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All characters, concepts and settings not directly mentioned in the cannon and copyright 2008 to James Coughtrey. All items recognisable from the cannon are copyright James Patterson.

Apocalypse – Dee
At ten in the morning the world ended.

I knew there was something strange about that day from the beginning. The lack of the Eraser running his gun barrel down the bars of our cages to wake us up was a definite hint. I woke slowly for probably the first time in my life; for once undisturbed by the desperate wailing of an Experiment, one of my friends, being dragged away for ‘tests’. The sun shone softly through a tiny window near the ceiling, dancing across my eyes and gently rousing me.

I cracked open an eye and looked around me, ‘Maybe today I will wake up outside the lab’. Not a chance; stupid optimism, same old lab, same old nightmare. There were twenty cages rammed up against the wall each containing an extremely grumpy mutant bird kid. That included me by the way. As well as the cage room there were also experimentation rooms. Which I never want to talk about again, so don’t ask. There might have been other rooms with cages but I don’t know.

I sat up, remembering in time to bow my head to avoid hitting my head on the roof of my cage. Everyone was up already, straining to hear something in the distance. The break room TV I think, but I had never heard it that loud before. I glanced around the lab and saw that everyone was sitting in absolute silence, no one was talking and no one was moving. There wasn’t even the gentle tap of passed messages. It was eerie. I tried to listen to what was being said on the TV but was I too far away from the door, which admittedly was usually a blessing.

“What’s going on,” I tapped across to my neighbour, fourteen year old Jasmine. In the silence it reverberated across the room cutting through the silence like carrion call. Nineteen pairs of eyes glared at me, communicating a silent ‘sh!’ Sometimes I hate being the youngest; everyone either seems to expect you to know everything, that or know nothing as you’re just the silly little girl with downy feathers, which is just as bad.

“The White Coats are stirred up about something,” she tapped back. “Now shush Dat’s trying to listen.”

I shut up and watched Dat who was sitting with his ear pressed against the wall. It was boring; I hate sitting still, and it could go on for hours. I started to tap another message.

Suddenly Dat pulled away from the wall as if it had been electrified. Trust me I know what that looks like. “They’re coming.” he announced talking normally, for some reason unafraid of being punished. The door banged open and five White Coats came in wheeling trolleys, enough for all of us I noticed.

“…so this is it,” one said looking stunned; actually most of them looked stunned. “I’m never going to see them again am I?”

“Pull yourself together, Conner,” barked a White Coat that didn’t share that same wild-eyed look of disbelief as the others. “We have a job to do.”

“It’s alright for you,” the one called Conner cried back hysterically. “You don’t have a family. My son’s only four years old for Gods’ sake!” Their leader grabbed him and shook him until he the panic faded from his eyes.

“Conner,” he said gently. “There is a bunker next to the town; I promise you that they will survive. We will survive.”

Conner looked back at him a said weakly. “Promise?”

“Promise. Now let’s get these guys out of here.” The White Coats rounded on us; some kids quailed back but most just met their panicked eyes, regarding them coldly. They lifted up the cages and placed them roughly on the trolleys. The lead White Coat bent down over Dat’s cage and placed something roughly into it.

“Don’t lose it.” He ordered with harshly, though there was a slight quaver in his voice. The White Coat Conner picked up my cage and looked at me distantly.

“My son’s about your age.” He said softly, staring at me at me where I couched in my cage looking up in confusion. He went too put me on his trolley but found it was full; he walked over to another and whispered to me. “Just promise me one thing.” I didn’t say anything but he continued. “Survive.” He plunked me down next to Dat who was looking at the object in his cage in disbelief.

“What’s that?” I asked, apparently the rules about not talking and not being talked too weren’t important any more. “And what’s going on.”

“They say the world is ending.” He murmured still staring at the object. Then he added reverently. “And this is a book.” I looked at it in disbelief, looked at the bright cover and golden letters ‘Encarta’; I didn’t know what to make of it. Books were something the White Coats had; something to jot down notes on how weird we are. They were objects of fear and superstition, not something to give out to helpless mutants.

The White Coats wheeled us out into a huge room known formally as The Atrium or to everyone else as The Bird Cage. It was the one place we were given room to fly; naturally it was my favourite place. The walls were adorned with perches; I spotted the one I had first flown off of. The usual wooden steps had been rammed up against the wall, but something else caught my eye.

It was filled bird kids.

There must have been a hundred of them. More people than I had ever seen in my life, all milling around next to their miraculously open cages and talking in small groups glancing around suspiciously at the watching White Coats and their Eraser guards.

“Those the last ones?” a White Coat with a clipboard yelled across the room.

“Yep!” The guy in charge of our group called back. “This is all of them.”

“Well get them out of those cages we’ve only got four minutes.”  He shouted back glancing at his wristwatch. Our White Coat fumbled with the latches on our cages and ushered us out.

I looked around in wonder at the multitudes of bird kids, some standing holding their wings out, some in, some sitting down and other hunched into little feathery balls. It was a cacophony of familiar faces and strangers with unusual wings and strange colours ranging from the standard brown to whites and blacks and even a sky blue. I opened my own wings which were still a soft downy grey; I could feel the anticipation, the excitement, the confusion sweeping though the crowd as new people met new people; all asking the same question.

I glanced around wondering if we were allowed to fly; it was The Bird Cage after all. I could feel the energy of the crowd flowing through me and I was itching to get rid of it. I looked up and gasped. The glass ceiling that let you have a painful glimpse of the world outside was gone and I could see the sky in all its glory. It was bluer than I expected it to be; now that I was seeing it without its usual filter of glass. It was crisscrossed with fine white lines that might have been clouds but not like any clouds that I had ever seen.

“Look!” I cried pointing up at the missing roof. A slow silence spread across the crowd as one by one we craned our heads back and stared at the gap, which should have been the final wall in our prison in disbelief.

“Children,” a White Coats voice rang out though the silence, tinny and artificial through the megaphone. I looked round at him; I had never been called a child before, just experiment D148. “You are free.” He continued occasionally stumbling over words, as if he had written the speech a long time ago and didn’t have time to relearn it. “The world is lost; Even now it ends around us. You have but one job; to live, to thrive, but do not forget the old world. We have put so much into your existence. You’re like children to us.” A hundred and twenty pairs of eyes regarded him suspiciously, as he calmly walked out. Well I didn’t, I looked at him with a mixture of hope and excitement hardly daring to believe what he had said. Was I really free? Free to leave? Free to live? Free to fly?

I didn’t think about it, just leapt up and pushed down with my wings and spiralled gently up to the edge of the roof ignoring Dat’s desperate cry of “Dee, No!”

I reached the top of the building and kept rising, looking out over a vast forest, feeling the wind and smelling the free air for the first time in my life. I felt a tear of joy form in my eye, it was so beautiful. Below me others brave enough, or stupid enough, also took wing and rose to up join me circling in the pure sky. Then as if by some unseen signal everyone broke, launching into the air in a flurry of feathers and wings and streaming out of the hole in the roof looks of wonder on their faces.

Suddenly there was a huge flash on the horizon ten times brighter than the sun, I shielded my face with my wing and almost fell onto someone. Everyone fluttered around in confusion for a moment but the light didn’t come again and no one was hurt. I realised that now I was free I didn’t know what to do; we would starve out here with no one to feed us. We were probably all thinking along these lines but then Dat took the reins and cried out across the confused flock.

“Come on; let’s get as far away from here as possible. I don’t know about you but I’m sick of this place!” He started flying off with a wild laugh heading north, everyone followed without question. Another flash lit up the sky but we didn’t pay attention to it, we were free nothing could stop us now.

The flashes kept happening all day and late into the night, but none were near us. Later I learnt that those flashes were atomic bombs. Thousands fell that day. I believe you humans called it

The Armageddon.

