Friday, August 15, 2014

The Catastrophe Theory publication

The Catastrophe Theory will soon be edited and published as a free book. The posts will remain on the website until then.

The Catastrophe Theory was the result of The Hunt, a virtual scavenger hunt. The grand prize winner, Gayle Nobles, gave us a title, a trope (technological disaster) and three character names. Nineteen authors from all over the world took it from there, each writing a chapter. There was much discussion behind the scenes via email and it has been a thrill to watch it take shape.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

The Catastrophe Theory: Final Chapter (Elle Casey)

Eve saw the events from the past several days flash forward in her mind. This was the life review that came just before death that she'd heard about so many times, but the only part of her life she was seeing was the dark part, the time when all the lights went out forever.
Terror she had never known before, even when being beaten and held prisoner by Ali's minions, filled her heart. Jared was gone. Hope was gone. The man standing just feet away from her was going to put a bullet in her little girl’s head, and there was nothing she could do about it.
A half-baked plan with no good ending flew through her head. She was out of options and out of time, and she was definitely no hero; but doing something was better than just giving up without a fight.
“Fine. You want the key? Take the key!” Eve reached down to the floorboard of the SUV, intending to grab it and throw it out the window into the weeds, but her fingers refused to close around the heavy metal object.
“Stop stalling,” Ali said, sighing.
“I’m not. I can’t grab it.” Eve frowned, unable to figure out why her fingers weren’t cooperating. Yes, the plan sucked, but it was a plan. It could buy them a few precious seconds, maybe even a minute. And just one more minute with her baby was worth trying for.
“Mom, just give her the key. It’s over.”
“I know it’s over, Cassie, I’m trying.” The harder Eve stretched, the more it seemed the key moved just out of her reach.
“Moommm!” Cassie called. It wasn’t a whine, or a complaint. It was as if she were far away and not there in the SUV next to Eve anymore.
Eve looked up to tell her daughter that it would all be over soon, to try and capture the look in her baby's eye and hold it, to one last time see the girl who she loved more than life itself … but she couldn’t. Because suddenly Cassie wasn’t there.
“Cassie!” she shouted, straining her eyes to try and see through the dust-covered windshield. “Cassie! Where are you?!”
Eve forgot about the key and Ali. She forgot about the ogre with the gun trained in her direction. All she could think about was getting to her daughter. She fought the seatbelt that held her in place, that was keeping her from saving Cassie’s life.
“Eve! Eve! Jesus, would you calm down?”
Eve ceased her struggles. The dark night and dusty windshield faded out to be replaced by light. Burning light, so bright she had to close her eyes to it.
It was coming from a lamp.
“Jared?” she finally said, not sure she could trust her own eyes or ears.
“Of course it’s Jared. Who else would it be?” He sighed. "Could you stop thrashing around, sweetie? You're going to wake Cassie up and she just got to the half-sleep stage after tossing and turning all night. She's already called out for you once."
Tears rolled out of Eve’s eyes and filled her ears,as the reality of where she was slowly came to her. The salty flow slid through her hair and landed on the pillow next to her head.
Eve opened her eyes and saw the familiar ceiling fan that had hung over her head for years, turning softly, sending a slight breeze down to cool her tear-stained face. She blinked several times, praying silently that she wasn't sleeping.
“Man, that was one hell of a dream you were having.” Jared was sitting up in bed next to her, a book open and his reading glasses on. Eve had always said he looked sexy wearing those things, but today, he looked like an angel sent straight from heaven.
“You’re alive,” she said, staring at him with wonder, her voice barely registering as a croak.
Jared closed his book and pushed the glasses to top of his head. “Babe, what’s going on?”
Eve pushed her hands under her and sat up, trying to put everything together in her mind. Her chest felt like it was ready to explode with pent-up energy. Resting her back against the headboard, she let her mind wander to the place it had just been. Slowly the tension eased a bit, enough to make it possible to speak again.
“I think I had some sort of out-of-body experience.” Eve's throat was dry. It felt like she hadn't had anything to drink in days. Had she? She wasn't even sure what day it was.
Jared leaned over and kissed her neck. “Feel like having another one?”
Eve elbowed him in the ribs, turning her head to share her fearful expression with her husband. “I’m not kidding. I seriously experienced something big. Something …” She shook her head. “I don’t know. Like, a premonition.”
She couldn’t sit still any longer. Jumping out of bed, she began pacing back and forth.
“I can see the alarm clock is working now,” she said, gesturing to the small black box on Jared’s bedside table. She almost cackled with happiness, but stopped herself. She didn't want to sound as crazy as she felt.
Jared followed the direction of her pointing finger and nodded slowly. “Any reason why it shouldn’t be?”
Eve ran her fingers through her hair. “Secrets. Secrets are the problem here.” She stopped pacing and stared pointedly at Jared. “I have a lot of secrets.”
Jared put his book on his side table and stood next to the bed. “We all have secrets. Some secrets we can share and some we can’t. I get that. I knew that was the deal when we got married.”
“Yeah, but I think it’s a mistake now. A mistake.” She started pacing again. Then she stopped all of a sudden as pain sliced through her heart. “Cassie?”
Jared threw his arms up and let them drop. “She’s in bed! Asleep! It’s six in the morning, Eve. And you know she has a fever. She finally fell asleep after moaning all night." He switched to pleading. "Please don't wake her."
Jared came around the other side of the bed and took Eve’s hands in his. “Is that what this is about? Did you have a bad dream about Cassie?” He looked over his shoulder. “Did it have something to do with the alarm clock?”
“No. Not the alarm clock. Or maybe the alarm clock, I don’t know.” Eve was too agitated to think straight. Could it all have been a dream? But it felt so real!
Jared’s finger came up under her chin, forcing her to look up at him. “Eve, I want you to close your eyes and take a deep breath … and then tell me about this dream you had.”
Eve did as he asked, mainly because she couldn’t think of anything else to do, but also because she wanted to tell him. No more secrets. She wanted to not be the only one in the room experiencing this horror. She knew that was selfish, but something inside her told her it was okay this time. It was okay to burden Jared with her truth.
The deep breathing helped clear her mind a bit and made it easier for her to decide what needed to be done.
“Okay,” Eve said, stepping back from her husband. “I'm ready to talk. But I need you to sit down.”
“Sit down," Jared said in a joking tone. "Whoa, this must be good."
“It’s not good. It’s horrifically awful. And the worst part is, I think it’s really about to happen.”
“Do I want to hear this?” Jared said, slowly lowering himself to the mattress. He wasn't joking around anymore.
“No. But I’m going to tell you anyway. And I’m going to tell you all my secrets while I'm at it.”
“Your secrets? Like what you’re doing at the institute?”
“Exactly.”
“Babe, I …”
Eve held up a hand to stop him. “Don’t try to talk me out of it. It’s too important. Just hear me out.”

