Another day’s efforts. A little over 500 words, loosely inspired by the brilliant Jack Kirby and his Kamandi.
The painting had once been beautiful; the left corner was still clean, and Hadrian saw a dizzying spiral of colors that had perhaps been a meadow speckled with flowers. The rest was caked with soot and ash.
Hadrian’s companion, a small robot about the size of a human head, hovered over his shoulder, it’s electric eye studying the ruined artwork. “That might be worth something, if you can retrieve it without further damage. Specialist Iomhar can work wonders with art restoration.”
“Okay, Bron,” Hadrian said. “But last time, I…” he trailed off as he concentrated, tugging gingerly at the ancient picture frame.
Hadrian stood in the ruins of an old house near the center of one of the great domed cities of New San Francisco, one of the earliest human outposts founded during the height of the Sol Republic. Were Hadrian to look up, through the tattered remnants of the house’s roof, he would see the great hole in the dome, where Protectorate ships had mercilessly blasted holes in the thin layer of protection between the three million inhabitants of the city and the freezing, airless surface of Epsilon Virgo IV. One of the last colonies to fall in the war, the battle was one of the most famous in Protectorate history, but Hadrian knew few of the details. The war had been over twenty years ago, well before he was born.
Hadrian focused on the painting and ignored his own breath fogging up the inside of his transparent bubble helmet. The plastic picture frame held up well, but he feared the canvass within would crack if he pulled too quickly. Slowly, he lifted the frame from the wall and held it aloft. He breathed a sigh of relief.
“Human!” his radio screeched to life, and the startled Hadrian jumped and stumbled over an old chair. The chair collapsed. Hadrian crashed to the floor – on top of the painting, which shredded into a billion fragments. There was just enough gravity to keep the fragments suspended in mid-air all around him. “Human! Report!”
Bron clicked in admonishment. Hadrian reached for the mic at his throat.
“Here, I’m here,” he said, catching his breath. He waved a hand through the blizzard of broken art, immensely sad.
“Tjeerd’s team found a Sol shuttle intact in the eastern port facility. Stop screwing around and get over there.”
An intact shuttle meant an intact computer system, and functional security. Republic ships, in those last xenophobic days, had been hardwired to accept only homo sapien crews. Hadrian was actually an expert in computers and cracking security systems, but for this he would need only his own flesh and blood. Once open, the salvage rats would reprogram the ship and sell it for pure profit. Even twenty-year-old ships were worth good money if they were Republic made, and that wasn’t even counting the collector’s market.
“On my way,” he said, and he hopped to his feet, the light gravity making him look more eager than he felt. Bron buzzed past him and outstretched one of his tiny robotic arms; in its grasp was the clean scrap of the painting, a brilliant splash of life amongst all the dismal grey of the city.
Hadrian smiled. “Thanks, Bron.” He tucked the patch of canvas into one of his many pockets.
“It is nothing, sir,” the robot replied. It drifted away, leading the young man toward the exit. “It is the least we can do for the last living human boy.”