Survivor – Michael

By ten o’clock I knew something was very wrong. The whole town was holding its breath. Entire families were clustered around their TV’s, all of them hanging on every word of the news. Praying that someone; anyone would pull the iron out of the fire, that just one person would come to their senses and stop the madness.

No one did.

I don’t remember much about that day, I was only four. It’s just a confused jumble of memories and fragmented images. I do remember that the TV said something that my mum didn’t like. She shouted for a few moments then started to rush around the house like a hurricane, grabbing clothes food and photographs. Then I was hustled out of the door and strapped into the car before we started driving at breakneck speed to The Bunker.

I don’t know how we got in, there must have been hundreds clamouring at the gates, begging for a chance to live. I think mum had a pass but I’ve never seen it; guess it’s not important anymore. We watched the doors close, six foot of lead that wouldn’t open for a decade. They inched down, slowly closing on a world that we would never see again. A huge flash lit up the sky, the brilliant light turning everything white, the begging crowd at the gates looked briefly like ghosts. The last thing I remember of the outside world is a flock of birds taking to the sky in fright, high above the trees that would be long dead by the time we finally remerged.

The doors slammed shut. The crowd behind me was silent, unable to grasp what had just happened, something that should have never happened. I think I broke the silence first.

“Mummy,” I asked. “Where’s Daddy.”

“I don’t know.” She replied. “But he’s safe. I know he’s safe.” No one contradicted her; we all wanted to believe it.

Brave New World – Dee

Ten years to the day I woke with a start to the sound of a baby wailing, which was pretty normal. My little sister by adoption, Florence, is an early riser, so everyone else in the house is too. Thank heavens we have thick wall or the whole village would get its early morning wake up call. I lay back down and tried to get back to sleep, something I’m not very good at. I could see the pale blue sky through my window and the sun was shinning brightly low in the sky. Someone flew past with a stifled whoop of joy; far too fast for me too see who they were, they weren’t supposed to be flying that fast close to the village anyway.

Right that settled it, there was far too much to do today, flying included. I got up pulling on a soft leather pair of trousers and a sleeveless shirt, minus the back of course, to give my wings room to breathe. I slipped into the main room where Jasmine was sitting cross legged next to the stove, cradling Flo, who after all that fuss had gone back to sleep.

Jasmine is basically my adopted mother. After we were set free she, shall we say, took me under her wing, and we have never seen any reason to stop, even with her marriage and Flo’s hatching, though both are a bit of a trial. She’s grown up a lot over the years but I still think of her as the scruffy teenager I met a long time.

“Morning Jaz,” I said brightly sitting down next to her. “What’s for breakfast?”

“Hey Dee,” She answered, seating Flo by the table and taking a dozen eggs from the ice box, which was literally a box, with ice. “You’re up early.”

“How could I not be with my little feathery alarm clock?” I answered sarcastically, pulling up a chair next to Flo who had gone back to sleep, little devil. “Zap up yet?”

“Not yet.” She cracked open the eggs dropping them onto the pane of blast glass that made up our stove. She stared at it intently for a moment then it started glowing a cherry red.

Weird? Yes. Most of us can do something like that, with varying degrees of skill. Heating stuff is easiest, then moving objects, which is about as far as I can go. Others can do more; a lot more.

The door to the main bedroom banged open and Zap came in buttoning up his shirt haphazardly. Zap, in case you hadn’t guessed is Jaz’s husband and the local crackpot inventor. He gets his name from his yellow blond hair, which he is always absentmindedly brushing back into spikes.

“Jasmine, where’re my boots?” he yelled across the room. “The lads are waiting for me at the forge.” Jasmine rolled her eyes and Flo stirred slightly, thankfully she didn’t wake up. Don’t get me wrong I love Flo, she’s cute in a downy sort of way, but somehow she doesn’t seem to even need to breathe when she starts screaming. The last year’s been a constant game of don’t wake the baby.

“There on the balcony where they always are,” Jasmine answered doing her best to sound exasperated but betrayed by the smile playing around her lips. Zap’s quirks were one of the many reasons she had fallen in love with him.

“Right, thanks.” He headed for the door.

“Breakfast?” Jasmine suggested with the hint of laughter in her voice.

“Good idea,” Zap answered brightly, pin wheeling on one foot by the door walking over and sat down heavily next to me. I cradled my head in my hands, sometimes I wonder if Zap just acts crazy to be funny. Other times I am convinced that he really is, just that crazy.

“Morning Dee,” he said, seeing me probably for the first time.

“Morning Zap,” I answered halfway between a smile and a sigh. “Doing anything interesting today?” Asking Zap if he’s doing anything interesting is just asking for trouble, he finds everything interesting. Just another of the reasons we all like him so much.

“Loads,” he responded with his usual unstoppable enthusiasm. “We’ve just finished casting all the letters for the press and I’m working on my special design for crossbow bolts.”

“Really?” I asked excitedly, hunting is one of my three favourite things, after flying of course.

“Yeah. I’ve replaced the fletching with leather, it makes it last much better.”

I snorted in disbelief. “You can’t use leather. What’s wrong with feathers?” There’s an element of truth to the leather issue; cows had taken a big hit during the first long winter.

“Feathers tend to disintegrate at high speeds.” He replied a little sheepishly.

“Yours might.”

“You two about done?” Jasmine asked sarcastically.

“Depends, is breakfast ready?” I inquired grinning broadly; Jaz is always so serious and so is Zap if you get him on the subject of work.

“Is now.” She answered, flipping some bread and cheese onto wooden plates and gesturing the eggs off the stove, portioning off some for Flo. There’s probably something morally wrong about being half bird and eating eggs. I don’t care though, so we just tucked in. I tried to toast my bread and watched in dismay as it immediately blackened and started to smoke. I don’t really have the patience for cooking. Too much heat. Too fast.

“Need more lessons?” suggested Jasmine; I stuck my tongue out at her, like I needed more of those. Being taught Telekinesis is like trying to carry water in a thimble. Sometimes I envy the few that do it instinctively, and then I remember that then I’d have to teach the annoying kids. Maybe I’ll just stick to archery.

“I’ll throw it to the birds shall I?” I asked and threw it, Frisbee-like towards the window where it settled gently on the sill. Immediately one of the hundreds of sparrows that swarmed around the village landed next to it and started pecking, issuing a shrill trill to announce it was his.

It’s funny but you never think of birds surviving a nuclear holocaust, but they did, just like us. I finished breakfast adding a couple of apples to make up for the lost bread, then brushed the crumbs through a hole in the floor with a negligent wave of my hand.

I went over to the door and announced. “I’m going out.” I picked up my quiver and strapped it to my leg.

“Out anywhere in particular, or just out?” Jasmine inquired with a touch of irony, as I hooked my crossbow to my back. No one goes out without a weapon since… well, since a long time ago.

“Just out,” I answered opening the door and stepping out into the bright sun, brighter than when I first saw it. That’s probably something to do with the bombs. There are advantages to having a mum who’s only just out of her teens. Then again the average age in the village is only eighteen.

“Remember to have lunch.” She called after me and I rolled my eyes, I wasn’t likely to forget. I looked out over the village, which isn’t like any human town i.e. not dead and empty. For a start its thirty feet off the ground with each house built around a central tree, and with the forest was in full leaf it was quite beautiful. Sometimes it amazes me just how green the world is, by the end of that first long winter I didn’t think I would ever see a leaf again. But, despite humanities best efforts to screw it up, life goes on.

Actually quite a lot survived the nuclear winter. The trees just went into hibernation as well as some of the small animals; we lost most of the small plants but they’re starting to come back again. None of the large predators survived save a few wolves, actually the majority of the mammals died in the first few months, including any humans that lived past that first day. The birds were fine though, they just flew to where there was still food and so did we. We just built fires and picked clean the land for around fifty miles. Lets just say thank heavens for supermarkets and canned beans.