***
“Do you have everything you need?” Jared asked Eve for the tenth time.
“Yes, I’m all set. I’ll be fine.” She wasn't sure she was being completely honest, but it didn't matter. She had to do what she had to do; there would be no second-guessing or chickening out. The future of the world and mankind were at stake.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Jared rubbed her back, a sure sign he was in panic mode. “Maybe I should come with you.”
“No, you stay here with Cassie.”
Cassie. Their daughter, their beautiful angel, not the freakish science experiment that rose up in Eve's nightmares to haunt her forever. “You promised you’d take her to the doctor as soon as his office opens.”
Jared pulled Eve into a hug. “Yes, I know I promised, okay? I’m sure it’s nothing; you know these kid germs are all over the place. But I’ll take her, I swear it. We’ll be leaving right after you.” He pushed Eve away from him a little so he could look into her eyes. “I don’t like this at all. I want to go on record saying that.”
“I know you don’t. But do you like the alternative better? Me doing nothing and hoping my nightmare was just too many beans in my burrito last night?”
"Babe, you're preaching to the choir, alright? I've been predicting something like this is going to happen for years. The fact that you could be involved in bringing the end of light in our world is a little more than freaky, I'll give you that, but hey … I'm a believer. You had me at Friar's Lantern."
Eve nodded, tempted to smile at her husband's charm but way too stressed about her mission to give in to the impulse. "I'll meet you at the airport after I leave for lunch. I have to hang around and act like it's just any other day. If they suspect something's up, I could have big problems."
"And if you don't show up at lunchtime, I'm going to ride in there with the cavalry behind me. I'm not kidding." Jared stroked her cheek.
"I know you're not. And that's why I love you so much."
Eve and Jared shared a passionate kiss, Eve lingering just a little longer than normal because she was so glad to be awake and alive. The fact that Jared had not died in a gun battle trying to save their daughter's life felt like a miracle, like the universe had handed her a second chance that she could not mess up, no matter what.
"I won't screw this up," she whispered.
Jared kissed her nose. "I know you won't."
"How do you know?" she asked, needing to hear his words of comfort.
"Because. You're my wife, and I don't marry slackers." He pinched her butt and turned her around by the shoulders. "Hop to it, soldier. I have work to do here. Sick kid and all that."
Eve left the house for the institute, her heart a bit lighter but the entire rest of her body on edge.

