Time: 2015 EST/ 1615 GMT
“What is that?”
Angel watched as her father pulled a long tube from the back of the second gun locker in their survival bunker basement. It looked like a massive poster tube, big enough around that it took two hands to fully circle. He hefted it over a shoulder by its strap and let it hang. He did not answer as he grabbed more ammunition magazines and slid them into various pouches on his vest. He grabbed a second vest and continued to load it as well.
“Seriously, Dad, what the hell is that?” Angel hated when he went silent on her, even when it was not the end of the world. Now she was really starting to reach a panic level. For eight hours they had monitored the radios, tried to make contact with others in their area on the internet, called every emergency hotline they could think of, and done everything short of venturing up stairs and outside. Finally, her father had declared it was time.
Wordlessly he held out the vest to her. “Strap this on, you’re going to need it.”
She started to protest, stomping her foot on the slate tile of the bunker. He shook the vest in his fist but did not say anything. Relenting she reached out and took the garment, surprised at its weight and begin to slip into it. “Now will you tell me what it is?”
“Stinger antiaircraft missile deployment system with modifications for dumb fire direct line deployment.” His flat tone matched the manner in which most men might describe the ingredients of a salad.
Angel stood silent, shocked. Her dad had kept an antiaircraft missile in their basement?
Roughly her father pushed another missile tube towards her. “Sling that on your back, just in case.”
“Just in case?” She stammered. “Just in case of what?”
Her father shrugged and grabbed hold of an assault rifle, slipping it up into a comfortable carry position with practiced ease. “Dunno. Just in case.”
“What do you think we’re going to need a single rocket launcher for, let alone two?”
“It’s a guided missile, not a rocket,” her father corrected.
“So. Not. My. Point.” She folded her arms again, just stopping herself from standing straight up and letting the weight of the missile launcher pitch her onto her ass.
Her father crossed to the airlock and started the cycles to exit the bunker. “I don’t know if we’re going to need them, which is exactly why we’re bringing them. Maybe what you heard was nothing. Maybe it was something. For all we know we’re going to up there and be the only two people not speaking Korean. So we take everything we might need just in case we do need it.” The door opened with a hiss. “Now quit your whining and let’s go see what’s what.”
Angel grabbed the rifle and followed him into the airlock. Outside, the street was as quiet as she had left it. She could still see the puddle of her own vomit in the middle of the road. Everything was just as it had been from the whips of Alexandria’s hair to her mother’s blue mini van. She started to wonder what had happened to her mother. Was she ready to go look inside? Could she handle the knowledge that her mother was no more than bones and sinew, now?
Before she decide the roar of an engine sounded again, this time far closer than it had been earlier. Her father did not speak, but instead motioned her to follow him around her car and take cover, putting the vehicle between themselves and the noise. They crouched there as the sound drew closer to them. Angel leaned over to peer around the fender and caught sight of a large armored vehicle gliding around the corner at the end of their street. What shocked her was that the massive tank-truck seemed to be floating on some kind of jet system. That was the noise they had heard. She ducked back quickly, her breath quickening.
The sound ended and she could hear it come to land on the concrete. She dared another glance, spotting several figures in hazmat suits moving around the vehicle. They appeared to be armed with high tech carbines or other short rifles. She had never seen anything like them before, which made her stare. Where most girls had their choice of Teen, Seventeen and the like, the only periodicals to come to the house were American Shotguns, Hunters-life, and a short lived magazine called Braids and Berettas(tm). She was sure she had seen every firearm ever produced and that was one she did not know. With a firm hand on her arm, her father pulled her back behind the cover of the car.
He held his finger to his lips once and then began to pull something out of his vest. It was about the size of a softball, a hollowed out area showing an MP3 player wired into something at its core. He turned on the screen, and then peeked over the hood of the car quickly.
“What are you doing?” Her voice was as low as she could keep it.
“Checking to see what their intentions are,” her father whispered back. He pressed an icon on the display and then turned to roll the ball towards Scott’s car. She watched as it disappeared out of sight under it. For a long moment there was nothing, then a voice called out from under the car.
“Hey, can I get a hand down here?” It was a line from some movie, followed by several other film snippets, all making some kind of greeting or request for aid. Pressing her back to the side of the car, she started to ease herself upwards to peer over the door to see how the suited men would react. She had barely moved an inch when her father’s hand pressed her back down to the concrete drive. He shook his head and then pointed once at his eyes, and then at Scott’s car.
