The scream which emerged from Sergeant Cole as she awoke was tortured and loud. It reverberated around her apartment and continued until she opened her eyes. It was borne from the dread and terror which continually plagued her dreams. This terrifying new world to which all of humanity had woken up to twenty years ago seemed worse for those like Cole, the folks who could remember the times before, who had enjoyed pizza and movies, the occasional beer at a ball game and lazy days strolling through busy town markets. This had all ended as soon as the scientists had flicked a big old switch somewhere. An experiment into renewable energy that had gone wrong. Their miscalculations had brought a kind of prehistoric hell onto the earth and fear into mankind’s every waking moment.
Swinging her muscular legs over her bunk, Cole activated her personal assistant. The AI, who Cole had named Sophos chirpily began to relay the soldiers assigned mission objective. After digesting the briefing and taking the final swigs of last night’s coffee, Cole suited up and left her building.
Sophos automatically adjusted Cole’s glasses for the blazing light from the mid-morning sun. In the past few years, the earth’s sky had changed from blue-grey to violet. It was one of the many changes that Cole’s generation had to get used to. Then there were the cultists that had sprung up that believed that everything that had happened was due to the judgment of some ancient God. Terming themselves ‘The New Dawn,’ they had become the biggest threat to the only hope humanity had of survival. As Cole hiked across the rubble-filled city, she thought about the Confederation and how it had brought a semblance of order when the old governments of the world had collapsed. Even with the shortage of resources it was thanks to their leadership that humans still had running water, electricity, food and perhaps more importantly—weapons tech.
The intel indicated that The New Dawn were holed up in an old factory on the outskirts of the city. They had taken hostages and had set up a radio station, using it to issue demands and to scream about the incoming wrath of their God. The building was a maze of rusted machinery and broken conveyor belts. As Sophos provided an overlay of the facility onto Cole’s glasses, the AI also began to make an assessment as to where the hostages were most likely to be held. Absorbing the information, Cole disengaged the safety on her rifle and headed towards the main assembly hall.
“Brothers and sisters, children of the apocalypse, the time of reckoning is at hand! Tchernobog awakens and we must be ready to receive him.”
Cole heard the tired familiar rhetoric as it resounded off the corridor walls. These creeps always spouted the same old crap, even when they were arrested and held in a jail cell for a few days. She was sick of it. Reaching the large double doors that lead to the hall, Cole paused and took a few deep breaths. Despite the adrenaline spike charging through her body, she wanted to take this slowly. Sophos couldn’t give her an accurate threat assessment due to the thickness of the walls. If she burst in through the doors, guns blazing, any hostages in there would be as good as dead. She slowly pushed the left side of the door open using the barrel of her rifle and quietly entered the room.
Sergeant Cole saw a group of fanatics dressed in tattered robes and armed with makeshift weapons. Some of them stood guard over a group of civilians. The civvies looked like the standard homesteaders you would find in the wastelands. Faces scorched with the sun and good honest faces which came from the hard work of bringing the dead soil to life. In the center of the room, with her back turned towards Cole, was a skeletal figure. Her body, although covered in a dark purple robe, appeared emaciated and twisted. This would be the prophetess, the leader of this cell of The New Dawn. Figures rumored to have received visionary powers from their God at a great price.
Exhaling softly, Cole moved forward. She raised her rifle to eye level and engaged the auto-targeting systems. Training her gun towards the cultist nearest to her she observed his manic eyes and ritually sacrificed face. Something about The New Dawn’s predilection of carving sigils into their skin and branding themselves with weird occult tattoos always unnerved the soldier. A breath caught in Cole’s throat as the cultist flicked his eyes towards her. As he comprehended what he was seeing, he opened his pierced mouth to alert his brethren.
Cole decided to do that for him. She pulled the trigger of the rifle and let out a single shot which smashed through the back of his throat. The cultist gurgled and then collapsed onto the floor. One of the women in the group of hostages he had been guarding began to scream before one of her companions quickly hushed her. So much for the silent approach, Cole thought.
The Sergeant swung her rifle towards the center of the room, the targeting reticule on her HUD danced across The Prophetess’ face. The leader of the cultists had turned at the noise. Cole had wished that she hadn’t, the woman’s face was covered in puissant boils, the short strands of remaining hair on her scalp were coated with dried pus and her eyes were covered in a rheumy, clear film. She looked like she had emerged from one of Cole’s darkest nightmares.
