I’ve not written an Inner Wild piece in a while. I’m not sure where this fits, or what planet this is on, or who Meretricious Mandy really is. I just know she’s a Solarian, and I know why they call her Meretricious Mandy.
Limping back from a long day on the hunt, Meretricious Mandy made a pit stop at the old laundromat, hoping against hope that perhaps a rodent or two had set up a home there and would be caught off guard by a stealthy approach.
The old glass doors were nothing but metal frames, bent by force, blackened by fire. Most of the building was scorched, and Meretricious Mandy didn’t have the sort of knowledge one would need to be able to delineate whether or not the fire that licked this building was from one of the ground blazes sparked by ordnance, or perhaps arson. To Mandy, it didn’t matter anyway. She carefully stooped and stepped through one of the door frames, careful not to crunch the brittle glass beneath her feet.
At first glance, the place looked untouched. Being a laundromat, there wouldn’t be much to salvage. The region wasn’t known for the presence of some of the more inventive raider gangs, or the place might have been stripped down to nothing. As it was, the walls were still lined with dryers, starved of power. In the center of the long main room, the lines of washing machines were off kilter; some had tipped over, other were crumpled mounds of metal, scorched and twisted. Judging from the angles interrupting the arrangement of the washers, it looked like the chaos was a result of a blast coming through the front window.
Too open, Meretricious Many thought to herself. Nothing would hole up here, not with that gaping front window, no doors.
She took a good long pull at the scent of the place, flaring her nostrils and trying to filter out the musty stench of disuse and decay. There was something there, hiding just behind the mildew, masquerading as the delicate fragrance of spring flowers, but most definitely the bouquet of death, sweet and only days old. That alone wouldn’t mean much, but behind it, there lurked something more sinister. Metal. Heat. Oil.
Mandy’s fists clenched at her sides. With painful slowness, she raised both arms and unsheathed the twin blades from their scabbards crisscrossed on her back underneath her pack. That first tickle of sweat seeping out of her pores was difficult to discern against the constant irritation of salvage rash she sported. What really gave away her growing fear was the way her hands trembled slightly, causing the swords to waver in that silly look-it’s-a-rubber-pencil way. She knew what that smell might mean, and she knew the subtle nuances of it enough to be able to differentiate between a dead animal in repose among machinery and something worse.
Stepping carefully through the center of the main room, she moved with precision through the carcasses of washing machines. Occasionally, she allowed herself a glance inside the dark maws of those machines, but found only darkness alone. Likewise, the dryers were all empty as well, but her assessment of this fact was mostly the result of her attempt to convince herself that this was still a normal salvage scouting. A closer look at one of the dryers put that fallacy to rest.
The dryer had been stripped of all vital components. There was nothing but a shell left. The work was neat and methodical, the dryers had been disassembled and reassembled with precision.
Sweat began to drip from the tip of Meretricious Mandy’s nose. A barely perceptible tremor had begun at the base of her spine, and it slowly spread throughout her body.
Stupid, stupid stupid! she reprimanded. No way out!
She waited for it, that killing blow. She wanted it, not having the stomach for what was more likely. She froze, her feet crunching against the glass as her body turned to stone. Death was there, around the corner, beyond the next washer corpse, just beyond that wall, waiting.
Her breathing fell in line with the tempo of her heart, and this cadence of bodily processes reminded her of what exactly it was that she was likely to face in the next few moments. Hands down, she had no chance of surviving. She’d battled raiders six against her one, fought off the worst of the deadland predators, and survived in this hell she was forced to suffer through every day. But, this was worse, this was different, this was fatal.
Why do they call you Meretricious Mandy?
Her foot moved, a jerky start at first, but then with the fluid movement of a predator as she resumed her course. Fuck it, she mused. Might as well go down doing what I do best.
The press of silence was tangible, like the stifling suffocation of a thick cloth soaked in tar. Mandy could barely even hear her heartbeat anymore. With her swords poised for offense, one at an angle over her head parallel to the other in her other outstretched arm, she stepped over to the counter where the tatters of someone’s finest suit still hung from a hanger, as if the customer and clerk had just stepped away for a moment, for a drink, for a bathroom break, for an apocalypse.
