A Moribund Hero
Leon Winter's breaths were labored.
He was exhausted, but compelled to keep running.
One... Two... Skip... Four. He counted his heartbeats, which slowed as his sprints increased.
He was struggling to keep pace, with dust and dirt seeping through his dark cotton mouth scarf and caking the wide brim of his dark fedora hat. His muscles burned with an ache.
If he hadn't trained his body to be a Golden Warrior for all of his twenty years of life, he would've been caught by the biologically and mechanically enhanced humans determined to catch him; the true Golden Warriors.
Many times he almost ran into one of the warriors' black metal ball-like aerial and ground drones. Hundreds swarmed his surroundings, eager to detect him and other refugee criminals. The chances of being caught were high and escape was slim; his life was on the line, in more ways than one.
A warrior party had caught sight of him and others fleeing Tallow's Border; a state once known as Texas on Old Earth maps. But he was able to deflect their trail by eliminating a few of the drones with crude gunshots to their single blue laser eyes. Primitive assault weapons were effective against GCE machines, and they didn't leave a carbon ID. Magic was too flashy and not great for stealth.
A sad twist of fate he found himself in.
He had once believed in the purpose of being a Golden Warrior. An honor to be selected for the Biodroid Enhancement Program all warriors received. Honor became horror when his body enhancement operation was deemed a failure. His heart had been encased within a carbonized crystal substance that released a slow poison into his bloodstream to starve him of oxygen.
To survive, he needed to feed on fresh blood every twenty-four hours to maintain his oxygen levels. Any blood but a human's. So, for days, he had survived on rats and the warm blood of other small creatures, as he escaped to HiRock. Using his non-digital wristwatch to track feeding times.
He couldn't accept his other fate of incineration. Death. Not yet.
It was a shame that the same group of warriors, he had dreamed of being part of, were now relentlessly chasing him. From Silicon Valley's Big Farma House factory, and across the desert canyons of nowhere.
Golden Warriors swarmed the corpse forests and desert plains like vermin in gold body armor. But an ant can slip through cracks where cockroaches can not.
They gave chase through the thick and dense tree corpses, shrouded in heavy, foul-smelling mists and dust clouds. Their drones, scoping and scanning kits weren't equipped to deal with the Old Earth geological obstructions.
Leon was able to navigate the forest and cross the crude barbwire border with a pair of laser cutting tools, scoping kit and his old fashion Magnum 45's docked in leather belt hip holsters.
Dressed in old denim, workman boots, shirt and tie, and a hardy leather overcoat. One would think he was a cowboy of the Old Earth 19th Century Western times. His attire was effective in surviving the harsh terrain.
He left his tools behind and escaped without pause for the entire night.
By morning, he stood on a cliff overlooking one of HiRock's desert canyons. Relishing nothing but the sound of the fierce winds to his back.
HiRock. Once known as Mexico on Old Earth maps. During the aftermath of the Pandemic Wars, which happened in the old world's early twenty-first century, the Big Farma House organizations had seized control of individual governments and declared a new golden age of mankind. Earth was rebranded as Atlas by the year 2069. It had been this way for a hundred years under the one rule of the Global Confederate Empire (GCE). Old Mexico had renamed itself to be distinct from the empire, as it saw itself as one of the last great freeholds for humanity. A wild country near untouchable due to its natural poison mist barriers and concealed electric barbwire fences.
While staring at the freeman's desert-metal lands, his chest muscles ached with the familiar pangs of blood-oxygen starvation. Fortunately, a small, healthy creature crossed his path.
Swiftly, he scooped up the fox.
"Forgive me, and thank you for gifting me with your life. May Gaia grace your afterlife with choice pastures," he said to the fox carcass when he gently laid it down and called upon his fire magic to turn it to ash. He gave it blessings for its way back to the Old Earth goddess he had come to believe in.
He had escaped the GCE. His blood oxygen had been replenished for another 24 hours. He reset the small clock on his wristwatch to track time. Now he was set to fulfill his promise.