Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chapter 11: Winters, Angelica

Chapter 11:  
Angelica Winters
Day:  E-Day+3
Time:  1210 CST/ 1810 GMT
Location:  30201 Maple Tree Drive, Sugar Grove, Illinois

The space ship rocked with another explosion.  The woman in the pilot’s chair turned to shout at the last remaining crew member.  “Get in the escape pod, Jester.  Get in there, now!”

“No, Captain,” he shouted back as he held to the edge of the hatch to keep his balance.  “I’m the best pilot in the fleet.  I should be the one flying.”

“There’s no return flight on this one, Jester.”

“I know, Ma’am,” Jester answered, his eyes blinking as he argued.  “But there’s only one shot to put the Lexington into Grim Queen's Battleship.  You need the best to be sure it gets there and hits that reactor core.  Otherwise this suicide mission is just... suicide.”

The captain shook her head.  “That’s not good enough.  Ever since our mission on Thanos I’ve had a connection to the Queen.  It’s not enough to destroy her ship, I need to destroy her psychic core too.  I need to be there when her body is destroyed.”

“I can fly the ship in and you can jettison the pod just before impact.  You don’t have to die, Captain.”

The woman turned around in the seat to look back over her shoulder.  Her face was grim and resolute.  “Yes I do, Jester.”  

Their eyes locked for moments that felt like eternity.  Finally, Jester pulled himself up and saluted.  “It’s been a honor to serve under you, Captain Serra.”

She nodded and returned the gesture.  “The honor has been mine, Jester.”  She turned back to the controls, not watching as Jester slid through the opening into the escape pod.  The hatch sealed with a hiss, and in moments the small compartment shot out into the black of space.  Through the small port, Jester watched as the Lexington continued to weave its way through the debris field closer and closer to the massive Grim warship and home of their queen.

Captain Serra said nothing as she continued to maneuver through the fields, her face darkening as she did.  Everything had come to this moment.  Years of war, the loss of cities, planets, entire species.  And here it would all end.  Here she would, through her sacrifice, give the galaxy a chance to rebuild.

From the bridge of the massive flagship, the USS Resolution, Admiral Montague watched as the small ship impacted into the Grim warship.  A series of green explosions began at the point of impact, the sickly light bright enough to illuminate his own ship bridge miles away.  As more of of the alien cruiser was engulfed in the green flames, the shadows along the bridge grew darker and more pronounced until finally he had to raise his hand against the glare to shield his eyes.  He had lost a friend and a lover.  The galaxy had lost a hero.

A rich male voice spoke as a green skinned alien stepped into view, her hand coming to rest on the Admiral’s shoulder.

“And so it was that destiny took Captain Serra, ensuring that mankind and all the known races of the galaxy would live on.  They would rebuild, they would grow strong again, and most importantly, through her final sacrifice, they would survive.”

Angel stifled a yawn.  The first time she had watched this scene play out she had been a sobbing wreck, unable to move from the couch for an hour as she watched countless highlights from the ninety hours of gaming flash on the widescreen TV.  For three games she had guided Serra down this path.  The foreshadowing had been pretty clear early in the third game, but as the story had progressed, presenting more and more images from her character’s experience, Angel had simply been unable to contain her emotions.

That first play through had ended a  six year journey from the initial moment she played the first game in the trilogy until the release of the third and final installment.  But that was then.

Now, having played through the final game game four times since her father had locked them both in their basement safe room, there was no emotion left for the fate of Captain Serra and the crew of the Lexington.  What had once been the single most emotionally driven piece of literature she had ever engaged in, was now just another boring video, leaving her longing for a way to skip past it and get back to the main menu.  With each pass she realized more and more how little choice she had been given in how the game played out, Captain Serra marching always towards the same sacrifice, the same tried and true means of saving the galaxy.  Tragedy had become routine, the heart rending, boring.  Thinking that a full trilogy playthrough would bring back something, she had, over the last two days, played Space Relay 1, 2 and 3 in rapid succession sleeping once and only leaving the couch for bathroom breaks or to cook up some noodles on the single burner stove.  Fortunately, it was all cramped enough that she could still see the TV while she prepared her food.

