- February 10th, 2009
It feels as if I haven’t existed until this moment. I can’t remember anything I have ever done – everything is blank apart from this moment. All I know for certain is that my name is Danny, a name that sounds so childish right now. My veins are filled with adrenaline and I can’t stop looking behind me, I feel like someone is chasing me; like someone will grab me the second I’ll stop looking, the feeling of a nightmare.
I’m in a car with people I hardly know. I still have to think of their names when I talk to them.
I’m in the trunk, the windshield is broken. It feels like sitting at the open door of an airplane, the feeling you can get sucked out at any moment - you franticly cling on to everything around you, afraid to lose something.
I don’t want to sit in the trunk - I have to. We thought we were far enough, but the neighbours recognized us. We didn’t realise they were on to us - we were almost too late. I had to jump to make it, they were already there. That’s why the windshield is broken.
Wait, they caught up with us…
“Danny! Snap out of it! Grab that pulse gun! Remember, thirty-five foot range, don’t waste any rounds!”
That’s Tinoe, she acts like a leader, but we all know we don’t have one.
I try to find the gun, but it’s hard to find anything, so many things flying around the trunk – too many corners. A pulse gun… Two years ago, there wasn’t anything like it. Two years ago everything started to change. Strange technology came out of nowhere. I think this might be the reason why we are running away.
“Danny!! Look out, here he comes!”
The nightmare returns, I can feel my heart pounding. Suddenly it appears around the corner, a strange motorcycle; we didn’t hear it coming but we knew it was going to be there. Strange technology that makes motorcycles silent - and bullet-proof. I don’t know why I even call it a cycle, it’s a long rectangular beam, curved at the edges; white and black, shimmering in the sun’s heat. I don’t even know if it has wheels at all…
It’s close, I’m frozen – it’s staring at me, without eyes. My vision is reduced to this one object.
A small distorted ball, too bright to look at, hovers from the car’s broken rear window towards the perfectly silent cycle. I fall on my back, my ears ringing from the discharge blast.
The ball splashes against the windshield, like a water balloon; the sound, a loud electric pop. The cycle, ever silent, drops to its side and stops moving. No crash, no drastic manoeuvres just simple inertia.
The machine’s side opens up. From the black inside smoke bulges and something seemed to fall out. I can’t make out anything more, our car already passed another corner.
“Great shot Dan!”
That’s Matt I believe, the guy at the wheel. He used to be a rally driver, at least that’s what he tells us. We haven’t crashed yet though…
“Yeah, one shot one kill man.”
That last one should be Michael, he knows a lot about the new technology – well, more than us anyway. He has lost both his legs in an accident, that’s all I know. He had them replaced with two bionic ones. That’s maybe one good thing about all these sudden advancements.
“Ok, slow the car down Matt, I think we lost ‘em. We’d do better without that giant dust cloud following us.” Says Tinoe
The world has changed a lot these last two years. This city is now abandoned, not a single window that isn’t broken. Everything is grey and brown, covered in a thick layer of dust and sand. I remember there being a large open space not too far from here, that’s where the rest of the world tried to stop them. But they only killed the people who lived here.
The car is slowing down. Tinoe saw a small dust storm a few minutes ago; if we can drive towards it a satellite won’t see us.
We’ve stopped at an open space, surrounded by houses, we can’t see much because we’ve entered the sandstorm, it might be the village square.
Tinoe is getting out of the car, we’re all following her example.
“Matt, Mike, check these houses for anything we can use, check the garages first, maybe we can find something less suspicious than a bullet-ridden SUV. Danny, clean out the mess in the trunk so we can make sense of our little armoury back there. I’ll check down the road - see where it leads.”
I do what she tells me, I climb back into the trunk, but also like in a nightmare, I seem to forget what I was supposed to know about these things. The trunk is a junkyard filled with hunks of metal that all look alien to me, some look like chromic organs with light blue display screens on their side, others are obsidian blocks of steel, almost like a monolith but with a barrel and trigger.
The only thing I recognise is a simple dirty plastic red box, but it too is filled with things I don’t know.
A loud noise makes my heart skip a beat, I look around to find out what it is, but to me nothing exists outside of the trunk, the dust shields me from the rest of the world.
“Turn it off you idiot!! It’s far too loud!!” that’s Michael, I’m happy that he knows where the noise is coming from.
The sound fades away, I’m getting out of the trunk to see what it was.
Matt found an old car in one of the garages, but as it turned out, the engine is too loud to be of any use to us. The SUV isn’t exactly silent either, but it was quiet enough to go unnoticed.
“We can’t use a friggin’ lawnmower like that Matt, -“
I hear some murmur in the distance, probably Matt’s reply to Michael, but I can’t make out what is being said, there’s too much wind.
