On an apocalyptic future Earth, the remains of humanity engage in endless virtual reality battles to determine who will get food–and who will become food. One of these remnants, Vel, attracts the attention of All, the A.I. that manages the battles. Reeling from the death of his lover, Vel is drawn into her plans for fulfilling her ancient directive to save humanity… plans he may not survive.
I originally wrote The Body in Motion in 1999, and it was a departure from the science fiction I’d attempted to write at that point. I’d recently read Harlan Ellison’s short fiction collection Deathbird Stories and was in a mood to write something that really pushed my boundaries and skills of the time. It came out of my fingers quick and hot, the way stories for me all too rarely do, and ended up being my third story sale, appearing in Outer Darkness‘s spring 2001 issue.
I put the story through a vigorous re-editing, mainly to improve the prose by curbing my then-tendency to use sentence fragments to excess. And now, it’s the second short story I’ve self-published (the first being Something You Should Know early in 2012). It still stands up, I think, but if your tastes run to horror and science fiction and you’re inclined to take a look, I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Here’s an excerpt of the start of the story:
Vel watched through the translucent leaves of the meat-pod, hoping and fearing a glimpse. She had once passed close, but had not stopped to take him. He had known her at once–unlike the others, she was identical to her image in Eden, with decay-green skin, glowing eyes, fanged teeth, and meat to spare on her bones. Small bones were tangled in her wild black hair, and Vel could never escape the thought that one day, one of his would be among them.
He had been unable tell her destination. Possibly she hunted her Bond, or sought to elude a pursuer by taking an unused pod for a new residence. The sloping ground in this sliver of the World was spattered with clumps of them, some waiting with hungry leaves down, others containing moldering remains, a few sustaining life. The miasma caught the scant light provided by the machines far above.
A furtive creature with wide eyes and a skeletal torso skittered into view. The human’s nostrils flared, and Vel realized it was tracking a life. It glistened with desperation. He considered his own body, starved despite the pod’s nutrient-feed, and wondered if he would behave in this way if he once more won a day of Downtime.
His heart did not pound; his blood did not race. The pod regulated his spindly body, keeping him just alive and just sane, giving him air and water while removing his wastes and toxins with uncaring efficiency. He could not break free, though he well knew the leaves could be ripped open from the outside.
The human moved on, disappearing in the tangle of pods beyond the periphery of his sight. Minutes were left in the Downtime, scant time before his day of fear would end. He thought of Lana, and how her flesh would be his if he won the next combat and she did not. He contemplated the reverse. She was somewhere near, perhaps only a pod or two distant. Their dance was almost–
The green-skinned woman appeared again, scarlet distorting her face and chest, her body the sated predator. She stopped before his pod, sixty meters away, visible between two dead-bearing pods, and tilted her head. He was prevented from panicking. Only minutes to go.
Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthology Fading Light. His blog originates here. The Body in Motion cover art: feoris/Bigstock.com.