Chronicles: Chapter 4, a short story by JJ. Date added: 2010-05-02. Times viewed: 5152.
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Earth Song II
The first thing Lieutenant Louise Clark became aware of, was the low hum of the stasis chamber as she was gradually revived from her state of suspended animation. When the frosted glass cover opened, her eyes closed instinctively against the bright lights. The lights is the room were on their emergency power setting leaving much of the room in darkness but her eyes were not used to the light, however dim. She called out to attract the attention of one of the technicians that she presumed would be around to help her. Her voice echoed in her head and she could feel the beginnings of a headache coming on. ‘Great, five years of sleep and I’m waking up with a hangover’. Getting no answer to her request for help, she sat up. The action was an effort and she had to lean over the top of the cryo-chamber to stop herself from falling back again.
She opened her eyes again and this time she was able to keep them open. She thought she saw some movement in the shadows. ‘Help me, please’ she called out. A young man wearing little more than torn rags emerged from the shadows and went to her aid. He helped her out of the chamber and half carried her naked body to the only chair in the room. Louise felt very exposed in her nudity and asked for a blanket. The young man went hunting and returned with a dusty jumpsuit. She tried to put it on but her limbs wouldn’t obey her. Seeing her struggle, the young man helped her to get dressed. ‘Thank you. Seeing as we’ve gotten so intimate so quickly, perhaps you wouldn’t mind telling me who you are’.
‘I’m Karl’ the young man replied.
‘Well Karl, what are you doing here and where is everybody else?’
‘I’m part of a scouting party looking for survivors. We’ve been travelling for about a year now and you’re the first sign of life we’ve come across’.
‘Survivors? What do you mean? Are we at war?’ Karl looked puzzled.
‘War? There’s no-one to have a war with apart from the androids’.
‘No-one? What’s going on?’
‘The world blew up!’
It took a while but Louise was able to discover that a catastrophe had occurred before Karl was born. He reckoned he was twenty-three so Louise knew she’d been asleep for a lot longer than the five years she had signed up for. That explained the weakness in her muscles but she couldn’t just sit there helpless. There were another forty-nine sleepers to awaken, most of them she recalled were part of the space corps like herself. There were supposed to be ten similar units around the world but she had no idea where they were or even if they had survived the holocaust. Karl went outside and returned with the rest of his scouting party. There were ten of them in total, all around Karl’s age or a little older. Karl’s party had discovered them by accident when they were seeking shelter from a sand storm. They had forced the doors open and saw row upon row of the cryo-chambers. They had no idea what they were and when Louise’s was activated by accident, Karl had ordered the others out in case they were in danger. He had stayed more out of curiosity than bravery. She was glad he had, she’d never have managed on her own.
He’d already explained that they were immune to the effects of the radiation that had poisoned the planet. She’d heard of similar cases in the news reports, mutates they’d been called. He couldn’t tell her how radioactive the world outside was because it didn’t matter to him but if they were going to leave what she was already beginning to consider as a cell, she was going to have to find out. She sent Karl and one of his companion’s out with a scanner to measure the radiation levels. Examining the data when they returned told her it was still unsafe to go for a stroll, if she’d been able to walk that is.
She got Karl to push her chair around the room as she explored the numerous drawers and cupboards along the walls. A quick mental inventory took in clothing, weapons, food and drink packs, energy cells, medicines, radiation suits and the DNA of a multitude of animal and plant life. She knew she was going to be of little use for a while but she figured, if they were willing, that the ten mutates could look after one patient each and with their help, activated another nine of the cryo-chambers. It took three months to awaken everyone and have them mobile. Two of the cryo-chambers had malfunctioned at some point over the years and their occupants were long since dead. Their number including the mutates, stood at fifty-eight and the ration packs were all but depleted. She knew they were going to have to leave. Louise was the highest ranking officer among the thirty-one strong space corps. The other seventeen surviving sleepers consisted of scientists, a doctor and two engineers.
Lieutenant Clark arranged nightly meetings with herself, Karl, Dr Seth Farrier, Professor Eric Johnston and Bobby Wyndham, the most senior engineer. The idea was to keep all the factions informed and involved in developing an action plan. Karl had given an overview of what he understood had happened to Earth, the mutates discovery of Eden, the city of mutants and their enslavement by an army of androids. The doctor found the vernacular confusing, mutates and mutants, it was as if the entire language had changed while he slept.
During their first meeting, they set down a number of objectives. They agreed that Lieutenant Clark would have overall charge of their small community and the first aim was to build up the health and fitness of the sleepers which was left to the doctor to oversee as the only one with the medical expertise. Initially he’d been nervous of the responsibility, he’d only qualified as a doctor the year before he went into stasis and his confidence in his own abilities wasn’t high. He’d surpassed his own expectations however and thanks to the willingness of the crew, they were soon all on their way to full fitness.
Two of the mutates, accompanied by a radiation suited Ensisn Rose Clinton and armed with a laser cannon and carrying two energy cells, set out in search of any useable vehicles. Biologically, Rose was nineteen years old and hadn’t really taken in the news of Earth’s destruction. Stepping outside brought the harsh reality home to her, the hostile, barren environment spoke for itself. Her parents, brother and sisters were all dead, her friends were no more, she was alone in the world. Her legs gave way and she collapsed on the ground crying. The two mutates stood silently over her. Justine and Neil had observed a variety of responses from the others over the news of Earth’s disaster from numbness to crying to disbelief to anger. They knew of nothing they could do to help Rose so they waited silently. Eventually the tears subsided and her training took over. She got back on her feet and marched. She baked in the radiation suit but she knew it would be certain death if she took it off.
