Outside the motel, the cold hadn't been so bad in fifty years. I missed the sun, the warm rays shining down on our faces, the comfortable breeze, and the sounds of streams; especially the streams. All of that's gone now.
Chrono, my baby boy, slept on the bed. A unique name for a child, I know, but I named him after time because that's all we had left; time.
Outside the window, a thin layer of snow covered the parking lot. Cars remained parked in every spot but one; left alone for years. Down below in the cities, the monsters ruled. They roughly number what the human population had been at during the time of the viral outbreak.
Like a flash, they came.
We'd just turned the calendars at the start of 2021, and I lived in Los Angeles, California, the ‘City of Angels'. My boyfriend, Zach and I were at Magic Hills, the favorite amusement park, on our fourth date. We were madly in love.
If I'd known I had a baby growing in my belly, I wouldn't have gone on any of the insane roller coasters. How I hated those things, but he didn't, he loved them.
On the way up the hill of a tall orange coaster, there were screams. At first, we took them just for people having fun. Looking over the side, the people looked like ants. So many ran around. It seemed like a mental game of tag. Maybe even a flash mob. Little did we know the plague spread with each passing second. Patient Zero as they called him happened to be at the park that day, you know, one of the terminally ill, Make A Wish kids. If his wish had been to come back from the dead, he got it.
At a place so populated you can only imagine what happened next. Zach got us to the motel. As a gamer, he claimed to be an expert at ‘killing zombies.' He even bought himself a black fedora with a red feather and called it his ‘Zombie Killing Hat.' When I saw his photo online with it, it drew me to him.
What a dork.
But now he's gone, forever. He left three weeks ago for supplies and went down to the city in an armored jeep we found, hence the one empty parking spot. Like a fool, I allowed him to go alone. Never go alone. Our one rule. But having Chrono made things more difficult. I couldn't take my baby into an undead-infested city. Zombies of all shapes and sizes were down there, humans, cats, dogs. A deer even came to our door once. Thankfully Zach killed it before it could get us.
"Bambi's mom came back to life for revenge," he joked, the first laugh we had in a long time. But I haven't laughed since then, and I don't think I will ever again feel the urge to do so.
The clock on the wall read 7 pm. We were out of food, baby formula, diapers and essentially everything. We had to move on. I got dressed, pulling on my tight fitting pants, and a similar shirt. Anything baggy would just give the monsters something else to grab, and then make me into a meal. I grabbed my shotgun and slung it over my shoulder, also storing a Colt revolver into my hip holster.
Chrono woke up and started crying. At that moment, I froze. He'd only ever cried on three occasions. When being born into chaos, when the horde found us at the last outpost in Nevada, and when Bambi's mom came around.
"Shit," I whispered.
I blew out the lantern, bringing darkness upon us. I didn't pull the curtains closed. If they saw me, we were screwed. Scooping Chrono up into my arms, I wrapped him in a thick blanket and hesitated. The door to escape? Or the door to the bathroom to hide? The undead monstrosity made my decision for me. A shambling figure walked past the entrance. Large and hairy, I guessed it to be a bear, but I couldn't be sure. If only one roamed outside we were fine, but if there were more we wouldn't stand a chance.
I kneeled down and waited. Holding my breath, I counted to ten. Nothing moved. We were safe for the moment, but surely it had caught our scent. We'd easily trapped. The time to leave had come.
Creeping to the door, I turned the knob and pulled it open. The door, which Zach oiled before he left, didn't squeak. I tip-toed to the nearest vehicle, a beat-up old Ford pickup truck. The door remained unlocked, so I climbed in and set Chrono on the seat, buckling him in the best I could.
Car seats were luxuries we no longer had.
I popped open the front panel and started punching in numbers. Zach worked for the motor vehicle industry and ended up an expert at hacking, so he proved more than once he could hijack any car since and passed the trade along to me. The car engine roared, and the lights came to life.
A monstrous grizzly bear stood several yards ahead of us. Its eyes glowed green, and from the missing patches of fur and visible ribs, I could tell it to be an undead. I slammed the gas and swerved around the bear, who came barreling after us. Before long we left it far behind.
We were on the road once again, looking for a safe place to live; no, to survive.
THE BALTIC SEA DISCOVERY
The Baltic Sea…we are have finally arrived. It’s been so long since we first set out. We on S.S. Eagleton are setting up the X22 Diving Pod now. I watch out the window as they carefully hook all the whose-its and what’s-its. I don’t know how it is made; they just hired me to examine what they found on the bottom of the sea months ago.
“Oliver?” Asks the voice of Captain Remy.
