not like the mold belongs to you, anyway.”
Kano grinned. “Ah, so now you want to eat it?”
Growling deep in her throat, Nove shoved mold into her maw. Seeing something so monstrous sulk was hilarious to Kano. She wondered if she’d treat Nove better if her reactions weren’t so amusing. There was little entertainment out here. She’d take what she could get.