Zombie Drabble #448: “People Tell Me Love, Love Is True”

She got up, carefully made her way to the window in the dark, looked out, sighed.

“Any lights anywhere?” Six hours. Phones dead, no internet anyway, can’t read, can’t watch tv. Already had sex twice. No air-con. He was bored and uncomfortable.

“There’s, like, a glow over past the river. But no lights. At least there’s a full moon.”

“I can’t believe it’s taking this long.” He rolled over onto his back, starfished to see if it would cool him off more.

“There’s people on the street.”

“What? In the dark? Doing what?”

“Just… standing. Or walking really slowly.”

“…What?”

Earpiece

Shake it off.”

His eyes were closed, and he tasted blood and dust. There was cheering, and booing, and various shouts of encouragement and support, mostly for his opponent. But her voice was still in his head, so the spell was still working.

Shake it off. You still have the knife.”

He sat up, spat. He could hear the Jogor’s meaty growl off to the left, and then behind, circling, stalking. It could leap at any time, from any direction. “I think it’s over.”

When I say, roll to your left, and hold up the knife where your head was.”

Love Potion Number 91736


The door chimed, and he ignored it.

It was a bright morning, but he had the window tinting dialed up almost to maximum, letting in just enough light so that he could see where he was going if, by some miracle, he decided to get up off the couch.

The door chimed again. This time his phone chimed with it, and then played a message: Mr. Alfonse B1227 Apt. 21390, we are performing a welfare check, please allow the agent entry.

He didn’t get up. He could have, had he wanted to. There was nothing really wrong with him, whatever his telltales might say. Anyhow, it would override the door lock and come in after receiving no response; asking to be let in was part of the test.

Sure enough, the door slid open and a drone floated in, one of the armored ones, followed by a medical drone. “How’s it, fellas?”

“Good morning, can you confirm that you are Mr. Roland Alfonse B1227 Apt. 21390?”

It already knew the answer. Did he, still? “Sure.”

The security drone landed just inside the door, just far enough away that it would close. The medical drone floated across the room and landed on the coffee table in front of him, a little to the side so as not to block the view of the wallscreen. “Roland, you have not taken your medication for seven days. You still have pills in your dispensary. Is there a problem?”

“I don’t like how they make me feel.”

“You did not go to work today, or for the last two days. You have not showered or brushed your teeth. Your—”

“I didn’t feel like it.”

“—medication makes it possible for you to function normally in society, to go to work, to go to social engagements, to perform errands, and to look after your personal hygiene.”

He shrugged. Again: “I don’t like  how they make me feel.”

“My records show this as an ongoing issue. Perhaps an adjustment to the dosage would help. Please stand by.”

This was the part where it checked in to home base. Some only-on-paper Doctor in a call center somewhere would review his records, scan his telltale readouts, and sign off on the drone’s carefully-programmed judgement. Usually it took minutes. Once it took almost an hour: he thought the thing had malfunctioned.

“Roland, I will be replacing your medication with a newer alternative, and adding a secondary medication that should alleviate the unpleasant side-effects you have been experiencing.” A small arm slid out of its front panel, with a small measuring-cup attachment at its end, containing two pills; the arm rotated and the pills dropped to the tabletop, next to his tea. His regular pill, but smaller, and a new one, blue-and purple swirled with a white band around the middle. “Please take them now while I restock and reprogram your dispensary. Thank you for your cooperation.”

The tea was cold, but he washed the pills down with it anyway. The medical drone hovered at the dispensary, making all sorts of noises. When it was done, it headed out the door without another word, followed by the security drone.

An hour later he’d made fresh, hot tea. He was showered and dressed. He found himself headed down the elevator towards the garden level, with the intention of sitting by one of the man-made ponds. After a short walk he found a bench in the shade and sat and watched the ducks drift sedately by.

