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The Deus ex Machina – Dee

In the end it turned out I got in more trouble for sneaking past Mab than actually spying on the council meeting, mostly because that would make it the fourth time this month and I think they’re still discussing what would be my worst punishment. Jaz says actually making me go to the damn things. At least my stealth skills are improving; usually they get me before I even land.

Anyway, the next day came without any particular incident; my punishment was still in ‘pending’ status so I was more or less free for the time being. At least until I had shadow duty later in the day but come the morning I was free from responsibility and out for a morning flight slightly off the beaten path. If I ‘accidentally’ came across any wandering Erasers, well that was all the better.

Gunfire suddenly rattled into life in the forest below and I jumped instinctively, completely messing up my wing beat and plummeting a good thirty feet before levelling off in the general direction of the gunfire, hopefully tuning the drop into a graceful swoop. Or at least that’s what I’ll tell anyone who asks. I began accelerating towards the noise as an answering barrage of shots rang out, followed by a second roar of a rifle and I flipped the crossbow off my back, dropping a quarrel into the slot. I was not planning to get caught flat footed again.

There was another bang and an answering battery of fire, right bellow me this time and I squinted through the trees, rising smoothly on an updraft all the time looking for movement. A splash of red caught my eye and a quick one eighty revealed a body lying on the forest floor, a large gun strapped over its shoulder. Not an Eraser but not one of us either. Another human then.

An Eraser sprinted into and out of my view and I plummeted towards him, pulling up sharply just above the trees and skimming over the sea of green, hoping like hell he didn’t have a friend, or the good sense to look up. I did briefly wonder just where he was running to. There was nothing but forest for about two miles and the village was in completely the opposite direction.

A gap in the trees loomed ahead of me and I powered forwards, checking one last time that the Eraser was exactly where I wanted him, and dropped. I flared my wings a hairs breadth from the ground and flicked upwards, rushing towards the Eraser just as he started to turn his head, bringing my crossbow up to my shoulder.

I was over him in a flash, the quarrel hitting home deep in his skull, and I was barrel rolling back towards the sun as I heard one of the Feral’s all too human howls. This was beginning to get serious, and last meeting with a Feral didn’t exactly end well. Unfortunately a quick scan of the horizon told me there was no one to call for help and I’m nowhere near strong enough to do a telekinetic flash during the day. I dropped back towards the forest, snapping another bolt out of my quiver and heading in the rough direction of the howl. I’d be safe if I stayed in the air, it would be like shooting a really big fish in a barrel and would more than make up for Robin having to save me the other day.

I caught a snatch of grey fur through the canopy and dropped through the tree line, relying on dumb luck for there not to be an offending trunk in the way and locked the Feral in my vision. He was about a dozen yards away, not looking in my direction and a perfect target silhouetted against a bright clearing. Oddly, he seemed to be looking at something. At the very last second I spotted a kid, the kid, lying once again in front of the Feral and I threw myself to one side, roaring past the Eraser and letting loose a shot far too late that went whistling off into the foliage.

I wrenched my wings back, flinging myself up and round, feeling the G-force pulling at my joints, trying and failing to suck a bolt out of my quiver only to have it ripped away or at least me ripped away from it. The Feral was tracing my path with its wicked eyes and here was me with an unloaded bow and a defenceless kid to protect.

I plunged towards the thing, on a collision course for its chest and flared my wings at the very last instant sending me spinning backwards, bringing my feet up and slamming into it with all my strength. For the very briefest moment I thought I was just going to bounce off, but then he began to topple backwards. Unfortunately, I was still doing about thirty miles an hour and so went flying, flipping head over heels above him and hitting the ground with a crash, rolling over and over until I finally came to a rest upside-down with my back against a tree, wings splayed around me.

The Feral hit the ground with an almighty crash, but before the dust had even settled had rolled over onto all fours and was prowling towards me. I was still seeing stars and my crossbow was nowhere to be seen, plus the trail of wood splinters between me and the Eraser said that my bolts were probably broken. This was so not going like I planned; I couldn’t even concentrate enough to pull any remaining arrow heads out of my quiver and that was assuming there were arrow heads left.

I flopped onto the ground, desperately trying to get my brain ticking over, or at least stop my ears ringing. It would be incredibly annoying to die and have the last thing I hear be the ringing in my ears. The Feral suddenly loomed over me, fully upright now and blocking out the light with its vast bulk, it was quite disturbing it had managed to stand upright without my notice. I scrabbled around in the dirt for a weapon, finally settling on a rounded rock, and hurled it towards the Eraser.

The Eraser moved its head all of two inches to dodge the rock, which barely made it above the thing’s shoulders before falling back towards the ground and landing with a pathetic thud.

“Damn it,” I said weakly, and the Eraser grinned viciously, bearing its teeth and deliberately giving me a good look at its far too large claws. There was the sudden roar of automatic gunfire and bursts of red splattered themselves across its chest as it shuddered under a barrage of bullets.

The thing looked down in surprise at the blood soaking into its fur, and ever so slowly its eyes glazed over and it began to fall, right on top of me. I threw myself to one side as for the second time in a minute the Feral hit the ground like a tonne of bricks, and I unfortunately managed to roll onto an arrow head.

“Stupid bloody thing,” I muttered, picking up the arrowhead, and then spotted the kid who was holding a smoking assault rifle and looking down at the Feral’s corpse in horror.

