Avalanche – Snippet 29
I fretted that I didn’t have the time to help find Johnny’s mystery boy. I needn’t have worried. As I was to come to realize, I had a righteous right hand now.
Get Out Alive
Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin
John and Sera had been looking for weeks and weeks, and they still weren’t any closer to finding Zach Marlowe, whoever and wherever he was. John could feel the pressure increasing on him, like a vice that someone was slowly tightening over his chest. Sera was more hopeful, but the same fear that he had was in the back of her mind, an ever present cloud on their thoughts. They just had the name, and an idea. That, if they—the collected might of the world’s metahumans and governments—failed in stopping the Thulians, this Zach guy would be able to succeed, someday. Be able to mount a resistance that would free the world from the Thulian’s rule. It wasn’t a comforting thought, but it was better than the alternative; the Thulians win, the world is enslaved and burned, and then they spread to the stars and beyond.
So far they’d tried every course of action they could think of. They had been searching the Futures at every opportunity, whenever they weren’t busy on a mission or on patrol, or helping out in the neighborhood or around CCCP HQ. Besides telling 8-Ball what they were looking for, Sera had confided their vision to a troubled Vickie, and had requested that she recruit her parents–or anyone else she could think might help–to the search. Vickie was scouring the internet and every database that she had access to–including more than a few that she shouldn’t have had access to–with zero results.
It was beginning to seem like Zach Marlowe didn’t exist anywhere but John and Sera’s minds. That simply couldn’t be true; they couldn’t afford for it to be true. John had managed to hang onto his sanity–with Sera’s help–so far. He didn’t think that he and Sera had slipped off the rails with this vision; the Futures were always changing, sure, but this seemed as much of a sure thing as there was. We fail, he picks up the slack. Maybe this meant that they had done something that was putting them on the course to win the war, and they just didn’t know it yet? Then again, the inverse was also true; they could have done something to irrevocably screw the planet, and ensure that not even this Marlowe person could save it, one day.
Thinking about it was goddamned maddening, when you got right down to it.
Sera was feeling the strain, as well, but seemed to be doing far better than she had been before John had talked her through her crisis of conscience. That had been a rough night for both of them, and John was thankful that they were past it. He had owed her a dozen times over for pulling him back from the edge of going power-mad; it seemed like a small enough favor to help her get perspective on what they were doing.
At that moment John and Sera were busy in the CCCP’s armory. John needed to take his mind out of the endless loop it had spun itself into, and he found that working on guns helped him to do that more often than not. He was a detail-oriented sort of man, and he had grown up around guns. Combined with his time in the military, he had learned that weapons maintenance could have a distinctly meditative quality to it. It helped to have a second set of hands in Sera; she sat quietly beside him and aided or handed him what he needed almost before he knew he needed the help. He could tell that she just didn’t grasp why working on items of violence would be meditative for him, but she accepted that it was. Some men gardened, or made models of wooden ships in glass bottles. John field stripped AKs and M4s.
John had hooked up a beat-to-shit boombox up in the corner so that it functioned–most of the time, at least. Right now it was playing a Tom Waits tape that he had bartered for at one of the neighborhood markets.
“Hey, darlin’?” John said as he pulled the pins on the upper receiver for his personal M4, deftly separating it from the lower receiver and then removing the charging handle and bolt carrier group in precise, efficient movements.
She cocked her head to the side, and blinked, slowly, as she was inclined to do when she was not sure of a social interaction. “Yes?” she said, finally. “Is there something you require that I am not supplying?”
“Naw, nothin’ like that. Only so much CLP and Hoppe’s that I need handed to me at any one time,” he said, grinning. “No, I was gonna ask you somethin’.” He set down the pieces of the bolt carrier group on the rubber mat in front of him, looking up into Sera’s eyes. “Y’ever wonder what we’re gonna do after this is all over? The war, the Thulians, all of it?”
“I….truly had not thought of it. I have not thought past…” she waved her hands widely “…all this. I told you, the Siblings are not competent at creation, because we have not Free Will to see past what is and what probably will be. It is difficult for me to imagine anything.”
“I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout it, from time to time. This war can’t last forever. One way or another.” He frowned, biting his lip for a split second, before picking up the lower receiver of his rifle. “I’m focusin’ on the best possible scenario, though. We win, kick the hell out of the Thulians, get our world back. What would you and I do?”
Her brows creased, as if this was difficult thinking for her. Maybe it was, if what she’d said was true, and the Siblings just plainly were not able to create. She wasn’t technically a Sibling anymore, but John could appreciate how hard old habits could be to break. “Be…together?” she said, tentatively. “I suppose now we shall have similar lifespans?”
“Well, yeah. You an’ I are together until the end, darlin’. Nothin’ can stop that.” He leaned over the table between them, pecking her lightly on the lips before settling back on his stool. “As far as our lifespans go, we are both metahuman, so we’ve probably got a few more years than the average bear. But…then we have our own deal goin’, too, with the Celestial stuff. I honestly don’t have the slightest idea how that’ll affect us, beyond what we’ve already seen. That’s more in your wheelhouse, or maybe Vickie’s.”
She shook her head. “We are a new thing. I know not, and cannot predict.” She bit her lip; she was starting to pick up human habits and facial expressions more easily. It was endearing to John. “I suppose we cannot reside in your…squat…forever. Someone will come for the building and make us leave. Where should we go?”
John shrugged. “That’s a fair question. I’ve always gone where the work was, so to speak. When I was enlisted, I was either on base housing or got an allotment for off-base housing. Still, I was wherever I was deployed or stationed. It’s kinda the same for us now; we’re here with the CCCP, so Atlanta is our port of call. Once this is all over…I guess it’s still determined by what we’re actually doin’. Y’know what I mean?”
“Well, we still have what we can do. I suppose we will do what ECHO did before the war? Do you think CCCP will be here still?”
John thought for a moment, picking up a worn double-sided toothbrush to use on the bolt carrier. “I guess that all depends on Moscow, an’ how the situation will change there. My impression is that the Commissar is sorta exiled here in the States, unless something drastic happens with the folks back in the Motherland. An’ those sumbitches have long memories.”
“I often do not agree with the Commissar and her methods,” Sera replied, a little sadly. “Do you think she will change? If she does not…I am not certain I wish to remain with CCCP.”
“She already has changed. Hell, we all have, darlin’. We’ve had to.” He continued cleaning the individual parts of the bolt carrier group as he talked, inspecting them, lubricating them, and then reassembling them. “Now, will she be in a place where we still want to work with her, outside of a war-footin’? That’s somethin’ I couldn’t tell ya. I’ve disagreed with Nat myself; she’s pretty hard not to have a fight with ’bout somethin’ at some point. But her heart is in the right place, mostly, I figure. We wouldn’t have stuck with her this long if it wasn’t.”