***

Getting through security was a no-brainer. She did the same thing this morning that she did every other morning when she came to work, only this time she did it sweating bullets and wondering if she were going to die of a heart attack before she even got to her workstation.
"Hi, Eve!" said a bright and cheery voice off to her right.
Eve was going to walk right past, but then realized on a normal day, she'd never be rude like that. She turned to respond to her greeter but stopped short, sheer terror freezing her expression solid.
The young girl's face fell. "You don't remember me, do you?"
The girl.
Darkness.
The soul of darkness herself, standing before Eve.
The young girl's hair was washed and carefully styled, she wore makeup that included sparkles on her lids, and her lab coat said that she worked somewhere nearby. But still … she was just standing there saying hello like it was no big deal that she was Darkness personified.
Eve cleared her throat and schooled her features to morph them into something much less horrified. "Nooo, I'm sorry I don't remember you."
"I'm Ali. The intern? Working in Lab Eight just next door to you? I started last week and I introduced myself, but you were super busy." She shrugged and kind of smiled. "I should have known you weren't really paying attention. Scientists and engineers are always in their own worlds."
"Actually, I'm pretty sure some part of my brain was paying attention." Eve tried to laugh off the massive understatement. "Where do you work again?"
"Lab Eight. I inject the rats, clean their cages, dispose of the bodies." Ali did a fake shiver. "They call my area the cremation station. Rude, right?" She rolled her eyes, making her seem much younger than her nineteen or so years.
"Depressing," Eve said, trying to commiserate in a way that seemed natural.
Ali shrugged. "Oh well. It's dark business, but someone's got to do it, right?" She winked at Eve and walked off.
Eve waited until the shiver worked its way through her entire body before she moved on. Just two more corridors and she'd be with the lantern and finishing up the mission she'd created with Jared. No more thinking about college interns named Ali who came to her in dreams as failed science experiements.
Dark business, indeed. Eve shuddered again, goosepbumps rising up all over her body.
"Eve! Wait up!" said a male voice behind her.
"Emerson. Hello." Eve tried to act like it wasn't completely awful to be standing near the man who played the devil incarnate in her dream last night.
"Hey, listen, I wanted to talk to you about the … project we're working on. I was thinking that we should do away with the key, make … the thing … less dependent on a single device to operate. What do you think?" He rubbed his hands together, making him seem way too much like a maniacal megalomaniac.
"I'll get right on that," Eve said, thinking how ironic it was that this was exactly what she'd planned to do. Not exactly as he was, imagining but … "Today, in fact."
"Good, so you agree." He patted her on the shoulder, letting his hand rest there a little too long, or so it felt to Eve. "So great to have you on board, Eve. The future's so bright, we're going to have to wear shades." His thousand-watt, heavily-veneered smile made her cringe.
Eve's responsive laugh was the polite kind. The awkward you-are-freaking-me-out-because-I-can't-tell-what's-real-anymore kind.
"You have plans for lunch?" he asked, oblivious to her discomfort as he split off towards a new corridor that had opened up on their left. "Rourke and I were going to grab a bite at Harvey's." He walked backwards, waiting for her answer.
"I have a date with Jared. Actually, I was thinking of making it a long lunch."
"Fine, I'll catch you next time. Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" he turned away chuckling, leaving her standing at the end of the hallway that housed her workstation.
"No promises," she muttered under her breath, using her keycard to start the process of unlocking her door.

***

Eve made quick work of destroying the lantern's key and making it appear as if she'd made modifications to its former ignition. While she was in there, she also made adjustments to the local magnetic field strength. Now any pulse emitted by the lantern would be just strong enough to be detectable by the new device Eve had already started designing in her head - the one she was bringing to the Pentagon as soon as she left on her "long lunch" with Jared.
She ignored the doubts creeping into her mind, the ones saying that she was sacrificing her entire life's work, all because of a crazy dream.