“Thanks for the save,” I panted as I slowly got to my feet and then when I didn’t get a response added. “Hey, are you okay?”

“What the hell is going on!” he suddenly exploded, dropping the gun and screaming at the top of his lungs. “What the hell are these things? Why are they here? This is supposed to be a post apocalyptic wasteland! Why are their wolf monsters, winged people and a God damned forest?”

There was a stunned moment in which he tried to catch his breath and I waited for the echoes to die away.

“Err, which one do you want answered first?” I asked hesitantly, really glad that he’d dropped the gun.

“Wolf monsters, please.”

“Well,” I began, lacing my hands behind my head to try and beat the ache in my spine. “They’re originally some kind of super soldier experiment, I think, but they’ve been breeding ever since the cataclysm so they’ve mutated a bit since then.” I kicked the Feral’s corpse as I said that, it was still twitching slightly, stubborn things Erasers.

“Super soldiers?” he asked disbelievingly. “Science-fiction much?”

I flared the tips of wings and rolled my eyes.

“Okay point,” he conceded. “I take it the wings are unnatural too?”

“Yep. Same scientists as it happens.” I began to root around in the underbrush for my crossbow and then froze as I heard the snap of a twig under a boot.

“And finally, the forest?” he asked as I glanced around frantically, apparently oblivious.

“Down!” I yelled, finally spotting the Eraser sneaking up behind the kid with a rather nasty looking gun and leapt without a second thought towards the kid who instead of getting down like I told him was instead looking round to see what I was yelling about.

I slammed into him as the Eraser opened fire, bullets whistling scant inches over my head and we crashed to the ground as I hurled the arrowhead I’d palmed earlier, at the Eraser, giving it a telekinetic kick that almost broke my wrist on the backlash. The bolt flew true for once and slammed into the Eraser, catching him clean on the chest and tossing him backwards like a rag doll. He hit the ground a second later, decidedly dead.

“That’s two to one now,” I pointed out, getting off the kid, dusting myself off and helping him up.

“Two to one what?” he asked, eyeing the corpse of the second Eraser and shuddering, it’s always freaky how start looking more wolf like after they’re dead.

“How many times we’ve saved each others lives,” I explained casually, finally spotting my crossbow hiding under a thicket.

“Great, the outside world’s insane,” he muttered darkly.

“You’re welcome,” I said with mock brightness, rolling my eyes again, picking up my crossbow and checking for damage. Fortunately apart from a few nicks and losing the string it seamed to be fine; Zap sure knows how to build these things solidly.

“Sorry, bad day,” he explained. “So why isn’t the world a wasteland then?”

“It is,” I said shrugging. “We’re in a fairly good area, there weren’t any major targets nearby and we’re far enough north that the trees are used to long winters so they survived the fallout.”

“No chance humans have rebuilt the world then?” he asked hopefully, practically begging me to correct him.

“If there are humans out there we haven’t seen them,” I told him apologetically.

He deflated visibly. “And are there a lot of wolf monsters out there?”

“The Erasers?” I queried. “Probably. We thought that they’d all died out, but somehow I doubt there are only three.”

The kid froze and looked suddenly at the Feral’s corpse. “It doesn’t have a gun,” he whispered.

“Err?”

“I was shot at from three directions,” he explained hurriedly.

Ah.

A gun barked suddenly and the kid went spinning to the floor as a dark red stain began to soak into his jacket just above his hip. My eyes locked onto the Eraser almost instantly. He was already loading another round into his gun as I started sprinting towards him, whipping the hidden dagger out of its home in the crossbow stock, and leaping forwards, spreading my wings wide to catch myself before I hit the ground.

The gun roared again and I felt a bullet scream over my shoulder blades as I dropped low enough to scrape the earth, then gave an almighty flap with my wings, hurling myself towards the Eraser who brought up the rifle defensively. I barrelled into him, twitching my arm around his hasty guard and slamming my forearm into his throat.

My dagger bit home in his stomach a moment later and tore a deep gash, as I was catapulted off the Eraser by my momentum and went spinning into the canopy. This time I managed to regain some semblance of control, flickering my wings to get me level but then I clipped a limb on a branch and was sent crashing through the trees, seemingly hitting every bough in existence before landing head first and in the most ungraceful way imaginable. Fortunately I wasn’t actually going fast enough to seriously hurt myself; still I was going to be picking leaves out of my hair for days.

“Okay,” I growled to myself as I struggled to my feet, furling my wings painfully behind me. “I think I’ve fought enough Erasers for this week.”

My gaze caught on the kid lying bleeding on the forest floor and I scurried over, grabbing his wrist to check for a pulse and moving his head so he wasn’t face down in the dirt.

“Hey kid?” I asked desperately, not actually finding a pulse but that may have been my fault more than his, and trying to remember some first aid. “Err, what’s your name?”

“Michael,” he answered weakly, as I finally got myself together enough to put a cloth over his wound. “Michael Conner.”

“Well Mike,” I said picking him up gently, ignoring his hiss of pain and doing the math in my head. It was about three miles to the village, flying was out judging by how much he weighed so I was going to have to run it and just hope he had enough time. “This’ll be number three.”

I sprinted off into the forest, Matthew’s blood already soaking into my shirt, praying that I would get there in time.

