Duty of the Masses by Leigh M. Lane

The Music Be The Food flash fiction event continues with round three. This time, the song is one of my all-time favorites, from prog metal master, Devin Townsend, called Kingdom. Give a listen to the tune and then read the first flash fiction piece, by Leigh M. Lane.

Duty of the Masses

Jonah donned his gloves and helmet then pressurized the suit to check for any pinprick holes that may have developed in any one of the seams. Satisfied it was airtight, he checked his oxygen and joined the others at the gate. A small fleet of electro-drones whizzed past them overhead, violet plasma streams stretching between them, their flight path just low enough to threaten a reach here and there at the metal doors ahead.

The newest wall stood a mere three yards inside the last. The workers, covered in sweat and dirt, had resorted to welding together two-foot-thick sheets of steel. Steel had proven the most effective in slowing the sprawl, but that’s all it could do: slow it. But it was also heavy, expensive to forge, and scorching in the summer heat. The workers took turns going to the misters to cool off, and still people lay all along the path, brought down by heat exhaustion.

Better to die working than dissolve into the mass, regionally known as the Creeping Death, the Silver Sprawl or the Gray Goo. Only the alarmists of centuries past had seen it coming, what might become of so much discarded tech with its nanotubes and silicone chips, but even they couldn’t have fathomed the full aftermath.

Jonah’s heart throbbed when the gates screeched open, slowly at first, then faster as the gatekeepers gained momentum. The troops rushed out, and then the doors ached in protest against the thrust of reverse momentum when the keepers leaned against the heavy steel to seal the city behind them. Crackles of plasma lit all around the team as the troops electrified their swords and charged.

Their battle cry reverberated between the new and old walls. The mass had begun to eat through, creating holes large enough for the creature to squeeze through toothpaste-ribbon streams of shiny, black sludge. Thin as they were, they combined quickly to form smaller globs that slowly gained in size.

Jonah assessed the handful of visible puddles. Dozens of men attacked one the size of a car far to the right, slicing at swiping arms and reaching mouths with the plasma-reinforced blades. To the left, a few basketball-sized masses dangled, reaching for the ground, and another, larger one pressed through the foundation below and already sprawled a few feet.

Jonah went for the latter, jumping with a start when one of the smaller oozing bits proved to have a longer reach than he’d anticipated. He kept his distance for a moment, steeling his frazzled nerves, and then rushed back with an uppercut swipe to the arm that still reached and clawed for him. A few others joined him against the group of breaches, mindful of the voltage each of their swords carried. Jonah threw a lucky shot, slicing through the arm just as the salters came by. The severed mass popped and jumped with the surge before falling still and deflating into a pool of dead silver goo.

The small group took on the other smaller masses, then they worked together to keep the larger one from spreading out. Jonah backed up his teammates, watching for any sudden appendages attempting to form through the eraser-sized holes. Where are the freaking welders?

Jonah’s head snapped to the right with the sudden scream. Immediately, he spotted the offender, and he, along with several others, ran to try to save the man, who wore a stunning black powdered armor suit.

The mass already had him up to the ankles, and tentacles were reaching to take parts even higher up. Jonah and the others took turns slicing at the reachers, severing them bit by bit. The salters had already made their pass, but a couple of them backtracked when they heard the screams. Even with their help, the hole on that side had grown too large to manage, and the mass crept up the man’s suit.

The man’s screams came nonstop, and someone suggested he turn off his mic. Jonah really wished he would, although the rest of the team’s eardrums would be the least of his concerns if the mass were climbing his suit. The man swung wildly at the excess glossing over his shins, despite the danger he put his fellow teammates in with his unchecked movements.

The men had no choice but to back off, doing what they could to fight around the rogue blade, but there was nothing left to do at this point but offer him a quick death. The horrified man tried desperately to pull free, but he might as well have been trying to pry his armored legs from a tar pit.

Don’t let it get me!” the man shrieked over and over, the words melding into one another.

Appendages swiped at those who would continue to defend the man while the silver glob swallowed him up to his trunk. It amassed at his feet, sealing the man’s fate. The team fought only what tried to spread beyond the man; they couldn’t get any closer.

Jonah dropped his sword and skittered backward when the man’s screams went from terrified to anguished. The words transformed into long, agonized sounds that turned Jonah’s stomach. He could only stare while the man slapped at goo-covered legs, then at his torso. One hand stuck, and the other fell right behind it, and Jonah felt his breakfast start to rise when he saw the stuff rise within the screaming man’s visor. One last scream turned into a pained, bubbly gurgle as the mass slid down his throat and ran up his nose.

His body convulsed, and then he fell limp. The mass swarmed over him.


Jonah turned to find his commanding officer standing behind him, holding his idle sword. The man held it outstretched, and Jonah took the sword, but he couldn’t find the will to return to battle.

His commander gave him a shove. “Get back to it!”

Two more troops became caught in the growing opposition. Others came to their aid, but they could only save one. Three more fell victim trying to help him.

Soldier!” someone yelled from what sounded like a football field away.

Jonah simply stared.

The gate bowed as dozens of silver spaghetti strings burrowed through all at once. Troops went to fight the pooling growths.

Soldier—move! Now!

The order registered, but a moment too late. The sprawl had his boots fused where he stood. He engaged his sword and began to cut away at it, but it had grown too far. He tried to disengage his boots, hoping to jump out of the growing mass, but a nano-goo hand shot out and took tight hold of his arm. As he tugged and screamed, he saw a face looking back at him through the moving sludge. He couldn’t tell whose; the skin had already been eaten off.

A rumbling creak prompted him to turn to the caving, hole-punched outer door. It shuddered, ready to go.

All Jonah could do was watch.

Read more from Leigh M. Lane at cerebralwriter.com.