After a two hour search they found an air bus and a two man glider that responded to the energy cells. Neither of the mutates knew how to operate either machine. She opted to instruct the one named Neil on how to fly the air bus, Air buses generally flew no higher that ten feet off the ground and stuck to the paths that were originally constructed as roads for the old combustible vehicles mankind used to manufacture while gliders could operate at far higher altitudes and required some navigational experience. After she was confident that Neil would be able to operate the air bus and land it safely, she left them to fly it back to the bunker. She operated the glider. She was glad of the time alone, she had stammered through her instructions to Neil because she found him cute and found it difficult to talk to him because of it. Her lack of professionalism had left her embarrassed and she’d wanted to cut her instruction short but she knew the air bus would be important to the group, so she’d carried on like a love sick little child and now she was thankful to have sanctuary where she could hide her mortification. When the glider took off, she chided herself for thinking about sex when she’d only begun to come to terms with all the deaths in her life.
Back at the bunker, Dr Farrier completed the last of the weekly physios on everyone. The exercise regime he’d created was improving their muscle tone beyond his expectations. They were a dispirited bunch. News of Earth’s fate had hit them all hard. He felt it was his responsibility to keep all their spirits up but it was hard to continually put a brave face on their situation and most nights he was left drained and tired. When Ensign Clinton returned with an air bus and a glider, he motivated the rest of the group to cheer her return. He was pleased to see the ensign glow with pride.
The next objective was to address the shortage of food and water supplies. Using the air bus, Bobby and his fellow engineer, Joe McIntyre, travelled with five of the space corps team to find food and water generators. Whilst they searched in the direction of where the nearest town once was, Neil and Rose used the glider to survey the surrounding area. Feeling like she’d made a fool of herself the last time she spent time with Neil, she was reluctant to have him accompany her but the lieutenant had insisted on one of the mutates going on the mission and Neil had volunteered.
When the air bus parked at the edge of town, the hairs on the back of Bobby’s neck rose. He found the emptiness, the quiet, unnerving. Bobby had worked with machines all his life. Biologically, he was fifty-four but he was convinced that he could feel every year he’d spent in stasis. The exercise regime the Dr had devised had hit him the hardest. His age was against him and his muscles fought against being rebuilt. The others, being much younger and fitter walked on ahead. Bobby took his time walking down the empty cracked pavements. He imagined he could feel the eyes of hundreds of cannibalistic mutants staring at him from the crumbling derelict houses. He was looking forward to getting back to the bunker. He saw the others enter what used to be a Community Centre and hurried to follow suit when he heard the yells. When he rushed through the door he almost made the same mistake they had but stopped just before he followed them down the gaping hole in the floor. He switched on his torch and flashed the light down the dark crevice trying to see them. ‘Is everyone all right down there?’ he shouted. Five voices shouted back up that they were okay but one of the space corps troopers was unconscious. ‘Is he alive?’ he shouted back down.
‘I think so’ replied one of the troops, ‘he’s breathing at least!’
‘Well I’m no doctor son but I think that’s a pretty good indicator that he’s alive’. The chuckle he let out in enjoyment of his own wit was cut short by a scream from below. ‘What’s happening down there?’ He flashed his torch again but the light barely touched the threatening darkness of the pit.
‘Something just moved across me, a bug of some kind, a roach, big as my hand’.
‘You scared of creepy crawlies? A big tough soldier like you?’
‘There’s more of them, I can hear them scuttling about’ cried out another hysterical voice, ‘Get us out of here!’
‘Relax sonny, I’ll get you out. Shine your torches, that’ll probably keep them at bay’.
‘Doesn’t light attract bugs?’
‘Not if they’ve been in the dark for years, it won’t’ Bobby shouted back down. He tested one of the metal pillars used to strengthen the building’s structure and decided it would hold his companions weight. Tying the steel mesh rope through one of the holes placed in the pillars by an imaginative architect, he threw it down the pit to the waiting men.
‘Shit there’s millions of them! Get us out of here now!’ Bobby shone his torch down the line to illuminated it to everyone below. One of the soldiers had already grabbed on and was pulling himself up, his military training and survival instincts working as one, a symbiotic Id of necessity. Joe was the second person to reach the rope. He was clearly struggling to pull himself up and the next soldier was already directly underneath him.
‘For Christ’s sake hurry up, I’d like to get to the top sometime before civilisation’s rebuilt’. The engineer ignored the taunt, focussed as he was on climbing the rope. A scream was heard from below and the engineer and soldier were plunged into darkness.
Hearing the scream, Bobby automatically swung the torch towards the sound. He could just about see the now awake, injured soldier completely covered in large cockroaches. His scream was cut short by three of the roaches scrambling into his mouth and down his throat. The soldier beside Bobby took his handgun from its holster and fired at the soldier several times. Bobby nearly dropped his torch at the first report of the gun. He glanced fearfully at the trooper. The soldier shrugged, ‘If it was me, I’d rather be dead before the bugs starting eating me’.
The remaining members of the team were soon out of the pit. There was a stunned silence for a few moments as it slowly dawned on everyone that the world was a very different place from the one they left. Keen to keep everyone motivated on the task at hand, Bobby advised that they resume their search carefully.
The building consisted of two floors with a variety of rooms. With the exception of the hole in the floor in the main hallway, an almost non-existent roof and a coating of dust everywhere, the place was in a fairly good condition. They found two water generators and three working energy cells.
