Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Stubs: Post Ending

It was cold up in the helicopter but I didn’t care. I wanted to sit in the door, strapped in of course, but I wanted to see what the world looked like now. The military guys knew what I was looking for, so we headed north from Valdosta, directly over I-75, and I had never seen it so still. There were abandoned cars dotting the road, but there was nothing moving on it at all, not a single car. Grass, weeds, small trees even were growing up through the cracks in the pavement and there was a small pond on one area where beavers had stopped up a pipe. We landed in Macon a few minutes later and there was nothing there at all, as far as human life went. Burned out buildings and abandoned vehicles were the only things that were a certainty here. We were hunting people and monsters, hoping to find the first and not wanting to see any more of the others. The silence, other than the ticking of the cooling metal of the helicopter’s engines, was incredible. There was green stuff showing in every road, every building that still stood looked forlorn and empty. One hundred thousand people once lived here but now no one called Macon their home.

We took and headed northeast. There were no fields being tended, no crops being grown, just endless fields of weeds and grasses, and small trees that were beginning to take Georgia back as their own. We flew over miles and miles of land that should have been tilled yet it all blurred back into sameness now. Fires, accidental, intentional, and maybe even a few started by lightning, created black holes in the landscape but even some of those were being covered in kudzu and greenery. Small towns looked like deserted movie sets from the air. But there was no sign of human life, no deer, no dogs or cats, no small mammals and I felt a great sadness in this. Were dogs extinct now? Would there never be another tennis ball chased or a bird retrieved? We circled where a thin line of smoke rose from the woods but there was no sign of human activity. Were there people hiding down there? There was nowhere to land close by so we dropped a box of MREs with a note attached to it telling them to try to get to the Interstate the next day.  A truck would be sent out of Moody Air Force Base that night but I doubted that anyone hiding would come out.

We landed near the camp in North Carolina and it was a thoroughly depressing place. The people there were gaunt and lifeless, and their crops looked untended and weedy. The perimeter fence was unkempt and it looked as if they hadn’t spent much time trying to improve it. They had survived, somehow, and that was enough. There was no hope here, even now, and no one came to speak to me. A man fell in his tracks and there was no rush to aid him, no one went to see if he was still alive, and I asked the soldiers to check on him, and then to make ready to leave. The man was dead, and the rest of the camp might as well had been.

We headed back over the middle of Georgia, with small towns dotting the landscape and I wondered if this had happened on some other world, were there other species pushed to the brink, and it struck me that we humans might be dead. What if we didn’t have enough people, and enough knowledge, to pull ourselves up again? What if the monsters were a pre-invasion force that would open the way up for us to be taken over? Reba and had one child, another on the way, but that was just breaking even for two people. All of those people in that other camp were useless to the human race as far as repopulation went. Did we have enough people? Could we stay alive long enough to know how to stay alive longer? I doubted it. I couldn’t look at the ruins of an entire state, with entire cities gone, and feel like we could do it.

We set down at the base and a truck came for me. The people at the base stood and stared at me, wondering who I was and why I was sent out, and what I had learned. There was a maybe five hundred people here. Our camp held less than one hundred. The camp in North Carolina held fewer than fifty. No matter how many people might have been anywhere else, there wasn’t enough people in America to rebuild the population, unless there were more hiding out somewhere. How many would it take? How many people could we feed right now and how many could we feed in a year or five years or ten years? Now the enemy was not monsters but ignorance. Our lack of understanding as to how food was grown, how medicines were created, how clothes were made, how babies were taken care of, how electricity might be restored, and how to build fire without matches, might doom us. Any one of those things might be enough to kill off an entire camp. What would we do if, or rather when, the first hurricane hit? What would we do if there were locusts or some plague? I stopped walking towards the truck and tried to breathe. What would I do with Billy, our baby of fifteen months, if Reba died in childbirth? How would I provide for an infant? How would anyone in a year or five years? The soldiers waited, seemingly understanding of what I was going through after what I had seen. No matter if we did everything right, and we survived, and we prospered, six hundred people were not enough.

I got into the truck and looked at the men around me, most of them young, and all of them acutely aware of how bad things really were. Did anyone know, truly know, if we had enough people, and if they did, would they say anything if six hundred was too few? The magnitude of being responsible for helping save the human race left me short of breath and it left me terrified.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Stubs: Part One, rewritten

I was thirteen the first time I heard of the Stubs. It was a nickname some guy in Russia was using for an animal that was short, stocky, and it had just killed a friend of his. Worse, the guy talking had tried to help his friend and wound up with what looked like the world’s worse case of poison ivy ever. His arms were covered is red runny wounds and it looked like there were dozens of spines sticking out of his arms. The Stub sat there and looked like something somebody with a wild imagination and some computer skills dreamed up during a nightmare. Finally, one of the people who had come to look at it brought out a rifle and shot it. It disappeared with a high pitched noise that hurt the ears of the people who had come to watch. I didn’t think a lot of it. I had seen thousands of fake videos and this one, while really well done, was one of many.