Saviour – Michael

The next half hour was more or less a blur of pain as I drifted in and out of consciousness. It turned out getting shot really hurt, and the flack jacket had done absolutely nothing to blunt the blow. Actually that was a lie, but as I think it just slowed the bullet enough for it to lodge neatly in my kidney, I might as well have not worn the blasted thing. I don’t particularly remember much of the journey, just a blur of half formed shapes, trying and failing to focus on anything. I definitely tried to give some advice on what to do with a gunshot victim, like never pick them up and run though a forest, but didn’t quite get beyond the thinking stage before another jolt sent a dagger of pain through my side.

I was kind of half aware when we finally came to a stop, the girl breathing heavily. I had tried to ask her name but that had gone the same way as all the other things I’d tried to say.

“Okay,” she muttered to herself and I craned my neck around enough to see she was looking up at a dark disk in the canopy. “I can do this.”

A pins and needles feeling rippled across me, which probably is a testament to how I’d become far too used the pain of the bullet wound. There was this sudden jerk as the ground rushed away and I yelled in pain as my wound screamed. We landed heavily and she finally put me face down on some kind of wooden platform where I half expected the pain would die down without me being jostled all the time. No such luck as it happened.

“Sora!” she roared, hammering on wood, probably a door. I wasn’t prepared to lift my head to check “Get Hope out here, we’ve got an emergency!”

I wondered briefly why hope would be needed; surely painkillers would be more useful.

“Dee is this like last time?” A rather annoyed voice asked as the door swung open. “Hope’s…” She petered off, probably upon seeing me. “Who…? Never mind get him inside.”

I was picked up roughly once more before being deposited gently on a bed inside. I would have appreciated the caution earlier but survivors can’t be choosers. A valiant effort actually allowed me to focus for a moment and I saw I was inside some kind of roundhouse. There were an unusual amount of beds though and they looked practically unused so maybe I’d gotten lucky and they actually had hospitals. Asprin would be nice too.

“Where did you find him?” the woman asked, in a hushed voice.

I wondered whether after a major wound if I should try and stay awake or go to sleep. Sleep was looking good just then.

“The forest,” the girl responded, Dee I think it was though I may have just missed the rest of her name. “There were lots of Erasers and no, I don’t have any idea where he came from.”

“I’ll get Hope, and tell Dat.”

There were more hurried footsteps and Dee crouched down next to me. “Doing okay there Michael?” she asked softly.

“Been better,” I muttered. “Hope’s a person right? Doctor?”

“In a manner of speaking,” he said hesitantly after a suspiciously long pause. “A healer certainly.”

I didn’t like the sound of that much but before I could muster the energy to say anything else there was a haze flash in my peripheral vision and a little girl appeared next to Dee with an anxious look.

“Hi, I’m Hope,” she said, attempting to smile reassuringly, an effect ruined by the dark circles under her eyes.

I groaned softly. I had not been expecting a six year old doctor. Actually I think that’s a contradiction in terms.

“Please tell me this is a joke,” I said weakly, stifling a cough.

“No joke,” Hope said, deadly serious, something disconcerting to hear from a kid. “Now just give me a moment and you’ll be better in just a minute.”

See this is what happens when people are cut off from modern medicine, they turn to faith healing.

They disappeared from my field of vision and I felt my jacket removed along with the rudimentary bandages, both of which hurt like hell.

“Now this is going to hurt,” Hope said grimly and my thought response was.

“You mean it hasn’t already?” I didn’t quite manage to get the words out though.

A pressure appeared around my wound and I hissed in pain, really wishing that I knew what she was planning. Whatever it was it was not going to be good.

There was a disgusting sucking sound and I roared in pain as it felt like I’d gotten shot again but this time in reverse. The whole world was awash with agony for an instant that felt more like a millennia and then suddenly it was over. Something hit the ground next to me with a bright rattle and I flopped back onto the bed. I hadn’t even realised that I’d been flailing.

“You weren’t kidding about it hurting then?” I murmured into the mattress and craned my neck slightly to see a blood stained and flattened bullet lying on the floor. It was amazing such a little thing could cause so much pain, though I would very much like to know how it had been extracted without a scalpel and just how many blood vessels it had ruptured on its way out.

“Actually this bit’s going to hurt more,” Hope admitted. I felt my eyes widen, I’d had more than enough pain for one day. “Now brace yourself.”

I had a split second in which I clenched my fists and squeezed my eyes shut, before my side was hit by a wall of pain. It felt like I was on fire. Actually that’s not true, it was more like my kidney was being torn up by a lunatic with a lawn mower, the pieces shuffled by earwigs and then replaced like crazy paving by a Picasso fanatic. And if you think that’s a vivid picture try doubling it and you’ll get roughly what it felt like.

I sat bolt upright screaming in pain and almost instantly the colour began to drain out of the world.

“Is he okay?” Dee asked Hope anxiously as I realised that my scream had petered away and the pain had gone, though I had just lost quite a lot of blood.

“Bullet wounds take a long time to heal,” Hope explained with a shrug. “I would catch him though.”

I saw Dee leap forwards as the room began to spin and I successfully managed to do what I’d been trying to do for the last half hour as I sank into blessed unconsciousness.

Better and Better?

I woke slowly, lazily cracking open my eyes and gazing unseeing into the sunlit room. Suddenly I realised that I knew absolutely nowhere that would actually have sunlight, and by extension I had no idea where I was. Oh, and I’d just been shot recently.

I sat bolt upright, thrashing and looking around wildly and only managed to pull the sheets into a tangled knot around my legs, just barely staying on the bed. I took a deep steadying breath and forced myself to calm down, yes I had been shot, but I’d been rescued by a girl with wings who happened to be sitting on the bed next to me.