“Can I join you?” A girl, a little younger than him, pretty but not intimidating, dressed for a summer day at the park. “The other benches are taken…”

He looked around. He hadn’t really noticed the other people, but the garden level was busy, busier than the last time he’d been, which was… when? He couldn’t remember. There were other benches with space on them, but… “Be my guest.”

They talked. She was bright, disarming, sweet, and interested in his work stories, which were usually a natural soporific. She had stories of her own, funny ones, mostly about nights out with friends. Roland was ensorcelled. It was as if fate had brought them together.

She was halfway through one such tale when her phone chimed. “Sorry, just reminding me to take my meds.” She fished a small plastic baggie out of a pocket and emptied it out into her hand. One he didn’t recognize, but he recognized the other pill immediately: blue-and-purple swirled with a white band around the middle.

“Sorry, I have to… I’ve gotta go. Sorry.” He paused for a second, and another, reconsidering, but pushed himself up off the bench in a sheer act of will and walked away, towards the elevator banks. He didn’t look back.

When he got back up to level 213, and into his apartment, he locked the door behind him, leaned against it, feeling panic subsiding. He went to the dispensary, pulled at the plastic cover until it tore off, and surveyed its workings. He’d need tools he didn’t own to get into it without damaging anything.

Roland ended up smashing it with a square stone planter pot that had come with the apartment. The pills poured out like candy from a piƱata. He separated his normal pills out, put them carefully in a bowl; the blue-and-purple swirled with a white band around the middle he put down the disposal.

Stronger At The Broken Places



They interrupted the fight to go out to the party, because they’d promised, because they’d be missed,  looked for, found and questioned. They stood together but spoke separately to separate friends, never to each other. He fetched her a new hot cider when it was time, because it was expected.

Eventually the night and the friends and the cider softened them, and they caught each other’s eye, and then stood a little closer, and brushed hands. Eventually there were smiles, and gentle words, and apologies.

They left the party to go home, holding hands, not at all from being tired.

SF Drabble #496: "Hide and Seek"



She pauses on the stairs, turns her head slightly, closes her eyes, reaches out with a part of her mind only the Mothers know exists. Her opponent is two floors down, trying to do the same and finding only frustration. It is a game, they say with a smile. It teaches focus, concentration. The Mothers teach them wiles, and then talk to them as if they had none.

She continues further up, finds a suitable place, clears her mind completely. Even a candle is bright in the darkness. Her opponent will stumble into her trap, and lose, and be punished.

Lost Sols

When Rogers didn’t come back from setting survey spikes we thought he’d had a suit issue, developed hypoxia, wandered off, died in a shadow somewhere where we couldn’t spot him on satellite imaging. But then Pierce, and then Bai, and we knew something was happening.

The Director did the morning briefing personally. “Only go out in pairs. And armed. And don’t leave the Rollabout unless you absolutely have to. You see anything, report it. Anything at all, I don’t care. Report it. Report in.”

Franklin and that blond kid, the new one, both of them and the Rollabout, just gone, and they’d checked in that they were on their way back ETA five minutes. The Director was apparently on comms that whole afternoon trying to get Earth to find out if somebody else was out here, the Russians, the Chinese, whoever, messing with us. Nothing.

No one’s left the dome in… two weeks? We keep a watch on the landing pad, three guys in the airlock, just to make sure the lifeboat doesn’t disappear. But there isn’t room on it for everybody, so we can’t run.

If there’s Martians, and they want us gone, I just wish they’d say so.

Lady Luck



I’ll make a deal with you: if you roll a six, I’ll cut you loose. I mean it, I’ll cut the ropes, I’ll unlock the door, and you can run. I won’t chase you. Any other number, though, and… here’s the gun right here.

Or, you can roll again. If you roll a six again, I’ll not only cut you loose, let you go, but I’ll wait until the cops come and let them catch me.

Or you can roll a third time. And if you roll a six again, I’ll take the gun and shoot myself in the head.

