She hasn’t moved since I got here. She just hangs there, a little sliver of the sun, shining down on us goats and chickens and fools.
Used to think that one bullet was for her. But, I’m starving. So thirsty I’ve drank my own pee. I’ve been here so long even my pubes have turned white. I bet I’m a hundred years old. Hell, maybe older.
Nothing here rots, but I age. I age because I’m human.
And so was she.
And she’s dead. Starved or died of thirst, or maybe her air burned up. Probably thought she was all alone.
And I guess she was. I guess, in the end, we all are.
The revolver is cold and heavy in my hands.
Typing out these little scraps of memory used to keep me from blowing my brains out. We all want our stories told.
But my story has come to an end.
Burn Baby Burn
Sunday’s cleaver had long since melted. Her arms ached. Her hands were numb. She had trouble feeling the ceramic knife in her hand.
She wasn’t keeping count. She wasn’t even thinking now. She was flying faster than she’d ever flown, far to fast to think, in utter, eerie silence, all the whispers of doubt long since left behind.
She climbed back toward the stratosphere. She wasn’t sure how she was still breathing. The shockwave of compressed air that had formed when she’d gone supersonic had spared here from her most morbid visions of wind ripping off her flesh. The high pressure air seemed trapped even when she pushed up to the very edge of space to find her next target. They were getting harder and harder to spot, both because they were fewer in number and because they were now back in daylight.
She dove, pushing to speeds she couldn’t even estimate. Mach six? Mach seven? Mach eight? Photons were flying out of her at the speed of light. Was there any limit to her speed beyond the ones Einstein had written down?
She slowed as she raced up behind her target. She readied her knife and went in for the kill.
At the last second, the drone spun and pushed Sunday’s arm away. A few of the other drones had spotted her and shown similar rudimentary defenses, but she’d fought those before her arms turned to lead.
The drone kneed her in the belly and they both went into a tailspin. The drone kept her hands clamped on Sunday’s knife hand.
If this was the last one, it didn’t matter if they both plunged into the ocean. If it wasn’t….
She eyed the camera cluster where the head should be. Why didn’t these things burn? The chimps were geniuses, and were developing a reputation for building advanced materials that were stronger, lighter, and tougher than anything humans had whipped up. But, this was still just matter. Even if the Sundancer body was immune to solar radiation, this thing had to have a melting point.
She set out to find it. The ceramic knife suddenly warped like a vinyl record, then vanished in a spray of droplets. She felt the old pressure building in her gut as they raced toward the ocean and with a sudden release the wormholes surrounding her doubled, then tripled. The webcam vaporized and the drone went limp.
Sunday never reached the surface of the ocean, because the surface of the ocean moved as she approached it, boiling away in a flash. She pulled from her spin and climbed.
She tried to close the wormholes, to reduce her intensity.
She couldn’t find the invisible switch in her mind that controlled them.
With so much power channeling out of her, the second she switched off, she was going to die.
And she didn’t want to die.
A blue blur flashed across the corner of her vision. It was Skyrider, racing toward her much faster than the drones had moved. She was carrying a ridiculously large rifle, which she aimed at Sunday. She pulled the trigger when she was only a few hundred feet away.
Whatever came out of the barrel vaporized as it came within a dozen feet of Sunday. Skyrider veered to avoid a collision, but passed close enough that her rifle turned to putty in her hands. Suddenly, her flight suit caught fire, including her helmet.
Skyrider slid to a hover and yanked her helmet off, gasping for breath. Her face was covered in a silver mesh. As the flaming fragments of her suit fell away, the silver mesh proved to cover her whole body, sheer as pantyhose.
Skyrider squinted as she stared at Sunday. “You’ve got a head!”
“I’m the original,” Sunday shouted back.
“There are only three left,” Skyrider shouted. “But we’ve got radar locks on all of them and missiles in the air. Time to draw the curtain on your little doomsday play!”
“I didn’t want this!” Sunday screamed. “I tried to stop it!”