“Are you okay?” she asked anxiously, putting her arm around me and I clasped my hands over my eyes.

“I was really hoping to wake up in my own bunk,” I admitted with a groan and then craned my neck to check my wound; for a confounding moment couldn’t find it. Then I noticed a patch of pink skin roughly where I’d been shot and put two and two together.

“Err,” I began hesitantly, also noticing that I was curiously no longer wearing my shirt. “How long have I been here?”

“About six hours or so,” she explained in a nonchalant tone, sitting back down on her own bed, now it didn’t look like I was about to topple over.

“I was shot you know,” I said after a moments pause.

“I know,” she said sounding a little befuddled. “I was there.”

“Wounds don’t heal that fast,” I pointed out.

“What can I say? We have a good healer.”

“She could do with anaesthetics,” I muttered. “And I refuse to believe I was healed by magic.”

Dee rolled her eyes and cast around for something. “Okay I’ll prove it to you,” she said grabbing a metal disk no bigger than a coin off the table beside my bed; I recognised it as the bullet I’d been shot with. “Watch.” She frowned at the circle of lead and it leapt a good six inches into the air before stopping suddenly, simply hanging there wobbling slightly.

“I don’t like to believe that’s possible either,” I told her honestly with maybe a hint of shell shock. For some reason it put me in mind of a good few of the stories I’d heard over the last ten years.

“Like and won’t are two different things,” she pointed out, looking very smug.

“Well, so much for the laws of physics,” I sighed.

“Tell that to Taimi. She’ll tear you apart and use diagrams to do it.” She let the bullet fall onto her palm and instantly flinched away with a barely suppressed yell, letting it drop to the floor where it smoked ominously for a moment.

“Okay, I didn’t mean to do that,” she admitted sheepishly, rubbing her palm as I put my hand over my eyes, smiling to myself.

“This where you live then?” I asked, looking around the room. It was actually quite a nice looking place, obviously about half of a round house with a dozen or so beds dotted along the outer wall and thick tree trunk protruding through the inner wall . It was almost depressing how comforting it looked; the sunlight was streaming through the windows and giving the wood a homely yellow glow. The walls had been painstakingly painted to make it look like plants were growing through the building and fresh bunches of what I can only assume were herbs were hung above every bed and arranged in strategic pots.

“Yep,” Dee said brightly. “Well not me personally, I live about thirty trees down. This is the hospital slash Hope’s house.”

“There are a lot of you then?” I asked after another moments pause while I digested that information.

“Over a hundred and fifty now. Actually that reminds me, Dat wanted to see you when you woke up, Sora probably wants to change your drip too.” She rose to go and I glanced over my other shoulder, kicking myself for not noticing the catheter snaking into my wrist.

“Why does a post apocalyptic society have drips?” I asked the universe in general.

“You think you can’t loot hospitals?” she said sarcastically, pausing at the door next to the trunk. “Now don’t go anywhere.”

I rolled my eyes, like I was getting up after a major gunshot wound; besides I was fairly sure that we weren’t at ground level as I could see branches though the windows and I lacked the right limbs to get to the ground. I lay back sighing. This was just too unreal and strangely ironic. I had hoped that someone had rebuilt society, but I should have specified that they were human.

A second door cracked open and Hope poked her head around the door, looking cautiously around for something or other. She snuck over and I sat back up, pulling the sheet around me, I’ve really got to ask what happened to my shirt.

“Something wrong?” I asked her.

“Not as such,” she replied quietly and looked nervously around. “And besides that’s my question. But I err… well I…” She tailed off.

“Yes?” I cut in after the silence began to stretch.

“When I was healing you I noticed you had a lot of the nasty lumps,” she said in a rush.

My turn to go, “err?”

“The wrong things that grow inside people,” she clarified, staring at me with an unnerving intensity.

“Cancer?” I asked in shock, literally feeling my heart skip a beat.

“That’s it,” she said in a disturbingly bright tone. “Dat said I shouldn’t do anything until you guys spoke but I’ve got this really good idea how to stop you getting any more.”

“At all?” I was flabbergasted by that, then again unless I’d been delirious earlier, and that was a possibility, she’d already cured a major gunshot wound so I guess anything was possible.

“Well no more that anyone else,” she admitted.

“What are you waiting for then?”

“Now you can’t tell anyone about this,” she whispered, taking my arm and looking right into my eyes with deadly seriousness. “I’d get in so much trouble if anyone found out.”

“I promise,” I told her, holding up my free hand.

“All done then,” she said brightly, springing away, all trace of seriousness lost just as Dee came back through the door in a rush.

“Going to get Dat now,” she announced, sweeping across the room and letting her wings unfurl. “And Hope, your mom says stop whatever it is you’re doing and help her in the kitchen.”

Hope back away from me sheepishly and then bolted. Dee paused at the door and then wandered over.

“Don’t worry about Dat,” she assured me which only made me more anxious. “He acts tough but he is really fine deep down.” She hesitated a moment. “Well he’ll probably be fine. It depends on how much the Eraser attack has got everyone riled up.”

“Thanks for that,” I said with yet another sigh.

“You’re welcome.” She stepped onto the cabinet and threw herself out of the window, purely for effect I suspect.

I sighed and once again flopped back onto the pillows. Today was really not my day and by the looks of things it was going to get worse before it got better. I didn’t particularly want to meet the leader of a tribe of these distinctly un-human people, and I was already beginning to question the wisdom of letting Hope do whatever it was that she had done.

