Disclaimers: Yes, as always, this is an “uber”. The two main characters bear a marked resemblance to two actresses we all (I we hope) know and love (or at least like a lot). But, resemblances aside, they ain’t them. Honest.
Violence and Naughty Language Disclaimer: Yup, it’s there. Bunch of four letter words you mother promised to wash your mouth out with soap if you ever uttered. And violence? Hoo-yeah. It’s a “homage” to Stephen King, and his stories aren’t exactly walks in the park. Usually.
Maintext Disclaimer: This story deals with women and love. And women in love, as well. And it will have a healthy smattering of erotica contained therein. If you don’t like that type of story, hitting the “back” button is still free.
Genre Disclaimer: This is a serial, after the fashion of the Green Mile. It’s an uber/sci-fi/horror/post-apocalyptic piece. If your tastes run more toward present day, or past history, this might not be the story for you. If it is, please, read on.
Serialization Disclaimer: This is a serial. Which means that one part will be coming out each week in old-style serial fashion. The story isn’t finished yet, but we are keeping at least six “episodes” ahead at all times, so while you’re reading “episode” one, we are working on “episode” seven. In other words, we’re not gonna leave you hanging.
Feedback: Is, as always, most welcomed. You can feel free drop a line, positive, negative or indifferent (in which case you probably wouldn’t want to send anything, but heck…) to email@example.com and I will pass it on to my co-writers.
Thanks: To the tried and true fanfic addicts of the Xenaverse. Without you, we wouldn’t have a forum in which to paint our ideas. You rock. Thank you one and all.
“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”
Written by: Susanne Beck, T Novan. Directed by: Okasha.
The tavern is dimly lit, cozy, and smells faintly of wood smoke and evergreen. Still six weeks from Christmas, it is, nonetheless, festooned with sprigs of pine and gaily blinking lights that chase themselves around the walls and rafters in a never ending race.
In deference to the blowing storm outside, the tavern is almost empty. Two couples move slowly across the small dance floor as Randy Travis croons from the juke about old men talking about the weather.
At the far back, where the long, battle scarred bar meets the rear wall, the bartender, a bearish man with a winter-thick beard, sits and thumbs though an old issue of “Detective Thrillers”, his large thumb unknowingly caressing the nearly bare breast of the vixen on the dog-eared cover.
Almost directly across from him, a toothless old codger, well into his cups, lifts his head and stares blearily at the ‘keep through yellowed, rheumy eyes. “Turn on the tube, Harry,” he slurs, toothless mouth working, “I wanna see the game.”
The bartender rolls his eyes and lowers his magazine just enough to pin the old man with a glare. “It’s Wednesday, ya old coot. You know there ain’t no game on.”
“Turn it on anyway. Damn juke’s makin my ears bleed.”
Sighing, Harry tosses his magazine on the bar and stands up, wiping his hands on his too-tight jeans. Reaching up, he twists the knob on the ancient television set sitting on a shelf above the hanging wine glasses that are never used.
The set comes to life gradually, grudgingly, showing fat snowflakes of static with vague, doubled images parading around behind them, incomprehensible to the naked eye. Biting off an oath, Harry twists the channel knob, getting nothing but static all the way across the dial.
“Stupid…tub a’….bolts…” Raising a ham-sized fist, the bartender smacks the side of the set. The picture wavers, then reduces itself to a tiny dot before winking out completely. “Damn it, Clut! Ya made me bust my damn TV.”
“Didn’t make ya do nothin’, Harry. Now get me another drink. I ain’t gittin’ any younger here, ya know.”
“Quit flappin ya gums, old timer. I’ll get to ya.”
Harry turns and looks down to the other end of the bar, where a lone figure sits, clasping a nearly empty bottle of beer in one large hand.
“How bout you, Koda? Want another?”
The figure lifts its head, revealing the face of a stunning woman whose long, dark hair brushes past the shoulders of her oilskin duster. Her smile dazzles the barkeep as she shakes her head slowly. “No thanks, Harry. This one’s fine.”
The ‘keep grunts and turns away, more to slow his racing heart than anything else. He’s never sure why he asks the same question week after week, since he already knows he’ll get the same answer. Dakota Rivers is as sure as clockwork, coming in every Wednesday evening, rain or shine, staying long enough to drink one beer, leaving a large tip, and driving home.
A solitary and quiet woman, she never offers much in the way of conversation, but on the rare nights when alcohol and testosterone mix poorly, she’s always there with a strong hand and a no nonsense glare that stops most fights unborn.
Maybe he asks for that reason, or maybe it’s just so he can see one of her infrequent smiles. Smiles that always make his guts flutter like a butterfly was trapped in his belly, struggling to get out.
