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The fight starts, as it always does, with a man in a bar.  But this man’s not drinking.  He’s got his hat still on, jammed over his greying, greasy hair. It keeps the dusty half-light off his stubbled chin and hides his eyes.  A dirty coat hangs off his hunched-up shoulders, and fraying gloves wrap  his long, fidgeting fingers as they spin a coin or medallion on the splintered counter top.

The disk catches the sun as the door opens.  It’s the only thing besides knives that shine in a broken-down frontier town like this one.

Another man sits down beside him, and buys them both a cup of whatever lukewarm ale’s been brewed out in the back room.  This man’s jacket is dusty too, but never been patched.  His boots are hard, and his hands are soft.  He leans in, smiling, and addresses the first man by a name he’s not heard in some time.

The fight ends, some time later, with the first man walking out into the glaring, dusty afternoon, alone.

The first man, he’s called Scatter.  But the second man doesn’t know that.

“Doctor Storshal.  You’re a hard man to find.”

Scatter doesn’t respond, or move.  The coin is under his palm now; his arms are crossed against him on the bench top.

“I don’t suppose it’s hard to get lost out here, so far from civilisation, but three years!  On top of the seven I spent watching your progress. That’s – ”

“Whatever you think you want, you don’t.  Now get out of here and go home.”

“Gladly, Doctor, but there are other interests than mine in you.  Where is the Fog?”

“Pretty much everywhere out here, at sun up.”  Cracked lips stretch into a grin and carve deep ravines around his mouth.

“The technology you were developing, Doctor, don’t try my patience.  The nanobots.”

Scatter tips his head, though his eyes are still in shadow.  “Never liked that project name, you know.  More like sand, really.  A shifting sand.  Made of silicate, even.”

“Good, so you’re not going to play innocent.  Tell me where they are.”

“Or dust.  A lot like the land here, as you get further out.  With the wind, it can remake the landscape.  Build mountains, and take them down.  Hell, it can even take skin off.”

“Don’t lead me around, Doctor.  I want those ten years of my life back.  I want this job done so I can go home.  Now, I would threaten you, but I know that the tech was mapped to your brain and only you can control its program at this point.  I know that you were responsible for the fire that destroyed the lab and all the servers.  I know you unleashed that clever virus so that the only copy of your research is the one inside your remarkable head.  So unfortunately, we both know I won’t be killing you today.  However I can, and I will, kill everyone in this room, followed by everyone in this town, followed by the dogs and livestock of everyone in this town, if you do not tell me where they are.”

Scatter at long last, turns towards the man.  “Scattered, my friend.  Left behind me everywhere I walked the last three years.  Inert, and lost.  Dust in the wind.”

The man’s mouth curves up into a razor-sharp smile.  “Then you understand how difficult it will be for us to find and collect them all.”

What little shows of Scatter’s face goes grey.

“Without you.”  The man stands up and turns to leave.  “One chance, come quietly.”

Scatter stays on his barstool, shoulders rigid.

The man nods.  “Alright. I assume you’ve kept some of the Fog on you, unless you’ve gone completely mad, so I’ll be sending in the bounty hunter now.  Please, don’t feel responsible for all the collateral damage he’s likely to cause.”



Scatter hates that phrase.  Collateral damage.  He goes outside to meet the hunter.

He sees a man standing in the middle of the road looking his way, and the everyone who had business on the street in the midday sun making hasty excuses to be somewhere else.

In a flannelette shirt and faded jeans, the hunter doesn’t look like much, but it’s easy to see why the townsfolk have scattered. Slung over his shoulder is a big, boxy gun that must be heavy but he carries it like it’s nothing.  More of a cannon, really, with a wide, stubby barrel that looks like it wouldn’t put a hole in a man so much as blow him to smoking pieces.

The hunter flicks the end of his cigarette down and nods to Scatter.

“Doctor Storshal?” he calls.

Scatter shrugs.  “Close enough.  What’ll they put on your headstone?”

The hunter swings the cannon down so he’s holding it with both hands at his hip.  “Name’s Red.  And if you’ve heard of me, you’ll come quietly.  Fulfill that contract they tell me you signed ten years ago.”

“You have no idea do you?”  Scatter chuckles.

“I’ve got some.”  Red grins and tilts the gun.  “Don’t think I didn’t come prepared.”

Scatter just laughs.  He flips the coin up; it flickers the sun into the hunter’s eyes.

Red tenses and trains the cannon on him.

