At the end of a very long line of black poles and strung wires, a matte steel building rose above the red sand. The man, who was wearing a fur coat and little else, had been following the line of electricity poles for weeks. His torso, his cheeks, underneath his nails, all was covered in the burnt red dust that covered the desert. The hairs on his legs had clumped into matted balls of maroon and brown and the fur coat, that had once been the shiny black fur of a long-forgotten creature, was dipped with tips of blood-red.
He hoped for water. He hoped for a station to charge his weapons. He hoped for an escape from the thin oxygen that had been pushing and troubling his lungs for months. But as he stood at the barred door to the building, it was clear that it was abandoned and nothing more than another stop of empty scavenging on his journey.
The hinges on the doors had rusted. A dark red, almost black goo lazily dripped down the metal panels that covered the building like the steel was sweating under the heat of the desert sun. He banged his fist on the door. The knocking absorbed into the surrounding steel and sand and it was quiet again, as it had been for many days. All he had to keep up noise were folk songs from his home and he was a terrible singer.
He drew a silver hilt that was strapped to his leg. He brought it to his lips, opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue. It was white and dry like his mouth had been stuffed with fluffed cotton, absorbing every drop of saliva from the insides of his cheeks. He closed his mouth, swallowed and tried again. He ran his tongue along the silver and then, slightly to the left. The hilt glowed a dim purple, a colour that he had never seen outside of the walls of his own homeland. Then, from the top of the hilt, a long rectangle of purple light erupted and flicked before solidifying into a thin rod of iron.
“Is that all you got?”
The man grumbled and the sad piece of iron let out a small defeated sigh. The man shoved the rod in between the door and the paneling and heaved. His strength had dissipated over his journey. It took three heavy grunts before the door popped from its frame, fell off its hinges and clapped onto the ground, causing syrupy clouds of red to burst from the earth.
As the clouds of dust settled, a flash of blue and green ran from the doorway. The man stiffened. He had not seen any life since his encounter with a patrolling rover 18 days ago. He held up the iron rod and took a step into the building.
“They call me Minute Holy Von and I mean to do you no harm, should you not deserve it. My home is Expo, the land of searchers. I seek water, a piece of bread and power to charge.”
Minute’s black lace up boots clacked along the steel base of the building as he moved in the direction of the blue-green. The steel was more rusted on the inside than out, every piece of metal was covered in orange flaking decay and the oozing black pooled on the ground, creating small lakes that reflected Minute’s flushed worn face as he walked through them. He dipped his rod into the pool and brought it to his lips. He smelled the black and then gave it a quick lick. His tongue curled as a synthetic sweetness hit his throat. It was oil.
“I don’t think that’s very good for you, Mister Minute.”
The voice of a young girl called out. Minute looked up and ran towards the voice, he came to a room filled with long windows that would have showed a view of infinite stretches of red desert if the glass wasn’t covered in strokes of colourful paint. The girl stood with her back to him, long gold hair cascading down her torso and sweeping against the oil-covered ground. She held one paint brush in her right hand and three in her left. She stroked the windows with blue, painting a landscape of cerulean sky, bright sparkling sand and a vast dark ocean whose waves seemed to jump from the glass and envelop the room with the smell of salt water.
“Isn’t this much better than staring out at dust all day?” She asked as she turned from the window to face him. Her feet were bare and black with oil. Her face was round and young, with eyes that moved in quick blurs of white and green.
“Who are you? Are you here alone?” Minute took two steps forward and stopped with the iron rod still raised and his eyes scrutinizing the room for bandits.
“Not alone. I’m not sure that I have a name. I think I would like the name Paint because it’s what I love.”
Minute cocked his head to one side and smirked. He lowered the rod a little and stared at Paint. He noticed three charging pads at the back of the room that were almost completely covered in dark, red, shadowy pools of oil. He stepped over and on to one of the pads. The rod let off a mauve light, purred and then said,
Minute rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand, leaving a smear of black and red across his face. Sweat pooled underneath his coat as Paint turned back to the window and began to add soft white clouds to her art.
“Is this your home?” He asked. She laughed, a tinny giggle.