Rounding the corner of the counter, Mandy spied human bones, long since gnawed to white beneath the blackened surface suggesting a fiery death. Old news, she surmised. A door stood slightly ajar just beyond an overturned cash register, and through the filthy porthole glass at its center, she thought she could make out machinery–automated dry cleaning?
Poking a blade against the warped wood of the door, she pressed it open, clenching her whole body against the possible shriek of disrepair. In silence, it swung back revealing a room full of hanging plastic, cloudy with dust, melted at times. Automated rails ran in curvy courses over head, still holding people’s Sunday best, moth-eaten or burned to a crisp.
The trembling started again as she picked up a nearly imperceptible noise further back in the room–a subtle sound of something rising up from the ground, of shifting against the wall of impatience and maneuvering. She braced herself for the attack, clenching both hilts with all her strength.
The smells were confusing for her in that room. The sweet death and metal scent was definitely there, but something else was in front of it, something closer.
Meretricious Mandy’s nostrils flared again, taking in the room, but not so much that her inhalation was audible. Sweat, blood, semen.
Something stupid, she cursed.
The sound again, this time definitely from two separate areas, registered in her head, and she quickly crouched and readied herself.
The two raiders lunged out from two separate clumps of hanging clothes and charged her with crude machetes. Between the two of them, Mandy spun, swinging her razor-edged blades in rising spirals, and both men received mortal wounds in their stomachs and necks. They fell dying on either side of her.
More trouble as the room erupted into a symphony of sound. At least six more raiders revealed themselves from behind machinery, underneath boxes, or swung down from perches in the high ceiling among the pipes and conduits.
Obviously blind, these idiots. And not just to my blades and the two dead bodies at my feet. They don’t even know what’s here; what’s worse than me.
The shot came from a pistol, and Mandy heard the slide of the trigger before the gun went off. Her blade was there when the bullet was only a foot away. The spark illuminated her wicked smile as she stared around the blade at the raider who had fired the shot.
Three more shots in quick succession, each one ricocheting off Mandy’s shining steel. After the fourth blocked bullet, the raider gave up and turned to run. With a quick lunge, Mandy closed the distance and insert both blades into his back.
Footsteps behind and to the side.
A flick of her wrist, and another raider staggered back holding a newly widened smile. The other attacker bowled over Mandy’s pack as she ducked and kicked out behind her. Before the man hit the ground, her blade had met him and bid the wasted life it extinguished farewell.
Not eight, more like twenty.
More raiders flooded into the room from doors leading out, some carried crude tools, and at least one had a gun.
Mandy vaulted over a folding station, and kicked out with her feet, meeting a raider as he charged at her. He stumbled back several steps, giving Mandy enough time to behead another raider who had followed her over the table.
A blade swung up to met a descending crowbar while the other jabbed at poorly wielded butcher knife. Still no gunfire. No bullets?
Boots hit Mandy hard on her shoulders as one raider swung down from the rails. She rolled with the impact and sliced through an assailant’s femur as she tumbled into a pile of clothes.
On one knee, Mandy deflected the well-placed shots, but quickly realized they were not as careless as the first shooter’s wasted blasts. More raiders circle her, but they kept their distance. The man behind the leveled gun was smiling. His wicked eyes were–
Three shots in rapid succession, stretching her abilities, timed and aimed to beat the speed of her arms and blades. Calculated.
Blocked. Silence. The raiders stood there, waiting.
Drones, and some still-human cronies. But where’s the big daddy?
The first few thuds sounded like the first crackles of thunder, but then the rails began to shake overhead as each successive thud grew louder and closer. With an explosion of cinder blocks, the massive scavenger droid, nearly as tall as the high ceilings of the automation room, barreled through the wall, taking a good portion of the automated dry cleaning assembly with it. Most of it’s body was scavenged metal from cars and farm machinery in the area, but Mandy recognized a dryer motor in the mix.
The pseudo-raiders renewed their attack as the droid rolled on toward her. The drones meant nothing to it, it was after Solarian flesh and would happily crush its minions beneath it if need be.
