Avalanche – Snippet 08
“It felt like I fell into the connection. I felt helpless…and something in me propelled along the connection. It all happened so fast, I don’t know if I’m even rememberin’ it right. It was like ridin’ alongside in his head, while it was all goin’ on. We were there for the end.” Now it was John’s turn to go silent. He remembered every single moment with stinging, painful clarity. Part of him wanted to wash it from his memory…but the larger part of him never wanted to forget his friend’s bravery and sacrifice. The pain! They had lost plenty of people, and several had affected John greatly, but this…he had felt it! How could the good, especially those as good as Molotok, die, and still for it to be a just world?
Because if the Infinite made it a just world, it would be a world in which we had no Free Will. Would you choose that? He glanced sharply at Sera, and saw her gazing at him solemnly. I have told you, shown you that. Now you feel what it means.
Doesn’t mean I have to like it, much. And he didn’t, at all. There were implications there, about the limits of the Infinite, and what it meant to have Free Will. He didn’t want to ponder it all right now. Vickie was looking at the two of them expectantly, swirling her coffee in her mug.
“You’re using your really Inside Voices again,” she said. “Care to share with the class?”
“Nothin’ germane to the discussion, Vic,” John said, quickly. He wasn’t sure he had sorted things out for himself, much less for anyone else. He and Sera could talk later, try to figure out some more of it. Make the world make sense…or some semblance of it. But before he could add anything, the television screen began flashing with the old, Original Star Trek “Red Alert” sequence, including the siren.
All three of them rushed to Vickie’s workroom. The world-wide battle-map was alive with pulsing red spots. Reports and some video was coming in from the Colts and the overseas Overwatch 1 networks. The video was–apocalyptic.
“Holy shit. It’s everywhere.” John looked down at Vickie; she had nearly thrown herself into her chair, fingers already moving at a blur against her backlit keyboard. “Is it another Invasion?”
There was one monitor on the side that was scrolling up numbers just slow enough to read. “Yes. Smaller. Attacks are more precise,” Vickie said, biting off her words. “Too many to be answered by conventional security forces. We’re scrambling everything, but at least we’re coordinated this time.” She paused for a moment, listening to someone on the other end of her comms. “Most of the attacks are just outside the engagement range of a lot of our stuff; it looks like they’re intentionally going after targets that are further out–damn, they’re moving fast.” The video feeds from hotspots appeared to be pulled from conventional news sources. Vickie confirmed that with a muttered “Why in hell do TV cameramen think their camera is a shield?”
“How in the hell did they get in place without us knowing about it? That’s what I want to know. This is…huge.” To get that many Thulians into place would have taken a massive mobilization; there’s no way that it could have gone unnoticed until Death Spheres and trooper armor were on every nation’s doorsteps. In the first Invasion, it had been a sneak attack; pure terror. The second Invasion had been to cut the heart out of the resistance to the Kriegers; there had been warning for that, and everyone had responded and defended themselves. It had largely been a rout, with the Kriegers withdrawing before they were completely wiped out. There had been zero warning for this attack. They weren’t going after ECHO, CCCP, D.C., or Moscow; no major population centers at all, from what John could gather on the monitors. The Thulians were doing something drastically different, and he didn’t like it one single bit.
“In the first Invasion…I saw a delivery truck unfold and dump out about twenty times the volume of Kriegers it could actually hold. I’d say, that, plus a new delivery system.” It looked like some of the ECHO Fast Response Teams were getting on-site in at least some places. “What the delivery system actually is, the gods only know.”
To hell with standing here with our thumbs up our asses. John only had to look at Sera, and she already knew what he was thinking. “Vic, we’re goin’ to try an’ see some more, if we can. This might get a little weird.”
“Just don’t short out my shit,” she said, and turned all of her attention to what she actually could do.
“Let’s move back out into the livin’ room, darlin’. Vic’s in the zone right now, an’ we don’t need to mess with her equipment.”
Sera nodded, and the two of them moved back onto Vickie’s much-abused couch. Sera looked down at it once she was seated. “Given what happened the last time, I am tempted to say we should sit on the floor,” she said dryly.
“Not a bad idea.” They both took up position, sitting cross-legged across from each other. John put his hands out, palms up; Sera placed her hands into his, and they both closed their eyes. John took a careful breath, slowly letting it out. Just like that, they were seeing possibilities and potentials. This is getting easier. They stretched the sense out as far as they could; it looked much the same as before, with rivers of blurred light, small and dark eddies marking tragedy, and finally he and Sera, at the center of it all. But…they couldn’t push it any further. They couldn’t get the distance to push out, or go beyond the immediate future. He could feel himself straining; Sera was doing the same, but they had come up against a sort of…plateau.
We’ve got to try somethin’ different, darlin’.
Close in the focus; bring it in and onto ourselves?
John relaxed, letting Sera guide him through the futures. At first, they were still seeing all of Atlanta, an island of blue and gold light. Then it was as if they were falling; slowly at first, then much faster. The “view” collapsed back with a halt until it was just the two of them that he could see. Things quickly began to change; both of them became much hazier, in his vision and then–
–he was watching through Sera’s eyes–not Now Sera’s, but a Future Sera’s–as he found himself–both of them–stumbling through what looked like the aftermath of a nuclear strike. People stumbling blindly past them, moaning, their faces half-melted–
–a prison-camp. Like Auschwitz, or Bergen-Belsen, but these people were all wearing modern clothes, their clothing hanging loosely on half-starved bodies–
–a burning city. Atlanta? He thought he recognised the shattered stubs of buildings–
–row after row of people harnessed somehow into machinery, howling in pain, their bodies…controlling something?–
–darkness and the whine of machines–
–a landscape of ashes and burning rain and the smell of death–
–fire, everything on fire, as if some monstrous thing was using the planet for a furnace–
He could feel himself being drawn into the futures, felt the edges of his sanity start to unravel with each image, montages of pain and the world ending, everyone and everything dead and gone or worse. It felt as if his blood was boiling and his lungs were on fire, and it was all building up in his head, about to lose it–
“John, stop! Not through me. Not any longer. This is all I can see. You must find another way. Think of another way. Create another way!”
Back in the Now, John felt himself breathe again. All of the futures cleared, and he felt the madness recede. He took his time, trying to find his center, to get level again. They couldn’t keep ramming their heads against this problem; if they continued, well…it all ended, in one of the ways that Sera had seen. They needed something new, something different that they hadn’t done before. Something that didn’t include them.
There was a blinding flash in John’s mind, and thunder in his ears. And he saw.
The connection broke, and John was back in the apartment with Sera. Vickie was still busy in her workroom, juggling a dozen different tasks at once. He noticed that he was cold; his uniform had soaked through with sweat. Vickie’s giant grey familiar was sitting a short distance away, regarding John and Sera oddly. Once John had taken a moment to compose himself, he let go of Sera’s hands and looked into her eyes.
“You found it,” she breathed. “You found an answer. Tell me!”
“Not an it. But maybe the answer. We need to find someone that was like me, before you and I found each other. A man. A young man who was in the Program. We need to find Zach Marlowe.”