And of course there had been the two hours of required multiplayer that she had played that morning with someone from Georgia.  That had been a scary interlude on its own.  They were playing one moment and then quite suddenly Mina had to log off and deal with some kind of emergency wherever she was.  Thankfully a few hours later a message came through the game network confirming that she was fine and the emergency, whatever it has been, had passed.

Angel stretched out, letting the game controller drop to the couch next to her as she did.  It had been over twenty hours since she’d slept and she should be exhausted.  Instead she felt rather wired, awake, and restless.  She needed to do something.

She surveyed the basement where the two of them had been holed up the last few days.  Under most circumstances, being seventeen and trapped in a five hundred square foot space with your father would be considered hell on earth.  In this case, however, this arrangement had probably saved her life.  Her father had been prepared for a moment like this for over forty years, as her grandfather had before.  The lower level of their home, situated in a sleepy suburb of Sugar Grove, was a complete survival bunker.  Over the years they had added an air filtration system, chemical toilet, water recycler and weeks worth of dry goods.  They had sealed the windows, after adding a triple paned glass, and the bottom of the staircase featured a home built airlock.  In fourth grade she had done a science fair project on positive pressure airlocks, with complete working model, a project that had impressed her teacher, and won her first place for her grade and fourth place for the school.  It had also given Stacy Rowlings sufficient reason to “trip” and give Angel a black eye on the playground.

Despite the waves of clouds of death, there was still electricity, internet and cable.  She suspected that they would eventually have to start up the generator, but was grateful there was not a need yet.  Modern automation was a thing of beauty.

She arched her back again, and stretched her hands out over her head.  Picking herself up off the couch she started to fish around in the blankets and comfortables for a sweatshirt.  Her sneakers were under the coffee table, though her coat was still up stairs, beyond the safety of the bunker-basement.  She slipped on her shoes and stood up, looking around for her father.  He was sprawled in the easy chair in the corner, a well worn copy of the Bible resting on his chest as he slept.  She crossed the room past him and pressed the key to pressurize the airlock and fill it with filtered air.  Even though they had run the drills monthly since she was six, Angel’s father still insisted on having the sequence of pressurizations and releases posted on the glass, the steps color coded to the buttons on the controls.

“Take a gun.”

Angel leapt in the air with surprise and yelped.  She looked over at her father who had not moved.  His eyes were still closed and the Bible remained undisturbed against his chest.  If she had not recognized the voice she might have thought someone else was in the basement with them.  She clutched at her chest, feeling her own heart suddenly racing.

“I’m just going out for a walk,” Angel finally said.

“Take a gun.”  He still had not opened his eyes, though he did shift a little in the chair now, moving the heavy tome on his chest and settling deeper into the cushions.

Angel let out a sigh.  She was not a child, and while it was good that he was not trying to stop her, she did not need to arm herself just to look around the neighborhood.  This was Sugar Grove, not the Howard Redline Stop.  “Dad, I won’t go that far from the house.”

“I said ‘take a gun’, dammit.  I’m not going to try to keep you here but if you’re going out, you’re going out like you mean business.  So march yourself over to the armory, and take a goddamn gun.”

“Dad,” she started to protest.  It was not that she did not know how to use a firearm.  He had been taking her to the range since she was old enough to handle a pistol.  Nor was she particularly reluctant to use one.  Guns were like any other tool, appropriate for the specific task of killing something, generally something that wished her harm.  But if there really had been clouds of death sweeping through the greater Chicago area, who was left to threaten her and would they really be lurking along some sleepy suburban street in Sugar Grove?

Her father sat up quickly, his feet swinging out to straddle the foot rest as he lunged forward.  He did not rise from the chair, but Angel still took a step back reflexively.  “You’ll do as you’re told or you’ll sit your ass back down on that couch.  Now ‘honor thy father’ and, goddamn it, take a gun.”

For someone so quick to quote scripture, Angel was always amazed at how much her father swore.  She glared back at him and saw an intensity in his eyes she had seen few times before.  Once had been when he had told her mother to get out of the house, the result of a bloody nose her mother had bestowed on her for talking back one too many times.  Another time had been when he had caught her smoking with Haley Crothers inside one of the concrete tubes at the park.  She was done arguing.