Hellas Planitia Organizing Committee

The signs started appearing after they announced the Air Tax increase: on the walls outside the big commissaries, in the bathrooms, the vehicle bays, places workers go but Shareholders never see. Most of them were fairly restrained, civil, and they stayed up; nobody wanted to get fired, and management didn’t want to seem heavy-handed.

It wasn’t until they announced the pay increases — only two percent for contract full-timers, one percent for everybody else — that the signs started to get threatening. And instead of paper, they’d be painted right on the duroplast. Management couldn’t take them down, because it’d take a work crew, and the crews wouldn’t do it.

When Bobby McNeary was caught mid-application of a particularly incendiary slogan, and ended up beaten to within an inch of his life by Security (who were already exempt from the air tax and got a five percent bump in pay), things quickly got out of hand.

I don’t know if you saw video, but a riot at one-sixth Earth gravity is a bad idea, especially when people are swinging metal tools. I saw one hack get flipped end-over-end courtesy a steel pipe to the chin.

But at least they’re negotiating now.

SF Drabble #495: “The Big Thaw”

“How do you feel?”

She could hear the voice — a reassuring, male timbre — but it seemed distant, quiet, almost unintelligible. “What?” She tried in vain to raise her arms, wanting to push the tank open.

“Don’t move too much. You’re still weak, and the suspension drugs aren’t entirely out of your system.”

She relaxed, still floating, “Didn’t it work?”

The voice chuckled. “Nine out of ten ask that. What year were you tanked?”

“Tanked… I was… 2024? Cancer, I had cancer—”

“It’s 2378. Your cancer is gone. Welcome to Federated North America. I’m going to wheel you into recovery now.”

SF Drabble #494: “Breakdown”

“Nope”. He slid out from the access space, tools in hand. “Bone dry, and completely shot. There’s a crack in the housing all the way from the forward mounting plate to the second amplification ring. The coolant’s probably pooled at the bottom of the space between the inner and outer hulls.”

“So we’re dead in the water?”

He sat up. “We could seal the crack, temporarily, pump the coolant back in. Four days? And that’ll buy us one jump, maybe two.”

“The closest repair station is six jumps away.”

“How close to Woolie territory are we?”

“Don’t sneeze too loud.”

Zombie Drabble #447 : “Gatekeeper”

This is crazy. This is crazy.

You know me, Frank, you… we used to live next door, Frank, we lived next door to you on Richmond Road. My wife is Isabelle. Frank. You have a dog, a big dog, like a St. Bernard or something, I don’t remember the dog’s name but my daughter walked him a few times. Hang on, there’s no need for… we had that minivan with the dent in the door. Remember? You offered to bang out the dent, Frank, do you remember?

They’re almost here, they’re… please, can you let us in? Frank, please. Frank.

SF Drabble #493 : “Sewer Rats”

As soon as we can’t hear the hum — that low, undulating sawtooth tone that all their craft make — we run for the entrance. We know they’ll see us. They always see us. Smash and grab, in and out as fast as we can manage, get back underground and figure out what we scored.

This time they sent something down after us, something new: looked like metal spider with another metal spider welded to its back upside-down. Rusty speared it with a sharpened pole. There was something alive inside, part of it, grafted onto the circuitry.

Rusty cooked and ate it.

Hitman

The wife was in the bath, candles and a glass of wine, earbuds in, didn’t hear a thing. The two teenagers were out of the house: daughter at volleyball practice, son smoking weed with some underclassmen. The General was in his study, reading something, briefing papers, probably. I don’t really care. I shot him before he could look up, one round to the hairline.

That should have been it. But he looked up, surprised, then annoyed, and then kind of a perverse amusement, and the gaping wound in his head sucked itself closed, and he goes, “Who sent you? I’ll tell you who: someone with a sense of humor.

You know what? I told him exactly who they were, and where he could find them. And I offered to take the contract for half my usual price. Because fuck you, don’t withhold important intel like, ‘your target is a demon’.

