The Salt Worms: Part Sixteen


“Why do you get to decide everyone else’s fate?” Manuel Carrillo’s hands shook with rage. “What gives you the right?”

“It…doesn’t matter,” Nathan let his hand wander towards his holster. “I just get to.”

“No…you DON’T!” Manuel bellowed and leapt through the air towards Nathan!

Faster than he could even think, Nathan gripped his gun and whipped his hand forward. He never pulled the trigger, but somewhere in their scuffle something put pressure on the gun in just the right way.

BLAM!

The shot was deep and heavy. Manuel’s hands, entangled around the bomb, loosened their grip and the man slumped backward.

“What did–what did you–” Nathan’s eyes went wide in shock. “Why did you go for the bomb, Manuel?!” He shrieked in anguish. “You should have gone straight for me! You knew I was going for my gun, didn’t you? So why didn’t you go straight for me?!”

But while Nathan sobbed uncontrollably Manuel had offered no answers. As with every time before, fate had prescribed that Nathan would be the victor and that his path to success would remain clear.

Back in the present day Nathan kept trudging forward, feet throwing up small clouds of dry salt with every step.

“Manuel couldn’t stop me…that assassin last night couldn’t stop me…the men in that truck couldn’t stop me…”

But he didn’t think it was because he was too skilled or too smart for them, not really. He knew it was fate that kept him going, and fate alone.

“I wish one of you had been able to stop me!” he rubbed away the tears with the back of his hand. “I wish you hadn’t let me kill you all!”

It was too much of a burden having to killing good people for this mission. It wasn’t that he didn’t believing in his cause, just that he couldn’t answer anymore whether it was worth the cost.

But…this was the path that fate had put him on, and only fate would relinquish him from it.

“I’m tired of being your agent,” he muttered softly. “Retire me…please! Choose another champion.”

Nathan realized his thumb was twitching on the release button for the portable nuclear bomb, his hand’s muscles were nearly exhausted. Craning his head to look over his shoulder he saw that he had long since moved out of range of the New Denver sniper. He couldn’t even see the city anymore. So he reached down and pulled the paperclip out of the hole in the bomb’s side. The blinking light turned dark and he was safe to remove his thumb.

“Soon,” he said. “Soon my part will be over.”

Just a few more moments and the worm and he would be dead. Then it would be upon the shoulders of others to take the next steps in this journey. Others would lead the masses to the West Coast. Others would build the boats and push off into the ocean. Others would navigate to Hawai’i or New Zealand. Fate would choose those souls just as soon as his chapter was over, he was sure of it. Hopefully their burden would be happier than his.

“Unless you radiate this whole area and it kills anyone who comes near,” a cynical side of Nathan spoke up.

“I hope not…” he said wearily. “But in either case…what will be done will soon be done.”

Nathan came to a full stop. It hurt to change his momentum so suddenly…but he had seen it! There, on the horizon, was a dark mound, the only disturbance to the extreme flatness that otherwise extended in every direction.

“The nest–” his hoarse voice croaked.

It had to be! Part of him couldn’t believe that after such a long journey the end could now be in sight…but it had to be!

Most of Nathan’s extremities were completely numb, his breathing was weird and labored, and his consciousness felt detached from his own body, but he didn’t care. No wounds or aches mattered now, so he settled into as fast of a jog as he was capable of and closed the distance to the nest.

And it was, indeed, the nest. Sprawled out for more than a hundred yards in each direction were stacks upon stacks of giant, yellow-and-green marbled eggs, slightly translucent with larva the size of a man wriggling inside. Several of the eggs were already cracked open, and adolescent worms the size of a truck were trying to burrow into the ground, but they were having a difficult time breaking through the hard, caked salt.

“I made it,” Nathan gasped as tears streamed down his face. “I made it. I finally made it.”

A few of the adolescent worms turned at the sound of his voice and began blindly feeling their way over to him, mouths opening and closing.

Nathan didn’t care. And he wasn’t about to waste time basking in the moment either. He lifted his foot and slammed it into the salt as hard as he could, raising a cloud of white all around him. Then he did it again. And again. Pounding a rhythm into the ground.

While continuing the rhythm, he cradled the portable nuclear bomb in his wounded arm and pressed its second button twice, then the first one once. The LED began flashing yellow, signifying that the weapon was armed. Another press of the first button would detonate it.

Soon.

Krrrawww! one of the nearing worms pulled back and whined hungrily.

Nathan reached his good head down to his belt, pulled out his sidearm, and shot the worm five times. It rolled over onto its side, dead.

And then he felt it.

All the ground began to tremble. A rolling, shaking rumble that passed under his feet in waves. Thirty feed ahead the salt began to dance up into the air, sparkling in the sun like a million tiny lights. And then, at last, the carpet of white opened up and the Giant Sand Striker Worm broke the surface, slowly raising higher and higher, bending its open-jawed face down towards Nathan, a threatening roar gurgling in its throat.

“The hero…or the villain…?” Nathan rested his finger on the nuclear bomb’s button. “That’ll be up to the others to decide.”

He pressed the button and heard a mechanical click inside of the device. All the rest was blinding light.

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