“Then stand down,” said Skyrider. “Turn off your flames and surrender.”
“I can’t!” she screamed. “I think… Dr. Trog pumped the drones full of adrenaline so that they would be living bombs. I’m running on nothing but adrenaline now!” She swallowed hard. “I think… I think I’m going to explode.”
Skyrider said, “You don’t have to explode! Just turn down your flame and wait. The Covenant employs the finest scientific minds on the planet. We can fix this!”
“Call them!” screamed Sunday. “I surrender! Just do what you can to save me before I take half the planet with me.”
“Um,” said Skyrider. “I can’t call them, actually. My radio was in my helmet.”
“I don’t have time to wait for you to go get help!” said Sunday. She looked down at the glimmering blue ocean. She saw a few patches of white sand in the distance. “Where are we?” she asked.
“Just north of Midway atoll,” Skyrider shouted. “The island is empty except for a research station. Don’t move! I’ll go use their radio to call Covenant Command.”
Pit couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Ap was still pumping his fists in the air.
“We’ve won?” he asked.
“Servant ambushed a drone over Nevada and Chinese jets just shot down the last one!”
“I thought Servant was dragging the island?”
“How could you…?”
“Dr. Trog said so.”
Ap shrugged. “We Covenant move in mysterious ways.”
“Right,” said Pit. “Space machine.” He rubbed the hole in the back of his skull. “I probably would have got that if I hadn’t just pulled damned metal spike out of my brains. Anyway, if the drones are finished, what happened to Sunday?”
“Not sure,” said Ap. “Skyrider had visual contact, but then we lost her signal.”
Pit shook his head. “Sunday fried her.”
“Don’t think so. The lab boys have outfitted her with some fancy thermal underwear.”
“What have long-johns got to do with anything?”
“Not that kind of thermal underwear,” said Ap. “It’s a silver mesh networked into the space machine. It detects highly energized particles that collide with it and automatically cut and paste them into the earth’s core. Sarah can’t even get a tan.”
“Hold on,” said Ap. “I’m getting a message from Simpson.” He grabbed Pit by the wrist. “You wouldn’t be a World War Two buff by any chance?”
“I spent most of the war years drunk,” said Pit.
“Too bad,” said Ap. “We’re about to be tourists!”
Then Pit experienced the familiar sensation of being folded by the space machine. His backs of his elbows twisted to slide along under his nuts as his eyeballs bent to stare directly at one another. Then he dropped to his knees on a beach of white sand.
Ap was by his side, and Servant and Skyrider were standing in front of him. It was high noon, with the sun directly overhead. Except, as he looked to the west, the sun was also down on the horizon.
“What’s he doing here,” Servant growled, staring at Pit.
“You want me to just leave him?” asked Ap.
“I want him in a cell!”
“He’s eaten himself out of every jail he’s ever been thrown into,” said Skyrider. “He’s probably safer in our custody.” Pit tried not to stare, but he could see all of Skyrider’s lady parts through the mesh of her thermal underwear.
“Here’s the situation,” said Skyrider. “Sundancer says she feels like she’s about to explode. She’s putting out enough radiation that if she were over a population center right now, people would already be dying. I’ve already had Simpson cut and paste the researcher here to safety, but safety isn’t what it used to be. If she experiences the sort of exponential flare up we witnessed in some of the aborted drones, she could carve a hole out of the planet that would rival the comet impact that killed off the dinosaurs. Nowhere is safe.”
“Cut and paste her out into space,” said Ap.
Skyrider shook her head. “We never got any targeting nanites into her. And, with the radiation she’s putting out, satellite sensors just go blind when we try to get a lock.”
Servant shook his head. “Is this a joke? Let’s just break her neck.”
“The problem with that—” Skyrider never finished her sentence.
“Up one mile, Simpson,” said Servant. He vanished.
Suddenly the sun overhead began to fall toward them.
“Ghost mode!” shouted Ap.
Sand and seashells flew all around them as Sunday and Servant slammed into the island half a mile away.