I walked to the edge of the balcony that surrounds our house and opened my wings wide, feeling the early morning breeze flowing through my feathers. Thirteen feet across and pure white, my wings are kind of like a swan’s, of course I’ve only ever seen one swan so I guess I’m not really in a position to comment.

I took a step back and leapt forwards, raising my wings then bringing them down hard, catching the wind like sails and let out a barely stifled whoop of joy.  I rose fast, tucking in my wings briefly to get through the canopy then reopening them to catch the bright sun on my feathers.

Even this early there were people out and about, flying to work or going to gather stuff from the forest. In the distance I saw one of the many patrols flying around the village, we haven’t been attacked in years but I guess Dat can’t think of a better use for all the young headstrong males; giving them weapons might have been a mistake though. I flew over to join them as they flapped slowly over the canopy arguing about whether the youngest ‘Chi’ could hit a knot on a tree. I told you it was a bad idea to give them crossbows. Robin their leader spotted me first.

“Hey Dee!” he called across the tree tops, showing that they were at least being a little observant. “Can you settle an argument for us?”

“Sure,” I answered swooping into formation with them, mirroring the sweep and trim of their wings.

“You reckon Chi can hit that knot?” he asked pointing at a spot on a tree fifty yards away. “The twins won’t make a decision.” He gestured at the identical twins Elle and Ella, no one can tell them apart so they always get lumped together on duties. If you’re wondering why I didn’t have a job to do, well it was my day off. Also they’d need to catch me first.

“Not a chance.” I said confidently, none but an expert Psychic could make that shot; picking up a pencil is one thing, hurling a crossbow bolt is another.

“Can too.” Chi whined grabbing his crossbow and wrenching back on the string with both hands and slipping it over the catch then fitting a bolt into the groove. He pushed the stock against his shoulder and held his wings rigid for a moment then fired. The bolt screamed into the forest and hammered into a tree trunk; not even the right tree.

“It shouldn’t buzz like that.” I stated casually, knowing this usually drives everyone up the wall. “You didn’t have your feather attached properly.” He glowered at me; it’s something I’ve learnt over the years, people really hate being told what to do by someone younger than them; especially if you happen to be the youngest. And with that in mind you can tell I annoy a lot of people.

“So when are you getting off?” I asked Robin, diverting my attention away from antagonising Chi, fun as it may be.

“Soon as the next shmucks get here,” he answered a touch annoyed, glancing around the horizon. “Which they should have five minutes ago.” I caught a glimmer of movement below us and my gaze locked onto the four shapes hiding in the branches below us, one motioned me to stay quiet. We flew on until we were directly over the kids hiding in the branches.

Suddenly they leapt into the sky and yelled at the top of their lungs. The twins screamed in shock and Chi let out a frightened cry.

“Surprised?” Mica asked, rising fast on a thermal with a smug grin on her face.

“Not really,” Robin replied, still gasping for breath. Liar. “You’re our replacements I take it.”

“Yep,” she said gesturing over her black wings to the three kids hovering behind her. “Three hours of utter boredom. So we decided to start with a laugh.”

“Glad to be of assistance,” Robin shot back. “Now if you excuse me I’ve got to go pick up my heart. I think I dropped it back there.”

“You’re excused.” She said with a peal of laughter, then she and her patrol flew off, beginning their long vigil around the village.

“I’m going to have to get her for that.” He muttered when she was out of ear shot, then her shook his head. “Hey Dee, we’re going to play some Flyball want to come.”

“Well,” I pretended to think about it for a moment raising my wings up as high as they would go, then I brought them down hard sending me rocketing forwards and yelled over my shoulder, “sure, race you!”

Robin swore then accelerated towards me the others in tow. Five shapes streaking across the sky.

New Life – Michael

You know it’s strange but I don’t think anyone ever designed fallout shelters to be lived in. Sure they have enough food and water for fifteen years and enough beds for anyone that should have been there, forty seven as it turned out, but I don’t think anyone ever expected to use them. They were just, there, a little ‘just in case’. And after a few months everyone was a little stir crazy, some more than others. Some couldn’t take the pressure of a decade with the same four walls, the same faces, same bleak future. They. Well, they went to find out what happened to everyone else.

I don’t remember the initial hopelessness, as I said I was four. By the time I had grown up enough to be aware of the misery surrounding me I didn’t notice it any more, like you don’t notice you’re wearing a watch. Even so it was there, ever present and I think if it hadn’t been for the children our own little light of humanity would have winked out.

As I said the children saved us. Little bundles of hope that showed that humanity could survive, that maybe there was still a little hope; though in the end there were only ten, including myself. Most of us couldn’t contemplate bringing a child into a world where their only future would be blank concrete walls and an early death. The children weren’t the solution to everything though, we had to find something to do to occupy the endless years. We had so many bad poems most people wanted to scream. Then they wrote poems about that. Some wrote stories about the world outside, as it was and how they thought it would be, but when they finished, read over their work with tears in their eyes they simply sighed and tore it up throwing the remains away to be recycled. Others just planned for the future, and then planned again, and again.

I’m not annoyingly creative though, so by my tenth birthday I had read most of the books in our meagre library and had aspirations to be a doctor, like my long dead father. By the time I was twelve I was helping Dr. Mazerer with some of the injuries and by the time I was fourteen I was itching to get out. I remember helping with some of the men in drilling a tiny hole out of the bunker so we could stick a radio antenna into the outside world. And I remember the disappointment that everyone felt when we didn’t get a reply.

We were all desperate to see the world outside, our old houses, what was left of  our town, maybe we still thought their might still be something out there for us. Naturally there was an expedition planned for the moment that the time seal on the door ended; allegedly to look for supplies but everyone knew it was an excuse to go outside. I knew, and even so I was first on the list of volunteers and didn’t think much about what going out into a blasted nuclear wasteland might entail.

Going outside meant opening The Door – actually a set of three made of solid lead, but first we had to get suited up. There were enough radiation suits in the bunker for everyone though I had to roll the legs and sleeves up and what that did to its ability to protect me I have no idea. It was only flimsy plastic anyway so what it actually did to protect me was debateable. There was also a gas mask to filter out any radioactive dust, that didn’t fit very well either but I didn’t care, and didn’t let my mum see me before I left.

Uncle Richard, who’s not actually my uncle, it’s just that everyone calls him that, swiped his key card through a lock next to the first door and it began to slowly rise into the ceiling. No one spoke, we were all too tense, we all knew what would be out there but we were hoping, just hoping that maybe there was still life out their. Maybe we’d even find a new civilisation. The second door began to open with a squeak of old gears as the first shut behind us. We’d never been able to open these doors before; a time delay seal you see. It would be ironic if we couldn’t get out because the doors were stuck.

“Ready?” Uncle Richard asked as the second door boomed shut. No one said a word but he swiped his card through the final lock anyway.

The door inched up, letting a painful shaft of life through the gap. I winced and covered my eyes, it might just have been me but it seemed brighter than I remembered it, maybe it was just not seeing natural light for a decade. There was a bang as the door came to rest and I looked out on the world for the first time since I was four.

The first thing that struck me was how green the world looked, there were trees in the distance, closer than I remembered, and even the asphalt in front of was cracked with shoots of green. There was no dust and the only desolation we could see were the wrecks of decomposing cars in front of us, there weren’t even any bodies. The wind played around us, bringing the sound of bird song to us, I didn’t even realise what it was for a moment, I hadn’t heard it for so long.

“I thought it was all supposed to be dead,” Chuck, a big ex-military guy, whispered.

“Maybe we got lucky,” Uncle Richard said simply, pulling out a Geiger-counter which immediately started screaming. I winced, that could not be healthy.

“Or maybe not,” he completed. “Okay guys, let’s move out.”

We set off. Off to face our broken world.

Flyball

Robin flared his wings as he landed on the roof and I almost crashed into him, throwing myself to one side at the last second and skittering to a stop on the tiles.

“Damn it,” I muttered, folded my wings.