Fetching a deep sigh, he reaches under the bar and draws forth a full bottle of Wild Turkey, Old Clut’s drink of choice. As he breaks the seal, the television turns back on again with a loud burst of static, scaring a few more gray hairs into him.
“What the hell?”
The snow obscures the screen for a moment, then clears suddenly, to reveal the face of a teenaged boy.
“That’s Cal Martin’s kid, ain’t it?” Harry asks no one in particular. “What the hell is he doin on TV?”
The boy’s face is battered and bloody, and the few untouched areas are white as chalk. His eyes are wide saucers revealing a soul very close to madness.
“Run!!” he shouts into the camera, body trembling as if he’s holding a live wire. “Get outta here!! They’re killing everybody! They’re….oh God…RUN!!!”
He looks off camera then, and his eyes widen even more. His lips curve and stiffen in a rictus of horror, and a scream, high and breathless, comes up from his very being. He turns and manages a few stumbling steps before an arm darts into the camera’s range and yanks him back by his long, greasy hair.
The scream goes on and on until it is abruptly ended when another arm joins the first and easily snaps his neck. The sound is loud, like a rifle shot, and seems to echo in the suddenly silent air of the bar.
“Jes-us Christ,” Harry breathes as the boy’s lifeless body is indifferently dropped to the ground.
The arms retreat, then reappear, this time attached to the body of a tall, broad-shouldered male. The male turns, faces the camera, and smiles. The picture fades to snow again, blotting out everything but the thin band of silver resting just above the adam’s apple of the smiling killer.
The silence is again broken, this time by the sound of exploding glass as the whiskey bottle Harry has been holding drops from his nerveless fingers to shatter on the floor. The liquid hisses and foams, then goes silent.
Dakota recovers first and strides down the bar until she is opposite the stunned bartender. “Harry?”
When he doesn’t answer, she tries again. “Harry?”
He finally turns, and when he does, his expression is eerily reminiscent of the now dead boy’s. “Was that…?”
Dakota shakes her head. “I don’t know. But I’m gonna try to find out.”
“What are you gonna do?”
Dakota takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly. “First, I’m going to check up on my family.”
Harry’s eyes widen. “Your family? They don’t…?”
“No, but some of their neighbors do, and if what this kid was saying is true….”
Dakota’s hand reaches out and manages to clamp onto Harry’s elbow, preventing him from collapsing onto the floor. “Harry, listen to me. We’re not sure what’s going on yet, and yeah, it looks pretty damn bad, but you can’t panic, alright? You need to keep your head on straight. Going nuts or passing out isn’t gonna help anyone, least of all yourself.”
Looking into his shining eyes, Dakota isn’t too sure what, if anything, is getting through, but she feels a little better once she senses the body under her hand firm up slightly. She lets go, cautiously, ready to grab him if it seems like he’s going to fall out again.
“Are you alright?”
Harry snorts. “No. But I guess I’m gonna have to be, huh?” He looks at her with such an expression of naked pleading that her guts twist, deep inside. “What am I gonna do, Koda? What are any of us gonna do…if what he said is true….”
Dakota looks over her shoulder. The tavern is now empty, except for Clut, who is passed out cold on the floor--drunk or in shock, she doesn’t know, and doesn’t really care. “You got a cot back there, right?”
“Yeah, but what…?”
“Look, this is the safest place you can be right now. There’s no windows, and the doors are solid. Just lock up tight, stay in the back, and don’t let anyone in who you don’t know personally, alright? As soon as I make sure my family is safe, I’ll try and make it back here with whatever information I have.” She sighs. “I know it’s not much, but it’s the best I can offer right now.”
Harry nods slowly. “Okay, Koda. I can do that.”
Dakota gives him a slight smile. “Good. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Make sure you lock up the minute I leave, and remember, don’t open the door up for anyone, no matter what they say, unless you know them well, alright?”
“Take it easy, Harry. I’ll be back soon.”
Walking out into the storm, Dakota waits until she hears the door lock securely, then heads out to her truck.
It is the last time she would see Harry alive.
Scrambling around her townhouse, Kirsten quickly throws as many things as she can into a duffle bag. Her computer and other equipment is already packed in her SUV, and all she has to do now is grab some clothes, which are spread all over her home.
She listens to the screaming of sirens that make it sound as if the city was coming down around her. She knows she has to get out and get out fast. As she grabs a heavy coat off the rack by the door, she chastises herself for not having anything ready sooner. She has had a bad feeling for months, and now she knows she had been right all along.
Carefully opening the door, she takes a peek outside to make sure there isn’t anyone in the area. Satisfied it’s safe, she steps outside runs hell-bent-for leather to her truck. Just as she slips the key into the lock, there is the sound of rapid gunfire.