Sulking, she crossed to gun cabinet, and lifted the open padlock from the latch.  She pulled it open and surveyed the arsenal of choices.  After a moment of thought she took hold of her favorite, a .22 revolver she had nicknamed Scout.  She sighted once down the barrel, mostly out of habit, then proceeded through the methodical process of loading it, sliding it into a holster and strapping the pink leather belt about her waist.  It was a cross draw, setting the weapon high on her left hip, and felt familiar and comfortable.  Carefully she closed the cabinet, returning the open padlock to the latch.  In a few strides she crossed back to the airlock and twisted her hip to show the weapon to her father.  He had continued his vigil as Angel had made her selection.  He nodded once, approvingly, and then laid back into the chair.  He closed his Bible, set it on the small table and folded his hands on his chest.  Angel was sure he was asleep again before she had managed to seal the airlock and start the shift from recycled to outside air.

She was not sure what to expect as the airlock opened and allowed her to access to the staircase leading out of the basement.  There were no shockingly odd smells, and everything was quiet.  Still as the grave her grandfather would say.  The sounds of her footfalls on the tile stairs echoed in the tight staircase as she made her way up making her feel even more alone.  There was no familiar hum of the refrigerator; it had been unplugged and emptied the moment her father had declared that they were moving below.  As she emerged from the basement onto the main floor, she could see that the front door was still dead bolted, and the front hall remained untouched from when they had left it.  Her messenger bag of textbooks and notebooks still sat against the half wall separating the kitchen from the living room, the exact place she had dropped it in her haste to get below.  She retrieved her phone from an outer pocket, the battery having run dry days ago.  She began to look for a place to plug it in, then slipped it into her jeans.  If they lost power it would be better to have it plugged into the generator.

She retrieved her wool pea-coat from the kitchen table and slipped it on, adjusting her belt to keep her sidearm accessible.  The silence was making her more nervous than she had been, and the weight of the gun gave her some comfort.  She passed through the front all and unlocked the front door.

Silence greeted her with the kind of severity that a raging storm might.  Gone completely were the common sounds of cars passing through the neighborhood, seeking a shortcut between major roads.  It was early enough in winter that there might have still been some birds passing south to warmer climes or even the chattering of a squirrel or two finalizing his winter plans.  There was not even a breeze to move through the empty bows, or to rustle the various holiday banners adorning the small comfortable, if very similar, homes.  Mini-McMansions her friend Jeff had called them distastefully.  His family owned a house that was compilation of expansions to a small cottage, a patchwork of mismatched constructions that was a perpetual source of frustration and pride.

Angel looked up and down the street, taking a few steps out from the front door, and onto the small walk.  She was not sure what she had expected to see, her mind hoping to catch sight of someone else doing the same as she: looking for other survivors.  It was an irrational hope, of course.  Even if there had been other survivors, others who had managed to seal their homes against the clouds of death, why would she expect them to come out at the same time she did?

“Hello?” she called out into the early dawn air.  Her voice carried, echoing loudest off the garage door across the street.  She stood silently, listening for a sound, any sound, in response.  Nothing.

She walked around the small garden and onto their driveway.  Her ancient two-door still sat there, waiting for her.  It was a solid car, mostly made up of rust and positive thoughts, but for the bargain basement price of three hundred dollars she could not complain.  She put a hand against the side of it, momentarily unsure if it was really there or not.  The metal was cold to the touch, the low clouds covering the noon sun and keeping the air crisp.  She allowed her finger to trace along the edge of the window as she walked down the length of it towards the street.

Against the curb she spotted a familiar blue minivan- her mother’s car.  It would make sense that she would return here to find shelter when it became clear their area would be among the next hit.  She had, after all, been there as Angel’s father had converted the basement into a survival bunker.  She had never contributed to it, though, always rolling her eyes as another pane of glass for the air lock, or some pallet of nonperishable foods was delivered.  Angel wondered what she would find if she investigated the vehicle.