“Sorry Dee,” Robin said nonchalantly, helping me up. “Looks like I win again.”

“Oh come on,” I said defensively, brushing myself off, I swear these old human houses are dust magnets. “You’ve got at least three years and four foot of wing on me.”

“And you had the head start,” he pointed out. I declined to mention everyone being faster than me was the reason I always try and get a head start. Fair doesn’t figure when you’re the youngest.

“Yeah, well…” I began, trying to think of a snappy response and failing.

“Heads up!” someone yelled and I caught a glimpse of three guys flying in a tight V over the roof tops, straight towards us. I threw myself to one side, again, as they rushed over us, the slipstream slamming me into the roof and then sending me plummeting over the edge. Serves me right for landing right in the middle of the Flyball pitch I suppose. I flared my wings and landed lightly in a long dead front garden and looked up angrily to try and find the perpetrators but they were long gone over the rooftops; though I did see Elle and Ella land in perfect symmetry above me.

I calmed myself down for a moment and concentrated on the ground beneath me, I’d been practicing this trick so I really didn’t want it to go wrong and blow up in my face. And with telekinesis that can happen very literally. I kicked of hard from the ground, simultaneously slamming down with my power and catapulting myself into the air, even fitting in a flip before landing lightly back on the roof next to Ella.

“Sorry about that Dee,” Chris said, making me jump, I hadn’t seen him arrive. “I was reffing and I really should have spotted you guys.”

“No harm no fowl,” I said nonchalantly, trying to act like I hadn’t almost just jumped out of my skin. “Care if we join in?”

“Sure just give the guys a few minutes finish this round.”

Great, that gives me time to tell you just what Flyball is.

At its very basic level Flyball is what you get when you have a large number of bored adolescents who can coincidently fly. It can be any size from two people to one memorable occasion when we had fifty five a side, and there is only one goal, get the ball through your opponents hoop before they get it through yours. The ball itself is similar to a tennis ball but softer, bald and made by one of the powerfully physic girls out of I don’t know what.

Next we move onto the rules, first no PK stuff, purely your own skills. Second, you can’t touch the ball; you have to catch it in the ‘stick’ which is like a lacrosse stick but with half the handle missing and mass produced by Zap. Finally, no hitting anyone. Period. Other than that anything goes, you can go anywhere you want as fast as you want and that brings me neatly onto the pitch.

The pitch in question is a nearby human town, though it’s long dead, and believe me the towns look dead. It’s kind of ironic that the rest of the world is doing okay after what humanity did to it but their own creations couldn’t last. If you’re wondering why we use it, well it’s far more interesting to pull a five g-turn through a back alley while going a hundred plus than anywhere else.

Man, I would have been so grounded when I did that trick if Jaz hadn’t been on my team at time. The two hoops are about ten foot across and mounted at opposite ends of this town, about a kilometre from each other and the games about to start so I should really get back to that.

“Ready guys?” cried Robin who was being the captain this match. We cheered, waving our sticks in the air and in the distance I could see the other team doing the same.

“Right on three!” he held up one finger and paused, waiting for the oppositions’ captain to do the same. Shouting over that kind of distance is useless.

“One!” We all tensed waiting for that first mad dash to get the ball.

“Two!” I spread my wings wide feeling for a friendly current and hunkered down to get more spring.

“Three,” he roared pushing off with a mighty sweep of his wings, the rest of us hot on his heels.

Ahead of me I saw the ball, merely a tiny grey dot at this distance, shoot into the sky, the two kids in the centre locked in a psychic battle to move the ball closer to their team. The toss up is the only part where PK’s allowed, did I forget to mention that, so after the ball hits the stick, that’s it. I caught Robin’s slipstream and catapulted myself forwards speeding past him, leading in the rush to get to the ball.

There was a sudden blast of wind as Robin pulled past me followed closely by Chi, who’d finally arrived moments before the game begun.

“Not this time Dee!” Robin called over his shoulder, I bit back a swear word, older people go faster and it really annoys me. The ball was a hundred yards ahead of us and the other team was nowhere near, it was going to be too easy, but it wouldn’t be me scoring.

Yeah right like I was going to let that happen.

I pumped my wings harder ignoring the ache in my joints as I pushed them far too hard, Robin and Chi were flying practically wing to wing, closing on the immobile ball which was barely wobbling. Some epic psychic battle that was turning out to be, usually you have to chase after it and that’s far more fun than netting a stationary ball.

I caught up with Robin and Chi, briefly rested in the sweet spot just behind their wings, and FYI, It’s called the sweet spot because that’s where you get the best speeds from slingshoting off their slipstream. I pushed down hard, catching the disturbed air in my wings and shot forwards, wrenching my wings back up to avoid cuffing the boys on the back of the head. The ball was right in front of me, vibrating slightly and I brought the stick round to scoop it in the net but suddenly it shot away, angling steeply down towards the waiting opposition.

That time I did swear folding in my wings and giving chase, completely forgetting the trouble I was probably in for pulling of a stunt like that. The ball shot into the waiting net of Sky who immediately rocketed forwards, her team mates forming up along side of her. I saw a smug grin on her face and I rolled to intercept, it looked we’d been played from the start; remind me to check just who’s doing the toss up before making any assumptions as to whether it is going to be ‘easy’.

Sky dummied left as I plummeted towards her and I fell for it, screaming past her and had to roll onto my side to avoid crashing into one of her team mates and even so only missed by a few inches. I pulled up sharply and flipped so I was practically flying upright and flared my wings, trashing my speed and nearly pulling my wings out of my sockets. I crashed into a chimney and would have crushed my knees if I hadn’t gone with the motion, coiling up like a spring and hanging there for a moment before kicking off hard and sweeping down with my wings.

I speed towards the opposition who were flying like an arrowhead, Sky in the centre being protected by her team mates. The few in my team that had hung back to stop this kind of thing from happening were swatted aside, the rest throwing themselves into reverse loops in the vain hope of reaching the hoop in time but none of them stood a chance. I pushed down harder putting everything I had into speed, skimming the rooftops and relying on the hot air coming from the tiles to keep me airborne. The formation ahead of me turned as one to the left so they didn’t have to go over the small park and have to start putting effort into staying up.

I didn’t detour, the buildings disappeared from beneath me and I felt myself begin to fall as I lost the friendly thermal but I didn’t have time to do anything but go faster. Below me I caught a flicker of movement but ignored it, it was probably a wild dog anyway. I the park ended as suddenly as it had begun and I almost crashed into a roof, turning my near disaster into a kick launch off the apex at the last second and went spiralling into the sky and mere yards away from Sky who was pulling back her arm to make a shot at the hoop.

Time crawled as Sky started to bring the stick forwards and I caught some speed of her slipstream and flew over her with centimetres to spare. With a flick of the wrist she sent the ball flying towards the hoop, a perfect shot, only spoiled by the fact I snagged it in my net with an elated cry of.

“Yes!” before realising I was now heading for the hoop at roughly one hundred and twenty. I pulled in my wings to avoid losing one on the pole, fell a few feet and grabbed wildly, gripping the pole in one hand and spiralling round it, the blood draining from my head a G-force took its toll.

The pole was ripped from my hand and I found myself rocketing towards their hoop, the other team in complete disarray. See, you get a really fast moving game when everyone can go a hundred plus. I looked over my shoulder to see just about everyone hot on my heels but Robin was forming up along side me only looking slightly annoyed and I could see the twins flying slightly ahead to open themselves up for a pass. Below us the buildings suddenly stopped as we flew back over the park and I glanced down and did a double take.

“Erasers!” I bellowed, realising what the shapes below were, and there must have been dozens of them.

Everyone looked down.

The Erasers looked up.

Then opened fire.