I turn to him and nod; his windswept hair looks like a dead seagull on his head. The crazy man then hurries over to the pod barking orders ending with, “Alright, good job everyone. Let’s get everyone on board!”
I, along with Jeremy Hughes and Crystal Deen line up to climb into the three-person pod. Crystal looks back at me just before climbing into the small opening and with her thick Russian accent says, “Hope you’re not claustrophobic, Oli.”
I detest the nickname she has given me and even more so her flirtatiousness. I have no time for such nonsense, I just want to know what that disc-shaped object is. I finally climb in and the pod is shut tight behind me, with a cranking sound I know we are locked in waterproof and secure.
Moments later we are lowered into the choppy water and with a hollow plunk we begin to sink. I watch out one of the several windows as we lower not sure what to expect. A giant squid perhaps? Or a great white shark? I’m not a marine scientist...
“So you’re the leading expert on alien technology this side of the globe, eh, Oliver?”
Jeremy asks as he fiddles with different controls and levers.
“Yes, I am.” I reply.
“So that means you know what planet these things are from?” He asks.
“I don’t assume it’s alien technology until I see it. Unlike my peers back at the academy I must see to believe.” I tell him plainly.
“So, Oli,” Crystal says, “How does that make you an expert? No one has ever seen an alien craft, let alone an alien being.”
“So one would believe, Ms. Deen.” I reply dryly.
We continue down and on the outside it is dark. An inky blackness I never thought I would be seeing first hand. I silently curse myself for coming on this trip, but if the gold at the end of the rainbow really is from a leprechaun, then it will all be worth it.
The pod shakes violently. I am thrown from my seat and land across Deen’s lap. She looks down at me with puffy lips, “I didn’t know you were that kind of man, Oli.”
Quickly, I pull myself back to my seat, “What was that?”
“I don’t know, but the radar is going haywire.” Jeremy tells us.
“What do you mean, we haven’t even got to the bottom yet!” Deen says in surprise.
“It’s like we hit something solid for a moment and broke through. The problem is I don’t see anything, but the radar shows we’re surrounded by small objects.”
I peer out the windows and examine the dark waters. Yes. There is most certainly something out there. The small cylindrical objects seem to phase in and out of existence, much like electrons in an atom. Could we be in some kind of alien force field?
“We have to go outside.” I announce.
“What? You aee madder than I thought!” Deen says to me.
“I t-think he’s right, Crystal. There’s something outside and it doesn’t look like we are in water anymore.” Jeremy agrees with me.
“How can there not be water? We are more than one hundred feet below the surface of a sea, yes a sea!” Crystal says.
I ignore her and climb to the porthole and begin turning the crank to open the door.
“Stop!” She shouts, “You’ll kill us all!”
I roll my eyes and pull the latch. The door swings open with a loud creak. No water rushes in just as I predicted. Turning back to her I shake my head, “The water pressure would keep me from opening the door if we were in water, wouldn’t it?”
She has a dumbfounded look on her face. I lean out and see we are only about fifteen feet from the sea floor, which is perfectly dry as if water has not touched it in many years. Jeremy ties a rope to the railing inside and together we climb down to investigate.
Above us Crystal calls out, “I will not be climbing out there. I don’t know what magic is doing this—“
“Not magic,” I yell to her, “Science!”
That shuts her up. We touch down on the sandy floor and we stand right beside a large silver object. At first glance I’d have to say more than fifty feet in width and length. There are windows along the side, but apparently no entrance.
“This is remarkable.” Jeremy exclaims, “I can not believe we are staring at an actual UFO.”
“Not too surprising,” I say calmly, “There’s something here.”
I poke a spot on the side of the craft and a doorway opens up. We glance at each other and climb inside. As soon as our feet touch the metallic floor lights shine on and we find many pods filled with green liquid surrounding a control panel. Carefully I walk up to one and wipe away a thin layer of frost.
My eyes grow wide and a smile crosses my face, this is it. They’re here. I wave Jeremy over and we stare into the pod. Inside is tall bluish humanoid with tentacles for arms. Its face is perfectly round and is mostly made up of two large black eyes.
“Do you realize what this means?” Jeremy asks me.
“I can finally go home.” I reply.
A look of confusion crosses his face and as the ship begins to tremble he runs out the door. It closes and I smile. I’m coming home.
SAPPHIRE AND RUBY
When we got closer, we saw that a man was on fire
--and the power-gem was in our hands, needing to be delivered to Dr. Leon. The man was several dozen feet away, but he was coming toward us, and by all means, he wasn’t screaming in pain.