“Breaking her neck might trigger the explosion!” Skyrider shouted.
“Servant!” Ap screamed. “Stand down! Stand down!”
A volcano began erupting where the two had crashed. Beads of flaming lava rained down, sizzling as they burned little holes into Pit’s clothes and the flesh beneath.
“He’s not answering!” Ap said, sounding panicked.
The heat and light pouring of the spit of land were almost unbearable. Even here, the sea was boiling. Hurricane force hotter than a furnace winds nearly knocked Pit from his feet.
Pit lunged at Skyrider and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Strip!” he said.
“Excuse me?” she asked.
“Take off that fancy underwear! I need it. I’m the only one who can stop her!”
“Johnny, if you record a single frame of this I will murder you,” she said, eying Ap.
“You’re going to do it?” Ap asked.
“I don’t have a better idea!” she said, lowering the invisible nanozipper that sealed the front. Pete averted his eyes. It was what a good cowboy would do. She shoved the suit into his hands and said, “Ap. I can’t stay here without protection. You’re safe in ghost mode. It’s up to the two of you!”
Then, she was gone.
Pit struggled to pull on the flimsy garment. He didn’t know what the hell it was made of, but it was tough. Real panty hose would have ripped as he pulled them on over his jagged toe-nails. Not that he’d ever actually tried that, mind you. The springy fabric stretched over his clothes, but he felt like his balls were being pulled up into his belly as he tried to yank the suit tight and pull the hood over his head. When he finally had it on, Ap pointed out the zipper, which Pit would never have found on his own.
“I’m coming with you,” said Ap.
They marched into the inferno across bubbling earth, along shores now completely dry as the ocean was pushed back a mile in every direction. Once or twice Pit fell, and had to crawl in the face of the horrible winds. Even protected from the heat, his mouth and nose and eyes went completely dry in air where every molecule of water had been torn asunder.
They reached the crater where Servant and Sunday had fallen. It was now a sheet of glass. In the depth beneath, a naked man with an ogre’s face was frozen in mid scream, though he looked more angry than in pain. He’d been trapped in the molten sand like a fly caught in amber.
And further down the beach was Sunday. She sat with her knees drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped around them, staring at the sunset.
He slogged through magma to reach her. He placed his hand on her shoulder.
She looked up. “Is there hope?” she asked.
Her eyes had already answered the question.
He dropped to his knees and wrapped his arm around her. She rubbed her cheek against his cheek. They kissed once again. Her lips were completely dry.
“I can’t stop burning,” she whispered.
“Then don’t,” he said, his voice trembling. “Just… do what you do best. Burn, baby. Burn.”
And then he opened his other mouth and closed his eyes. There was a familiar tickle at the back of his throat, a familiar fire. And when he opened his eyes she was gone.
Ap stumbled as the hurricane force wind suddenly stopped. “What just happened? Did… did she just get away?”
“Naw,” said Pete.
“Is… is the world safe?” Ap asked, scratching his hair, or trying to. In his ghost mode, itches apparently were impossible to relieve.
“Naw,” said Pete. “No more than it ever was. Nobody gets out of here alive.”
Ap glanced back to the crater that held Servant. “You think he’s still alive?”
“Couldn’t care less,” said Pit.
“Let me get Simpson online,” said Ap. “Let’s go home. Well, my home, at least. Guess you’re going to have a new home.”
“Yeah,” said Pit. “Guess I will.” Then he shoved his fist into his mouth. He swallowed. And kept swallowing.
He’d arrived in a world of trash. A vast ring he couldn’t begin to measure, in orbit around an elongated star that poured out heat and light. He’d pulled off the thermal underwear and shouted at her for days, or what felt like days. There was no way to measure time. She never showed any signs of hearing him.
There wasn’t much gravity. Things in the ring did tend to pull together, though. He’d found a few things to eat in the garbage. Felt like he was dying of thirst until he found an old soda machine and managed to pry it open with a crowbar he’d swallowed back in 1973, along with the arm of the man who’d swung it at him. He drank sodas and ate from a desiccated deer carcass while he watched living chickens and goats cavorting in the distance.