“Oh shit!” The adrenaline courses through her body as she manages to key the truck unlocked and scramble inside. “I gotta get out of here.”
She sits very still, half ducked under the dashboard, and watches as two police cars go by with lights and sirens blazing full tilt. Taking a deep breath, Kristen starts the truck and pulls out of her designated parking space, knowing that she’ll never see the place she calls home again.
She knows the image will forever be burned into her mind as the day her world ended.
Driving slowly down the street, she tries to look as normal as possible, as if anything could be called normal anymore. The last thing she wants to do is call attention to herself. Getting well away from the city is the only hope that she has and she knows it.
Turning left onto a lesser-used street that is—or used to be-- mostly small businesses, she hopes that it will keep her out of residential areas and possibly out of their sensors.
She can hear more sirens and something that sounds like muffled pops. Her foot presses down slightly on the accelerator as the realization hits her that it’s probably gunfire.
There is a growl from the backseat and a large German Shepard raises his massive head, resting it on the back of Kirsten’s seat.
“Easy Asimov. It’s okay boy. We’re getting the hell out of Dodge.”
The dog climbs over the back seat and takes his regular place in the front seat across from his favorite human. Kirsten reaches over and gives him a scratch on the head. This simple action makes her feel better than she has in weeks.
Months, if you have to be truthful about it, Kirsten. You knew this was going to happen. You’ve known it for a long time. Maybe since the beginning.
“We’re gonna be okay boy. I promise.”
Whether that promise is for him or for her, she doesn’t know, but the sound of her own voice calms her.
She looks around carefully, noticing that the streets are now deserted. A once thriving, lively community reduced to a ghost town in a matter of hours.
Jesus, save this sinner, now and at the hour of her death. Amen.
She’s not a particularly religious person, agreeing for the most part with the “opiate of the masses” appellation, but grade school catechism makes its presence known at the oddest of moments, and she can’t spare the time to question it right now.
Asimov heaves out a sigh and lays down in the seat, seemingly undisturbed by Kirsten’s nervousness.
As she makes another turn, speeding up to get past a large apartment complex, Asimov raises his head and begins growling in earnest. She’s watching him as he faces the window and barks like mad.
Suddenly the truck impacts with something and Kirsten’s head jerks up as a man, bloody and beaten, rolls onto the hood. He is still alive, panicked, and obviously running for his life.
“Help me!” he screams as he pounds on the windshield with his hand. “For God’s sake, please help me!”
Kirsten slams the brake, causing the man to slide though he manages to hang on by grabbing the windshield wiper. Asimov’s barking grows more intense, and she knows what she has to do. Looking the man directly in the eye she says, “I’m sorry.”
Throwing the truck into reverse, she backs up quickly. The force of the acceleration throws the man from the hood and to the ground. Hitting the gas, she speeds past him. Looking in the rearview mirror she can she three of them moving in on him, one of them pointing a rifle at his head. The blast seems to follow her, her guilt displayed for all in Dolby sound, and she speeds up, headed for the freeway that will take her away from this madness.
Dakota’s truck, a decade old campaigner who has been with her since she learned to drive, growls low and moves with confident speed over the packed and blowing snow covering the roads. The sound of the chains rattling as they cut through the icepack can be heard even over the fierce blowing wind.
In this part of South Dakota, where distances between neighbors are oft-times measured in miles instead of yards, or feet, she knows that at the very least, under optimal conditions, it will take her a half hour to reach her parents’ house. With the blizzard, the more likely estimate is forty five minutes, minimum.
She glares at the racked mike of her dashboard CB, listening as static, very much like what was on the television, hisses at her. It is the only response to the constant calls she’s been putting out. Her parents have a big base unit in their home and her youngest brother, Washington, is an absolute radio fiend and is never more than three steps away from it.
“You bastards better not have hurt my family, or I’ll rip you apart with my bare hands.”
It’s pretty impotent, as threats go, but a part of her feels better for having said it. Without bothering to signal, she makes the looping left turn that leads her to her parents’ street, hoping against hope that time is still on her side.
After driving for two hours, Kirsten finally feels like she can slow down and take a moment to breathe. Her route has taken her off the freeway and onto two lane state highways, less frequently used and completely desolate in some places. Pulling onto a wide spot in the road, she puts the truck in park and takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
Asimov sits up and looks at her, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth and his ears completely perked up.
“Bet you need a break doncha?” She nods and pats him. “Okay, but make it quick.”
Getting out of the truck and walking around the front, she can see spots of blood on the grillwork. Feeling slightly sick to her stomach, she reaches over and grasps the handle of the passenger door to let the dog out.
