[Original Novel] Metal Fever II: The Erasure of Asherah, Part 36


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, 35

Is this my life now? Fat bars and pee water? Even my first day in Shenzen wasn’t so miserable. “On the other hand, at least I’m no longer sick” I thought. “At least I’ve got food, water and shelter.” That’s something. However bad it gets, unless I’m dead, it could be worse.

At least that’s what I thought until the diarrhea. Something in the water, has to be. The implant filters out salt, ammonia and nearly everything else I might want it to. But viruses are tiny. Viruses make it through, which unfortunately hadn’t occurred to me.

In fairness it could also be these nasty fucking mealbars. Or the infection’s last hurrah? Whatever the cause, I spent a solid hour hunched over, grunting and wiping tears from my eyes as I emptied out my insides all over the unfortunate plants behind me.

I want a shower. I want hot food. And now, I want toilet paper. Add that to the list of wishes that this beggar would ride, were they horses instead. Now dehydrated and light headed, my water purification implant went into overdrive replacing what I’d lost.

I wound up having to drink from the stream again. There’s just no alternative, at least not until it rains. If I could rig up some means of catching and storing rain water…then again, by that time my body will probably have adapted to the local microbes.

Wishful thinking maybe. But it kept my mind off the ugly reality that in all likelihood, I’m being hunted by highly paid corporate assassins. It gave me reason to question the wisdom of returning to the crash site.

However I could do nothing else if I wanted my prosthetics recharged. I settled into the springy pleather seat and relaxed as the coils activated, a notification popping up beneath my eyelids to inform me that the charging cycle had begun.

How precarious, this little bubble of technology. Of civilization, half crushed, buried partway in mud. My only lifeline. What would I do if the solar film stopped working for some reason? Or if the amenities battery were to catch fire after all?

The sort of problems I never gave any thought to back in Shenzen. Why would I? Technology surrounded me there. Immersed me, up to my eyeballs. That’s the ecosystem my prosthetics are designed to thrive in. The rest of me, not so much.

Out here’s a different story. The next day, having gotten over the worst of the infection and with a belly full of convincingly food-like biomass, I could feel my body starting to wake up. I can think of no better way to describe it. All my pores opened wide, my skin tingled with unfamiliar sensitivity and the fresh air invigorated my every muscle.

I could feel myself getting stronger. The illness must’ve been something like a biological system shock. A consequence of abruptly transplanting myself from the sterile world of machinery back into the lush, living wilderness. Yet in spite of the heat, in spite of the humidity, I began to feel outrageously, powerfully alive.

How similar it was to the way I recalled feeling on my ebike. No longer relying on my prosthetics to pull my weight, but cooperating harmoniously with them. Making full use of my meat leg, calf and thigh muscles flexing alongside the pneumatic pistons in my prosthetic as I trekked through the bush.

Something in my body was definitely reacting to the environment in a manner I’d never felt before. Like I could somehow absorb energy from my surroundings. Some kind of communication seemed to be taking place on a chemical level, though I couldn’t work out what any of it meant.

Has it always been like this? Has this feeling always been waiting out here for me, in the wild? I can’t think of any time in my life when I was away from civilization for this long. Field trips in school, visiting Dad out in the country back when he lived in that trailer, sure.

But I was always back home within a few hours at most. Back within range of a charging field and fast internet. It felt scary and humbling to be stranded this deep into what was, in many ways, an alien environment. Scary, but nourishing.

With every passing hour, more color returned to my cheeks and more of my strength returned. My posture improved, the skin around my eyes tightened somewhat, and my pulse slowed. The more I actually used my muscles, the less tiring it became. Is that how the human body normally works? Seems backwards to me.

So enamored with this feeling was I that I didn’t notice the figure creeping out of the jungle until he was right on me. In a flash, I had my gun out and trained on the short, wrinkly old man. Brown skinned, black hair in a bowl cut. Indigenous? If he were a Remnant, he’d be white. But then, I’m too far south for that.

The frail looking fellow held his hands up, but didn’t appear frightened. Instead he smiled warmly at me, and patiently waited until I put the gun back in my waistband to lower his hands. His face paint and haircut suggested indigenous, but he wore a faded yellow InterNourish t-shirt.

He noticed me studying it. “The clothes are fine. You can keep sending us more clothes if you want. No more of those bars, though. They’re terrible, we don’t eat them.” I laughed, taken aback. Apparently whatever dialect he spoke, it was included with my translation software.

“I don’t blame you” I replied. “I’d rather eat my own face than choke down another one of those.” The software dutifully translated it into his own tongue and a moment later, it was spoken in a synthesized voice from a speaker embedded in my arm.

He looked at my prosthetic arm. Then at my leg, then back up at me. Slowly, he shook his head. What’s that about? Am I really that unfunny? Aubrey always used to laugh at my jokes. He gestured for me to follow him down a well worn path through the undergrowth I’d only now noticed.

Should I really follow some random old indigenous man I just met? For all I know, this is how they hunt. For all I know he was sizing me up and working out the choicest cuts of my body to serve his extended family.

I meant to find civilization in a hurry though, for lack of any other way to get my bearings. This man was the first sign of civilization I’d so far encountered, and it seemed foolish to let him slip away without at least asking a few questions.

They couldn’t be one of those uncontacted tribes you hear about, otherwise they would most likely speak a dialect sufficiently different from anything already known to linguists that it couldn’t be included in my translator.

InterNourish wouldn’t just air drop aid crates onto the known locations of uncontacted tribes either, as it would contaminate the ongoing research of anthropologists. Who are these people, then? Might they have some form of internet access? Or better yet, a vehicle?

No such luck. When I asked him about it, he waved me off and insisted they had no use for such frivolous things. “How do you mean?” I badgered. “Without either of those, how do you get supplies?” He peered over his shoulder at me with a familiar expression on his face.

The expression of somebody who’s just heard the dumbest shit in their life. It didn’t bode well for my chances of catching a ride to the nearest city, and indeed when we arrived at his village, it was more or less paleolithic.

Wreaths decorated with flowers hung upon every other branch. Amid the trees, rather than in a clearing, sat around two dozen huts fashioned from leaves and grass. Villagers with the same complexion and haircut as the old man milled about or chatted with each other.

Not one of them had any sort of robotic prosthetics, which didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me is that they didn’t have anything electrical at all. No generators. No lights. No radios or televisions, no computers, no nothing.

Some of them were wearing InterNourish shirts, like the old man. Others were wearing clothing apparently made out of huge leaves. From banana trees, if I had to guess. Except when several of them congregated to greet the old man and get a closer look at me, I could see no stitches anywhere on the garments.

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