Later, he’d had to go to the bathroom, wiping himself with pages from a Dallas phone book. It wasn’t his first clue, but it felt like proof that he was normal again. Whatever Eleven had done to freeze his body in time no longer had any effect on him.
One day he found a typewriter. An old one, a Remington, completely manual. Just like the one he’d written his screenplay on. To keep from going crazy, he’d started typing, filling up scraps and bits of card and any thing flat he could roll through the machine. He thinned out ink from a ball point pen he found in his own urine and soaked the ribbon to refresh it when the letters had finally faded to nothingness. He was surprised when this actually worked.
He was always worried that one day he would run out of paper.
But, in the end, he ran out of memories. He ran out of things to say.
So he’d placed a pistol against the roof of his mouth.
And then, for a time, he’d been dead.
It was nighttime when he woke up. He’d been resting on short, thick green grass, like what you’d find on a gold course. He sat up, and saw a glimmering sea in the distance.
He could tell from the air that he was back on Pangea.
Eleven floated before him.
“I’ve completed my mission. It is time for us to leave.”
“Oh,” said Pit. “Hmm. What mission was that?”
“I came here to catalogue the sentient beings of this planet. I’ve finished my recording of the beings of this world, as well as the five sentients of this world that currently reside on Mars.”
“There are men on Mars?”
“You’ve met two of them,” said Eleven. “As for their offspring, I’m unsure you would classify them as men.”
Pit looked at his hands. They were young and strong again. Well, not young. He looked like he had when he was in his forties or fifties.”
“Was I dead?” he asked.
“You had regressed to your lowest biological threshold,” said Eleven. “Only the bacteria in your gut were still active.”
“Do they count as part of me?”
“Who else would they count as?”
Pit looked up at he stars. “You left me in there for a long time.”
“In the relative time frame of your four dimensional existence, you were only gone two weeks. I saw no need to retrieve you prematurely.”
“Two weeks? It felt like decades.”
“Then it was,” said Eleven. “There is no precise formula for reconciling times between the two realities you inhabit.”
Pit stood. It was then he realized he was naked. “You couldn’t pull me out some clothes?”
“They will serve no purpose where we are going. If there are sentient beings in the Centari system, it is highly unlikely they will care if you are wearing pants.”
“How are we getting there?” he asked.
“We’ll walk,” said Eleven. “But I know a short cut.” Then Eleven splintered apart and splashed against Pit’s chest. Pit looked down and found himself covered with triangular stripes, like a tiger.
“Ready?” Eleven asked.
“No,” said Pit. “I can’t leave without… without knowing what happened to Sunday.”
“She perished,” said Eleven. “Due to the time variance, by the time you followed her inside, she had long since failed to receive the primitive but necessary chemical fuels that powered her life functions.”
“You fixed me,” he said, holding up his hand, staring at the stripes that now coated it. “Fix her.”
“We’ve been a braided life-form for a long time,” said Eleven. “I can restore your cognitive abilities because your thoughts are my thoughts. Even if I could reassemble Sunday’s material form, she would not be the person you knew. For now, her presence within our dimensional hold is most fortuitous. The solar radiation she emits will provide plentiful power for our travels. Were it not for her, you would need to devour a mass the size of Mount Everest to generate the required energy for us to escape this planet.”
Pit nodded. He crossed his arms across his chest.
It wasn’t fair. But that wasn’t the way of this world. Some travelers reach the end of their journeys while those who loved them traveled on. And like every other person, all he could take were memories, and the warmth of knowing that he carried some part of her inside him.
Only, less metaphorically.
He stepped forward, and was gone from earth.
And on a world with green skies he gawked at unfamiliar stars, and laughed.
He’d gotten out alive.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
She hasn’t moved since I got here. She just hangs there, a little sliver of the sun, shining down on us goats and chickens and fools.