FUTURE/PUNKS: Read “Russian Roulette” by Christopher Webster

FUTURE/PUNKS is an upcoming anthology series of cyberpunk fiction. The following story has been published in celebration of short story month.

RUSSIAN ROULETTE

by Christopher Webster

The clouds over the dunes are the color of neon green sludge. 

Watching them blossom overhead, Vera Ivanov removes her leather respirator and wipes a line of grit away from its seal. Acid rain won’t kill you, but it’ll burn your gear. She’s willing to sacrifice a lot for treasure, but a leather jacket that cost her forty thousand rubles? Not happening. 

“Hanna!” Vera yells hoarsely into the rising wind.

The rail thin nineteen year old sweeping the flat end of the machine over the sand fifty yards away doesn’t hear her. 

Vera straps her respirator over her face and fingers a square corrugated button on its right earflap. Heavily fuzzed-out guitars and a machine gun snare pummels her eardrums. Blitzkrieg Bop by Sektor Sliz. The song has owned pirate radio waves for weeks now and Hanna’s been clogging the comms with the broadband.

Hey! Ho! Let’s go! Shoot ‘em in the back now – 

Two quick taps to the button and the signal breaks.  

“Hanna,” Vera says, her voice crisp now, elecro-crunchy.   

The teenager turns abruptly, pulls a red bandana from her face and says, “What?” irritably. 

Vera smirks at the girl’s reaction. Hanna plays at being tough, but she’s too clean to be true. Too damn cute. She just likes the gear and digs the tunes, wears the attitude like a fashion accessory. 

Vera points at the growing cloud cover.

Hanna looks up, says, “Shit.”

Vera says, “We gotta roll out,” but then the machine starts screaming and they both shut the hell up for a second.

Hanna throws the machine down, falls to her knees and stabs at the sand with her slender fingers, sending handfuls of fine white grains sailing up into the air. 

Vera breaks into a run, her tall black boots sinking, making it hard to move quickly.

The machine doesn’t scream unless it senses something big.

Hanna’s fingers scrape against metal and she sits up, shock and disbelief crossing her face. 

Vera joins her and they work to clear away sand until they’re staring down at a green metal hatch, a faded red sickle and hammer painted along its top.

“We did it,” Hanna whispers. “We actually found one.”

Vera slaps her on the back and smiles beneath her respirator. 

Working together, they crank the bomb shelter’s hatch wheel counterclockwise until it unseals, blasting stale air into their faces. They pull the lid up, its hinges creaking in agony like old bones until a gaping hole the size of a single person reveals itself in the tundra.

“I’ll go first,” Vera says, throwing her legs over the side of the orifice, her thick soles finding the first rung of the ladder down. She salutes Hanna before descending into the darkness.

It’s cold underground. Vera shivers and waves a hand over the leather bandoliers crisscrossing her chest. The hand motion triggers microscopic graphene atoms which glow softly, lighting her way as she walks through the old army bunker.

The heavy metal structure is low and long, like a submarine buried ten feet underground.  

Vera hears Hanna’s boots touch concrete behind her as she examines shelves lined with supplies and stores meant to last years: tools, blankets and cans of food and water she wouldn’t touch for all the rubles in Slime City. 

She spies a briefcase poking out from under a pile of dusty government papers and pulls it free. Brushing a layer of dust off its top, she reads the gold lettering inlaid across the rich leather as Hanna joins her.

“Pavel Kurochkin. Red Army General.” 

  Vera tries to open the case, but it’s locked. She pokes around the shelf for a key as Hanna roots through the papers. She finds a tattered magazine and flips through it. A half naked woman, heavily makeuped and draped in military garb, seduces from a centerfold.        

“Soviet pigs,” she says, throwing it aside. 

Unable to find a key, Vera slides the briefcase into her shoulder bag. She cinches it up and moves on through the bunker. 

“Look for anything military. Gear, medals, even fashion, whatever, anything we can sell.”

Picking through the remaining shelves, they grab anything that looks like a score. Hanna finds a green, peaked service cap, dusty gold hammer and sickle on the front. She slaps off the dust and drops it on her head, tilting it back slightly and twisting its peak to the side. 

Vera sizes her up, says, “Super cool” in an ambivalent sort of way, but Hanna likes it so she sticks out her tongue and keeps it on. 

A thick metal door marks the end of the bunker’s main chamber. Vera inspects the frame to see it’s slightly ajar. Sliding her fingers through the crack she strains to pull it open, but it won’t budge, so Hanna grabs hold too and they heave it until it opens, the bottom scraping a divvet into the concrete floor. 

Cautious of traps, they slip into the antichamber, letting the graphene light their way as they scan the room. 

A shadow looms on the floor, slowly coming under the light’s soft scrutiny. 

Hanna shrieks when she sees the body slumped against the wall. 

Vera leans down to examine it. It’s a man, the right half of his face splattered against the wall. 

Vera says, “It’s Kurochkin.”

Hanna says, “How awful.” 

Vera rips the buttons from the general’s shirt and they scatter somewhere in the darkness of the room. She digs into the pocket of his pants and searches his body. 

“What are you doing?” Hanna says. “Get away from there.”

Vera whistles when she finds what she’s looking for. She stands and turns abruptly, aiming the barrel of a large revolver in Hanna’s face. 

Hanna screams and hides her faces behind the service cap. 

Vera laughs and holds the revolver at her hip. 

“What’s wrong? Scared?”

Hanna peeks out from behind the service cap and scowls.

“Don’t point that fucking thing at me!” 

“Pussy. It’s not even activated.”

Vera inspects the weapon and presses a square, clear, corrugated button near the handle. The revolver hums to life and blue light emits from inside the cylinder. She cracks the cylinder open and counts. 

“Five rounds left.”

Hanna frowns. “You think he shot himself?”

Vera spits. “Who cares. Red Army scum get what they deserve.”

“How many are out here do you think?”

Vera shrugs. “This will get us a hundred thousand, easy.” 

Hanna smiles. “Enough to get us out of the city for good.”

Vera smiles and lifts her jacket up, sliding the revolver into her belt. Then she leans over and pinches the dead General’s left cheek.

“Thank you for your service, Comrad,” she says. “Let’s take his boots and his belt and roll out. We still have that storm to think about.”

Hanna’s eyes wander towards the ceiling as though remembering the green clouds forming overhead. 

“Don’t worry. We’d have heard the rain loud in this tin can. We still have time, but let’s move.”

Hanna nods three times quickly and helps Vera remove the General’s clothes.

// continue reading //

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