“Let the hostages go and there will be no further need for bloodshed.” Cole’s voice was strong and resonant. She knew in situations like this, it was important to establish control.
The Prophetess’ mouth twisted in a grimace of hatred, she regarded Cole for a moment before stiffly raising her hand and pointed a bony claw at the soldier. When she spoke, it sounded like flint being scraped across a cold metal floor.
“It was your kind that brought the reptiles here. Science borne of your arrogance unleashed forces which even your leaders could not comprehend. But now, because of your mistakes, this world belongs to us and the great lizards.”
There was some truth in what the old woman was saying. The CERN experiment had somehow merged the earth with some prehistoric time. The years that followed had seen desperate attempts by various world governments to take back control. This culminated in a nuclear holocaust in a misguided attempt to wipe out the creatures that roamed the wastelands and the jungle. The fallout had caused mutations for some and painful lingering deaths for others. In the aftermath, some turned to darker religions to find a semblance of meaning in an attempt to comprehend a situation that no human could possibly understand. But as much as Cole could sympathize with that thought process, she knew that there was never an excuse to endanger innocent life.
“Let these people go. What benefit would it give you to harm them? They are just farmers. Let them out of here and I will put down my weapon and you can have me instead. I’m a valuable asset. The Confederation would trade more for me.” Cole stepped forward as she spoke, glancing around the room quickly so that Sophos could get a bead on the targets if this thing went south.
From The Prophetesses mouth emerged a low guttural laugh then came the worlds.
“What makes you think we want to trade.”
Moments after she spoke, the screaming began. The hostages were being stabbed and sliced. Cole caught glimpses of their faces filled with terror and pain as she flicked her rifle into fully automatic. When she pulled the trigger a millisecond later, the first volley of shots cut into the target in front of her. The bullets penetrated The Prophetesses paper-thin flesh and tore into her kidneys and stomach. The old woman’s face morphed from hatred to surprise as the high caliber rounds tore into her torso.
Gritting her teeth Cole turned the barrel of the rifle towards the other cultists in the room. Some had pulled out hand guns, but most had only been carrying knives. It was over in moments. They were all dead. The terrorists and the hostages alike. Cole had taken some damage from the cultists firearms but her armor had managed to take the brunt of it.
“This is not a good outcome sergeant” Sophos’ usually chirpy tone now contained an element of sadness.
“No, it’s not.” Cole agreed as she began to investigate the area. Something didn’t add up, the cultists hadn’t erected any defenses and they hadn’t brought any significant firepower in case they were compromised. Looking around the floor near the hostages, Cole saw strange symbols. An eight-pointed spiked star, a series of snakes swallowing their own tails and simple triangles with open eyes sketched below them.
“These images indicate that these people were intended for sacrifice. A cross check shows that these are a mixture of pop culture occult iconography mixed with paleo-Gnostic symbology. Everyone here, including The Prophetess intended to die today.” In its sing-song voice Sophos had answered Cole’s unasked question.
Cole nodded, the full ramifications of what had happened hitting her like a sledgehammer. She had aided in this. She had helped facilitate this ritual by attempting to save the hostages. She spent a moment thinking about the victims and silently apologizing for not being able to help them. Military resources were stretched thin attempting to protect planetary resources. One person teams were now normal practice for situations like this.
“Sergeant, we need to go!” Sophos’ voice urgently rang in Cole’s ears.
Attracted by the gunfire, the lizards had come. Cole could feel tremors under her feet. That was her cue to haul ass. Cole bolted through the factory and had just about made it outside with a raptor claw sliced into her face. She tried to raise her rifle but the second raptor drove its teeth into her arm. She dropped the rifle and began to tumble and roll in a desperate attempt to get away from these prehistoric predators. They snapped and slashed at her as she attempted to draw her sidearm. The ground continued to shake. Somewhere in Cole’s mind it registered that it wouldn’t be long before big momma appeared on the scene.