Yolanda Used To Be Amy

I spent eight years in prison for negligent homicide — Colton, and don’t ask me how him getting clawed by a demon and then shooting himself in the head is on me, legally speaking, but here we are — and when I got out, I moved to Minneapolis and changed my name. I worked a shit job for long enough to afford plastic surgery, and then changed my name again and moved to San Antonio. I work for a builder, managing the cash payroll for the undocumented workers, and for myself. No one here has ever asked for my social security number, and if they did, I wouldn’t show up the next day and their lockbox would be empty.

The baby, our baby, Colton’s and mine, would be about twelve now. They took her away, and later they told me she died, but I don’t believe that for a second. I don’t know whether she’s going to come looking for me one day, show up on my doorstop. I don’t know she’s evil. Not for sure. I don’t know she started that fire. But I had one of the guys find me a .32 without a serial, just in case.

Prisoner Alpha

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So it’s an easy shift. No problems. You stand right here, and check in on the radio every half an hour. There used to be a chair, but they stopped letting us sit down after Portney fell asleep. Every once and a while, maybe once every three or four months, one of the big bosses comes down. You don’t have to check IDs or anything, Head of Security will be with them every time. Anybody else comes out of that elevator, you turn ‘em right back around. Don’t let them go down the hall. Nobody gets down the hall unless they’re with Head of Security. And son? Don’t go down the hall yourself. Ever. Don’t get curious, and figure, oh, no one will know because there’s no cameras. Even if you hear noises, don’t go down the hall. What kind of noises? Son, you’ll know it when you hear them.

Zombie Drabble #446: “Right-Of-Way”

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Her voice was quiet, always quiet. “Is this a road, Daddy?”

“A kind of road. A railroad. A road for trains.” He didn’t like it, being hemmed in on both sides. “Keep alert.”

“Why do they… why do trains get their own kind of road?”

“Their wheels fit on the rails. See the rails?” He turned, pointed down. “No steering, nothing in the way, they can carry a lot and still go fast.”

“Oh. Okay.” She raised her bow, pulled, loosed an arrow past him. Ahead, a zombie he hadn’t seen dropped like a ragdoll. “Carry a lot of what?”

From Beneath

Week88Photo

He poured himself a brandy while she rubbed her wrists; after taking a sip he took a moment to straighten his tie, and then placed a bottle of water on the floor next to her. “Well. That was—”

“Mmhmm.”

“I didn’t think I’d enjoy that as much as I did. You were… you were right.”

Of course I was right. “We could do it again sometime.”

“I’d like that.” He looked into his glass, swirled the liquid around. “And the paddle?”

She’d brought it, this time, but hadn’t let him use it. You’re mine now. “I suppose. If you’re good.”

SF Drabble #492 “Perimeter”

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Mischa, please return to the path.”

She had walked onto the grass, then into the long grass, then through the trees and across the stone beach to where the wire fence was strung. There was more beach beyond, curving around to a headland, and then more trees. Nothing moved except for the drone hovering behind her.

Mischa, it is not safe this close to the wildland. Please return to the path.”

“There’s nothing out there.”

Mischa, the wildland holds many unseen dangers. Please return to the path and we can discuss them.”

She started looking for gaps in the wire.

You Really Have To Want It

Week88Photo

He staggered across the rocks and broken shells towards a figure waiting on the beach, trailing blood in the water from his cut-up feet; he dropped to his knees as soon as it was safe.

“Welcome.”

He managed: “Yeah, gimme a minute.”

“Take all the time you need.” The man was dressed in an expensive suit, not a speck of sand on him, not a drip of sweat. “Was it necessary to blow up the boat?”

“No witnesses.”

“I admire your dedication to operational security.”

He sat down on the sand, nodded. “Thanks.”

“So let’s talk about your immortal soul.”