Asimov quickly begins scouting for just the right place to take care of business. Kirsten leans against the truck and takes another deep draught of air. Looking up into the night sky, the normal, familiar twinkling of the stars gives her a false sense of security.
“God,” she sighs, looking away to find Asimov sitting in front of her, waiting patiently. “Well pal, it’s just us, and it’s going to be that way for a while I think. We have to lay low while I try and figure out how the hell to stop this damned awful mess.”
Suddenly, all of the adrenalin that had been coursing through her body during her frantic escape from the city is gone, seeping away from her like water through a sieve. A brutal, clawing exhaustion sets in, and she yawns, jaw cracking with the force of it.
Asimov looks at her and whines.
“Tonight, buddy, we sleep in the truck. Tomorrow, we head to the facility and try to get some answers. Sound good to you?”
A soft bark and a happy tail wag is her answer, and she gives him a fond scratch behind the ears for it.
Both crawl into the back of the SUV. Kirsten rests her head on the pillow she’s had since grade school, and Asimov snuggles his warm length all along hers, pressing closely and making contented doggy sounds as his eyes slip slowly closed.
Before she feels completely safe, Kirsten reaches in a duffle bag and removes her gun. She knows it probably wouldn’t stop them but she knows if her aim is good it will slow them down quite a bit.
“Sleep. I need sleep. It’ll all be better in the morning.”
Dakota leaves the motor running and the lights blazing as she jumps down from her truck and starts toward the front door.
The lights being on likely saves her life as she is able to see the rifle barrel poke out of one of the front windows seconds before it goes off, bullet piercing the air where she’d been not a split second before.
“Who’s there?” comes the quavering sound of a young man’s voice, caught in a quandary of puberty and terror.
“Damn it, Phoenix, is that you, goober?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Now do you wanna put that gun away before you blow my head off?”
Dakota takes no more than two steps toward the porch when the door flies open and her mother, a short, stocky woman rushes out into the snow, her arms flung open. “Dakota! My daughter, you’re home! I was so worried.”
The younger woman takes her mother into her arms and returns the crushing hug, chilled fingers tenderly stroking the thick, silver threaded black hair that is tied back in a fat braid. “I’m home, Mother. It’s okay, I’m home.”
After a moment, she pulls away, large hands descending on her mother’s broad shoulders. “Let’s get inside. It’s freezing out here.”
“But your truck….”
“Leave it that way for now. We need to talk.”
Stepping inside the huge ranchhouse, she is immediately comforted by the sounds and scents of home, a place she has done no more than visit in the past five years. Her brothers and sisters, seven in this bunch, surround her in a tight press, hugging and touching and talking all at once. Dakota finally wriggles her hands free and holds them up in a gesture of calm.
“One at a time. One at a time.”
They look at her with shining, hopeful faces. Though only the third born, she has always been their rock, and their love for her is boundless. In turn, she is fiercely, utterly, devoted to them, like a mother bear protecting her newborn cubs.
Looking around the room, she notices that two family members are conspicuously absent. “Where’s Father? And Tacoma?”
“They’re both down at the Gregory’s ranch. Kimberly called screaming for help. I couldn’t understand her, and she hung up before I was able to know what was wrong. Your father and brother went out there.”
Dakota stiffens. “How long ago?”
Her mother looks at the clock. “No more than ten or fifteen minutes. With the storm, they probably just got there.” Reaching out, she clamps her daughter’s arm in a very strong grip. “Dakota, what’s going on.”
It’s not a question, and everyone realizes it.
“I wish I could tell you, Mother, but I just don’t know. Something’s happening, something big, I think, but I need more information to go on.”
“I won’t accept that, Dakota,” her mother replies, deep black eyes flashing with a light she knows only too well.
Dakota smiles, just slightly, and lays a gentle hand over her mother’s. “You’ll have to, Mother, if for just a little while longer. I need to get to Father and Tacoma.”
“Are they in danger?”
Dakota considers lying, but in the end, just can’t bring herself to do it. “I don’t know,” she says softly.
Her mother releases her arm immediately, drawing back just a step. “I’ll let it go then. For now. Do what you need to, and bring them both back safely.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Smiling, her mother pulls her head down for a kiss, then releases her. “I know you will.”
Turning to leave, Dakota is surprised when a small missile—in the shape of her youngest brother—launches itself into her arms. “I wanna go with you, Koda! Can I, please?”
She hugs the ten-year-old close against her, taking in his young boy scent. “You can’t, Wash. Not this time.”
“But I wanna! Please??” He draws the last word out and looks at her with big, pleading dark eyes. “Please?”
The young boy stiffens in his sister’s arms at the sound of his mother’s voice.
“Wash, I need you here to man the CB. You’re the only one who knows how to work the da—ah--darn thing, right?”
Washington reluctantly nods.