With confidence building, they branched out, searching houses and stores. They found huge quantities of tinned and freeze-dried, vacuum packed meals. When the disaster happened, there had clearly been no time to panic buy. It took three trips to pack the air bus. Even so, they knew the rations wouldn’t last long between over fifty people. They would have to return for the rest of the stores goodies and if they were going to live in the bunker for any length of time, they would have to search further afield. Bobby didn’t relish the thought. He didn’t want to think about what other surprises lay in store for them in this alien land they found themselves in.
They returned to base before Rose and Neil and relayed the demise of one of their number. It was as Bobby was being debriefed that he realised he didn’t even know the soldier’s name. Two hours passed and there was still no sign of Rose and Neil. Joe was assigned to communications and he decided to spend some of the time he was supposed to be using to try and boost the signal on the radio to widen its search capacity in the hope of contacting the glider. Static continued to taunt him for the next hour and a half until a high pitched tone attacked him through the headphones. He scrambled the headphones off his head and stood to move away from the radio. A wave of dizziness and nausea hit him and he tried to sit down again only to find himself lying on the floor. His ears hurt and he covered them with his hands. He felt a thick liquid substance seep through his fingers, flowing out of his ears then he saw Bobby’s face in front of his. Bobby appeared to be screaming at him but he couldn’t hear a word that was said…
Despite having Neil for company, Ensign Clinton was actually enjoying herself. From the air, Earth didn’t look quite as harrowing. She also took a little perverse pleasure from the fact that Neil was clearly not having fun. Since they took off, his complexion had paled considerably and his eyes had grown wild in fear. Like many of the sleepers, Rose considered the mutates to be little more than savages. Even if he was cute, intellectually he was naïve at best. They had been flying for two hours and Neil still looked as fearful now as when they first took to the air. It made her wonder how he’d managed to fly the air bus by himself. She felt a hint of pride at the fleeting thought that is was probably her teaching skills.
They flew over a few run down towns and a desolate city in relative silence. Neil’s fear had sapped all the curiosity out of him and Rose couldn’t get past her attraction enough to make coherent small talk. She spotted a large industrial plant in the distance. It looked as big as a small town and Rose decided it would be worth landing to do some reconnaissance from the ground. She indicated to Neil that they were going to land. She smiled reassuringly at him as relief and gratitude filled his eyes.
She was as relieved as Neil to land safely and smoothly. Being so far from base, she didn’t want to damage the flyer and end up stranded. She had tried to contact base prior to landing but they were out of range. She knew she shouldn’t have risked travelling so far and should have turned back as soon as she realised she was out of touch with the base but if the plant contained anything that could be useful to them, it would have been worth the risk.
Neil steadied himself on the ground, looking for all intent and purposes like he wanted to hug the earth they stood on. She smiled at him and when their eyes met, she blushed a little. Looking away, she focused on taking some readings from the surrounding area. Contamination was now low although the wider scanner readings indicated that contamination levels varied around them. When she’d last journey on the outside, she’d found the radiation suit too cumbersome so she’d opted to take one of the radiation pills before they left the camp. She hoped it would be enough to protect her from the poison in the atmosphere.
They gazed at the enormous building before them. ‘What is this place?’ Neil asked. He’d found his voice again, it had been huddled up, hiding behind his fear. Now that his curiosity had returned, his voice had decided to come out from under cover.
‘It’s a factory, or at least it used to be a factory’. Neil looked puzzled and Rose was reminded once again that in terms of her previous world, Neil was little more than a child. ‘Factories made things on a massive scale for people to use’.
‘What did they make here?’
‘I have no idea but if we go inside maybe we can find out’.
Bobby gingerly moved the earphones towards his ears. Before he’d got them six inches away from his face, the high pitched tone emanating from them stung his ears like red hot needles searing through the wax to attack the small bones inside and singing the tiny hairs that sound vibrated off. He threw the earphones back onto the console, ‘Shit, what the hell is that?’
Seth was hunched over the now unconscious Joe. From what he could ascertain, Joe had fainted in panic. The blood had started to congeal around his ears. The scanner indicated that the workings of his inner ear had completely shattered. Seth wasn’t sure if there was going to be any neurological damage but Joe was never going to hear again.
Lt Clark sidestepped the group around Joe to check on Bobby. ‘Everything all right?’
‘It’s the earphones, someone’s sending some kind of piercing signal through. Its hurts your ears before you can even get the ‘phones close. God knows what it’s done to poor Joe’s’.
‘Doctor?’ Lt Clark whirled round to face Seth questioningly.
‘It’s too early to assess whether there’s any brain damage much less whether there’s any lasting problems but whatever the noise is that’s coming through the earphones, it’s damaged Joe’s ear drums beyond repair. He’s going to be deaf for the rest of his life’. As they spoke, the noise from the earphones increased in intensity vibrating through the ears of everyone near the console.
‘Switch off the signal’ Lt Clark barked at Bobby. Bobby spun round and flicked the switch. There was an audible sigh from a few of the crew. ‘What the hell was that? Where did it come from?’
‘I have absolutely no idea Lieutenant. Let me examine our communications system, I might have some answers for you then’.
The Factory was thick with dust and Rose felt her throat dry up almost immediately. She could feel the dust clogging her windpipe and had a coughing fit. Neil rubbed her back and handed her their flask of water. In the distance they could hear a swarm of cockroaches scuttle further away from the noise she was making. ‘Are you alright?’ he asked. Rose could hear the gentleness in his voice and just wanted to kiss him. She shrugged off the urge and nodded.