She nodded her understanding and then turned to watch the other vehicle. She did not have to wait long. There was the roar of the engine, the same that reminded her of a jet’s take off, followed by a series of rapid “wooshing” sounds. She had heard them before in countless documentaries. Even though she had tried to brace herself, she still jumped when the rockets impacted with Scott’s car, turning his final resting place instantly into a ball of fire and twisted metal. She did not even hear herself yelp over the noise, but the glare from her father assured her that she had failed to remain silent.
“Well,” he said in a low voice. “Now we know.” He swung the missile launcher from his back and pulled the cap off the sight. “And knowing is half the battle.”
Wordlessly, Angel watched as he took several steadying breaths and then rose up on his knees to aim the launcher across the hood of the car. She could not focus on anything else as he flipped open the safety on the firing switch. There was a series of tones followed by one long slow sound. He pressed down on the key and a blast of smoke and flames shot out of the back of the launcher as the missile shot forward. She had to see. Spinning, she pushed herself up and caught the last moments before the missile impacted with the front of the APC, sending the figures in the hazmat suits diving away for cover. Flames and smoke engulfed the vehicle and she smiled with pride that her father had just single-handedly saved the entire neighborhood, or what was left of it.
She clapped her father on the shoulder, expecting to see him turn and smile at her. He did look at her but his face was serious.
That made no sense. He had just blown the vehicle into scrap parts. Tankbuster- achievement unlocked. Why would he want her to run?
She spun and began to sprint away from him. She had no idea why she had to run so hard but something in his voice removed all doubt that she should hesitate. She heard the sounds of the rockets again and slowed enough to look over a shoulder. He had managed to swing his rifle up, but had not fired a single shot before the rockets hit her two-door. She forced herself to turn away from the explosion and focus herself on the gap between Scott’s house and the McClearans’. She could hear the sounds of more rockets and another explosion. She tried not to think about her mother’s blue minivan and the likelihood that it now was the same quality of scrap as her own car. She had not run through backyards since she was in middle school, and the fence separating the McClearans’ from the house behind them was approaching at an alarming rate. Angel shut her eyes for a moment, envisioned herself vaulting it, and then popped them open to focus on the line where her hands would land.
She pushed off the ground as her hands neared it, and swung her legs around as she did. She could feel the cold metal weave of the top of the fencing dig into her palms as she went over. As her feet came around she swore, both from the pain and from the realization that she was going to land on her face.
Her feet hit first, sending her tumbling forward onto the cold hard ground. It felt like her knees had exploded as they landed. She managed to brace herself with her hands before rolling, the missile launcher slamming into her back as she did. She pulled the strap over her shoulder and was about to push it away when she spotted the APC lifting up over the row of houses. It turned slowly towards her. She lifted the launch tube and forced herself to her knees.
Just like Call to Arms. Just like Call to Arms.
She closed an eye and sighted through the finder. She had fired a surface-to-air missile a million times in that game or one of its sequels. The APC took up most of the visual space, the cross hairs flashing red. She felt along the side of it for the firing switch. Her fingers caught something that she could open, so without a thought as to what it might be, she pulled at it and then pressed down on the button inside. She braced for the launch but instead was greeted with low tones of the tracking system. She wanted to scream at it to hurry up, to give her the green lights, to do something, anything. Holding the button down she watched as the APC twisted slowly on its thrusters, the bright green light burning into her eyes as she watched and waited for that moment.
With a shock, the tone changed to a solid note. She took a breath and felt the surge as the missile shot from the tube. It lanced through the air, a thick smoke trail behind it before impacting on the undercarriage of the flying tank. She dropped the tube to shield her eyes from the bright orange burst as the vehicle burst into flame. Armored plates and odd parts flew through the air in every direction, raining down on her as they did. She sat, marveling at the destruction she had brought, for a moment forgetting her father, her mother’s car, and Scott.
The wooden swing set to her side burst into flame, forcing her thoughts back to her own safety. Three of the figures in the suits had come around the house now and were taking shots in her direction with their weapons. There was a strange hum as they prepared to fire, blenching out some kind of ball of glowing plasma or the like. She did not have time to think before she scrambled to her feet and began running in the direction she came up facing. Her rifle was still back at whatever was left of her car.