“And if I need help with Father and Tacoma, who do you think I’m gonna call.”
“Of course you. You’re the only one I can count on with this, and you know it.”
The boy smiles, his narrow chest puffing out with pride. “I won’t let you down, Koda.”
Grinning, Dakota releases her brother and swats him on the behind, which earns a yelp and a scowl. “See you guys later.”
With a wave and a grin, Dakota is gone.
The morning sun shines through the small window into the back of the SUV and directly into Kirsten’s slowly awakening eyes. Yawing, she rolls over to feel a kink in her neck. “Well it’s not my waterbed, that’s for sure.” Lifting her head, she looks to her furry companion. “You okay Asi?”
Wicked fangs gleam in the morning light as Asimov answers her with a healthy yawn.
Rolling to a sitting position, she grabs the atlas from beneath a large pile of her belongings and opens it up to the correct page. “Okay boy,” she comments to a totally disinterested Asimov, “this is where we are now…” She quickly flips the pages, then stops again. “And this is where we need to be. About sixteen hundred miles, give or take a few. Damn. This is gonna be harder than I thought, boy.”
Blowing out a breath, she runs a hand through sleep-tangled hair. “Well, Mom always told me to try looking on the bright side, right? Maybe things will get better as we move west.”
She knows she’s kidding herself. They are everywhere, and no one is safe. Not even her parents, who she knows, deep in her heart, are dead. They had three of those monsters in their house and could never understand Kirsten’s request that they get rid of them. She couldn’t make them understand what she knew. There was no way to make anybody believe it.
She remembers her mother tending her rose garden and her father trimming the hedges, and what she considers an almost idealistic way to grow up. She had been and only child with intelligent, educated, and reasonably well-to-do parents who had encouraged her, giving her all the support she needed to follow her own path, whatever that might be.
She realizes that eventually she will have to go to Georgia to find out if they’re alive, but the incessant ringing of her parents’ phone has given her all the answers that she really needs.
Tossing the atlas into the front she crawls into the driver’s seat and looks over at Asimov. “You don’t want to drive do you?”
The dog squirms in his seat and lays his head down to get some sleep.
“Didn’t think so.”
Starting the truck, she pulls back out onto the road and turns left toward her destination.
She knows the roads between the two ranches well, and before too much time has passed, Dakota has parked her truck behind a high bank of snow, lights off, engine shut down to silence. She can see her father’s large, burly body propped against another snowbank overlooking the valley where the ranch house sits sprawled like a dog sunning itself.
She hoots low, twice, using a call learned from the same man propped against the snowbank. A hand is raised, slightly, and she moves forward, taking care to keep her head below the level of the bank. Within seconds, she’s laid out carefully beside her father, whose sheer size dwarfs her own not inconsiderable height, being a couple inches over six feet without her boots on.
Her oldest brother, Tacoma, lays on her other side. He shares his father’s height, but not his girth, instead sporting a swimmer’s build that is all the rage in the few scattered nightclubs around town. Women literally fall over themselves trying to get his attention. Unfortunately for them, he’s as gay as old dad’s hatband.
Still, he doesn’t mind the attention. It’s a source of great teasing in the Rivers’ household.
“Hey,” Dakota whispers to them both. They reply with silent nods. Both are armed. Her father carries a Winchester Black Shadow rifle, and her brother, a Black Shadow pump action shotgun.
Feeling the cold bite into her even through several layers of clothing, she eases her head up just slightly so that her eyes peer over the top of the bank. What she sees causes her jaw to tighten, muscles bunching and jumping.
Ian MacGregor, a big, bluff and kindly Scotsman, lies dead, half on-half off of his large wrap porch, his wide eyes staring blankly into whatever eternity exists for him. His two adult sons, both strapping like their father, lie one to a side of Ian, a gruesome trinity.
Dakota has known them all since she was in the cradle, and the sight of their lifeless bodies twists something deep inside her guts. Her face, likewise, twists, into a grimace she’s not aware of displaying.
The door to the house is splintered to kindling, and if she listens hard enough, she can hear the faint sounds of screaming above the howling of the wind.
“How many?” she asks her father.
“I don’t know,” he replies, shifting his heavy bulk on the packed snow and ice. “Was like this when we came.”
A shadow passes over the threshold, and a moment later, a tall, broad shouldered male strides out into the cold, holding two screaming young girls by their long, dark hair. They’re trying their best to break free, but it’s as if the man doesn’t even notice he’s holding them. The kicks, gouges and punches have absolutely no effect whatsoever.
He turns and faces the house, as if waiting for something within.
Dakota lets out a breath that sounds like a growl and reaches out a hand. Her father hands over his gun willingly. Then she turns to her brother. “Can you still shoot the balls off a gnat at a hundred yards?”