‘Thanks’. She held up the water flask to explain her gratitude. ‘C’mon, lets see if there’s anything useful in this place before the cockroaches start getting curious’. Her voice echoed in the empty plant, emphasising the eeriness of the place. She strode forward with a forced determination. The large skylight was producing the only light in the factory leaving large areas in shadow. Aware that there could still be cockroaches in the shadows, Rose shone her torch into them for prolonged periods to ensure the insects had scattered before venturing further. The section marked “Food Processing Plant” told Rose all she needed to know about the nature of the factory. They continued to search the main body of the factory until Neil discovered the store room. Rose went running up to him when he called her name as he tried to open the heavy door to look inside. The door hinges were stiff with age and disuse as was the spring closer and it took all the effort they could muster to prise the door open. Inside were hundreds of boxes filled with dried food packs. There was enough there to keep them all in rations for a few months at least. Rose’s delight was cut short however when the door’s spring closer finally pulled the door closed behind them plunging them into darkness.
The slam of the door reverberated throughout the factory. In the administrator’s office on the upper floor, an android stood to attention. Its head tilted, trying to triangulate where the noise had originated from. Satisfied its computations were accurate, it left the office and headed to the ground floor…
Three hours after Joe’s injury, Lt Clark got Dr Farmer, Professor Johnston, Bobby and Karl together for an emergency operational meeting. Bobby began by outlining the system’s check he had completed on the communication’s console. ‘Joe had been taking shifts on communications duty along with three of your men Lieutenant and two of the scientists. Basically they were scanning as far around the planet as possible trying to make contact with other survivors. Up ‘til Joe’s last shift, we had no signs of any other life bar ourselves’.
‘Let’s not forget the mutates and mutants that Karl has told us about’ the professor prompted.
‘We haven’t forgotten professor but as I recall neither group of…’ Lt Clark struggled for a descriptive noun, ‘…people, have access to any kind of communications’.
‘You’re quite right, thank you lieutenant’ Bobby continued, glaring at the professor. ‘Anyway, three hours into his shift, poor Joe picked up a signal’.
‘Where from?’ the Lieutenant interrupted.
‘That I can’t say. I took the console apart, tried to trace every reading, tried to triangulate a position from the readings but in all honesty, I couldn’t even make an educated guess. It could come from anywhere on the planet’.
‘So someone was trying to communicate with us?’ the professor asked hopefully. Bobby shook his head.
‘I don’t think so. The signal we received was a large energy pulse in sound form. It was designed to grow in intensity until it blew every circuit in the room, electrical and human’.
‘So we were attacked?’ the lieutenant asked, more to herself than to seek confirmation from Bobby.
‘But who..’ the professor was about to ask.
‘The androids’ Karl interjected. Everyone looked at Karl. They had been having operational meetings at least weekly for months. This was the first time Karl had spoken up without being asked a direct question.
‘What do you mean the androids?’ asked the professor.
‘The androids that work the mutants. They would kill you if they knew you were here’.
‘Androids don’t kill humans, do they? The doctor sought clarification from the professor.
‘No, of course they don’t. Androids were created to serve us. It’s not in their programming to harm us’. Karl was about to protest but the professor raised his hand to silence him. ‘If androids have been attacking your people, then someone else, someone human, has re-programmed them and is directing them. If there is indeed someone out there attacking your people, it does not necessarily mean that nefarious reasons are behind it’.
‘Professor, if I hadn’t switched communications off, we’d all be dead. If that isn’t one of your nefary-thingies then I don’t know what is’.
‘Try and think about this logically for a moment please, I beg of you, all of you’ he was looking at Karl as he finished his plea. ‘Let’s look at this from a different perspective. The world blows up. For some reason you survive. Perhaps you are a mutate, maybe you were in a bunker, for whatever reason, against all odds, you survive. You find others less fortunate than yourselves, the mutants. You bring them together, you feed them, you clothe them, you protect them. In return, they work for you. All is well in the world or at least bearable. Then along comes a group of humans who, like you, have survived the radiation. Instead of coming along to introduce themselves however, they cause trouble, try to breed dissent among the mutants…’
‘That’s not how it happened!’ Karl protested.
‘Maybe that’s not how you saw it. You thought the mutants were enslaved, you thought you were helping them. This could all have been one big misunderstanding. Wars have been started for less’.
‘That’s not how it was! You’re twisting this!’ The venom in Karl’s voice took them all by surprise but before anyone could react, he stormed off out of the bunker.
‘From what Karl told me, some of his people died in that city. I think you were being more than just a bit insensitive professor’.
‘I wasn’t trying to hurt the boy’s feelings, I was just trying to work out why anyone would attack us’.
‘US is the important part here professor, whoever attacked us wasn’t attacking the mutates, they were trying to kill us!’ Bobby retorted.
‘That’s just it Bobby, they didn’t know who they were attacking. For all they knew, we could have been the mutates trying to launch an attack of our own’. Bobby was clearly up for a fight and he opened his mouth to retort but Lt Clark cut him off.
‘Let’s say for a moment that you’re right professor, what do you propose?’
‘That we send an actual communicae, in English and Mandarin. Tell them who we really are, where we are, that we’re here to help, that we need help for crying out loud!’
‘Not a bad idea professor, Bobby?’