As she ran she managed to get her pistol out of it’s holster. Bracing an arm on a tree she pulled herself around it and raised the weapon, using the trunk as cover. With practiced motion she lined up one of the figures and eased the trigger back. She loosed three quick shots and then pulled herself back behind the tree, not even looking to see if she had connected. She spun out to the other side and quickly fired off three more shots. This time, rather than returning to cover, she bolted across the yard towards the line of trees that separated the neighborhood from the county owned park. She could find more cover there, maybe even give them the slip in the denser woods on the other side of it. They were still following her, the flashes of light as balls of energy impacted around her providing a constant and urgent reminder that she needed to spend more time out of doors and less time with a game controller.
The trees opened onto a parking lot. She continued to sprint forward, planting her foot and then pivoting off at an angle. She continued on that track for a few seconds before planting and zigging back across her path again. A car exploded to her left, right where she was headed and she smiled before changing direction again.
It was familiar, the crisp crack of an AR15 sounding. She could see the muzzle flashes off to her right. Several more figures in black uniforms were moving up the parking lot, taking aim at the hazmat-suited men behind her. She spared another look back to see one, then two, of the figures in the suits knocked off their feet by the hits.
“Target down,” one of them shouted.
Angel slowed her strides to watch as two more suited figures emerged from the tree, firing balls of plasma only to be snipped off with well placed bursts from her saviors.
“Target down,” another called out, this a woman.
“Alright, Easy,” another woman called out. “Let’s get out of here. Spice, take point. Cid, Colt, get one of those bodies and move.” She looked around for a moment and watched as one of the soldiers lifted a body over his shoulder. It wore the same black uniform as the rest of them. It was not moving. “You good, Nitro?”
Nitro nodded once as an answer and then started off behind the smaller woman who Angel assumed to be Spice.
“Katana,” one of them shouted, his helmet adorned with a white horseshoe. “We’ve got a survivor to make room for.”
Angel continued to stare, the fact that she was standing in the middle of the parking lot no longer relevant to her. She was not alone. There were other survivors besides her dad and her. Besides her. For three days she had wondered, game marathons only a partial distraction from the truth.
“Orders are clear, Colt,” Katana called back. “Now get that body, and get back to the CAT. We’ve got our intel; it’s time to go home.”
“What the hell? We can’t leave her here,” Colt shouted back.
“You think I like this? You think I want make the call to leave some kid out here?” She beat her hand her fist, letting her weapon slide down to her side to hang by it’s shoulder strap. “This is an intel operation, not a combat mission. We’re far enough off regs without adding a civilian. Plus, if we take one, we gotta take them all, and we can’t do that until we get cleared to Omega.”
“Until we get cleared? What the hell do you think those things are? Mary Kay sales girls? We’ve got confirmed alien boots here. Hell, we’ve got entire alien envriosuits.”
Katana took a step towards him, her face grim. “That’s not up to us, trooper. There’s a protocol. We’ve got orders to follow and we’re going to follow them. Minimal civilian contact, and no rides back to base. None.”
Angel found herself looking back and forth between them, her feet seemingly stuck to the pavement.
“The hell? This isn’t you, Katana. She’s one kid.” Colt looked in Angel’s direction then back at Katana. Katana said nothing and would not turn towards her. Angel silently pleaded, her mind unable to move her to vocalize her need to be taken along, to be taken out of this solitary world. Colt spoke again. “Khnum wouldn’t have left someone behind.”
The one they called Katana glared back at him, her face hardening quickly. “Khnum’s not here.” She jabbed an angry finger towards Colt to emphasize her point. “This is my command now, so get that body onto the CAT or you can stay here with your new best friend and wait for another cloud of death.”
They glared at each other before Colt swore, loudly, and followed the other trooper towards the bodies. He would not look in her direction as he went.
None of them did.
Angel stood, unable to comprehend, as the two troopers dashed past her, and started to hoist up a suited body. They had to be kidding. They had to change their minds. There was no way they could just leave her here.
She took a step towards them. One of them had his helmet marked with a pair of sticks of dynamite. “Please,” she called to him as she started jog. “Please, I can be helpful.”
“Sorry kid,” was all he said as he started to walk quickly in the other direction. He did not even turn towards her.
“But you can’t!” She started to run after them. “You can’t.”
Her foot caught on something sending her forward. She did not even feel the ground as she hit. Her face was covered in mud now. She tried to pull herself up to follow. “Please!” She shouted again, trying to get to her feet.
Neither of them looked back.
Angel fell forward again, and this time did not rush to stand.
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Mr. Osterman's first novel FantastiCon can be found on Amazon.com in both print and eBook editions. It is also available on Smashwords.