Ruins – Michael

The town was in ruins. Not that that was really surprising, after ten years without maintenance most places look rather run down. It hadn’t being hit though so maybe we would find supplies, like chocolate, we’d run out of that when I was six. We past dead houses with dead windows looking over dead gardens. There were weeds everywhere, though that’s actually a good thing globally speaking, but apart from these few splotches of green though the town was mostly just dull, grey and dead. In all honesty it was better than I thought it would be, at least there was some life. I hadn’t expected that.

“We should split up,” Uncle Richard suggested in a choked voice. Everyone else nodded, they didn’t trust themselves to speak, most had tearing in their eyes, at least I think they did, it’s hard to tell when you’re all wearing masks.

We split up and went of to find what remained of our lives. I’ve never really known any life except for the bunker though, but I did go to my parent’s old house. It didn’t look anything like the photos but that wasn’t really surprising. In all honesty it just looked dead, like everything else.

I made my way to the peeling front door. My mom had given me the key, God knows why she kept it, but I didn’t need it, the door was already ajar. I had expected that as well, looters picking of the remains of towns, I’d thought of so many different possibilities for this day that nothing was going to really shock me.

I pushed it open, funny the lock didn’t seem forced but what do I know about locks? I entered the house, past through the living room, ran my hand along the mouldering sofa which I could just barely remember and sighed. I never imagined the house like this but as I said it was hardly unexpected. I went upstairs, having to skip the steps that didn’t look like they’d support my weight or were missing entirely and found my old room. It was barely recognisable, a few shreds of steam engine wallpaper hung from the walls but everything else had been taken. I couldn’t imagine who want a load of four year old’s stuff in a nuclear wasteland. Maybe there were still kids out there though judging from the world outside there wasn’t much chance of that.

Next I found my fathers office, that hadn’t been as badly ransacked, most of his papers were strewn across the floor but the furniture was still there. I can’t remember much about my father, my mother said he was a scientist and a great man but I never found out what he actually did. Genetics I think, but my knowledge of that science is slim to none. I picked up one of the files labelled E017, all the pages had been taken out but there was still a mug shot of a girl paper clipped to the inside, a test subject for a new wonder drug perhaps. I looked at some of the other files, H713, B901, HJ9314, D148, there was no way of telling which pages went where and it didn’t matter, all these people were long dead.

I sat down in the middle of my father’s office and took my mask off, it was probably knocking a day off my life every breath but what the heck, I was never going to live that long anyway. I sighed deeply, you know, the air didn’t actually smell that bad, maybe we could still live on the surface, we’d have to start farming eventually and it wasn’t like it was some arid wasteland out there. I looked out of the window overlooking the dead back garden, even the few scraggily weeds looked deformed and ill. Then again maybe we couldn’t live out here, we’d need to find seeds for a start, then irrigate fields, and purify the water, all under the blazing sun. It would be simpler just to grow food underground.

The crackle of gunfire broke me out of my reprieve. What the hell? Everyone was dead who could be shooting? I had this sudden image of starving primeval savages shooting my friends, mistaking the masks for monsters and I grabbed my own mask, sprinting out of the house. Whatever had happened someone might be hurt, maybe I could try out my doctor skills on them.

It never occurred to me just how stupid it was to run towards the gunfire.

 

 

Close Encounters – Dee

Time seamed to crawl, it always happens when I get an adrenaline rush. The guns below me roared and I folded my wings to lower the chance of them getting hit and began to dive, drawing back my arm and hurling the ball towards the Erasers, a pathetic weapon but the only one I had to hand. Bullets whistled around me as I fell towards the Erasers and threw the stick for good measure, if I could get amongst them they wouldn’t shoot at me, or maybe they would, Erasers are that suicidal. Behind me the others fell, some injured others copying my manoeuvre, there were cries of pain as bullets bit into feathers and flesh, but even those seamed drawn out and slow.

The ball bounced harmlessly off an Eraser’s temple, shortly followed by the stick that laid him out. The final volley of bullets screamed past us, there was a flash of pain as one grazed my elbow but I blocked that out. I picked a target, one Erasers scrabbling desperately at his belt for another clip, and flicked the tips of my wings to fall directly towards him.

He looked up at the last second, a mixture of rage and fear in his eyes and I flared my wings, feeling the deceleration pulling at my joints and whipping my legs round, smashing my feet into his head. The Eraser went over like a tree trunk, out cold before he even hit the ground and I landed hard on top of him, hitting closest Eraser in the throat with my wingtip and watching him drop, gagging. I winced, wings are really not meant to be used like that, but you can’t argue with results.

I yanked my crossbow from its clip on my back and pulled back on the string. An Eraser was charging at me, I ignored him. I could load and draw this thing in five seconds flat, I just had to blot out the huge wolf monster thirsting for my blood and not get distracted. I hooked the string and levitated a bolt into my waiting hand without looking. I knew practicing that would pay off. The Eraser leapt at me claws outstretched as I fitted the bolt and raised the bow in one fluid motion, there was no time to aim and probably no need for it.

I fitted the bow to my shoulder and fired. There was a thud as the bolt imbedded itself right in the middle of the Erasers mouth and straight through it’s brain. It wasn’t that great a shot he was only about six inches away from me, if it had been a good shot I wouldn’t have to be worried about the three hundred pounds of Eraser flying towards me. He smashed into me like a sack of potatoes, knocking the breath out of me and sending us both crashing to the floor. I heaved him off me and got up looking in disgust at the blood staining the front of my shirt.

“Bloody Erasers,” I muttered darkly and looked around. The battle was just about over, these Erasers weren’t a patch on the ones we’d had to fight back at the beginning, most of us were lucky to come out of those fights alive, but to these Erasers those guys were three generations ago and Erasers as a species have not improved with age. A few of the Erasers were scampering into side streets, one or two of the guys were taking pot shots at them but most were cradling injured wings. We’d need to get the healer out here as there was no way was I carrying anyone back to the village from here.

I spotted Robin organising the wounded and realised that I should probably go help them. There was a scream of fear and pain from a few streets over. Or maybe not. I started running towards the scream reloading my crossbow as I went, apparently no one else had heard it because they weren’t moving. Looks like I was going to get to be the hero this time.

I spread my wings wide and took off, flying low to the ground; though stupid as they are ugly an Eraser can kill just about anything in about fifteen seconds. I accelerated down one of the roads, glancing down the side streets for the assailant and victim. First street, no. Second street, no. Third, n… yes. I banked shapely, brushing my wingtip along the road and kicking off a wall to stop myself hitting a building. Ahead of me there was an Eraser towering over someone in a white suit on the floor. I didn’t recognise him. But that couldn’t be right. How could I not recognise him? I knew everyone in the village and there was no one else for a hundred miles, we know, we’ve checked. I could worry about that later later, there was blood on the ground and the Eraser, fully morphed and looking feral, was readying itself for a death blow.

“Hey ugly!” I yelled putting the bow to my shoulder and aiming down the shaft. The Eraser turned and I let lose. The bolt flew straight and missed by a good foot. I swore, that should teach me to give them warning, and reversed my grip on the crossbow, smashing the Eraser on the head with the but as I flew past.

I flared my wings and tried to land but ended up running along the road almost tripping over my own feet. I skidded to a stop and rounded on the Eraser who growled at me whilst getting up, not even looking vaguely human. The kid on the floor was gapping at me open mouthed, well I say kid he was probably about my age, but what was he doing with that dorky suit? I mean if you had one of those on you wouldn’t be able to open your wings.

A snarl from the Eraser brought me to my senses. “Birdie girl die now,” he growled and charged. I rolled my eyes, this was the just one of the reasons we’re making a printing press, retaining knowledge. Over the years Erasers have just gotten dumber, and I didn’t even think that was possible. I snatched at my crossbow string and found to my horror that it had come off when I’d hit the Eraser over the head. Maybe I should just carry a club.

I unsheathed the dagger hidden in the crossbows stock, always handy to have an inventor as a father, and braced myself for the Eraser. The kid was still on the floor staring, idiot, how on Earth had he survived without learning you have to run from Erasers. The Eraser took a swipe at my head, his claws scything through the air and I ducked under his arm, jabbing my dagger into his gut, twisting it out and darted backwards before he could even roar.