“Yeah,” Tacoma replies with no pride in his voice.
“Trade me, then.”
Grasping the shotgun, she trades for the rifle. Though he knows his father keeps his guns immaculate, he checks the rifle over carefully, a habit he hasn’t lost since his army days, seemingly a lifetime ago. Satisfied, he nods to her, eyebrows raised to his hairline.
“Alright. When I say ‘go’, I want you to wing him. Shoulder, arm, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t hit those girls.”
“Listen to me, Tac, cause we don’t have much time. Just get his attention. Make him turn, maybe loosen his grip a little, alright?”
“If you say so, sis.”
Tacoma looks over at his father, who nods. He nods back.
“Okay. I’m ready.”
Taking off her gloves, Dakota flexes her fingers, then eases them around the pump action of the shotgun. “Alright. Ready? Go!”
Tacoma raises up in a perfect marksman’s stance and eases the trigger back.
The sound of the rifle firing is almost insignificant, but the bullet hits its mark, and the man spins. The two girls stumble off their feet, still tethered to this man by their hair. Both scream in agony.
Dakota jumps to her feet, shotgun socketed and ready. “Let them go, you bastard!!”
The last word hangs in the air, only to be obliterated a split second later by the huge roar of the shotgun’s blasting. Most of the man’s face disappears and he topples back into the snow.
“Katie! Kelly! RUN!!!”
They try, but they’re still in the ungiving grip of the man’s hands. Screaming in terror, they finally find the strength to pull away, leaving sizable hunks of red and golden hair behind.
Dakota starts forward, shotgun aimed and ready. Sinking into thigh-deep snow with every step, her gait is slow and plodding. Everything seems preternaturally bright as she moves forward, keeping a wary eye on the fallen stranger.
Not really a stranger, though, is he.
A moment later, a second man darts outside. He’s armed with an uzi, which he immediately fires, spraying bullets all over the compound. Dakota drops into the snow an instant too late. She can feel the hot bloom of pain welling up from her side. She doesn’t know how badly she’s hurt, but her body freezes, stunned, for a brief moment, and she loses her grip on the gun.
She can hear the screams of her father and brother, but the sound of Tacoma’s frantic rifle fire is drowned out by the noise of the uzi firing again and again.
She thinks she’s screaming, but the sound is only a gasp. She struggles to move, but the snow has her cocooned and her body still isn’t ready to work the way it should. Long fingers, reddened and chapped from the icy snow and bitter wind, scramble desperately for the gun she’s lost.
Rounds of fire are being exchanged over her head. It sounds like a war zone, and in a way, she muses, that’s exactly what it is. She knows her father and brother are pinned down by the uzi fire. To come forward would be suicide, but she also knows that either one would willingly risk his life for hers. And she would do the same, without hesitation.
Dear God, let them be safe. Please let them be safe. If I have to die, fine. Just…don’t take them too, ok?
Finally! Luck puts her hand in the path of her shotgun, and with a spastic, clamping grip, she drags it through the snow to cradle against her chest. She can’t really feel it; her hands are blocks of wood, but her finger finds the trigger by pure instinct, and she waits, eyes open to whatever fate awaits her.
She can hear footsteps, and knows they’re coming from the wrong direction. Her already tense body tenses even further, causing fresh blood to gush from her wound, staining the snow a garish red.
Snow cone, anyone?
Gallows humor makes its appearance right on time, as always.
A face and the muzzle of an uzi make a simultaneous appearance within Dakota’s reduced field of vision. The face is completely blank; no emotions can be read in those shining, soulless eyes.
She sees him hesitate, and it’s all the opening her body needs. Levering her shotgun’s muzzle up, she pulls the trigger. “Eat shit, you bastard!”
The force of the blast blows him off his feet, and she forces her body to roll up to a seated, and finally standing position. She sways for a moment, then walks steadily toward the prone figure on lying in the deep snow. She can sense her family closing quickly, but this is something she has to do for herself.
White teeth flash in a wolf’s smile and she points the gun downward. “Die, you miserable, stinking piece of shit.”
A pull of the trigger, and the face is totally obliterated. A pump of the action, and she places the muzzle against the shoulder joint. Another blast, and the arm disintegrates from the shoulder. A third blast takes the second arm.
Finally satisfied, she relaxes slightly, still staring down at the mangled figure in the snow.
A warm hand clasps her shoulder, and she turns her head to look up into the concerned face of her father.
“I’ll be alright. Are you guys okay?”
“That was some shootin’, sis,” Tacoma remarks, grinning. Then he notices the blood on her shirt and his smile disappears. “Shit, Koda, you got busted.”