Fortification

We breached with a front-loader. It was just a fence, really. Reinforced, for sure, but ain’t no way it was gonna stop a front-loader going full tilt. They gave up without us even having to shoot nobody. We explained that there was a masonry supply place about a hundred yards away. Bricks as far as the eye could see. Hundreds of thousands of ‘em. Shit, maybe a million. We pointed to it. You could see it through the hole in the fence.

We made a deal to combine our groups, moved our shit in, repaired the fence. Then together we built the wall just inside the fence. Sometimes the horde gets through the fence, just by the weight of sheer numbers, and gets stuck between the fence and the wall, and we climb up on top the wall and jab ‘em through the top of the head with sharpened poles. Spears. You know.

Since then we only ever lost the one guy, Jerome. He fell between the wall and the fence, and there was a couple zombies still down in there from last time, and one of ‘em got him. Real shame. But, you gotta watch your step up there.

Dark Horse

Carrie watched, spellbound, as a verdant Earth spun in place outside. Big Wheel. They call this thing the ‘Big Wheel’. The party was being held in the hub, in an as-yet unused storage compartment just off the hangar. “Beautiful view.”

“Almost makes up for the ‘champagne’.”

Sparkling cider in a pouch, all they would send up. Cap had to call in favors just to get that. “Having a nice time? At the party, I mean.”

“I’m trying to figure out who I should kiss.”

“Oh?”

Marjorie drifted in closer, until she was sharing a handhold, so as to speak sotto voce. “Well, Kalinsky is married, and he’s already on a Facetime, so I think he’s gonna kiss his tablet. Wilbur, well…” She took a sip from the straw.

“Not Wilbur.”

“No. So that leaves either Bobby or Arjun.”

Sure. “How are you going to decide?”

“I’m strongly considering asking them to arm-wrestle over me.” A grin and a wink “Dunno. Probably decide in the moment.”

“That I’d like to see.”

Marjorie took another sip, gazed out the cupola window. “Think there’ll be fireworks?”

Cap wasn’t owed nearly enough favors for fireworks. She leaned in, whispered, “Only if you kiss me.”

SF Drabble #491: “This Year’s Best”

At number two we have a book that has been left entirely off many best-of list for 2047, for reasons some might consider understandable: Pasture, by Akhgikwho’on. As the author is not an American, and in fact is not human at all, one might be forgiven for assuming they could not possibly have penned ‘the great American novel’.

But Pasture is such a tour de force of simple, human moments that it can’t be ignored. It may very well have been Akhgikwho’on’s twenty years of observing human nature from without, that allowed them to so perfectly encapsulate it within Pasture.

Personal Effects

“So what is it?”

Chowdhury looked down at them from the scaffolding, still elbow-deep in the creature’s side, before turning back to his task. “Alien.”

Rapture rolled her eyes. “We knew that, Doc. Be specific.”

“That’s as specific as we can be right now,” Mandy said, walking carefully down the steps, data pad under her arm. “This thing is an enigma. There’s no brain. There’s what looks like neural tissue throughout—”

“Not necessarily. Maybe,” Chowdhury shouted down.

“—the body. But it doesn’t seem to be a nervous system as such. There isn’t a complex enough network of tissue to be capable of controlling the creature.”

“So something else is controlling it?”

“Well… we can’t find any means of controlling it. Nothing biological, no tech. It’s just too simple; it’s meat wrapped in armor. It shouldn’t really be able to walk at all, if I understand biology.”

It’s meat wrapped in armor. It’s the muscle. “What if someone is controlling this thing with their powers?”

“How? There’s—”

“How do you do your thing? How does Glowworm?” There’s still so much about all of this even we don’t understand. “What if someone’s superpower is controlling these things?”

Dreamland One’s voice came over the speakers. “More creatures are coming.”

“When?” I looked at my watch; Rapture was already headed towards the door. “And where?”

“Now, and here. Tundra has engaged one just outside the East wall. Two more are approaching from the Southwest. Please deploy immediately.”


