A poison orange smeared against the once-sky. The bastard sun puked through the atmosphere, nourishing fruit-sized tumors on the Inside-Out Men, who howled stupid across the maze of ruin. They could be dangerous, Gadget thought. Perhaps they’d try and eat his rubber pseudoskin, or chip their teeth on his iron wrought skeleton. Or maybe they would just leave his trash-heap corpse behind unharvested; the closest these things ever got to art. Gadget sighed, converting some of the world’s last oxygen into carbon dioxide. He didn’t need to breathe- his lungs were an affectation, something he used only for talking, back when there were people left to talk to. Another one of the Inside-Out Men’s bellows ricocheted through miles of scrap and concrete, splattering flecks of mucus. They’d tear Gadget apart if they smelled him. Maybe he’d stop them. He let his eyes drift while he waited. Something caught his attention.
It was a gristle. A floppy piece of meat-ish that squirmed between the fingers of Gadget’s once-white gloves, vaguely sticky like a vending machine hand resurfacing from a couch. Gadget’s cyborg eyes regarded it carelessly, before drifting to the crumpled sign crowning the rubble from whence it came. Peabody Elementary School. “Wowzers,” Gadget muttered. He let the gristloid flutter to the ground, ending the shredded child’s last contact. He tried not to remember Penny.
When he was a young man, Gadget didn’t realize how long eternity could be. It had taken decades to capture Claw, and when they did he was a wretched thing, a crooked goblin that only half-remembered what it once had been. It died months later, almost as an after-thought. Gadget could have just waited all along. Afterwards, all he did was wait. He waited through the Chief’s surgeries. He waited for Penny’s tears to dry off of his shoes the day they put Brain down. He waited for the last of Penny’s hair to fall out, for her to stop grabbing every lost strand, for her to stop looking at him like that.
The smear on the once-sky had turned a limp purple. Gadget blinked, unaware of when it happened. The Inside Out Men had gotten closer. One had stopped to copulate clumsily with the other, but his genitals were on the wrong side of his pelvis and so he ejaculated whimpers. They wore their hearts on their sleeves, the Inside Out Men, which is how Gadget knew they’d not be leaving him alone. He didn’t know the name of the virus that had done this. He had assumed someone would tell him eventually, but they were all too busy trying to keep their lungs from slopping out their mouths. And so he stood on the wreckage of an elementary school, listening as mutants’ finger bones scraped against their exposed ribcages. Their cracked gums glistened with hunger.
Several punctured exposed organs in the scrumble up the rubble heap. They left trails of bile in the sky as they fell on their backs, their comrades laughing in choked deep tones. Gadget had a rocket launcher in his thigh, a helicopter in his skull. Neither of these interested him. The first wave dug their boneclaws into his chest, which fired sparks that lanced across their veins. They began to tug with their mutant strength, straining steel and ripping synthetic flesh. Gadget looked up at the moon. It was farther away than it had once been. It had inched away from the earth, and now seemed to be fading.