[Original Novel] Metal Fever II: The Erasure of Asherah, Part 35

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Previous parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34

When it occurred to me that the fullmetals probably contained embedded air scrubbers, I felt a pang of guilt at the idea of cannibalizing their remains. Then again, had it not been for the crash, they probably would’ve shot both Dad and myself into a ditch by now.

The small tools from the inside of the maintenance compartment were sufficient to remove the chest panel on the least mangled fullmetal remains. I didn’t recognize almost any of the components inside. Truly next level shit.

I recognized the micro air scrubber however, same model the prosthetic vendor in the subsea labor platform tried to sell me. Apparenly he wasn’t lying about the quality. One of the hoses protruding from it led to the prosthetic lungs, the other to the air intake in the neck.

Armed with this knowledge I was able to fashion a janky mess of a respirator mask out of it, running off my prosthetic power supply through the nano USB cable. It meant I’d run out sooner, but it also meant I could be outside during a gas storm.

More importantly, it meant I could recharge my prosthetics every night without fear that an unexpected gas front would asphyxiate me in my sleep. It felt gratifying, like a small but important step.

Towards what, though? It got me no closer to civilization. I set out into the jungle and circled around the crash site in larger and larger loops, foolishly hoping I’d run into a village or something in the process.

Just more jungle, with yet more beyond that. As I explored though, I noticed a strange, exhilarating sensation. Here I am, fish out of water, climbing over fallen logs in a sweltering jungle…but I’m not tired. Having secured a means of charging my arm and leg, traversing the terrain was not only easy but pleasurable.

I brought my metal foot down on a small boulder, hands on my hips, sucking air in my nostrils. “I’m going to make it through this”, I thought. “I’m no mere animal. I am not even just a man. I have the strength of modern machinery behind my every step.”

The hydraulic piston in my leg hissed loudly as I finished stepping over the boulder and set about climbing up a steep embankment. “Well, alright” I thought. “Nearly modern.” Once again, climbing over the obstacle was trivial. It felt good to put my prosthetics through their paces, and get the full intended benefit from them.

When I found a fallen coconut, I was able to quickly crack it open with my prosthetic hand, a feat which otherwise would’ve been exhausting. I drank eagerly of the juice, then began eating the solid white innards.

An unorthodox meal, but it filled my stomach. Besides which the increasing commonality of coconut palms suggested I was getting closer to the coast. From there, I might be able to flag down a passing container ship or something.

My mood immeasurably improved by food other than peanuts and renewed hope of rescue, I forged ahead, brushing ferns out of my path as I made my way through the jungle. Despite my body being in relatively poor shape, I felt lean and powerful.

Shock absorbers flexing, metal foot sinking into the soil, I felt like a force to be reckoned with. Back in Shenzen, I was at the very bottom of the food chain. Out here, I was at the very top. Bigger, badder, stronger than any living thing I was liable to run into.

Just desserts, then, that I was humbled by microorganisms. About an hour later my meat leg began to itch. I ignored it until it grew intense enough to warrant closer attention. There was a scrape I’d overlooked when assessing my injuries after the crash. It was now red and swollen.

Fucking awesome. I’ve got an infected wound in the middle of ass fuck, nowhere. I became much less worried for my life when, upon returning to the wreck, I found a first aid kit stashed behind my seat. It saved my leg and perhaps my life, but did nothing to make the following forty eight hours any less miserable.

I suffered alternating hot and cold flashes, and coughed up what seemed like a liter or so of mucus. Do I need that inside of me? I hope not. I scolded myself for not searching for the first aid kit immediately after the crash. The tireless, insensate nature of my prosthetics made it all too easy to ignore what bad shape the rest of my body was in.

Those chickens had finally come home to roost, and for the next two days I could do little else besides weakly writhing in pain while I rode it all out. In the end my immune system successfully fought off the infection, but it left me in a dangerously weakened state.

I’d lost more weight than should be possible in that timeframe, my eyes looked sunken in and in all other ways I appeared on the verge of death. No more hanging around the crash site, I decided. If GPS is really down worldwide, there would be no help on the way. The only people who know my location are the last people I want finding me, least of all in this sickly condition.

So I set off into the jungle, stumbling feebly along with the help of a branch I’d stripped into a serviceable walking stick. Being a conshelfer, the previous owner of the body had an implant for recycling his own urine, salt water or any other grey water back into a drinkable state.

I could reuse it only a couple of times before needing to replenish from the stream, however, so I resolved to walk alongside it this time. As I did so, it soon occurred to me that I should have been doing that anyways.

The stream would necessarily lead me to the ocean, wouldn’t it? How I wished I knew more about how to navigate wilderness. The only information along those lines still loaded into my system was all related to open ocean survival. Not much use at the moment.

My second post-crash stroke of luck came in the form of a metal crate, roughly four feet to a side. Air dropped by the looks of it, surrounded by a bunched up parachute blanketing the forest floor. There only outwardly visible markings on the crate were unintelligible strings of numbers and letters.

The chute, however, turned out to have an enormous InterNourish logo on it once spread out enough that I could tell what it was. Don’t tell me…I used the screwdriver as a chisel and the wrench as a hammer to pry one of the sides loose.

Inside was the answer to my prayers. The revolting, chewy, flaky answer, in the form of perhaps a thousand InterNourish mealbars. Never thought I’d be the one choking these down, but even moreso here than in Shenzen, beggars can’t be choosers.

It sated my hunger at last, and I felt some measure of comfort and security knowing that I had a few months worth of food here…provided I was willing to keep eating this crap. A tough sell, even when the alternative is starving to death.

Pretty soon my color returned, and much of my strength with it. I had nothing like a map, but at least my body included some sort of compass equivalent, such that I could tell I’d been following the river East for the past hour or so.

I expected it to lead me straight to the ocean. What I didn’t expect was to find a five inch thick cable in the way. Grid related? Some sort of power line? But then wouldn’t it be up on supports, or buried if that were the case?

I studied it more closely, zooming in with my optics, and discovered the black material was neither rubber nor any sort of metal. Instead it looked to be carbon fiber. “No fucking way” I muttered to myself. “It can’t be.” This close? It must’ve fallen nearly on top of us.

Once the shock wore off, I reasoned that the cable would’ve wrapped itself around the equator as it collapsed. That helped narrow down my probable location. It also meant that besides whoever sent those enforcers after Dad, I could expect government spooks to arrive at some point.

Hard to say which is worse. I didn’t especially want to run into either, so I doubled back the way I came and resolved to explore in the opposite direction. On my way back to the crash site I began inwardly bitching to myself about this and that.

I needed to complain, but there was nobody else to listen. “I want ramen” I thought. “I want a hot shower. I want freshly steamed dumplings, and snow pear tea.” Instead, lunch was another bar of processed lard and some water recycled from my urine.

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