Tundra is A team leader, now that Raijin’s gone. He’s the most powerful of the first-line capes, but his powers are simple: he had the pillbug encased in ice while I was still crossing the lawn to join him. The thing was still alive, inside the already-cracking frozen shell. Tundra’s hands were outstretched and were emanating a strengthening blue-white shimmer: he was building up for another. “Keep the other ones away from the building!”

I changed directions, let my speed carry me up and over the South wall, then stopped on the downslope to look around: two pillbugs coming out of the water to my right. Dreamland’s voice was in my earpiece: “Two more have just appeared in the parking lot to the North. Chasm and Glowworm.” 

“Uh, I need some help with these two…” Who else was here? The Knack, if he was sober. Someone would be handing him a black coffee right now, just to be sure, but it’d be a few minutes — at least — until he was on the board. Merry Punkster had been in Vegas with me looking for Critical Hit, and had stayed behind to continue the search. Where was Massive?

As if on cue, he dropped heavily onto the soft earth beside me. “Sorry. Had to climb over.” He ran past me at the closest creature.

The water around the other two pillbugs jumped as hundreds of thousands of bits of gravel shot up out of the riverbed and flew off out of sight behind me. And Rapture. “Okay.”

It’s hard to run in water. I could dash in, deliver a blow, dash out, but I couldn’t get around behind them, and I couldn’t get in any serious damage until the things made dry land. Massive wasn’t having this problem, but he was also getting knocked around something awful himself. I was beside him for long enough to say, “You alright?” while he was regaining his feet, the pillbug bearing down on him.

“…Yeah.” He twisted into an uppercut. The head snapped back as before, in LA, but this time the creature kept its maw shut. Rapture’s gravel-swarm spear abraded the leathery skin of its face but did no significant damage. “Learned your lesson, didja?” Massive punched it again, but took two steps back.

None of them are opening their mouths. No roaring, no bite attacks. Adapting their tactics,” Dreamland One observed. “Adapt ours. The underside is significantly more vulnerable than the carapace.”

Massive was running, away from the creature, towards the wall. Above him, The Knack was finally in position, had traded in his state-of-the-art rifle for something that looked like a bazooka and a bandolier full of shells. The two were gesturing to each other. I kept up my harrying tactics until I could think of something.

Rapture was trying something else: compressing balls of debris until they were white-hot nodes of screeching death, and shooting those at the pillbugs. They were marking up the armor, but not piercing it. She touched her ear, listened, and then looked at Massive.

Massive is nearly seven feet tall, he’s solid muscle. He’s also, super-power wise, dense enough to turn bullets and I don’t want to think about how heavy that means he is. He started to rise off the ground on a small, undulating carpet of tiny stones, struggling to keep his balance as he picked up speed. Rapture called out: “Aspen!”. He dropped into a ski-jump position.

Rapture flung Massive over the left-hand pillbug, close enough that he could reach down and grab the forward edge of the thing’s shell with both powerful hands as he passed. The flailing pillbug was pulled up and back, flipping it over in the water. As soon as Massive was clear, The Knack’s RPG round struck the creature’s belly, leaving a great gaping wound. Two more rounds followed, reducing its gut to a gaping ruin.

Okay. I needed room to pick up speed. I took off around the perimeter. Chasm’s golems surrounding two of them, grasping and pulling and clawing at one as Glowworm’s beams speared the other in the eye. Further, a pillbug fully off the ground, speared on ice spikes that had erupted beneath it, Tundra in mid-turn to head towards our side. I didn’t stop for any of it. By the time I passed Massive in mid-charge towards the second of our pillbugs I was leaving a wake of burning grass. I leapt at its face.

Massive told me later it was one of the loudest sounds he’d ever heard. A streak went by him, he felt a wave of heat, and then got knocked backwards by a shock wave. I landed next to him, unconscious, and the pillbug flipped end-over-end and landed back on its feet in the shallow water with a partially-caved in face. I’d hit it too hard.