Yep, it was one of those days where it really didn’t pay to get out of bed.

Out of the Frying Pan – Michael

“So,” Dat began, crossing his arms in front of him and somehow managing to loom while sitting down. “Why are you back?”

I was really glad I’d managed to get a clean set of clothes off Sora. There’s no way you can deal with a serious problem from bed. Admittedly I had just moved to sitting on top of the bed and was wearing my blooded flack jacket to block out the draught caused by the missing shirt back, but there was nothing I could particularly do about that.

“Me personally, or humanity in general?” I asked with a slight grin, trying in vain to lighten the atmosphere. He just looked at me.

“Fine,” I said grimly, mimicking the crossed arms. “We’re back partly for hope for the future, but mostly because we only have about a year’s food left. If humanity doesn’t start coming out of its bunkers now it’s going to die out. That’s why we’re back.”

“That’s reasonable I suppose,” Dat admitted at length. “Why now though?”

“Why not?” I asked with a shrug. “Ten years is a long time for even a nuclear winter to last, and I have no idea how many half lives it’s been, enough that Earth is survivable again. Though apparently it was more survivable than we thought.” I gestured around the room at this point. I was slightly bitter about being shut up in a bunker for so long when the world had already gotten back to normal but hopefully it didn’t show.

“Don’t bet on it,” Dat muttered and then addressed me again. “Why after ten years?”

“I don’t know,” I said with another shrug. “Symbolism maybe?”

“You know that means that Zap was right,” Dee cut in, appearing at the window and making me jump.

“Dee!” Dat snapped, whirling. “If you’re going to eavesdrop don’t join the bloody conversation. And especially don’t bring up the last time you were eavesdropping.”

“Am I getting tips or being chewed out?” she asked in a gratingly bright tone.

“Just get in here,” he growled. “You’ve completely ruined the impression.”

“You can’t play the evil interrogator thing anyway,” she told him, scrambling through the window. Personally I thought he could quite well but wasn’t going to mention that. “Besides terrifying some kid is not very leaderly.”

“How old are you?” Dat asked me suddenly.

“Fourteen,” I replied without thinking. “Why?”

“Oh, shut up,” Dee fumed as Dat raised his eyebrows smugly and I felt that I’d been left out of the loop somewhat.

“Anyway,” Dat said, suddenly addressing me. “How many more people do you have in this bunker?”

“About forty or so.”

“And how many bunkers?”

“I don’t know” I admitted shrugging. “In all honesty you guys probably know better than me, you haven’t been underground for a decade. We might have some military maps somewhere but I’ve never seen them.”

“And your heavily armed hunting squads?” he asked poignantly.

“Well I think you’ve meet those wolf monsters,” I countered.

“If you wanted to defend yourself you wouldn’t be wandering through unfamiliar territory,” he pointed out.

“If we were smart we wouldn’t be wandering through unfamiliar territory. And we were kind of on a rescue mission. One of people was kidnapped. Incidentally you wouldn’t happen to know where the wolf monster camp is?”

“Do we?” Dee asked Dat suddenly and he once again glowered at her.

“No,” he admitted darkly then turned back to me. “And your leader didn’t particularly look like he was on a rescue.”

“Leader?” I asked confused.

“Yeah, the guy with the eyes of a Feral. He and a half dozen others were skulking around the fields.”

“Really?” Dee asked.

“Later,” he growled at her.

“You mean Mitch?” I enquired, still a bit confused. “Sure he’s has been ordering everyone around and had an odd look in his eyes since Stace died, but I wouldn’t call him our leader.”

I paused at that and thought about it for a moment.

“Okay, good call,” I admitted. It was a bit scary but I could see where Dat was coming from with the whole Feral eyed thing. Neither looked like they cared for anything but destruction anymore.

“And finally, how well armed are you in this bunker?”

“Not well,” I said hesitantly. “Two thirds of us were civilians with passes, and the others were more or less reserves. Plus I think Mitch cleared out most of the guns. Basically we’re not any particular threat.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Dat asserted. “Now give me a minute to think.” He rose and walked silently to the other side of the room.

I don’t care what Dee says, he freaks me out and I still haven’t gotten used to the fact everyone has these huge bundles of feathers on their backs. It would feel good when I finally got back to humanity.

“Don’t worry, okay?” Dee said comfortingly, sitting down next to me and putting her arm around my shoulder. “Dat acts tough but he’s fine underneath.”

“And in ear shot!” he called across the room and Dee winced.

“It’ll be fine,” she said, dropping her voice.

“With any luck,” I sighed. “I really just want to go home now.”

We dropped into silence. I was feeling really tired for some reason, maybe it was the major gunshot wound, or maybe it was just my brain’s response to the unreality of the situation.

“Okay I’ve decided,” Dat announced, returning. “Michael you’re free to go, just try and convince your people that we aren’t a threat and warn them about the Erasers. With any luck they’ll have moved on in a few days but don’t take any chances, okay?”

“Sure.”

“Dee,” he said, rounding on her. “Escort Michael back to the bunker.”

“Seriously?” she asked in disbelief.

“I’d like to keep this quiet,” he explained. “At least until this Eraser business has quieted down. I’m not sure how people are going to react while they’re all riled up like this. And that does imply that you shouldn’t go blabbering to everyone about this.”