‘We certainly don’t need to tell them where we are. That signal they sent had a tracking bounce back. Whoever tried to kill us was kind and thoughtful enough to determine where they’d need to go to bury the bodies. They’re probably on their way with shovels even as we speak’.
‘All the more reason to communicate with them. If they come here expecting a tribe of mutates, they’re going to attack us. If they knew the truth, they might help us’.
‘It’s worth a try’, the lieutenant agreed.
‘You can’t be serious lieutenant, the professor’s crazy. You know Karl, he wouldn’t hurt a fly’.
‘Whether the professor’s theory is right or wrong is immaterial Bobby. They already know where we are, they’re probably already coming and we know they’re not going to be friendly. If sending them a message telling them who we are means there’s the slightest chance they won’t attack us then it’s worth a try. Agreed?’ Bobby and the doctor nodded silently. ‘Good! Professor, prepare a message and Bobby will send it out to all frequencies in case they fluctuate between frequencies for defensive purposes, then switch the bloody thing off’.
‘Lieutenant, if we switch communications off, they won’t be able to reply to our message’.
‘Given what happened the last time they tried to contact us, that’s a risk I’m willing to take’.
One of the soldiers interrupted them. ‘Excuse me lieutenant, I don’t mean to interrupt but I thought the doctor ought to know that the patient’s awake’. Bobby and Dr Farrier headed to the far end of the bunker where a sick bay had been set up. The professor headed towards the communications console while Louise went outside to look for Karl.
Karl was crouched on the ground making patterns in the earth with his index finger like a sullen child. Louise smiled and slowly walked up beside him. ‘The professor didn’t mean any harm you know’.
‘He thinks we’re to blame for what happened to Joe’.
‘He’s a scientist, he’s trained to examine problems from all angles and consider different scenarios. He’s also scared and looking for someone to blame for the unprovoked attack’.
‘Do you think what happened to Joe is our fault?’
‘I think whoever sent that signal is one sick individual and I don’t think you’re to blame for any of this. For all we know, the person who controls the androids is the same person who blew up the world’. Karl smiled a little, satisfied that she at least, believed in the mutates’ innocence. ‘Now you may be immune to the effects of the radiation in the atmosphere but I’m not so how about we go back inside before I throw up all over you?’ He grinned now. Standing up, he followed her back to the bunker.
Joe had woken up dazed at first. He couldn’t quite work out why he wasn’t lying in his own bunk. Two soldiers were talking beside the bed he was lying on. He could see their lips moving but he heard nothing. That’s when it all came flooding back to him. The piercing noise, the dizziness and nausea. He sat up in panic. One of the soldiers walked away. The other crouched down. He held Joe’s arms, trying to talk to him but Joe couldn’t hear a word. The panic was working Joe up to a frenzy. He lashed out at the soldier, sending him crashing to the floor. Then Bobby’s face appeared in front of him. Bobby was holding up an electronic pad on which he’d scrawled “Calm down” in large letters. Joe looked at Bobby who was nodding slowly to him. He glanced at the pad and looked at Bobby some more. Joe snatched the pad off Bobby and scribbled a message on it. “I can’t hear anything”. Bobby replied on the pad, “I know son, try not to worry about it”. The doctor was behind Bobby the whole time. He watched as Joe scribbled another message. ‘Be careful Bobby, we still don’t know if Joe’s suffered any neurological damage. We can’t afford to upset him unnecessarily’. Bobby looked at the message Joe had scribbled down and smiled at him. He turned to Seth.
‘I don’t think you need to worry too much Doctor’ he replied as he handed Seth the e-pad. Seth looked at what Joe had written. “How are you going to be able to shout at me when I do something wrong now?” Seth smiled.
‘I think you’re right at that Bobby’.
Rose switched on her torch and Neil tried to open the storeroom door. ‘It’s stuck’. Rose put the torch on the floor aiming it at the door before giving Neil a hand. Even with their combined strength, they couldn’t make the door budge. Her energy spent, Rose slid down the door onto the floor. She reached out and picked up the torch and shone it around the room looking for another exit. After scanning the room three times, she had to accept that there was no other way out of the room. They were trapped and no-one even knew where they were. They were going to die here.
‘Well at least we won’t starve to death’ she sighed as she glanced at the boxes of food packs.
She was trying to work out if she was hungry when the door was wrenched from its hinges from the outside. Rose was still leaning against it when it was ripped away and she found herself lying on her back on the floor looking up at an android. Rose screamed and Neil rushed it, knocking it off balance. The android went crashing to the ground. Neil grabbed Rose’s arm, pulled her to her feet and they both went rushing down the corridor. ‘Where are we going?’ Rose asked, slowing down to try and catch her breath.
‘To the plane!’
‘The exit’s back the way we came!’ Neil stopped running. He looked around trying to get his bearings.
‘Do you think a place as big as this only has one way out?’
‘Your right, there’s got to be at least another two ways out of here, maybe more. Neil you’re a genius!’ Neil blushed at the compliment. Behind them they could hear a crashing noise. ‘Lets get out of here before our friend catches up with us’. At the bottom of the hallway, there was a sign marked exit and an arrow pointing to the right. They ran faster, turned right and reached the exit door. The door was locked. Rose grabbed her laser to blast the lock. Her hands were shaking so much she dropped the gun. Bending down to retrieve it, she banged her head off the door. She grabbed the laser at the second attempt but there was no time to blast the lock. The android was upon them, they had run out of time. Rose’s training took over. She raised the laser and fired it at the android’s head. The android stopped moving when it was fired upon but once Rose released the trigger, it started walking towards them again.