“Go on kid get out of here!” I yelled, jumping backwards to avoid a clawed fist. He didn’t need telling twice, scrabbling to his feet and legging it down the street, I hoped he wouldn’t run into anymore Erasers. I threw myself to one side as the Eraser leapt at me and fell heavily onto the asphalt. Scratch that, I hoped I didn’t run into any more Erasers.

I drove my dagger into his thigh and tried to scramble away before it could recover from its leap. The Eraser rounded on me, fury in its eyes, well so much for that idea. I raised my dagger to try and ward it off, a pathetic gesture but I was out of options. It growled, showing pointed fangs at least as long as my dagger and I swallowed hard, did I have any chance? Not really, no.

I hurled my dagger at the Eraser, giving it a physic push to keep it flying straight and watched it bit deeply into the Erasers shoulder who roared in pain. Damn it, I was aiming for its throat. That’s why I carry a crossbow, I’m terrible at the telekinetic stuff. The Eraser leapt at me and I covered my eyes, waiting for the inevitable hoping that it wouldn’t hurt too much.

There was a twang and the Eraser screamed in pain, I opened my eyes to see it staggering backwards clutching at the bolt in its throat. There was another musical twang and a second bolt followed the first, this time catching the Eraser right between the eyes. The Eraser looked shocked for a moment, not quite realising what had happened then the light faded from its eyes and it fell slowly backwards, hitting the asphalt with a crash.

Robin appeared in my vision above me, crossbow held loosely in one hand.

“You know you really should be more careful dealing with the Erasers,” he said almost nonchalantly. “Especially the feral ones.”

“I could have taken him,” I muttered, getting to my feet and walking over to the Eraser to retrieve my dagger. The Eraser was still vainly twitching, honestly how long does it take to realise you’re dead?

“Yeah, you were dealing with that one really well,” he pointed out. “Why were you out here anyway?”

“I was,” I began and then suddenly realised that. A, I didn’t know the kid. B, he hadn’t been sensible enough to run from the Eraser and. C, I had never seen that he had wings. And that all added up to one thing. He was human. Damn, I thought they’d all died out long ago but apparently I was mistaken.

“Chasing him,” I gave as an explanation pointing at the Eraser. I wasn’t sure how Robin or the other would react to the news that there were humans around again, the White Coats hadn’t exactly made their species popular, the nuclear war my have something to with it as well.

“And that turned out just great didn’t it,” he shot back. I just grunted. “You know you don’t have to always be proving yourself.”

I didn’t answer that one either, just changed the subject. “The game’s over then?” I asked picking up my crossbow and fitting my dagger back into its slot.

“You know, it just might be,” he said rolling eyes and levitating his bolts out of the Eraser. “We’ve only got about three people who can fly left.”

“Ouch,” I said with a wince. “Anyone gone to get the healer yet.”

“First thing we did. Come on, we need to look after the others.”

“Sure,” I said, looking at the Eraser staring glassy eyed into space. The Erasers were back, and so were the humans. Why were they back after all this time?

Monsters – Michael

I ran as fast as my legs would carry me, not running in any particular direction just running to escape whatever the hell those things were. The tiny rational part of my brain was wondering just what on earth a winged girl and something out of a werewolf legend were doing in a post apocalyptic wasteland, but it was mostly drowned out by my survival reflexes screaming in terror.

There was a howl of rage behind me and I ran faster, finding speed that I didn’t know I had by putting my head down and running blindly. I really wished I’d spent more time in the gym. I barrelled into something solid, and whatever it was caught hold of my arms. I lashed out wildly.

“Whoa lad, it’s me,” Uncle Richard said, dodging my clumsy blow and lifting up his mask so I could see his face.

“Uncle?” I asked, surprised, and then gasped. “There’s some kind of monster back there.”

“Aye lad, I’ve met them too.” He gestured at the thick bandage on his arm which was already stained with blood. That was decidedly bad, and even worse if he’d been bitten. Who knew what those wolf monsters had in their mouths.

“Now take this,” he continued, handing me a pistol. “I’ll get you out of here.”

“I don’t know to use this,” I protested, gesturing with the gun and Uncle Richard hastily pushed the barrel away from his face.

“Point it at anything with more teeth than can fit in its mouth and pull,” he told me gruffly. “Now watch my back.”

We set off at a jog, keeping a wary eye out for the wolf monsters. I felt a little safer with Uncle Richard and my panic was subsiding, though I did manage to accidentally shoot a flower pot and Uncle Richard made me put the safety on after that.

We didn’t see any more wolf monsters so I spent plenty of time wondering about them. Mutant wolves didn’t make sense; radiation doesn’t create monsters, it kills things, painfully, and I didn’t even want to think where the winged people came from. The complexity of making a humanoid fly was mind-boggling.

Through sheer luck, or maybe good judgment we found Mitch and JJ sheltering behind a wrecked car on the way out of town. It looked like they’d found trouble too, especially as they had their guns out, and there was a wolf-like looking corpse draped over the bonnet of the car.

“Thank God, it’s you Sir,” Mitch said the moment he saw Uncle Richard. “We were ambushed investigating the supermarket and… well they got Tyler.” I froze when I head that; Tyler had always been one of the happy ones, never depressed by our situation, he couldn’t be dead. That just wouldn’t be fair.

“Any idea who they are?” Uncle Richard asked gruffly, not missing a beat and crouching down next to them.

“Not a clue, Rich,” JJ said shrugging. “Some kind of mutants maybe?”

“Mutation doesn’t work like that,” I said softly, sitting down with my back against the car and steadfastly ignoring the dead ‘thing’ next to me.

“The kid’s right,” Uncle Richard said. “But whatever they are we can assume they’re hostile.”

“No shit,” Mitch muttered and Uncle Richard glared at him.

“We’ll wait here for Stacey and Willis,” he announced. “Keep an eye out for any more of those things, and if no one turns up in fifteen minutes we’ll make a run for the bunker.

The next ten minutes passed in tense silence. My mind had kind of gone blank with shock and the small rational part was screaming that this could not be happening. The actual part of me that dealt with survival instincts was telling me to run like hell, which helped a whole lot, and even my common sense was telling me that I had no business holding a gun and I was more likely to shoot someone accidentally than hit a monster.

I need to get all these split personalities sorted out, having that much confliction can not be normal.

I almost jumped out of my skin as Stacey sprinted round a corner, bringing her gun up and I ducked instinctively, waiting for a bang. Which didn’t come.

“Sir!” she exclaimed, running towards us. “Thank heavens I found you. They got Willis. And there were these… Angels.”

Uncle Richard’s eyes widened behind his mask at the mention of angels and I ducked my eyes. For some reason I didn’t want to mention the girl I’d seen, part of me was in denial over whether or not she existed. Heck, a good chunk was insisting this entire thing couldn’t possibly be happening.

“Right,” Uncle Richard said after a moment. “We make a run for the bunker. Stay sharp and shoot anything that even looks like it might be a threat.”

And with that stirring speech we set off at a jog. It actually turned out to be rather uneventful, there was only one case of someone shooting at shadows and even then it turned out to be just that. Shadows. The monsters seemed to have left us alone and I for one was glad for that. Still it was a relief when the familiar doors of the bunker appeared through the trees.

“Almost there,” Uncle Richard called over his shoulder as he burst through the tree line and a single shot rang out.

Uncle Richard collapsed as his leg was torn out from under him and Mitch and JJ sped out of the forest, guns barking. I heard a bellow of pain from across the car park. Stacy was rushing to Uncle Richard’s side and I found myself running out of the woods, bringing my gun up and searching for a monster to shoot at. I can’t say I wasn’t spoiled for choice, there were at least twenty, hiding in and among the small forest that had grown up around the site.