“Why Dat, I’m insulted,” Dee said theatrically, and Dat rolled his eyes.

“Humans aren’t that popular then?” I hazarded.

“Nope” Dat said grimly. “And for more reasons that just the obvious. That’s why I’d like you out of here before someone manages to injure themselves, which should be within about two minutes.”

“Being prophetic now?” Dee asked.

“No, pattern recognition. Now if you wouldn’t mind.” He gestured towards the door.

“Pillar of patience you are,” Dee said rolling her eyes and helped me too my feet.

I staggered a bit but stayed more or less upright. My side was still throbbing but that was more disturbing than painful; every ounce of common sense was telling me that it should hurt like nothing on earth and I should quite possibly be dead. I was rather glad I wasn’t dead but I was still looking forward to getting back to a semblance of normalcy, and possibly sleeping until the next judgement day.

“I got you,” she assured me, looping her arm beneath mine and supporting me far more than should be necessary. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I be fine,” I said, shaking my head to clear the spots hovering in front of my eyes.

Dee shot Dat a dirty look but he just shrugged and we began to hobble towards the door. Actually I was beginning to feel a little better by the time we reached the door so I’ll put it down to circulation or simply give up of rationalising things; I’d just been healed by a six year old after all.

The vertigo came back in a rush as we stepped out onto the balcony and I suddenly realised that we really were quite high.

“Maybe I should stay for a bit,” I suggested hurriedly, disentangling myself from Dee and backing back through the door. “I’m still kind of dizzy.”

“You said you were fine,” she pointed out, sounding a little exasperated.

“Bullet wound,” I snapped back, backing away from the windows too. I’d know academically that we were in a tree house, however I hadn’t quite realised just how far the ground was from us. How they can live in tree houses is beyond me. What if the floor collapsed? You’d fall to your death.

“Hope,” she countered. “What’s wrong with you anyway?”

“It’s a long way down, okay!”

That made her pause for a moment.

“You’re afraid of heights?” she asked incredulously.

“I don’t know,” I half yelled. “Probably! I’ve lived underground all my life. When was I supposed to get used to it? And you guys have got wings anyway, why would you be afraid of heights?”

There was another pause where Dee tried to follow that and I caught my breath. “Well I think you’ve covered all the responses,” she admitted.

Dat put his hand comfortingly on my shoulder and I only tensed more. “Don’t worry,” he said, the calm radiating from his voice and very slowly he began to walk me back towards to balcony. “It’s really very simple. Just stop. Take a deep breath and think. Suddenly you won’t be afraid.”

We paused at the lip of the balcony. The ground was still very far away but after a deep steadying breath I could more or less rationalise it. I wasn’t going to fall. There was no chance it was going to come rushing up to meet me in a very fatal fashion.

“Better now?” he asked.

“A little,” I admitted.

“Good. Don’t yell by the way.”

“Wh…” I began just as his grip shifted and I found myself hurled out into empty space.

For a brief moment I was too shocked to thing anything beyond “he pushed me!” but then the ground was rushing to great me and panic began to set in. The only reason I didn’t yell was because he’d told me not to and my brain was too busy just then to realise how stupid that rational was.

I closed my eyes before I hit. If I imaged really hard maybe I wouldn’t go splat on the forest floor but instead drift wherever my brain decided to take me to get away from that place. After imagining nothing but falling for a couple of seconds I opened my eyes and found myself staring into the sky. Definitely not falling. Actually it felt more like I was resting on a plain of glass.

Dee landed next to me, hoisted me off the whatever it was and set me gently on my feet.

“Okay,” I said slowly, looking around for a reason why I wasn’t a me shaped pancake and  totally failing to find one, or even what it was I was resting on. “What the hell just happened?”

“We’ve been over the telekinesis,” Dee said as if that explained everything. “And we were planning to use a rope ladder. I thing Dat’s just a little overworked, there’s been something like a dozen Eraser sightings today.”

“I could have used a ladder,” I protested indignantly, then the first part of her statement sunk in. “Wait, you mean he can lift a person?”

“Sure, I’m pretty bad at that kind of stuff to tell the truth.”

“And Dat?”

“Average.”

“Oh good,” I sighed, mentally chalking up another one up against humanity. “Well that explains how you guys survived anyway.”

“Actually we didn’t have those sorts of powers back then,” she explained. “But that’s not too relevant just now. Anyway, how are you really feeling?”

“Surprisingly better,” I admitted. “Adrenalin’s funny like that.”

“Ready to go then?”

“Definitely.” I more than ever wanted to be back in my own bed.

We set off at a slow walk, mostly because I wasn’t sure I could keep up at a faster pace and in under a minute of silence I asked. “So how did you guys survive the end of the world then?”

“That’s quite a long story,” she said, chewing her lip.

“How far’s the bunker from here?”

“Three miles.”

“Plenty of time then.”

“Oh yeah, walking,” she said with a touch of resignation. “Okay then, we might as well begin at the beginning…”

Safe and Sound – Michael

I was pretty out of it by the time we got to the bunker, knowing my luck I was probably catching some kind of mutant super bug, and so it was more just Dee talking at me by the end. That’s not to say I wasn’t listening but my responses had more or less petered out.

Actually it was fairly amazing how they’d managed to survive the end of the world. Set free by a group of what I can only assume were scientists, Dee called them White Coats, they had little knowledge of the outside world and absolutely no idea what fallout even was. In my opinion it was remarkable that they lasted a week. Apparently they as a species have an incredible resistance to radiation, and while everyone else was still in their shelters they were already scavenging supplies. Apparently Dat had even had the foresight to start stockpiling.