She started to take tentative steps towards it, the tinted side and rear windows hiding its contents from her eyes.  Was her mother hiding there?  Could she have survived this long, through multiple clouds of death, inside a minivan?  Did she even want to know?

Something else caught her eye, causing her to halt her steps.  She could see blond wisps of hair in the car parked on the other side of the street.    It was further down, making it impossible to see much of the back seat.  But the blond hairs draping over it, visible through the back window, made it clear someone was sitting in the there.  She took another step towards it.  The thought of finding another survivor took precedence over checking her mother’s van.

It was Scott’s car, a grey sedan and practical vehicle.  He always parked it in the street.  It had been parked there the first time she had let a boy touch her under the shirt but above the bra.  That was three years ago when Scott was her boyfriend and her father was coming to grips with the fact that boys would take her away from home in a car and had to be reminded to have her back home at a given time.

As her father was frequently in the middle of cleaning a firearm when boys came to pick her up, a fact that quickly made the rounds of school and social media, it was not a common problem.  Even Scott had suggested they see other people after only a six week relationship.

He was dating Alexandria, a pretty girl the year ahead of her, with blond hair that always seemed lighter than air.  Angel took another step towards the car, hopeful that Alexandria and Scott had managed to ride out the storm.  They were slouched low, as though they had fallen asleep in the back seat.  She had reached the curb when she realized that something was wrong.

She knew she should stop, that she did not want to see.  Alexandria's hair looked wrong, thin, and draped over the seat in an unnatural way.  There was no brightness of skin where she could see the tops of their heads.  Neither was moving.

“Scott?” Angel called, the sound echoing again from across the street.  There was no acknowledgment.  She lifted her left hand and set it across the back of her pistol, sliding the leather strap away.  She crossed her right over her body and let her fingers close around the tooled grip.  She continued to move closer.

She had reached the middle of the road when she got her first good glimpse of the passengers.  She stopped.

Scott and Alexandria had not survived.

Angel stared at their remains, unable to take her eyes from them.  If she had not known it was his car, she would have no chance to know the identity of the two sets of bones and sinew she saw now.  The skeletons of two people, two people she knew, were all that showed they had ever existed- skeletons with the remnants of ears, and noses and wisps of hair.  Every bit of flesh, every muscle, even their eyes, was gone.

She could not move and could not look away.  She stood, her hand still on her holstered pistol and felt her stomach churn before she finally dropped forward and allowed it to release its contents onto the concrete.  She remained there for a while, staring at the mess she had created.  She vomited again, this time putting her hands to her knees to steady herself and to keep from falling face first into pool of illness.

Her mind reeled.  Scot had died.  The boy across the street had died with his girlfriend, together in the back of his car.  That might have been Angel, had they been together.  She had always had a crush on him, even after their break up.  She had often seen his car parked on the street, and wondered if she would ever be invited to join him again.  The finality of it all began to hit her with a truth that could not be pushed aside.

This was real.  There were real dead bodies, or what was left of dead bodies, right there.  She tried to throw up again, but instead stood heaving.  Nothing was coming up.  She coughed a few times and then swore, loudly.

She did not check her mother’s van.  She was not ready to be out in this new world and she was not ready to go back inside.  Instead she remained standing in the street, facing away from Scott's car and trying to regain her composure.

The silence was broken by a sound she could not recognize.  She lept at the sound, scanning around wildly for its source.  It was coming from closer to town, she was sure, but it was slowly getting louder.  It was a low, dull roar that reminded her of a subdued jet engine.  Angel continued to stand in the middle of the street, listening.  It was a sign that someone had to be alive, that they were not alone.  The noise was not natural.

Then it faded.  There was a long moment, a void of sound, followed by a scream.  The scream stopped suddenly.

Angel turned and sprinted back towards her home.

Next Chapter --->>>

If you enjoy Bastion: The Last Hope, perhaps consider Mind the Thornsa reader-directed web novel telling the story of Regan Fairchild: Accountant, Bachelorette and Vampire.

Mr. Osterman's first novel FantastiCon can be found on in both print and eBook editions.  It is also available on Smashwords.

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