“Always.” Paint gathered her long hair and pushed it to one side. Then, she stopped, turned to him and stated, “you mean to harm us. It is what she’s said.”
“I wouldn’t mean to but I would if needed,” Minute replied as he lowered the rod once again, accepting that the girl was not a threat.
“I think we have something that you seek, Mister Minute. Deep in her chest.”
The building gave a small, violent shake. Minute lost his footing and fell over on his side, oil splashed up and coated his face and neck with a shiny black mask. He coughed and hacked, clearing out the smooth grease from his throat. As he lay on the ground, he felt the pulsing roots that Paint spoke of. Buried far below the building and desert, was an energy core that could sustain his hilt and his livelihood for months.
He moved his non-oil-covered eye back to the girl who was standing to the right of his head, her black toes wriggling in a greasy pool. He reached out and made to grab her ankle. Her skin had no feeling. She was a projection, so his black hand went right through her skin in a blur of static blue-green. He lifted himself from the ground, his dehydration pulling at his shoulders like anvils hung from his fingertips. He spat. A thick clump of oil and mucus swirled onto the trembling metal floor.
“You are the mind of the beast.” Minute could feel the power from the charging pad beneath him run down his arm and to the iron rod in his grip. The building quivered again, this time he stayed on his feet.
“If that is what you see me as, then yes,” Paint replied. She had moved across the room and was standing in front of the paint-covered windows again.
He brought the rod to his face, licked the length of the iron that tasted of blood and oil which covered his mouth with such viscous smoothness that Minute wondered if all of his teeth had been removed and replaced by globs of lubricant. The rod glowed brighter, filling the room with purple that Paint marveled at with wide flashing eyes. The rod grew, first to the length of Minute’s arm and then, bigger still. Until the iron had become a sword, a great sword, as wide as his boot and as tall as a throne.
The building shook and tilted. Minute tumbled forward, sliding down and leaving streaks of black and red behind him, his fur coat soaking up drops of oil and flakes of rust as he slid. A stripped piece of metal jutted out from the floor in his path, he turned his body so the sharp cut of the broken steel only caught his calf. It ripped up his flesh, splitting the side of his muscle open. Blood seeped out from the tear, combining with the dust and oil to create an amalgamation of dark sticky fluid on his skin. He took in a sharp breath through his teeth as his back crashed flat against one of the windows. The building was rising.
The entirety of the room had tilted on its side, shaking Minute from its jowls like a dog with a rabbit. The window beneath him cracked. At first, only one, spidering from the corner. But then, the thin fissures sundered the glass, it broke open beneath him and he was falling. He tumbled down towards the sand with the sword tight in his grasp; Paint waved from the broken window above.
He grunted and turned himself to face the red sea of sand below. He pointed the sword down and stabbed his weapon into the ground, dragging and catching himself as he drifted to a stop at the base of a sliding hill of sand. He panted. One of his eyes was covered in oil, causing his vision to become clouded with black shadows every time he stared upwards. His calf burned. Sand and wind ripped at his open wound.
The building that he had been inside was now high above the sky. Slowly becoming the creature it had always been and that he had been tracking for weeks. The black electric poles that he had followed were not only suppliers of power; they were the vertebrae of the beast spine. The sand moved in waves as she rose from the earth. The building became one of her eyes, most of her vision clouded by the painted landscape. Her other eye blinked slowly, staring into the distance lands, seeing leagues away with one glance.
He could not see the end of her torso. The electric poles went on, flicking like a tail as she rose and soared farther, eventually blocking the light and the heat of the desert sun.
Minute sprinted back. He placed himself so he could watch as the beast unfolded herself from dust and archaism. Oil dripped off of her, her blood, her force of life was what had made the sand red. Once the sand had been a flaxen yellow but she had dripped and permeated the grains, dribbling, crying and bleeding into the desert.
In her neck that held up her slow-blinking eyes, an energy core glowed as bright as a star even though it was beneath layers of steel and caked sand. The light permeated through her body, shining like a heavenly beacon, pulling Minute towards the very thing that sustained his soul. He pulled in his coat and held up his sword and he raced towards his adversary, blood, oil and sand trailing red behind him.