I did have a certain admiration for the people who’d created them, even though Dee had no particular love for these scientists. Still, you’ve got to respect their craftsmanship in making a race perfectly adapted to surviving against the odds, also their selflessness in making a species that would survive while they would not. I would have liked to meet them in all honesty, even if it was just to get them to explain the bloody telekinesis. Heck, my dad did genetic research he may have even have met some of them.

Anyway, apparently humanity didn’t do very well, even for those who were at least mildly prepared, half were dead in a fortnight and a good chunk of the rest followed within a month for various reasons ranging from radiation sickness to starvation. She told me that the bird people had tried to help a little but when there’s a world dying, there is very little a group of a hundred and fifty or so can do. Eventually you just have to throw in the towel and look after your own.

A few enclaves did make it into their second year, but with the nuclear winter preventing anything but the hardiest plants growing they died out due to lack of supplies. Even the bird people struggled to find food, having to foray deep into blast zones to find supplies. Roving Eraser packs didn’t help humanity’s chances of survival either.

I did manage to raise quite a few questions about the Erasers. Seemingly they were experiments by the same scientists that made the bird people and had mostly been used as hired muscle. Personally I thought they sounded more like a super soldier project but obviously they’d been looked over in favour of nuclear weapons. Still they’d been humanity’s undoing and had been steadily multiplying ever since the end of the world. Apparently they’d looked quite humanoid to begin with, but six generations of inbreeding had made the majority stupid, violent and more like wolf than man, hence you got the monstrosities such as the Ferals. Dee had been under the impression that they had died out in recent years as remaining food supplies ran out but apparently they were still up and kicking and, in my opinion, going for the biggest concentration of food in the whole world. A working society.

Somehow I doubted that the bird kids were going to go down easy though.

“This is where you live?” Dee asked, cocking an eyebrow as we stepped out of the forest and she saw the shadowed doors of the bunker for the first time.

“The emphasis was on the living, not the aesthetics,” I explained, exhaustion in my voice though I don’t think Dee particularly picked up on it.

“I was just saying,” she said defensively. “Anyway, how do you get inside, knock?”

I chuckled softly at the idea of trying to knock on a three foot thick door. “With luck the intercom’s still working.”

“Oh yeah. That would work,” she admitted. “Anyway I can’t see any Erasers, we should be clear.” She loaded up her crossbow as she said this, freaking me out as she cocked it with telekinesis. There was something decidedly unsettling about seeing a weapon essentially load itself even if I did know Dee was responsible.

“Sure?” I asked with due caution.

“We’ve got good eyes,” she replied with a shrug.

“Okay then.”

We walked cautiously across the square of asphalt. I was particularly jumpy, mostly because the last time I’d tried to get into the bunker I’d been shot at. Nothing happened though. Nothing leapt out of the woods towards us and not a sound was to be heard made save for birdsong somewhere off in the trees and the blood beginning to pound in my ears.

“You want to come in?” I asked after we’d gotten into the shadow of the Bunker’s doorframe and I’d relaxed slightly.

“Don’t know,” she admitted, chewing her lip. “How heavily armed will they be?”

“Reasonably I suppose. Everyone’s kind of on edge at the moment.”

“And how receptive to non human strangers?” she asked poignantly.

“Probably not very,” I acknowledged, getting her point.

“I’ll visit next time.”

“Actually I don’t blame you.”

“Stop by some time though,” she told me, shaking to unfurl her wings. “At the very least speak to Hope for a check-up.”

“Probably a good idea,” I admitted. “Anyway have a good flight.”

“I’ll give it a shot,” she said, flashing a grin and accelerating across the parking lot.

“See ya’ later!” she roared over her shoulder as she ripped into the air and I waved goodbye as she skimmed over the trees. It was an impressive sight, especially as I’d never seen even a sparrow fly before, and I’d been a little distracted all the other times she’d been in the air. It was amazing that something of such grace could come about from the end of the world and as I watched her soar into the sky I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy.

I sighed and press the intercom button, there was a long silence suddenly broken by the hiss of hushed whispering.

“Hello?” I asked tentatively, holding down the button again.

“Michael!” A voice exclaimed, I couldn’t really tell who it was; the intercom was the new definition of static. I did make me wonder how they knew it was me though. “Oh, thank God it’s you. I’ll open the…”

There was a brief pause and some more whispering.

“What?” the voice asked, obviously not addressing me. “Why?”

More whispering.

“Oh fine. Michael, north corridor, second door on the right, coming from the main entrance, what is it?”

“The nursery,” I answered nonplussed. “Used to be the main store room but we converted it when the supplies were used up. Why?”

“Satisfied!” the voice snapped, again not at me. “Okay, I’m opening the doors now.”

The doors slid open with agonising slowness but at least this time I wasn’t being shot at and the only thing bothering me was my headache building up to a crescendo.

My mom rugby tackled me as the final door slammed shut behind me, lifting me bodily, holding me tight and ruffling my hair in the manner I thought she’d grown out of years ago.

“Mom,” I whined, not really resisting.

“You’re safe,” she murmured, setting me back on my feet but not letting go. “Thank heavens your safe. I thought I’d lost you.”

“Where are the others?” Dr Stevenson asked suddenly, stepping out from the throng of anxious faces.