‘We’re going to have to run past this thing. Neil, when I fire at it, run as fast as you can along the right hand side’. She fired at the android again and shouted ‘go’ at Neil when he just stood there. Neil ran past the android. Rose stopped firing and took the left hand side. She was hoping she could get past the android before it recovered enough to move. As she went running past she felt relief that she’d been right. The relief was short lived however when she felt a mechanical hand clamp around her right thigh, crushing the muscle and breaking the bone. She screamed as it raised her up by her mangled leg. The laser was no longer in her hand, she’d dropped it when the android grabbed her. It continued raising her until their faces were level. It appeared to be studying her.
‘Humanoid’ it surmised, ‘All humanoids must die’.
Neil heard Rose scream and turned back. Despite his fear, he knew he had to save her. When he ran back down the corridor he saw Rose dangling by her leg in front of the android. He spied the gun on the floor and picked it up. The weapon felt strange in his hand. He’d watched Rose fire it at the android and knew you had to put pressure on the trigger to fire the laser. He tried to aim it at the android but Rose was in the way. Slowly and as quietly as possible, he manoeuvred his way round to the back of the android. He aimed the laser at the centre of its back and fired.
The laser caused a short circuit throughout the android and electricity coursed through its body. The electricity shot down its arm causing Rose to convulse before being thrown into the air as the android collapsed to the ground. Rose was already unconscious when she fell to the floor. Neil ran to her fearing that he’d killed her. He knelt down in front of her face and felt the soft push of the air from her breathing. She was alive. With growing confidence, he fired the laser at the exit door’s lock and dragged Rose outside.
The exit took them out of the factory at the opposite end to where the glider was lying waiting for them. Neil didn’t think he’d be able to carry Rose to the glider and he was pretty sure it wouldn’t be a good idea to drag her along the rough terrain. While he was trying to work out what he should do, Rose began to stir. He still had the water flask tucked into his shirt. He raised her head and gently poured a little into her mouth. She spluttered awake and opened her eyes. ‘What are you trying to do, drown me?’ she asked weakly. She tried to smile but she was in too much pain. She tried to focus on Neil to stop herself from passing out again. ‘The android?’ she asked, fearful that they only had a short reprieve.
‘I don’t know if this is the right word for a machine but it’s dead’.
‘Good, get me out of here’.
‘Can you walk?’
‘I can barely stay conscious’. She smiled again, the effort and pain palpable in her eyes. ‘There’s a medi-kit in the glider. You need to get it and bring it back here’. She passed out. Neil knelt there, staring at her for a few minutes then made his way back to the glider.
When he returned, half an hour later, Rose was still unconscious. He had no idea what he should be using in the medi-kit. Realising that the worst of the damage was probably in her leg, he took a pair of scissors attached to the inside of the lid and cut away as much of the trouser leg as he could. The upper thigh was a mangled mess of pulped flesh and bone. It made Neil nauseous to look at it so he was glad that Rose took that moment to wake up. ‘Neil?’ she croaked more than whispered. Neil was there in a shot, giving her a drink of water from the flask. ‘Did you get the medi-kit?’ Neil nodded, reached over and picked up the box so he could show her. ‘Okay, I’m going to need some heavy duty painkillers. There’s a morphine phial in there, attach it to the syringe gun’. Neil fumbled trying to work out how the contraption operated. Rose took it from him and attached the vial herself. ‘Now you have to press it up against my arm and fire, just like you did with the laser’. Neil nodded and complied. The effect was almost instantaneous. Rose half sat up to examine her leg and immediately wished she hadn’t. She had to fight the urge to faint again. She grabbed Neil’s shirt, ‘You’re going to have to help me walk back to the glider Neil, think you can do that?’ Neil nodded again and helped Rose to stand. She couldn’t put any weight on her right leg at all so she had to half hop, half cling to Neil to get to the glider.
It took just over an hour to reach the plane. Once inside, Rose collapsed on the floor exhausted. ‘There’s no way I’m going to be able to fly this thing Neil, so I’m going to have to give you another crash course in flying’. Neil looked at her fearfully. ‘Relax, I’ll be with you every step of the way’.
The crew at the bunker were preparing their defences when the glider part landed, part crashed just outside. Neil came flying out of the machine shouting for someone to help him. Word quickly got back to Louise that one of her troops was injured. She was going to check on Ensign Clinton herself but the doctor was already on his way. If she went now, it would be overkill. Besides she had to make sure their defences were in place. Since they’d sent out the message Louise had done her best to galvanise everyone. She’d made a cluttered, confusing speech about the potential danger they were in. What the crew understood was that the androids were coming and the mutates that had been living with them for the past few months had regaled most of them with tales of how evil the robots were. In a futile attempt to restore reason in the bunker, Professor Johnston had tried to explain his viewpoint but Louise had cut him off when she realised that he was breeding dissent where she needed harmony. The professor had stormed off in a huff and she hadn’t had any dealings with him since.
Sergeant Crouper had passed out anti-radiation pills to everyone. Louise didn’t want any battle taking place in the bunker. They were too reliant on the machinery in the place to risk any damage. An advance guard had been set up a mile from the bunker to warn them of anyone approaching. Twenty troops were encamped outside the bunker behind rocks and any shielding they could create from the various materials they had salvaged. Only a handful of troops were battle experienced, having served in the mining riots on Mars in 2228 before the idea of colonising Mars had been scrapped. She was relying on those troops to guide the others who were still very much wet behind the ears.
