SF Drabble #390 "Departure Time"

He checked his watch. "They won't hold the lander for us."

She rifled through the pockets on the pants she wore yesterday. "I can't find the shells."

"Where did you last have them?"

"If I knew that, I'd know where they were, wouldn't I?"

"Maybe that cleaning robot thingy took them. You can just get more—"

She upended her purse into the chair. "When? When can I get more? When will we ever come back here, to this planet, to that beach on that ocean? When?"


She ignored him, pulled the sheets off the bed. "Just help me look."

Abandon Ship

Gonzales looked down the scope of his M40 and found a shuffling form, took careful aim, and gently squeezed the trigger. The zombie's head disappeared in a mist more brown and yellow than pink or red.

A month ago he'd been in basic training.

The floodlights were drawing the zombies in; but without enough night-vision goggles, he and his fellow Marines needed the floodlights to see them coming up the causeway. If only there had been a full moon…

For a while, there had been an Apache — long out of bullets for its cannons —making low passes  to try to draw the oncoming hordes away, divert their attention, but it had run out of fuel and landed somewhere behind them hours ago. Now all the zombies had to go on were the bright lights and the smell of living humans.

There was a flash to his right, to the North up the Indian River; and then another, and a fireball rose into the sky.

Everything over the river to the South was already gone. "They dropped the Brewer causeway. Just us now."

Morris called it: "Ain't no more trucks comin', man. Oughta knock this shit out too."

Gonzales found another good target, a few hundred yards downrange, and took it.

Morris continued, "I don't even know where the fuck we are, man."

Phillips asked, incredulous, "Are you serious? You see that big white building back there?"

"I don't see shit."

"I mean, when we got here, when it was still light. That's the visitor's center for Cape Canaveral, Morris. We're protecting NASA."

"Why the fuck are we protecting NASA? When did they—"

Truck headlights were coming up the causeway. They scrambled to move the barriers, waved the truck through, looked inside as it passed: one terrified driver in an otherwise empty truck. So much for reinforcements.

Morris looked around. Not for the Lieutenant: he'd be passed out drunk somewhere by now. "Hey, Sergeant? Sergeant!"

The man came forward, radio and binoculars in hand. "What is it?"

"How much longer we gotta hold this shit?"

The Sergeant put the binoculars up to his eyes, scanned the momentarily empty causeway. "You got somewhere to be, Private?"

"We were just wondering what the plan is, Sarge."

"They don't tell me the plan, Phillips. They tell me to hold a causeway, and I hold a causeway." He lowered the binoculars, satisfied for the moment. "There are still living people out there. If word's gotten out that we've cleared the Cape, a whole lot of them might be coming here. And we want them to be able to get across the river."

"That was the first truck to come through in eight hours… and if they took out the other causeway—"

"This one is staying up. At least for now. Any more questions?"

"Yeah." Greene, usually quiet, raised his hand. "Can I defect to the zombies?"

Everybody laughed. Sarge even allowed a hint of a grin to appear on his face before turning his back and walking back towards the CP.

Gonzales settled back into his firing position, looked down the scope, found a target. He felled it, but found two more had appeared behind it. He dropped those two, only to find another ten behind them…

"Hey, guys."

The others had already started getting ready. They didn't have scopes, but there were extra binoculars, and the word had gone out.

Morris flipped the safety off his rifle. "Oughta drop this motherfucker right now, man."

"You're not wrong."

Gonzales picked another target — easy enough, now that there were a hundred or more shuffling towards them from the far end of the floodlights' reach — and then another, and then another.

Their numbers only seemed to grow. They were a cross-section of American life. Vacationers, farmers, children, old people. All dead, all hungry. He put them down indiscriminately and without emotion. A month ago it had been disturbing, but no more.

He stopped to reload. The others had begun taking carefully aimed shots now, down iron sights. Sporadic gunfire from the positions along the waterline on either side of them joined in as well. Zombies fell like ragdolls by the dozens, and their numbers still increased.

"All right," Sarge had returned. "Make 'em all count, Marines."

"Man, every fuckin' zombie from Orlando is comin' down this fuckin' causeway!"

"Looks like it."

"Sarge, ain't nobody alive gonna make it through all that."

The Sergeant stared at him for a moment, but then held up his radio and spoke into it, requesting orders, instructions, clarification. They heard what he heard: "Negative. Hold NASA Parkway West. Over".

The gunfire became unrelenting. The causeway, already littered with corpses, became nearly impassable: zombies tripped over their fallen predecessors, struggled to right themselves, ended up making part of their approach in a sickeningly infantile crawl.

Greene yelled, "We should have put down mines."

"That would defeat the purpose of keeping it open to traffic."

They kept up their fire. The instant anything moving reached the edge of the floodlights' illumination, two dozen rifles spat a trio of bullets at it.

Gonzales picked a still-dim shape and aimed. The low rumble had escaped his notice amidst all the gunfire, but then everything in his view was bathed in light as if night had suddenly become day.

"What the fuck?"

Behind them and to the right, something bright was rising on the horizon. The rumble became more and more intense until, though the rising vehicle was miles off and only getting further away, it drowned out the sound of the gunfire.

"They're launching….what are they launching?"

Phillips said, "Looks like one of the shuttle pads. Did they bring one of the shuttles back here?"

"Don't look at me, man." Morris shrugged, went back to firing.

Sarge yelled, "Keep firing! Let the geeks worry about the goddamn shuttles, and you worry about the goddamn zombies! I don't—"

Another white-hot light began rising from almost the same spot.

Phillips observed. "That's the other shuttle pad. I didn't know they could launch one right after the other like that. Two at a time—" The noise became too deafening to speak. Two columns of white smoke rose, one after the other, each with a welder's arc light at its apex.

Greene held up three fingers and pointed: something smaller was climbing from almost directly East.

It didn't matter. Gonzales resumed his firing position. The causeway was brilliantly illuminated along its entire length: a thousand zombies were stopped in their tracks, eyes turned to the sky, their weakened senses overwhelmed by the sound and fury of the launches. Eventually the light began to dim, and the roar fade. Gonzales picked one, fired—

The causeway disappeared in a cloud of concrete dust and water vapor. Something fast and fixed-wing shot by overhead with no navigational lights on.

Gonzales shrugged as the debris rained down all across the surface of the Indian River. "I guess we're done here."

They sat on the barriers and those among them who smoked lit cigarettes. Sarge went back to the CP.

"So, two shuttles and a rocket."

Phillips said, "And that's just from here. They had stuff at Vandenberg they could've put up, and maybe even stuff from Mojave. And the Russians, and the Chinese. There's no telling how much."

"But who did they send up? And to do what?"

Morris, with his usual candor, summed it up nicely: "Well it wasn't me, so fuck them."