“Get to the bunker,” I head Uncle Richard gasp as bullets pinged around me and my self preservation instinct finally got its own way. I started sprinting, firing randomly at the wolf monsters and rapidly drawing level with Mitch and JJ who were also accelerating towards safety.

My gun clicked empty at about midway across the parking lot and I didn’t have a spare clip, though that would be fairly redundant as I don’t know how to re-load a gun anyway. I head Mitch yell as a bullet traced a line across his arm and the storm of gunfire intensified until they too, ran out of bullets.

We kept running though.

Stacy screamed as we sprinted into the scant cover of the door recess, and I whirled to see her drop like a rock. No time to stop though. No time to do anything at all. The door began to inch open, painfully slowly and I spotted more wolf monsters appearing out of the woods, aiming nasty looking guns which looked like they’d been decorated with bones, and two dragging Uncle Richard back into the trees. I couldn’t do anything about it though, and Mitch and JJ were desperately dragging Stacy towards the doors, ricochets bursting around them.

“It’ll be okay Stace’!” I heard Mitch half yell over the roar of gunfire as they pulled her towards the door that was barely a quarter open.

“Come on kid, move it!” JJ roared, grabbing my shoulder and dragging me under the door.

Bullets were pinging off the metal as JJ slammed the door into reverse and it inched just as slowly down. A few bullets made it through the gap and when pinging around the small space sending us sprawling for cover, but none of the monsters attempted to follow and after a tense silence the door thundered shut.

I collapsed stunned against the sidewall as the next door began to crawl open. I should’ve been doing something. Mitch was performing desperate CPR on Stacy and I at least knew first aid, I could’ve been helping, but I only sat there stunned, my entire mind insisting:

“This shouldn’t be happening.”

Sneak – Dee

There are three stages to an Eraser sighting: excitement, panic and boredom. The exciting bit was long over, panic was subsiding to a dull roar, and basically I was once again, becoming crushingly bored. It doesn’t help that there’s a tendency for the older people to put the kids on baby sitting duty while they discus ‘adult matters’. I find it deeply ironic that I’m still considered a kid despite the fact I’ve now reached Dat’s age when he took charge and I repeat this frequently and loudly.

Maybe that’s why I always end up taking care of some of the more annoying little brats. Anyway, the clear up after the Eraser attack went fairly uneventfully. By the time just about the whole village arrived Ride of the Valkyries style, fully armed and ready for battle, the Erasers had vanished into the woods and only the rather tedious stuff was left to do. Fortunately we have quite a good healer so no one died and most were more stiff than badly injured; still they’d be irritated about not being able to fly for a week or so. I managed to evade the whole treatment thing by avoiding just about everyone but didn’t manage to dodge Jaz so that got me roped into babysitting.

“This is so unfair,” I fumed, hunching over and glaring at the various kids arrayed around the room, the majority of who were under six or so and so not particularly interesting to talk to.

“That’s five,” Robin pointed out, leaning against the wall next to me.

“Stop that,” I snapped. “And anyway it is.”

“Six.”

“I mean we were the ones actually fighting the Erasers,” I continued, ignoring him. “They should be asking us all about it not just shoving us into a corner and forgetting about us.”

“You know, you were the one who did a blow by blow report of your fight with that Eraser. Maybe they know enough by now.”

“I could have left something out,” I countered indignantly, ignoring his snort of disbelief. “Besides, they know we can fight, it just not fair that they sideline us like this.”

“Seven.”

“Shut up Robin. You can’t like it either.”

“Like it? Maybe not,” he said with another shrug. “It’s probably for the best though.”

“Psh,” I said dismissively. “You don’t really believe that. Just think what they could be talking about right now.”

“Well it’s been about half an hour,” he said, looking at his watch. “They’re probably still arguing over what we should do, maybe setting out a few patrols.”

“Whatever they’re doing it’s got to be better than this.”

“I wouldn’t count on it. The only one I went to I was bored out of my mind for the whole thing. I almost chewed off my own leg to escape.”

I gave him a funny look for that then shook my head. “Whatever, I’m going to break out. This is inhumane.”

“Nine.”

“Oh now, you can not possibly count that.”

“Ten.”

“Stop with that damn count already!”

“Eleven,” he said smirking. “And I think that’s a new record for the Dee’s Whining Counter to reach double figures.”

“You suck. And I’m getting out of here.”

“You’ll never get past Mab,” he pointed out. Mab is the only person I know who actually volunteers for this thing, and to say she was mothering would be the understatement of the decade. The kids love her because she dotes on them so much but she forces me to do something I hate so naturally there’s a little bit of tension between us. Plus she still treats me like a kid even though I’m completely mature now.

“I’ll slip out the back door,” I said shrugging.

“The house is round Dee,” he sighed.

“Just watch me. Back in a minute,” I announced to the room in general and walked casually into the bathroom.

Now on the long list of things that human’s one upped us on, indoor pluming is probably the one I whish we still had the most. Sure we’ve still got hot water due to clever use of solar panels; two miles of steel pipes and quite a bit of telekinesis but there aren’t quite enough of us to warrant building a sewer just yet. Besides we live thirty feet off the ground.

In case you haven’t guessed the toilet is essentially a hole in the floor with a seat over it and while this sounds disgusting it at least means you never have to unclog your toilet. Also it gives me an escape route.

“Gross, gross, gross, gross,” I muttered, lifting up the base and lugging it out of the way and revealing a good sized hole in the floor.

I took a few steps back. This was going to be messy if I got it wrong, literally, but anything would be better than babysitting. I sized up the hole for a moment and then threw myself forward, diving and swinging my legs over my head and slipping though the gap with centimetres to spare.

I plummeted for a moment while struts flashed past and then flared my wings, pulling up sharply and had to throw myself out of a tree that loomed out of the darkness. Just a little tip; never, ever fly below the tree line, especially at night. Only the insanely talented or just insane would try a stunt like that. Naturally I’m in that first category.

Another trunk leapt towards me and I span wildly, scraping the bark this time and had to back flap frantically as two more appeared far too close together to fly through. A desperate flap sent me through the gap upright, sideways and wings folded and I had to unfurl my wings upside-down to avoid crashing into the ground and spin desperately to get upright. My foot clipped a root as I fought to gain altitude, swinging round a tree to get back on course and finally got to a rough cruising altitude just bellow the house struts.

I’d kind of got the hang of it by the time I got to the main hut, a massive structure that’s built around a central tree and the six others surrounding it, and is the only building that holds our whole population. Sans ‘kids’ of course. I ghosted beneath the struts and pulled up sharply, doing a graceful reverse loop, somehow missing the tree limbs in my way and landed softly on the roof.

I began to skulk across the roof, concentrating on ‘fuzzing’ myself. Fuzzing is something that can only exist in a psychic society, basically you concentrate on not being seen really hard and no one can pick you up telekinetically. I have no idea just how it works but it does, and it means that none of the hundred and fifty psychics ten feet from me would pick me up. At least until something distracted me that was.

“So it’s decided,” Dat’s voice drifted through a gap between the central tree and the roof and I skulked closer. “For now we only need to double patrols and make sure no one goes unarmed.”

I dropped onto my stomach so I could hear better and peaked through the gap. Dat could just be seen at the centre of the throng of bird people, most of whom were sitting on the floor because no one’s yet bothered to make a hundred and fifty chairs that would only be used once in a blue moon. I guess technically we have quite a democratic system, Dat’s not elected but is undoubtedly the best person for the job of leader and everyone is free to make a suggestion if they want. Getting people to pay attention to you is another matter, but we don’t really have the population for anything more complicated. I mean, you know all these people personally. Who you follow in a time of crisis is just common sense.

There was some general muttering over Dat’s pronouncement but it died down pretty quickly. Robin may have been right about this being boring.

“Next we have a matter just as important,” Dat continued. “Humans have been found near the village.”