“I’ll live,” she replies dryly, though now that the fight is over, her pain begins to make an appearance. “We need to go up to the house and see if anyone else is still alive.”
Reaching down, her father picks up the uzi, then straightens. “Your brother and I will take care of that. You just get back to your truck and wait for us there.”
Though many years from her childhood, Dakota knows an order when she hears one, and nods. “Yes, sir.”
A rare hint of a smile crosses her father’s handsome face. “You did well, Daughter. I’m proud.”
Funny even after all these years how good that still makes her feel.
Even so, as she watches her father and brother enter the house, she resists going back to the warmth of her truck. Clamping a hard hand on her wound to help staunch the sluggish bleeding, she stares down at her handiwork.
The figure is twitching. The legs are moving in slow motion, like a dog dreaming of chasing butterflies.
That fierce grin comes again, but she doesn’t raise her gun.
“I might not be able to kill you, you bastard, but I can make damn sure you don’t ever hurt anyone again.”
(London Bridge is falling down…)
For being the richest man in the world, Peter Westerhaus is hardly your typical breed. At least, your typical breed pre Microsoft era, when the standard of multibillionaires was changed forever.
With his slight, skinny body, and a face sporting a healthy eruption of acne better suited to an adolescence that had gasped its last more than three decades ago, Peter has less in common with the robber barons and steel magnates of old than a hen has with a toothbrush.
But even with his food stained clothes and pungent scent—he takes a bath twice a month whether he needs to or not—he might have been accepted by his contemporaries if he just wasn’t so darned strange.
Eccentric. That’s the word they use these days.
Or is it the word they used to use?
Does it matter, Stan?
Nope, Johnny. Doesn’t matter at all. Not anymore.
Right you are, Stan ol buddy. Right you are.
Even so, the wunderkind who had breezed through Harvard at fifteen and then gave MIT a try-- until he grew bored in three months and was out-professing the professors-- bears little resemblance to the man who now owns the largest corporation in the world.
Peter sits in his megalithic office. An office that is so crowded with the latest in up to the nanosecond computer hardware and software that it looks like the cockpit of some fantastically futuristic flying machine rather than the staid walnut-and-teak showpieces of his contemporaries.
Contemporaries? What contemporaries? Ha! Ha! Ha!
A huge, drive-in movie screen sized monitor sits on the desk in front of him. The monitor is dark save for an eerie, endlessly scrolling band across the bottom. It’s an innocuous little band, really. No different from the one that scrolls beneath the picture on CNN or MSNBC and announces the sports scores, the stock market closings, and the weather while some correspondent in some far flung country cheerfully relates the latest death tolls in some war or other.
I’m not gonna look. I won’t and you can’t make me.
Sure ya can, Stanley old sport! Have a look see. Just a little peek. Come on. You know ya wanna.
Shut up, Johnny. I don’t want to look.
Nope. If I don’t look, then I can convince myself this is all a dream. Just a nasty nightmare that will eventually go away.
Newsflash for ya, Stan. This is reality. No nightmares here.
Well…I can pretend, can’t I?
Sure ya can, Stan. Suuuure ya can. You just go on and pretend. I’ll be here when you get back from your trip to Fantasy Island.
(…London Bridge is falling down…)
Spinning his chair, Peter looks at the blank, windowless walls of this, his inner sanctum sanctorum. His throne room, if you will.
No nasty toilet jokes if you please, Johnny.
Wouldn’t think of it, Stanley ,m’man. Simply would not think of it.
He stares at the dark paneling, counting knot holes as his brain begins the last chute the chute down the slippery slope they call full-blown insanity, eating of itself in a fine and fitting act of auto-cannibalism.
His body does what his mind forbids; his feet scooch along the carpet, turning his chair until it faces forward once again. His eyes sweep left, then right, then left again before settling on the monitor and the scrolling Writ near the bottom.
The words aren’t in any language that he can decipher. Indeed, the characters rolling by in their stately, if horrifying, procession are so alien to him—and indeed to anyone of human ancestry—that his brain cramps and twists, trying to process the view into something it can make sense of.
It gives him a blinding headache.
Understanding the letters isn’t the problem, though, is it Stanley.
When you’re right, Johnny, you’re right.
It’s the words you need to understand. The message, if I may be so blunt.
Blunt away, my friend. Blunt away.
And you already understand the message, don’t you, Stanley. The message is as clear as glass, isn’t it.
And, indeed, Peter has done everything in his power to make that message go away. The wreckage of his once relatively neat office bears mute testament to that fact.
I did everything I could. Everything. You need to be aware of that one little fact, Johnny.
Oh I am, Stanley. I most certainly am. Never let be said that Peter Stanley Westerhaus didn’t Try His Best.