Scatter lifts his chin.  Under his hat, a metal visor covers most of his face; it’s bolted straight into flesh gone grey and haggard.

His head is buzzing.  He’s called the swarm.  A billion billion tiny particles scattered the length of the frontier, drawing together once again.  Some of it’s too far to get here in time, and more is too far for him to even reach.  But there’ll be enough.

Red, eyes narrowed on his quarry, ignores the coin as Scatter flips it up again – until it vanishes.  He twitches and the cannon looses with a roar, point blank.

For a moment a ripple appears in the air in front of Scatter.   The shot skews and digs a trench down the road.

Red spits.  “Very nice.”  Then he tips the cannon up to reload, steps forward, and fires again.

The air ripples again as the latticework of nanobots condense, absorb the impact and deflect the projectile.  A chunk of wall splinters out of the general store.

“Tired yet?” Scatter asks.

“Nah.”  And then Red fires, two, three, four times, walking forward with each shot and adjusting his aim to attack the length of Scatter’s shield.

The Fog is fast, but can’t condense quick and hard enough against that kind of onslaught, and Scatter is out of practise.  He’s forced back, and has to dodge the fifth shot.  Through the visor he sees the nanobots blow apart; the lattice spread too thin there.  He snarls, wounded.

Red grins.  “Are you?”

It’s Scatter’s turn to grin.  He tilts his chin, cracking his neck.  He’s starting to feel whole again.

The dust, or what looks like it, starts to pick up around his feet, drawing in towards him.  Red takes a wary step back.

The Fog is here, bringing with it all kinds of debris.  Scatter piles it all up; scratching planks of wood and branches, whispering tumbleweed, clacking cattle bones, jangling harness, and clanging metal tools.  He draws the whole mess into a two-storey high monstrosity, all held together with the shifting nanobots.  Except for its borrowed parts the monster is semi-translucent, but smokey, like a roiling duststorm


Red fires, at the nanobot-junk amalgam this time.  The Fog shifts around the projectile; it passes straight through.  Scatter stomps forward and the monster stomps with him, swiping  at the hunter with a weathered railroad sleeper.  Red leaps back and rolls; and regains his feet with the cannon aimed.

“Beautiful ain’t it?” Scatter yells.  “One single speck is not much to worry about – it can barely move itself.  But join them together – ”

He takes another swipe at Red with a paw made of rusty pitchfork.  Red ducks, and down on one knee, looses a roaring volley.

And then he flips the cannon over, and throws a lever.  A motor screams into life, powering a reinforced vacuum. Red takes advantage of the monster’s temporarily weakened structure to rip pieces of the scattered lattice off and suck them up.

Scatter yells; the Fog condenses and the monster shrinks.  Red continues to fire, shattering the bones and branches, slowly breaking the beast down.

“I’ve got you now, Doc!” the hunter jeers.

“Have you, though?”

Scatter’s just standing there.  Arms crossed, fiddling with his coin.  The rest of the monster collapses and disappears into the dust, leaving nothing to see but a pile of junk.  Red stands ready.

“I guess I can’t just run you off, can I?” Scatter sighs.  “The monster’s terrifying and all, but that’s not the Fog’s real strength.”  He nods  to the cannon vacuum.

A hole’s been bored through the holding chamber.  Red’s eyes go wide, and the air around him turns solid.

Scatter’s eyes narrow.  He squeezes.

And then he lets go.  The Fog falls away from Red. The hunter gasps and falls to his knees.

“Get out of here, Red. Walk away, and don’t try to mess with things that are too dangerous for this world.”  Scatter turns around, and starts to walk away.

Red wheezes and coughs.  Arms shaking, he tilts the cannon up, and blows a hole straight through Scatter’s back.

The man doesn’t fall.  He just looks back over his shoulder, while the hole starts to fill itself in.  Smooth grey metal reforms under his torn jacket.  He laughs, and collapses into dust.  His hat drifts down to settle on empty clothes.



Back inside the bar, Scatter winces and rubs under his hair, at the little metal plug sticking from his temple.  He downs his ale, and exits through the back door.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2013 9:29 pm

    Wow that was awesome!

  2. August 26, 2013 8:34 pm

    You’re demonstrating a lot of control in the sentences for this one. I’m enjoying your flashes very much.

  3. August 26, 2013 8:42 pm

    Good stuff. Very, very good stuff!


  1. Whimsy and Dust | I Should Be Writing

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