“Do you think--?” Arianna started to ask.
I cut her off, “No. He isn’t a normal guy. He’s a Ruby.”
“A Ruby--,” Arianna breathed. “How do we get past a super powered freak!?”
“I don’t know,” I whispered back, gripping the power-gem in my hands.
By the looks of our fiery nemesis he had full control over the Ruby viral strain. The fire was engulfing him, and his shadowy silhouette could be seen inside. The guy didn’t feel the pain of the burn, no, he was controlling it.
The Ruby continued on his path, his devilish eyes focused on us, I knew.
“What do we do!?” Arianna asked again, frantic this time.
I looked at our surroundings. We were standing by the bleachers on a football field. We didn’t have a place to hide. But we needed to move.
“Marquese!?” Arianna cried out again, as the fire man lifted his hand, forming a ball of burning death.
My eyes shot back and forth. Behind the bleachers was our only chance.
“Run,” I said.
With all the speed I had ever mustered in my life, I took off toward the far side bleachers.
They would grant us at least a small amount of cover from the blaze. I pulled Arianna behind me, dragging her. It was strange that nothing at all was going through my head at that instance. Perhaps it was survival instincts.
But we never made it to the bleachers. The Ruby hurled the ball of fire at them, and for a moment they glowed, hot and red, just for a moment, because next they exploded in a huge burst of shrapnel. Reacting, I threw Arianna down into the grass and dove on top of her, the power-gem between us. She cried out, and I covered her head. She was my everything--my little sister--if I didn’t protect her at all costs what kind of big brother would I have been?
I didn’t feel anything except heat. My clothes were engulfed, and I knew they were burning, but it didn’t hurt. As soon as the last pieces of metal hit the ground I rolled off of her trying to put out the flames.
“Marquese,” my sister cried. “You’re hurt!”
The flames were extinguished, but my skin wasn’t burnt. Half of my shirt and part of my pants had burned away, but the flames hadn’t injured me. The shrapnel had. I hadn’t felt it until she started putting pressure on the gaping gash in my arm. Blood was everywhere, but that didn’t concern me. The Ruby was getting closer and we needed to flee. If the power-gem didn’t make it to the doctor, the world would be at stake--especially if the fire-freak got his hands on it.
“R-run!” I said, biting through the pain.
“No! I can’t leave you!” Arianna cried.
The Ruby was no more than thirty feet away, still advancing at a slow, but determined pace.
“Don’t you understand?” I said. “We will all die if you don’t get the gem to Leon!”
“It’s worth it to protect you!” she said, tears falling from her eyes, my blood staining her hands.
“Idiot!” I yelled. “One life isn’t worth billions!”
She looked hurt. I had never yelled at her in my life, let alone called her an idiot. I watched as Arianna stood up and backed away, power-gem in hand. Good, she was going to run. I tried to get to my feet, to block the fire-dealer but they were useless, more shrapnel was embedded in my knee cap.
Rolling onto my back, I watched him come closer. He was only several feet away and the heat of the flames charred the grass and left lava filled footprints.
“I have no choice then,” Arianna said.
I looked back to her, confused. What did she mean? Then she did it. She took the power-gem and held her arms out before her. I didn’t have time to stop her, to even try, because she thrust her arms toward her chest and pierced her heart with the gem. Time slowed down as I watched her fall to her knees. Dr. Leon had said the gems weren’t meant to be used on human beings, it was too dangerous! Not only would they kill the host, but they would steal their very soul.
The inferno was beside me now, and I tilted my head to look death in the eye. Indeed, it was a terrifying sight. The eyes of the Ruby were inhuman. He was once a man, but after being infected by the virus, his cells had evolved. They gave him power. Who had he once been? A strange thing to have wondered--when I was moments from sure death. His foot landed on my chest and he pressed down. Why the flames didn’t burn me, I didn’t know, but the crushing force of his strength--it cracked my ribs. I opened my mouth and only blood came out.
But the Ruby stepped back suddenly. He looked to where Arianna had fallen, dead. I, too looked. To our shock, she wasn’t dead. In fact she was on her feet. The blue power-gem was embedded in her chest, and part of her own shirt had torn away, revealing icy-looking veins. She held her hands forward, her eyes glowing a bright white. Then ice exploded from her palms crashing into the Ruby. He didn’t have a chance--he just exploded into burning pieces in a cloud of steam.
Arianna reached down for me, and pulled me to my feet. I leaned on her shoulder, which was freezing cold. Her skin was turning blue. She had turned herself into a Sapphire.
“Let’s get to Dr. Leon,” she whispered into my ear.