“-, Well I’m sorry that you hurt your head while hotwiring it, but we simply can’t risk to start that damn thing again!-“
The dust is starting to get thinner and the wind is becoming stronger.
“-No! Leave it outside, don’t have to break your back pushing it back in - just get back here.”
It took a while for me to realise that the dust has suddenly vanished. Michael is standing about twenty feet away from me and Matt is a whole lot further, standing beside a primitive form of estate car.
Maybe it’d been happening gradually for a few minutes, or maybe one gust of air swept it all away at once, I couldn’t tell; but now our cover is gone.
An unnatural silence suddenly covers the square, we feel naked in the sudden heat of the blistering sun. We know we don’t have time; we have to find cover, yet we stand here paralysed by fright.
The pounding of my heart returns, and so does the adrenaline. I know I have to look up, because I feel something peering down on me.
I can feel a kind of primordial fear crawl through my body as I look upward, every cell in my body is crying, I don’t want this, please … Just go away and leave us.
Michael finds his lungs before I do,
“A scanner, a fucking scanner!!!” his voice breaks in terror “Run for it !!”
The clouds pass through the sky at a calm pace, but it does not move at all. A small black dot shaped like a blunt zeppelin, a little spec that doesn’t reflect the light.
I don’t know how big it is, or how far away it might be, but I know it has already seen us, although I don’t know how. It’s not going to kill us, that’s not why it’s here, its purpose is to follow us and to make sure the others succeed – one purpose for all so there can be no confusion and chaos – but that doesn’t mean that it can’t make its job a little easier.
A small blue sphere falls from the sky, I want to move away, but I don’t know whereto. It lands only a few feet away from me with a hollow plastic thud – only inches away from the SUV.
A high pitched electronic screech grows louder and louder.
It’s not a bomb because I’m still alive, only a small electric discharge and a puff of smoke came from it, not a bomb, yet Michael fell down and he isn’t moving anymore.
“EMP!! They dropped an EMP on us!!”
Matt is running back to the old car, the SUV won’t start anymore, all the weapons in the trunk are useless too. Michael is still not moving, his head is bleeding; his legs have electronics in them too, they stopped working. He must have hit his head on something when falling down.
I can’t move him, the legs are too heavy, I have to leave him but he’s not dead – yet.
I hear a strange voice, I know it from somewhere but I have never heard it like this,
“Get to the car!!! They are right behind m-“
It’s Tinoe’s voice, it was hoarse with fear. She can’t finish the sentence; she has already disappeared into a flash of light and fire.
Matt is starting the car, I’m running as fast as I can, my throat is blocked, I can’t breathe.
Michael woke up, he’s screaming, I can’t help him anymore.
I can feel them looking at me, I can feel them gaining on me. The trunk …
Matt had left it open, I can jump in.
I’m screaming at him, why doesn’t he start driving, move!!
He can’t hear me, his head is bleeding …
Bright … Warm…
A mans voice - the room is too bright to make out where it is coming from – he’s talking to someone; someone who can’t be heard. A phone.
“With all due respect sir, I don’t care if it will ‘bring history alive’. It’s been five weeks and we are still treating for posttraumatic stress disorder. It’s identical to the results of the World War two simulation.”
“No sir, it was wrong to think that twenty-third century ‘TAC encounters’ would be any different. I suggest we terminate the project before we have another ward filled with brain damaged teens.”
Footsteps, this is a hospital – it’s the sound of a marble floor.
“Sir, with all due respect I don’t think you understand. It’s exactly those neural implants causing the virtual reality simulation to be so realistic that are the problem. We just don’t have enough grasp of the technology yet. These things are years ahead of anything we have ever thought of.”
There is a mask on my face – I’m still breathing somehow…
“Military? You’re kidding me? Do you have any idea what this would do with trained marines!?”
I can’t feel my legs … I can’t feel anything…
“No you listen to me! Four teens didn’t make it out of your ‘re-enactment’, John. Their brains were fried – you should have seen the MRI!
He’s right next to me …
“No harm done!?”
I can’t open my eyes…
“When I say they didn’t make it out – I mean it – they thought they were still in it! Don’t you watch the news?”
I can hear a machine …
“They ‘re-enacted’ in real life, John. They stole weapons… Ended up shooting a cop for Christ’s sake!” There was a slight stutter in the man’s voice, like he was about to cry. “I had to kill three children John! I can’t even imagine what they must have gone through!!”
“They had enough weapons to level half the city – I had no choice!”
A second voice, whispering – a woman. I can’t understand what she is saying.
“Make that four. The last one isn’t going to make it. Goodbye John.” A soft beep as the conversation is terminated.
“Pull the plug, no use in keeping him alive like this.”
© JPL ‘Antheh’ Martens 2006 – 2008