The next day all the news channels were talking about the Stubs that had shown up overnight. All the big cities had them now, and people were being killed by these things. They were incredibly slow, they moved at a fast walk, at best, but they crystal clear and it was hard to see them unless they had just eaten somebody, and then they were a reddish tint. They were also very easy to kill. Shoot one and it just went poof and was gone. People were blasting away at the things, when they could see them, but it didn’t seem like a big deal. I was still thinking it was some sort of YouTube hoax and all the kids at school could talk about nothing else. We were dying to see one up close. 

There was Raymond Millard, a guy who lived in New York, whose wife was attacked by a Stub. Mr. Millard jumped on top of the stub and while holding onto the Stub fired a .357 into its mouth. A few seconds later Millard appeared on the back of the Stub, but in a small village in India, who assumed Millard was a god and the Stub his steed. That was when we learned that shooting them didn’t kill them at all. It caused them to phase out from where they were and land somewhere else. It got worse a few weeks later when more of them arrived, and every time one of them was shot, two or three more arrived on the scene to see what had happed. We never really knew if they were trying to protect their own or trying to find a way into someplace else. We never knew if they had any control over where or when they phased out.

The first six months was a time of concern but no one really was in a state of panic. Mostly, people thought the Stubs were fairly interesting, and let’s face it, a hundred people being killed a day didn’t match the people being killed by drunk drivers so it’s not like there was terror in the streets. But they kept coming. Where ever they were there seems to be more arriving there as time went on. They became a damn nuisance in big cities and now there were popping up and grabbing people in smaller towns, too. When the first one landed in Atlanta half the population of Quitman hopped in their cars and drove up in hopes of seeing it up close.

A year went by, and there were a lot of people being killed and not a lot being done about it. Shooting them, various governments decided, made things worse because it spread them to other places. Worse, no one could find a way to kill one, not even one, much less the whole lot of them. It was December the 31st, and people had come to Times Square, in defiance of the ban on public gatherings, and suddenly, a few hours before the ball was supposed to drop, a dozen of the things showed up at the party. Hundreds of Stubs arrived at once, out of nowhere, and suddenly nearly every big city had hundreds of them grabbing people and killing people. As people fought back they were maimed by the spines on the Stub’s backs and just when things seemed to be reaching a point where panic seemed to be a really great idea, people started having problems breathing; the spines were creating a crystal that spread through the air and into the lungs. People were wheezing and limping around, unable to run, and the Stubs were catching them.

Here’s the weird thing; the Stubs looked relatively harmless and they moved slow, mostly. They were about three feet high at the top of their heads, and they had four legs that looked really short and stubby, and between them being short and having short legs, that’s how they got the name.  The legs and back were covered in tiny spines, nothing you’d think were dangerous, but they were.  The eyes on top were green, dark and clear green, and the eyes would pop up or sink down into the head but they went clear when the Stub was waiting to ambush, and ambush is what they did really well. The legs were short and they had three toes that had claws, like a bird or something, but then the Stub jumped, look out! They could clear seven or eight feet from where they were sitting still a second ago, and I saw one grab a man by his head with him standing up.

The first one showed up in Quitman the day before my fifteenth birthday. By then the whole world knew what to expect when they arrived. Things were bad, but not so bad that it had started to break down yet, but we saw this as a sign they were beginning to go everywhere.  I heard a woman scream and ran to see what was happening. A man had been grabbed and he was fighting like hell to get away from the Stub but all he was doing was causing the spines to break off and release the crystals. I backed away, and then I ran away. It was what we were told to do, and it was all any of us could ever do.

End part one

Sunday, November 19, 2017

New Story. Holes Filled, no pun intended.