Her concentration was broken by the return of the doctor. Two soldiers were carrying Ensign Clinton on a stretcher. For her part, Rose was asleep. ‘Doctor, how is she?’ Louise asked. Seth nodded in acknowledgement as he walked towards her.
‘Her right leg’s completely mangled Lieutenant, I’m going to have to amputate it’.
‘Amputation? Isn’t that a bit extreme?’
‘The bone in her upper thigh is completely crushed and the muscle is pulp. I don’t even want to think about nerve damage. It was lucky she’d taken one of the anti-radiation pills before going on her mission. The coagulant side effects saved her from bleeding to death before Neil got her back here’.
‘Surely you can fix the damage Dr, this is the 23st Century!’
‘I’ve been a qualified, bona-fide doctor for a little over a year. If I had more experience, a team of surgeons and a state of the art operating theatre, then yes, I could probably save her leg. After a year or so of physiotherapy, she’d probably be able to walk unaided just fine but given we’re stuck in a bunker in the middle of nowhere after the planet’s destruction, the best I can do is amputate the bloody leg!’
They were interrupted at that point by Sergeant Crouper, who came running up to Louise. ‘Lieutenant, two androids are approaching fast on what looks like hover scooters’.
‘Okay, get the scouts back to the defence line now!’
‘They’re already on the way Lieutenant’.
‘Okay, take no chances, shoot on sight’. The sergeant nodded and ran out of the bunker. ‘If you need to amputate doctor, do it now. You could be pretty busy soon’. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Professor Johnston heading for the bunker door. ‘Professor, get back here!’ she shouted. He ignored her and was soon outside, out of her line of vision. Her radio crackled at her side, ‘Yes Crouper?’
‘Lieutenant, Professor Johnston has broken through our defences. We tried to stop him but he took us by surprise. He’s heading in the direction of the androids’.
‘Track him sergeant, if he’s able to reason with those androids then we’ll all party and smoke the peace pipe but if he fails, you know what to do’.
‘Yes sir, er, ma’am’.
‘Sir will do just fine. Oh, and sergeant?’
‘Try not to let the androids surprise you quite as easily as an unarmed scientist did. Over’. Louise was furious with the professor. The way she felt at that moment, if the androids didn’t kill him, she’d shoot him herself.
Professor Johnston was sweating. Despite the heat and the run towards the androids, it was the fear that was causing him to perspire so much. Faced with the prospect of actually meeting the androids, he began to doubt his reasoning. He’d been so convinced by his own argument that it was only now as he was testing his theory that he began to consider the flaws in his logic. The two androids stopped in front of the professor. He took this as a good sign. ‘Tell your master we are humans like him. We mean him no harm and would like to meet up with him to discuss ways in which we could help each other, maybe integrate…’
‘You are humanoid’.
‘All humanoids must be eliminated’. The android that had been speaking picked up the laser cannon that had been slung on the handlebars of the hover scooter and shot the professor. They then carried on with their journey.
The sergeant watched the professor fall on his monitor and gave the order to fire. Ten laser cannons fired in unison at the androids. Each shot was a direct hit. The androids stopped moving for a few seconds and then continued forward. ‘Shit’ the sergeant exclaimed as his jaw fell open. Collecting himself, he ordered his men to fire at the scooters. ‘If we can’t hurt them, we can sure as hell slow them down’ he thought. The hover scooters stalled and the androids toppled over the handlebars crashing to the ground. The men cheered but their joy was short lived as the androids slowly got to their feet, picked up their laser cannons and headed towards the bunker. They started firing their weapons at the troops.
Louise’s radio crackled again. ‘Lieutenant, we’re hitting them with all we’ve got and it’s having absolutely no effect’.
‘Well we can slow them down a bit and maybe get them a bit annoyed but that’s about all’.
‘Keep fighting sergeant, I’ll think of something’. Karl walked up behind her.
‘Louise?’ She turned, saw Karl stood there and dismissed him.
‘Not now Karl, we’re in deep shit and I’m trying to find a big enough shovel’. She started to walk away.
‘Rose was attacked by an android. Neil killed it’, he blurted out with a slight stammer.
‘Never mind, where is he?’
Karl led Louise to Neil. He was sitting by Rose, holding her hand while the doctor finished off the amputation. ‘Karl tells me you killed an android’. Neil nodded, not once taking his eyes off Rose. ‘There are people outside getting killed trying to stop two of these things Neil. I need to know how you did it’.
‘I shot it’, his voice was flat, monosyllabic.
‘That doesn’t work Neil. We’re hitting them with all the fire power we’ve got and it isn’t so much as putting a scratch on them. Tell me exactly what happened Neil’. She realised that she was scaring the lad and her voice had softened to compensate. After a moment’s consideration, Neil spoke up.
‘I tried to shoot its head but it was holding Rose up in front of it. I didn’t want to hit her by accident so I went round the back of the android and I fired at it, real close. The machine fell’. Louise was on her radio in a flash.
‘Sergeant, we’ve got to find a way around them. They’re vulnerable at the back. Can you hear me sergeant?’
‘The sarge’s been hit Lieutenant. He’s still alive but he’s been hurt bad’.
‘Ensign Thompson, er… sir’.
‘Okay Ensign, hang on in there, reinforcements are on the way’. She looked around the bunker. She still had another seven soldiers at her disposal. She’d been keeping them in reserve to defend the bunker in case the enemy broke through. She ordered five of them to follow her and raced out of the bunker.