The second raptor obviously favored her right arm as it began to savage it again. This time its teeth went deeper. It drove its mouth into her flesh, tearing and ripping as it went. The other beast seemed to hold back; it seemed content to let its partner do all the work for now. Despite the pain that was firing through her body, Cole managed to keep calm. Using her left hand, she quickly slid free her tactical knife. With a yell of anger, she slammed its serrated blade into the snout of the raptor that was feasting on her arm. It squealed in pain and Cole felt some satisfaction in continually ramming the knife into its reptilian face again and again. Its companion had backed off sensing that Cole was not the easy target that they had originally thought. That was the thing about raptors. They were clever hunters, but they also had an overriding sense of self preservation.
The space between the tremors was less frequent. Sophos projected that big momma was about 15 mins away. Cole got to her feet and contemplated picking up her rifle. No doubt there would be other dinos on their way. Perhaps some scavengers who were looking for leftovers or more predators looking to claim an easy meal. She knelt and tried to flex her fingers over the butt of the gun but it was no use. Her arm was too badly damaged.
“Must I remind you sergeant that we must get out of here?”
Cole laughed at the AI’s concern. “You know my little buddy. You have a hell of a talent for stating the obvious.”
She gave up attempting to lift the rifle and got to her feet.
“I have summoned a unit. They are on their way with a medic on standby. Monitoring your vital signs and regarding your inappropriate humorous response to a dangerous situation, I believe you may be in shock.”
A few moments later as she was being airlifted away Cole watched as the Tyrannosaurus came into view. Its lumbering pace and majestic body was a good reminder that Earth didn’t just belong to humans any more.
How it was used: After writing the story I inputted it into the AI and asked if the narrative would be appealing to fans of the writer Dan Abnett and post-apocalyptic literature. I also asked if the depiction of the dinosaurs used was accurate. The AI was finally asked to correct any spelling issues.
AI response: “The Story you’ve provided has elements of both Dan Abnett’s style and post-apocalyptic narrative, making it potentially appealing to fans of his work and fans of the genre. It combines elements of survival, a dark and dangerous world, and a strong protagonist facing formidable challenges. The mixture of science gone wrong, cultists, and prehistoric creatures adds intrigue and suspense to the narrative. Overall, it has the potential to captivate readers who enjoy Abnett’s storytelling and post-apocalyptic themes.
The description of the dinosaur in the story is that of a Tyrannosaurus, which is a well-known and iconic species of dinosaur. The mention of its large size, lumbering pace, and majestic body aligns with popular perceptions of Tyrannosaurus rex. However, it’s worth noting that our current understanding of dinosaurs is based on scientific research and discoverid_es, and some details of their appearance and behavior may be subject to ongoing study and revision. Nonetheless, for the purpose of the story and its narrative impact, the depiction of the Tyrannosaurus can be seen as an imaginative representation within the context of the post-apocalyptic world.”
My experience using AI: I wanted to write in a genre and style which was new to me. I’m known for my work in horror and franchise-based science fiction but the post-apocalyptic stories of Mad Max have always appealed to me. The wastelands full of dangerous punks and creatures, a beleaguered population and heroes who fought against the odds. At some point my brain also suggested we put some dinosaurs in there too! I found that AI was helpful after I had written the story, it told me what worked and gave me an indication of market appeal. I’m not very familiar with dinosaurs, apart from Jurassic Park, I haven’t read a dino book since I was a kid and I wanted to know how accurate my depiction of the T-Rex and the raptors were.
My personal view is that AI is a tool which can not replace human ingenuity or imagination. Telling stories is currently the sole preserve of humans and there is evidence to suggest that building culturally resonant narratives are the key to our progression. There’s a justified fear that faceless executives in large corporations may be planning to remove human writers. I believe that some companies may try that however the product will always be inferior. I wouldn’t go out of my way to incorporate AI as I write comics or audio dramas but I did find this challenge an interesting and positive experience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A writer who specializes in the Horror, Science Fiction, fantasy, western and crime genre. Chris has been the lead writer in novels, comics, audio dramas, and games. He is the co-creator of the popular StokerVerse, along with Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker. He has also created a science fiction and fantasy franchise with Babylon 5’s Claudia Christian called Dark Legacies. Chris has worked on The Terminator series, is the lead writer for the Astroboy animated show, and also works on franchises such as Doctor Who
Published in issue #144 • Special AI Discovery Issue • July 2023