It made sense to tear down the old buildings to make room for large gardens, but I didn’t think my old house would be one of them. I didn’t say anything, anything at all, to anyone, because what was there to say? The house was stripped of wiring, and the shingles were taken off carefully to be reused, and a crew dismantled what they could to save most of the boards. We weren’t going to throw anything away again, ever. I stood in the doorway and looked out and then walked away without looking back. I would raise crops there instead of kids, and I would raise my kids in a much safer home.
I saw Henderson talking to some of the soldiers and wandered over to see what he was up to. Henderson, and anyone else in the military, had to go through me to operate in Brooks County, and he was good about keeping me updated. The man was a perfect match for Berg. Nothing escaped their notice and neither of them made many mistakes.
“You know more about what they were and where they came from than you let on, Captain.” I said in the way of a greeting.
“You’re saying good bye to your old address, sir,” Henderson rarely smiled. “We did a background trace on you the day Berg made contact with us.”
“I know you can’t tell me a lot but what can you tell me?” I asked.
“Meet me back at the school tonight.” Henderson said. “Berg will want to hear this, Ray and Roy, too. Bring Reba. If you think a pregnant woman should hear it.”

Miramar was showing a little, and Reba was showing a lot. Ray showed up looking a fright because he had been mowing hay all day and Roy had been doing a long range recon with the Army guys. It had been nearly a year since anyone saw one and there was no sightings anywhere else, either. Henderson sat on the floor, something he liked doing, and began speaking.

“We picked up movement, long range inert yet organic, in the shape of about a dozen ‘pods’ and tracked them back to find out they were in a long orbit around Earth, and had been for thousands, maybe even millions of years. We weren’t going to get hit by them but the Chinese pushed them towards Earth by using a satellite as a boost. Eight of the things entered Earth’s atmosphere. The first thing they did when they landed was send out a signal at a frequency we could barely pick up, but when they whistled something came.

We were able to disrupt the signal, and that’s the only reason anyone is still alive. But they managed to get reinforcements here and in a big way. The computer said that 828,422 got in before we closed the door. We could keep more from getting here but we had no way to keep the ones here from phasing from place to place, at least not for a very long time. We started losing key personnel. We lost the ability to talk to other militaries around the globe and the Brits lobbed a nuke into France, at the request of the French government, to try kill as many as they could. That failed. Not only did they phase out, but when they phased the door they opened took in a lot of radioactivity and spread it around. That gave us a damn good map of how they moved and where they moved, but we couldn’t use it for a while.

Finding their frequency wasn’t hard. Getting a device close to them and finding out what worked was hard. They tend to move towards one of their own if it was phasing or if the frequency was messed with. We lost a lot of good people in this, but we finally figured it out five years ago.”

“Five years ago?” Miramar spoke suddenly and with a serious accent. “You did nothing for five years?’

“We could mess with them, but the device was the size of a small mountain and its energy consumption was impressive. It took five years to get one on a truck, and then we had to have a weapon that could kill them once we immobilized them. The first time it worked we were afraid they would adapt but they didn’t. It took two years of steady firing and steady hunting to secure an area we could move people into. It took another year to branch out. This was one of the few place we could pick up from drones that had the right heat signatures for human activity.

It’s pretty damn bad. We’re lying to people to make it sound good, but the truth is there’s only a million or so people in America. The way everyone is scattered out kills any chance to a viable population so we have to start moving people together. There’s fewer in most other places. The more rural an area the more likely the people are to be able to farm, and you have no idea how critical that is. We lost a lot of Europe, India, China, anywhere there were big cities got either cleaned out or fell into disorder and never came out of it. Iceland took the least damage that we know of. They’re still about half their original population. India was terrible and so was China. The creatures had a field day in both locations. At one point half of them were in those two countries. We haven’t heard anything from most large population centers. We haven’t spotted anything flying that wasn’t us. The radios are dead and we’re flying drones with wi fi hoping someone is still out there, but I am here to tell you, it’s damn bleak.

No one has said it out loud, but I think there’s got to be some migration into areas, this area, that are able to feed people, and that’s very likely what this move is about. Women, young women, wives, women who are gay, women who have been with their partners for many years, are going to be asked to have children from different men. It’s going to be done with test tubes but we’re got to get some children born and quick. We’ve got to get some farmer and some doctors. We desperately need more people and we have to be able to feed them.”

“Do you think they will come back?” Ray asked.
“We will be waiting for them” Henderson said. “We‘ll be ready.”

“How do you feel about me carrying another man’s child?” Reba asked the first night in our new home. She was due in a week and the doctor had moved into a house across the street. This wasn’t the first here but it was our first.
“Guess you’ll have to carry mine first.” I replied. “But would you do it? I can see you having one of Berg’s kids. That would be epic.”
“Never thought I would be the hope of all humanity by getting knocked up.” Reba laughed and her belly shook. “I am so ready to stop being pregnant.”
“Better get used to it” I said. “No more pills.”
“I’ll cut you off,” she swore under her breath, “you and all humanity.”