Her recklessness almost got her killed. A blast from an android’s laser cannon hit the bunker door frame just above her head. She ducked instinctively then headed for cover beside Ensign Thompson. ‘Afternoon ensign, nice day for a battle. I hope you’ve got sunscreen on, don’t want you getting skin cancer now do we?’ The ensign smiled feebly, he was clearly very scared. Louise glanced over the rock that was protecting them. The androids were almost on top of them. She fired her laser at the nearest one and it stopped moving. The second android fired in her direction and she had to duck back down behind the rock. ‘You appear to have a bit of an android problem ensign. I’m going to have to do something about that. I’m going to have to circle them so I want you to lead everyone in sustained fire on the androids for as long as you can. Can you do that?’ Ensign Thompson nodded. She patted his shoulder and signalled for her fresh troops to follow her.
Ensign Thompson and the rest of the troops did a good job providing sustained fire and the androids were rooted to the spot, soaking up the fire power, aware that the humans could not maintain the barrage indefinitely. Louise and her team still moved carefully however. She didn’t want to risk an android deciding it could fire on her and she certainly didn’t want the embarrassment of a stray blast from one of her soldiers cutting her off in her prime.
Just as they reached their vantage point, the firing stopped. Immediately, the androids began firing at the troops in front of the bunker. ‘Okay, aim at the centre of their backs and don’t miss’ she whispered, fearful of the androids hearing her. Never having been in combat before, one of the soldiers fired before she’d finished giving the order to fire. He hit one of the androids square in the back and it collapsed on the ground. The other android spun round and fired at the soldier, killing him instantly. The others began to fire but it was facing them side on now. They couldn’t hit it’s back, they’d lost their advantage. ‘Keep firing at it and whatever you do, don’t hit me!’ Louise gave her command and ran to the side of the android to avoid the fire from her troops. She calmly walked up behind the android, placed her laser in the centre of it’s back and fired. The android fell beside its comrade.
The battle was over and they’d survived but the troops on the front line were too tired and too scared to celebrate. They left that to the civilians inside the bunker. Louise sent the four remaining troops that had accompanied her out on patrol. The mutates helped Dr Farrier tend to the wounded and they worked hard at repairing the defences. Louise knew she should be saddened by the deaths they’d experienced but in truth the battle had exhilarated her. She couldn’t remember ever feeling so alive. At the end of the day, the doctor gave her the official count. There were six dead including Professor Johnston and three seriously wounded. In a way she was relieved, without Neil’s help, the death toll would have been much higher. Maybe they’d all be dead, maybe after a couple of lucky shots, a few of them would have survived. She couldn’t sleep that night, she was too pumped up. At one point she joined some of her soldiers on patrol. In the morning, she called an emergency operational meeting.
Professor Braun had replaced Professor Johnston as the most senior scientist but otherwise, it was the usual attendees. ‘Can I just welcome Professor Braun to the group, it’s just a pity it had to happen in these circumstances’. The professor nodded sadly. ‘Okay folks, yesterday we got lucky. We only had two androids to contend with. Next time I reckon they’ll be a lot more’.
‘Excuse me, next time?’ the professor interjected.
‘Those two were on hover scooters which are normally used over short distances. The way I see it, that means they were either a scouting party from a bigger group which means we can expect an attack imminently or they were the nearest to us and more will follow from the city Karl’s told us about. Given that it’s apparently a distance away, it would at least mean we’d have a bit of time before they attacked again’.
‘You don’t think they’ll leave us alone now we know how to defeat them?’ the professor asked hopefully.
‘Not a chance. For whatever reason, the madman controlling these androids sees us as a threat. He’ll send more’.
‘But we know how to defeat them now’ the professor restated.
‘If we’re attacked by a hundred or even fifty of these suckers we’re not going to be able to stun them a few at a time and hope all the other androids let us destroy their pals’.
‘Do androids have pals?’ the doctor asked smiling. Louise ignored him.
‘The point is, they know our location now, we can’t stay here’.
‘And where do you propose we go?’ asked Bobby.
‘That brings me to my second point. Wherever we go, we’re going to be looking over our shoulder just waiting to be found. I propose we head for android city and take this guy on’.
‘Are you crazy?’ asked Bobby, ‘You yourself acknowledged that we have virtually no chance against a group of them. The city will be crawling with them’.
‘Granted but we should have the element of surprise, buildings for cover and a goal. Otherwise we just wander around waiting to be picked off’.
‘And how do we find this city?’ asked the doctor, ‘I don’t know where you can buy a road map around here’.
‘Karl and his group know exactly where this city is. Don’t you Karl?’ He nodded eagerly.
‘Karl? Karl and the rest of the mutates are little more than naïve children, how can you expect them to lead us?’ the professor asked incredulously.
‘Karl, how long were you wandering about before you found this bunker?’
‘About a year’. Karl was drawing daggers at the professor. He was beginning to strongly dislike and distrust scientists.
‘About a year. And how many of your group died or were killed in that time?’
‘We’ve been awake for about four months now and we’ve lost seven and have five wounded. That’s about a quarter of us. This is a new terrain professor. The old world has gone. In this world, we’re the newbie’s, Karl and his friends are the vets’. Karl’s chest swelled with pride at Louise’s praise.
They debated the ins and outs of how to prepare for their departure. They gave themselves a timeline of five days to ensure they had enough provisions and equipment. In the meantime, Louise sent out her patrols in shifts and hoped there would be no android sightings while they were packing up.
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