In two moves, she had disabled three men and had just enough time to scramble on the folding station as the droid hit. Leaping away, Mandy narrowly avoided the hulking monstrosity’s charge. Grabbing a rail above, she managed to swing out and land atop one of the conveyors along the wall.
The droid spun and resumed it’s juggernaut onslaught, charging directly at her again. At its sides, the subjugated raiders charged forward like loyal soldiers.
Mandy dodged to the side at the last minute, but the droid’s collision with the wall broke a large chunk of cinder blocks loose that held together, spinning it so that portion of the wall hit Mandy and threw her back into the machinery with force. A couple of raiders had followed her trajectory and pounced on her. One sword had been lost in the impact, and she just barely raised her remaining blade to parry a quickly descending lead pipe.
Too slow, need to move!
She kicked out with her legs and toppled one raider, but the move left her right side vulnerable. A machete blade bit deep to the bone at her shoulder. Screaming out in pain and rage, she stabbed the attacker through the eye.
Recovered, the droid bounded back in through the hole it had created. Seeing its prey down, it thudded over to her and swung down with a mighty patchwork arm of twisted metal. Mandy rolled out of the way and scrambled to her feet as the droid’s other arm swung in a wide arc sideways. The blow caught her shoulder and she flew away, spinning in the air. Her remaining blade clattered against one of the dry cleaning machines and disappeared behind it.
A claw descended to her crumpled body and grasped her by the neck. Raising her body so that her face was level with its optic sensors, the droid glowered at her as best it could. Having captured its prize, it methodically stepped over and around the dead bodies and machinery, now with the calculating steps of an artificial intelligence that saw no reason for disorder and disorganization once its primary directive had been satisfied. It carried her through the wall and out into the harsh sunlight of the deadland.
Old model, Mandy noted as the hot metal burned the skin of her neck. Pre-Reckoning, I’ll wager. It doesn’t know how far removed it is from what I had feared. Hope you like surprises, Tin Man.
The droid made a strange series of sounds as pieces of metal grated against each other deep within the warped metal of it’s chest. The shriek repeated, this time with slight harmonics, but definitely a different sound than just random metal against metal. And then, having mastered the movements and vibrations needed to communicate with what parts it had available, it spoke within those vibrations:
“Solarian. You have been apprehended and will face the maximum penalty of death for your crimes against the Hegemony of the Inner Wild”
Mandy smelled her own flesh burning, could see the cold visage of death looking out at her through the deadlight optics of her executioner, but, there was another scent growing in prominence. It reminded one of the biting fragrance of summer rain on hot asphalt, sparks off car batteries, plasma.
“Do you know why they call me Meretricious Mandy?” she choked out beneath its scorching embrace.
The robot did not answer.
Her hands extended in front of her, Mandy closed her eyes and focused inward to trigger the energy helices within her arms. The pinkish glow started just below her elbow, shining through her skin and illuminating her flesh so that one could see her bones. She felt the energy coursing through the center of her body and being routed to those helices, where the energy accumulated. The glow spread down to her hands, and Mandy opened her eyes.
The release of energy from Mandy’s hands blasted the droid’s body into ash and molten metal. The arms, without a body to be attached to, fell to the ground, taking Mandy with them. Still being choked by the robot’s final spastic grip, Mandy struggled to free herself. Light flashed in her eyes as her airways collapsed to pinholes. Her arms began to glow again and she grabbed the metal crushing her neck. Her own energy burned her worse than the hot metal of the droid and her skin blistered at her fingertips. The droid’s metal finally gave way, and she ripped it’s claw from her.
Gasping for breath, she forced herself onto her feet.
The droid lay in a smoldering heap, the metal still white hot in places. It’s blank optic sensors stared up at her as she walked over and stood looking down at it.
“Because you’ll get fucked,” Meretricious Mandy croaked, answering the riddle.
She spat, and her saliva sizzled on the dome of the droid’s head as the last flickering lights of the power than ran through it died out.
Mandy turned back to the laundromat where five raiders stood with wide eyes.
“You should be running,” she stated.
Less than fifteen minutes later, Meretricious Mandy was the only human left in the town proper.
That is if one can consider a Solarian a human.