My eyes widened in surprise. Had they found the kid after all? Or maybe just his body given how many Erasers were in the area. I really should have followed him, just to make sure he made it out alright.

“Do they know we’re here?” one of the older women asked sounding panicked.

“We don’t know,” Dat admitted. “Bodies were found in the town after the Eraser attack. They were dead and there were signs of a battle around them, as far as we can tell they were exploring and the Erasers happened to come across them. What we can’t figure out is where they came from; they certainly aren’t local, they didn’t look like they were prepared for a long journey and no one’s seen a working human settlement for something like eight years, so it’s a mystery.”

There was another round of mutterings which was suddenly broken by Snap.

“There’s a fallout shelter nearby isn’t there?” she asked suddenly.

“True,” Dat admitted.

“And it’s the ten year anniversary today,” another voice pointed out. I couldn’t see who it was; the tree trunk was in the way.

“So they’re coming out of the woodwork,” Zap completed. He’s usually in the forerunners of those putting two and two together. “Ten years exactly after the cataclysm and they think the worlds repaired itself enough for them to live outside.”

Talon snorted darkly. “They don’t deserve the world after what they did to it,” he growled.

“Why ten years though?” Joy cut in.

“It’s a nice round number,” Zap hazarded. “You go for ten, not ten and eight twenty-ninths.”

“Fascinating as this is,” Dat interjected, trying to get the discussion back on track. “It doesn’t really matter why the humans are back but what we are going to do about it. After the loss of any of their members they are going to be extremely aggressive, we know they have access to weapons and they are unlikely to view us as friendly at first.”

“We need to keep a watch on the bunker,” Talon said with his usual sense of righteous certainty.  “Have an armed response ready in case they turn hostile. Redouble the search of the surrounding area so that no other humans can get onto the surface. Don’t let anything without wings even near the village.”

“And if we’d like to be peaceful,” Jaz cut in angrily.

“They’re humans,” Talon countered with a shrug. “Peace isn’t in their vocabulary.” There’s some irony in there as we are actually speaking English, well pidgin English at least. “If we negotiate us they’ll back stab us and we’ll be murdered in our beds.”

There was a general outcry over that proclamation but just then a heavy hand grabbed my shoulder and I whirled, stifling a yell to see Max towering over me.

“Again Dee?” he asked with a sigh.

“Err,” I said hesitantly, glancing around for an escape route and not finding one. “I didn’t do it?” I hazarded.

He shook his head slowly.

I was going to get into so much trouble for this.

Fools Rush In – Michael

Pandemonium would be an understatement. The wolf monster attack didn’t merely cause panic but sheer terror in most people and worst, hopelessness. It had been our brave new world; no one had even countenanced the fact that someone else may have taken it first. There was this vague hope I suppose, that other humans had survived, rebuilt the world somewhat or even just been there to produce something to strive for. But there hadn’t been a soul in sight and if the world was inhabited by those wolf things the future was looking rather bleak for the human race.

Stacey died, by the way. By all rights I should’ve been more shook up about it but I think I was more or less still in shock. Besides there was nothing much I could have done anyway; the bullet hit a major vein in her leg, by the time the third door opened she was unconscious and we don’t have donor blood any more. Heck, I didn’t even know what her blood type was, let alone whether anyone else in The Bunker was a match, so our casualty count was brought to three.

I’m still counting only three; Uncle Richard had definitely been taken alive and no one was willing to give up hope on another person. There were only forty four of us left anyway, even with the children, and giving up on even one person would mean extinction. Hence there was another expedition being planned, this time with assault rifles and through whining, conniving and the fact that our only other medic was in his sixties, I managed to get on the squad.

Mom really didn’t want me to go out there. Seriously didn’t want me to go out and I guess in retrospect I don’t really know why I wanted out anyway. Revenge maybe? Anyway I found myself facing down the blast doors once more, this time with a far too heavy gun, grossly overlarge flack vest and a first aid kit which I swear contained a medicinal block of lead.

“Ready guys?” Mitch asked grimly. He’d taken Stacy’s death hard and was apparently making up for it in grenades as he had at least a dozen strapped around his person; he’d also neglected the gasmask though just about everyone but me had.

There were some general mutterings of agreement. If Mitch had had his way we would have been out before sun set, but instead we’d waited until the next day. I think it was around nine but none of the clocks are accurate after ten years without natural light so suffice to say the sun was up.

The doors began to rumble open and before I knew it we were once again blinking in the natural light, something I’m still really not used to. Everyone fanned out immediately, myself sticking near the back and stepping cautiously around a blood stain. There was nothing to see though, no monsters, just the gently swaying trees and a few birds far in the distance, a bit of a let down really.

“Okay, spread out,” Mitch growled. “There’s no way they could just disappear without a trace. There’ll be signs, tracks. Pair up and look for them.”

There was a dark glint in his eye that made everyone obey without question, you don’t argue with someone who’s got that kind of look.

I got paired with Reggie, supposedly an ex-corporal and guard of the base, now approaching his mid forties and against all the odds overweight. I don’t quite know how he managed to get overweight as we’re on rations, so its one of the many, okay three, unsolved mysteries of The Bunker.

“This is stupid,” he snapped, whipping his brow and sitting down on a rock. “We’re lost and I don’t think this trail is the right way either.”

“It’s a trail isn’t it?” I asked, sitting down on the ground next to him. We’d been wandering for about half an hour after it turned out neither of us knew the first thing about tracking. I had half expected that tracking was going to be easy. Just follow the boot prints kind of thing, but after following a deer tail for a half mile, losing it entirely it, finding another and losing that one too it was probably about time we admitted we were lost. Some rescue this was turning out to be.

“A trail to where?” he asked bitterly hoisting his rifle over his shoulder, just as a gun roared and a bullet pinged off the rifle casing embedding itself into his back and sending him sprawling.

I whirled, trying to rise at the same time and went sprawling, firing randomly in the direction of the shot. I have absolutely no idea whether I hit anything or not but another shot thudded into the ground next to me and I scrambled to my feet, desperately searching for the attacker, Reggie was moaning on the ground next to me but there wasn’t a damn thing I could do for him while under attack.

Another shot whistled over my head, this time from my left and I ducked instinctively, opening fire on an unoffending bush, sending bullets screaming through the air and just about everything but an assailant. A glance at Reggie told me he wasn’t going to last five minutes without medical assistance, unless gargling blood has suddenly become good for your health, but there was simply nothing I could do.

Another shot from another direction blew splinters off a tree next to me and I dropped the first aid kit as I let loose once again in the general of the bang, finally clicking empty. That’s what clinched it I suppose, another shot ricocheted off a rock next to me and I bolted.

Did I feel guilty? Yes, but I know enough about medicine to know that when someone starts coughing up blood there isn’t a damn lot you can do for them. Not without an operating theatre and I didn’t have one of those with me. I ran desperately through the forest, branches snatching at my clothes and the occasional spattering of gunfire following far too close behind me. Once again I had no idea where I was going and I wasn’t even quite sure what I was running from.

Heavy footsteps came crashing through the forest after me and I accelerated, snatching glances over my shoulder to see something large storming through the foliage, running on all fours and closing fast. I burst out into a clearing just as a tree root sent me sprawling ignominiously onto the ground, cracking my head on the packed earth about a half inch from a rather pointed rock.

I rolled off my gun which I was sure was going to leave a permanent impression on my ribcage, and heard a half bellow, half howl as a wolf monster burst out of the forest. The thing towered over me, at least seven feet tall and muscled like an insane body builder. It wasn’t its sheer bulk that drew your eyes but the teeth. Nothing should have teeth like that, and no one should have to face down one of these things more than once in a life time and this was my second in twenty four hours.

I was also holding an empty weapon, was half its size and flat on my back.

The thing looked down at me, a wicked gleam in its eyes.

“Cue dues ex machina?” I asked hopefully then closed my eyes to wait for the end.

Next

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