But it was enough to cause it pain, and it screamed, involuntarily, control broken or simply overpowered; The Knack put an RPG straight down its gullet, finishing it like Rapture and Glowworm had finished the one in LA.


I woke up on a gurney, with Chowdhury standing over me. “See? I told you he was fine. I’m going back to the specimens.”

I was, in fact, sore all over. Mandy’s hand stroked my hair. “Nice job, babe.”

“Everybody ok?”

“Chasm turned his ankle jumping down off the wall.” She grinned. “Just clumsy. All the creatures are dead. And we got video of three of them appearing.”

“How do they—”

“It looks exactly like Raijin’s teleport effect. I mean exactly.” She paused for a moment, clearly disturbed. “D1 is analyzing the footage. He—”

“I’m up. I’m getting up.” It hurt, but I had to. “Help me up.”

“Honey—”

“Help me.”

We’ve been together a long time. Mandy knows better than to argue with me when I’ve made up my mind. Except where it comes to Junior, and where it comes to Junior, I know better than to argue with her at all. “All right.”


Rapture, Tundra, Massive, The Knack, and Glowworm were all in Dreamland One’s audience chamber, watching the enormous video screens. Stern — Glowworm, his powers now dormant — froze the playback on a particular frame. “There, see that?”

“Don’t mean nothing.” The Knack scoffed. “Just what it looks like to teleport, that’s all. The fuck are you implying?”

“Remember the Red Lich? It could teleport. Didn’t look anything like that.” Tundra shook his head. “I’m not saying it’s the boss’s fault, but maybe the power source is the same.”

“Sonny, we have to understand what’s going on.” Stern’s voice was soothing, a skill he’d picked up in his years of medical practice. “He’s not—”

“Whatever. You call me when you figure it out.” The Knack glowered at them, stalked past me and out the door.

Tundra nodded to me. “They let you out of medical already?”

“I wanted to see.”

“Well, there it is. Play it again, Stern.” A shot of a normal parking lot, could have been a still picture except for traffic in the upper right. Then a flash of swirling red and orange laced with streaks of lightning, empty cars being tossed out of the way, and two enormous ‘pillbugs’, one, two. They began crawling out of frame. “There’s three more angles, but this is the only one in color.”

I’d seen Raijin teleport in once or twice, live and in person. The movies never got it right. Plus they always had some idiot play him who could never do the accent. The accent is key. “Yeah.”

“And then there’s the fact that each successive attack was closer to headquarters. Like they were triangulating in on us.”

“Everybody on Earth knows where Dreamland Headquarters is now, it’s been—”

“Everybody on Earth. Everybody human.

“Why home in on us? Why are we a target?”

Dreamland One’s voice spoke over the PA. “They’re not homing in on Dreamland Headquarters, but rather something it contains.” A small rectangular section of floor began to slide down, and then another, and another, until there was a set of stairs leading down beneath D1’s chamber.

We looked at each other. The Dreamland vault. McLeary’s been down here, twice or three times; Mandy, maybe once. None of us ever had.

Tundra went first. At the bottom of the steps was a long hallway lined with steel blast doors, like the one leading into D1’s sanctum; one was open. Through the door was a room containing only a glass case, and inside that: Raijin’s Eye Staff. It was glowing red, and vibrating like a cellphone receiving a call. “How long has it been doing that?”

“Unknown. There are no cameras or other sensors in the vault. I picked up the vibrations while re-calibrating one of the surface seismometers. You may thank Fleet’s shock wave for that necessity.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize; it worked.” Glowworm reassured, out of habit; this time his voice betrayed his worry.

“The staff is overloading. It cannot remain here. If there was time to get it off-planet, that would have been optimal, but my analysis indicates only hours remain. It must be taken to as remote a location as can be managed.”

“And then what?” Rapture shook her head. “How do we stop it from overloading?”

“We do not. We allow it to overload, and observe the results.”