Several of his highly classified—and highly illegal to boot—supercomputers are smashed to bits on the ground, their shattered pieces looking up at him, almost glowering, as if wondering just what they had done to deserve their fate.
In fact, if one were to look beneath the desk, to where the surge protector lies nestled, one would notice that the monitor plug has left its secure haven. As has the plug to the computer currently broadcasting the damnable scrolling message.
‘And still…’ It always comes back to that, doesn’t it, Stanley. ‘And still…’ If they ever write a book about you, old sock, that phrase will beat out ‘Jesus wept’ for brevity, won’t it.
It’s true, though. What the voices in his head are telling him is all too true. All he has to do to prove that fact is to raise his eyes, oh say ten degrees, and set his sights on the two dozen or so TV screens broadcasting from every corner of the globe.
They show the same thing over and over again. Scenes from some sort of post-apocalyptic nightmare that he put into place simply by saying “yes” instead of “no”.
Dear GOD! What have I done???
From a corner of his silent office, a soft beep sounds, and yet another monitor comes to life. This one shows the hallways leading to his inner sanctum. Hallways which, up until now, have been as empty as a looted tomb.
They’re coming for you, kid.
“I know. I know! Damnit, I KNOW!!!”
Reaching into his drawer, Peter pulls out a fat handgun, one he’s never had to use. He twirls his chair again until he faces the one and only door in the office. The gun sits limply in his lap.
Oh yeah, that’ll work. Kinda like shooting rain at a flower. You made them almost indestructible, ol kid, ol sock. All part of the plan, remember?
“Fuck the plan!!”
He’ll never leave this office alive, he knows that. And with the realization comes a feeling of almost blessed relief. The irony of being killed by his own creations isn’t lost on him. In fact, it seems a rather fitting punishment for what he’s done.
Oh, back to that again, are we?
Shut up, Johnny. Just…shut…up.
“I’m forgetting something. I know I am.”
A quick glance at the security monitor shows he’s still got some time left. Not much, granted, but some. And some is a start.
He looks around his office again, and his eyes alight on his personal computer, the only one in the office that was spared his fit of rage earlier. It sits proudly on his secondary desk, as if lording its veritable wholeness over its shattered buddies.
Forcing his body out of the chair, he stumbles over broken computer bits until he’s at the desk housing his computer. It’s booted up and ready for him. A quick flick of the mouse, and the email he had typed earlier is brought to full bloom before his eyes. It’s not much of a letter, no, but he thinks it spells out the whys, wherefores, and by-these-present-know-ye-thises pretty darn well.
Giving himself a sharp nod, he aims the pointer at the “send all” button, only to nearly cancel the damn thing as the soft beeping from the security camera causes him to jump almost a foot in the air. A quick glance at the monitor shows the hallways filled to the brim with advancing enemies.
Breathing heavily, he tosses a hank of stringy, greasy, straw colored hair away from his brow and looks back at the computer. His eyes are round, flat and shining discs set deep in his head. His hands are sweat-slicked and trembling so hard that he misses the “send all” button yet again.
“Come on! Come on, damnit!!”
One final try and he scores a direct hit. The email disappears, to be replaced by a “message sent” notification box.
“Oh, thank God. Thank you, God!”
Getting’ a little foxhole religion, sport? There goes your nomination to the Atheist-of-the-Month Club.
Ignoring the voice, Peter turns away from the computer and returns to his seat. He picks up the gun and stares at it as if it might soon sprout wings and fly away.
What are you gonna do with that, hmm champ? Go out in a blaze of glory? Stiff upper lip and all that rot?
I can’t leave the men behind, sir. You go. I’ll hold the Alamo for all of us. Viva la USA! Hell. Viva la WORLD!
He can hear them now, their booted feet stomping in almost obscenely regulated step as they come closer and closer to their goal.
(London Bridge is falling down…)
Hefting the gun, he points it at the door. He’s surprised, and gladdened, to notice that his hands aren’t shaking anymore. The suddenly wet warmth in the crotch of his pants tells him that his bladder has a different take on the whole situation, but at least his hands haven’t betrayed him.
Betrayed. Funny word, that. That’s what they’ll call you, you know. The Betrayer. Fitting epitaph, don’t you think?
“All I ever wanted to be was accepted. Not popular. No, never that. But just accepted, you know? That’s why I did this. I wanted to help. I wanted to be liked. That’s not such a bad thing, is it?”
“Well, is it?!?!?”
Letting go a small sigh, he shifts his gun’s focus, lifting it and turning the muzzle toward his temple instead.
“I’m sorry. I know that’s not enough, but…for what it’s worth…I am.”
(…my fair lady.)
Thank you for reading this far. If it floats your boat, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you think so far. See you next week!
Continued in Chapter 2
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