Genre: Sapphire and Steel
Word count: 1423
Written for Spook Me Challenge 2019. My thanks to Sparky who has a lot more faith in this story than I do...
Sapphire watched the sand swirl around her boot. She was stylishly dressed in a loose-fitting blouse that permitted the sweat to wick from her skin, and a matching flowing skirt. She usually preferred a dress to a skirt, but in the desert this seemed a smart choice. Knee-high boots kept the sand from snaking its way into them and blistering her feet.
“Yes?” Her partner was standing on top of a sand dune and studying the horizon. The heat bothered him as little as the cold did. He wore a similar shirt, and a pair of fawn colored pants and knee high boots of his own.
“Do you believe in a higher power?”
“Higher than Them, you mean? Is that possible?” He really didn’t know what or who They were, except the final word in any discussion. Sapphire and Steel, along with the other Elementals, merely did their bidding here on Earth or elsewhere. Rarely did they discuss them and never did they disobey them.
Sapphire was pleased that they’d been assigned to Earth. She liked humans, despite their quirks and issues. “Yes, a Supreme Being, even bigger than Them.”
Steel consulted the map again and stared out at the horizon. “No. I do not think about it.”
“What if you were to die?”
“I can’t die. Not in the human sense. I would merely revert back to my mineral state as would you.”
“Why this sudden interest in an afterlife, Sapphire?”
“What do you know about zombies, Steel?”
“Only what our briefing told us. I do not believe that they are reanimated corpses set to devour the brains of humans. It must be something else, something more sinister.”
“Alien life form bent on recolonization, a trick played by a Transuranic, or even a strange illness. There are recorded cases of people falling into comas that simulate death only to resurrect in the morgue or, worse, in their own coffin. This way, I think.” He began to walk. It was slow going. The sand seemed to have a life of its own. “Why are you so concerned about the afterlife all of a sudden?”
“I just find it peculiar that the same people who believe in a kind and benevolent guiding spirit would also believe in something so horrible.”
Steel slid a bit as he came down off the dune and held a hand up to her. “And for my part, I am not surprised at all. When I witness man’s inhumanity to his fellow beings, I have no trouble at all believing any of this.”
Steel shaded his eyes. “I think I see our destination. It’s either that or a mirage and that’s hardly likely.”
Sapphire smiled at that and slid down the dune and into his arms. He steadied her and smiled gently at her as she righted herself. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure. Do you see it?”
“I do and there seems to be a welcoming party headed in our direction.”
“Not surprising. I don’t imagine an oasis this isolated gets many visitors. Its isolation is both a blessing and curse.”
They walked on and Steel shaded his eyes against the glare of the sun. “They do not seem to be making much headway.” He squinted. “In fact, they seem to have turned back--”
Sapphire mimicked his actions. “No, collapsed, I think. Heat exhaustion?”
“Twenty feet from the oasis?” Steel smirked. “It’s obvious human bodies are not well built for this heat.”
“True. I am feeling rather flushed with it, myself.” A parasol appeared in her hand and she opened it, closing her eyes in relief. “Would you like to share?”
“No, I am built for heat.” Steel was all bravado, but he knew as well that he needed to get into some shade sooner rather than later. He led the way, slipping and sliding in the sand.
As they needed the oasis, the fallen people started to struggle to their feet and stagger towards them.
“Hello!” Sapphire called and waved. There was no response from the people.
“Stay here, Sapphire. I won’t be but a moment.”
“Just permit me my foibles.”
“All right.” She found a stone and leaned against it, her parasol resting on her shoulder. “I’ll wait here.”
Steel hurried the last remaining yards to the figures and stopped. They were more corpses than people. They moaned softly as they approached him, then paused as if confused.
Of course, he thought. Even while Steel might appear human on the outside, it was merely a costume, just like the clothes he wore. Inside he was still steel, iron alloyed with carbon, along with some manganese, nickel, chromium, molybdenum, boron, titanium, vanadium, tungsten, cobalt, and even a trace of niobium. These creatures craved flesh, not the stuff he was made from. However, he looked right and they didn’t quite know what to do about it.
“Go on, I’ve got no quarrel with you,” he said to the nearest one. It growled and reached to him. Steel knocked it easily away and walked past it. Two more spotted him and stumbled in his direction, hands grasping.
Just as easily Steel pushed them aside. He walked a few yards into the oasis, then stopped. Whatever people were here were long gone. The only thing living here were the trees and even they looked a bit worse for the wear.
The breeze came to him and Steel made a face. Decay, rotting flesh, and the metallic smell of blood scented it heavily. More figures started to emerge and Steel made a snap decision.
Sapphire, we are getting out of here! There was no response. He tried again, Sapphire? A moan answered him and he spun. She was stumbling towards him, her clothes torn in a dozen spots, her eyes vacant and staring.
“Sapphire! He shouted and ran towards her, only realizing then that it was too late. Abruptly, other Elementals staggered out from the bushes. Lead, Cooper, Jet, even Silver, all shuffled towards him, the same dazed expression on their faces, the same sightless eyes.
“This is impossible,” he shouted at them. “We aren’t human. We can’t be affected! We can’t--” He cried out as something ripped at him, tearing a chunk of flesh and muscle. “I’m not human! You can’t hurt me. I’m NOT human!”
Sapphire’s voice was a lifeline to him and he grasped at it, dragging himself in its direction. If he was going to die, let him do it while looking at his partner.
“Steel?” The hand was cool on his face and he woke with a gasp. He woke… that in itself was an odd event. Steel didn’t sleep as a rule. “Are you all right? I heard you calling out in your sleep. You seemed terrified.”
For a moment, it was enough to drink in the barren walls of his quarters. He brought Sapphire’s hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it. Then he rested it against his face. It was calming and he heard his heart slow its pounding.
“Yes… I was… dreaming?” He sat up and leaned back against the pillows.
“Dreaming? I wasn’t aware that we could.”
“I don’t recommend it. We were zombie chasers.”
“Zombie chaser? What are zombies?”
“The walking undead. They were dead, but then reanimated to feed off the flesh of the living.”
“It’s not enough we must keep Time on its path. Now the dead come back to life?”
“Not just that. You were a zombie… and everyone else. Everyone except me.”
Sapphire smiled at that. “I think you are feeling what is called left out. Everyone else has assignments, but here we sit.” She stroked his face gently. “Our turn will come, Steel.”
“I know.” Sapphire stood and Steel caught her hand. “Where are you going?”
“I thought back to bed, but if you’d rather I stay with you.”
“Very well.” She moved to reseat herself on the bed and Steel scooted over, patting the side of the bed. She looked as if to refuse him, then smiled again. She laid down beside him, snuggling close as the bed was very narrow.
“Sapphire,” Steel murmured in her ear, softly kissing her warm skin, drinking in her scent. Do you ever think about death? About a Supreme Being?”
“More supreme than Them?” She laughed. “I don’t believe such a thing exists, no.”
“I was hoping you would say that.” And Steel sunk his teeth into her flesh, feasting as he hadn’t eaten in days.