“Erm,” I began slowly, thinking of Dee and all the others, plus my fairly miraculous recovery. “That’s a very long story.”

Into the Fire – Michael

It was rather a shock to everyone when I passed out, especially to me. One moment I was sitting in the infirmary nursing a cup of ice water, mostly to ease my pounding headache, next I was waking up on a very uncomfortable bed, a bright light shinning in my eyes.

I moaned softly, half attempting to brush the light out of my eyes but only managing to shrug my shoulder a little. The still conscious part of my brain tried to do a stock check, I had most definitely fainted and that implied that I’d either come down with some disease or worse reopened my wound. The former was probably more likely as most of my body couldn’t decide whether it was hot or cold, and the rest had just given up entirely and said ‘in pain’.

Where was I though?

I cracked open an eye and was almost blinded by the blazing light above my head as my eye seemed to fail to contract. I slammed it shut again.

Okay, well that at least told me where I was. The observation room, an eight by four block of concrete designed to isolate patients whose disease is unknown, something that’s vital for a fallout bunker. I’ve stated many times that radiation doesn’t produce mutants, it kills people. Pathogens, however, produce mutants which then proceed to kill people, and if I was in the observation room then my chances were not looking good.

“Michael?” a voice crackled into life over the intercom and I moaned. “Michael, can you hear me?”

I groaned again, louder this time and rolled my head enough to open my eyes without getting blinded. I could just make out Dr Stevenson and my mom behind the mirrored glass, both looking extremely anxious, also not a very good sign.

“Michael.”

I really wished he would stop repeating my name.

“You appear to have come down with something.”

Thanks, I figured that out already.

“We’ve given you as much medicine as we can. Just stay strong and you’ll be fine.”

And there was another bad sign; they didn’t know what was wrong with me.

“Honey, I’m going to be right here with you,” my mom cut in anxiously, snatching the microphone.

That was nice to know. Though the thought of responding didn’t occur to me at the time, my brain was feeling funny for some reason. I let my eyes slide shut again ignoring the urge to shiver all over and the throbbing in my back.

I fell in and out of consciousness for the rest of what felt like an eternity but was actually just the rest of the night. I don’t believe my mom left the little room for the whole time, though I was so out of it most of the time I couldn’t even focus, let alone confirm the steady whisper through the speakers was hers.

All I know is I woke up in silence.

Instantly I knew something was very wrong, and yet I had this moment of overwhelming clarity, I knew I had to get out, and that was all. I also knew that there was no way I should be feeling perfectly fine after having whatever disease I contracted but for some reason that paled into insignificance against the fact that I had to get out.

I sat up suddenly and swung my legs off the bed. After I got out I’d have to talk to them about putting more pillows on the bed as it looked like a collapsed chair but first things first. I got up slowly, ignoring the fact that every joint I owned cracked at the same moment, and walked slowly over to the two-way mirror. The observation room was empty. I couldn’t actually see through the glass, someone had turned out the interior light, but I just knew.

I shook my head sadly and wandered over to the door. It was a one of those typically overblown things that infest the bunker, two foot of solid steel complete with mechanical dead locks and utterly impervious from the inside. I laid my hand on the door and then pulled away, dragging the door as if it were glued to my palm and stepping back neatly as it swung into the room.

“What the…” a shocked voice exclaimed as I glided through the doorway and I looked round to see Julian looking at me disbelief. “How?” he began and then seemed to see something in my eyes. “Alarm!”

Pandemonium broke out a few seconds later as people burst out into the corridor, many carrying weapons, all yelling, trying to find out what was going on. I began to walk serenely down the corridor towards the main doors, ignoring the commotion all around me until someone clapped their hand on my shoulder and I whirled around. Dr Stevenson was holding me back, looking both amazed and worried at the same time.

“Michael,” he said soothingly. “You should be resting.” The anxious undertone completely jarred with the rest of his demeanour though, ruining the effect.

“I’ve got to get out,” I told him simply. It was a statement more than anything else.

“And I can’t let you do that.”

He slammed against the wall as I turned back around and kept walking, unheeding of the dead silence that had descended, parting the crowds before me.

“Michael, what are you doing?” my mother asked, as I stepped out into the main chamber. There was fear in her eyes and she stood alone in front of the silent throng but I couldn’t figure out what was scaring her so badly.

“Michael?” she asked again, I acknowledged her but didn’t stop on my steady march.

“Michael, stop,” she pleaded and I heard an almost imperceptible click of a cocking hammer as someone pointed a gun at me. I flipped the safety on without looking round.

I reached the doors and laid a hand on them, briefly contemplating how to get them open.

“It’s a dead end,” Dr Stevenson hissed and I turned slowly to see him standing in one of the doorways, clutching his side. The entire Bunker was watching me now; I could feel every one of their eyes drilling into me, filled with a mixture of shock and fear. Quite a few of them were pointing guns at me.

“You need the key,” he completed triumphantly. “Now come along quietly and we can figure out how to get you better.”

“I just need to get out,” I said, shrugging by flaring the tips of my wings. Someone tried to pull a trigger but all the safety catches were on by that point. I turned my back on them as the first door began to crawl open. “That’s all.”

I ducked under the rising door and let it slam shut behind me, loosing my control on their guns and wincing as I heard a shot ring out.

I was standing out in the cool pre dawn air before I knew it, feeling the wind playing through my flight feathers for the very first time. Just for a moment, that felt horribly wrong, but it passed and I hurled myself into the sky.

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