***

Eve was almost out of the building when Ali stopped her by putting a hand on her shoulder from behind at the front door. When Eve turned around, she was facing not only Ali but Rourke, his face an angry mask.
"Not so fast," Ali said.
"What's up?" Eve asked, fumbling around in her purse, pretending to tuck her ID badge away when really she was just looking for a way to hide her trembling fingers.
"Do you have a moment?" Rourke asked. "We noticed something a little unusual on the surveillance tapes."
Eve frowned, looking up and hoping she appeared to be concerned but not out of guilt. "Surveillance tapes? What surveillance tapes?"
"The ones aimed at your workstation," Ali said, smiling smugly.
Visions of Ali with a dirtied face and knotted, greasy hair came to mind, making Eve's heart stop for a few precious seconds.
Relax, Eve! She's not a failed science experiment! She’s just a teenager for God's sake! A teenager with a bug up her butt to get some kind of messed up brownie points with the boss.
All the common sense in the world was not making Eve feel any better. She had to get out of there before she lost her mind and started yelling about Ali being the leader of the dark forces taking over the world.
"You know what, I'd love to, but Jared's waiting for me. How about after lunch?" Eve smiled broadly, giving everything she had to her performance. It was make or break time; she was going to walk out a wanted woman with her conscience free or get stuck there explaining how she just destroyed a ten-million-dollar piece of equipment she was now almost one hundred percent sure was meant to destroy the world as she knew it.
"I was told you'd planned a long one."
Eve waved Rourke's concerns away with a careless gesture. "Oh, it's no big deal. I can cut it short if you need me to." She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "Come over for dinner this weekend?"
She tried not to cringe at the smell of his cologne. It used to smell woodsy to her. Now it only reminded her of her desperate run to the light, to hope, through the trees and into the arms of Ali the queen of darkness. Eve refused to even look at the girl, certain her distrust would show.
"We'll chat. When you get back." Rourke turned to Ali and gestured for her to precede him. "After you, young lady."
"But … I saw her …"
Eve didn't stick around to hear the rest. She walked as fast as she dared to her car and sped out of the lot going ten miles over the speed limit.

***

"Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?" Jared asked, walking with Eve behind two armed guards in United States Marines uniforms. He leaned in closer. "All because of a dream?"
Eve stared straight ahead as she answered in a whisper. "It wasn't just a regular dream. Like I said, I was picking up on subliminal things, things my subconscious had been seeing all along. Maybe some of it was a little fantastical, but not all of it. A lot of it was totally real. Totally possible."
"I'm just glad my buddies' contacts still existed at the Pentagon and we could get a flight over here so quickly."
Eve shuddered, thinking of all the things that could have gone wrong, keeping her from giving this presentation. Thank goodness her name had some weight behind it too, or for sure her audience would have been some lackey on the bottom of the totem pole and not  the assistant to the Deputy Director of Homeland Security. 
The Marines in front of them stopped at a set of double doors, each taking up a post on either side.
"She's supposed to just go in?" Jared asked, placing a hand on Eve's lower back.
Eve stood as straight as she could, mimicking the bearing of the men wearing battle dress uniforms and carrying machine guns.
"Knock first," one of them said, staring straight ahead.
"Well …," Eve said, looking up at her husband, "here goes nothing."
"Knock 'em dead, babe." Jared kissed the top of her head before rapping on the door twice firmly for her. "I believe in you. You're the smartest woman I've ever known, and I trust your instincts."
"Thanks, babe. Wait out here for me?"
"You bet. I wouldn't be anywhere else."
Eve pushed the door open and stepped inside, her briefcase carrying the presentation detailing the work she'd done at the institute, the ramifications of that work, and the design she came up with for The Beacon of Light.
Eve stood at the end of a conference table filled with people, some in uniform and some in suits that looked like they cost as much money as she made in a month. Maybe someone more sophisticated or used to talking to people like this would know the proper way to start a conversation about weaponized science, but Eve wasn't that person.
She took a deep breath and let it out in a huff, just before she began to speak.
"Mr. Richmond, ladies and gentlemen, I'm Dr. Eve Mansfield, and as I said in my email, I'm the engineer who built what's called the Friar's Lantern, the electromagnetic pulse weapon that could destroy our world. I'm here today to not only describe to you how I've disabled this weapon but also to share the design I've come up with that will one day identify and locate that machine or one like it, should it ever be used against us."


Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Catastrophe Theory: Chapter Eighteen (David Normoyle)

Eve clutched Cassie’s hand tightly, running after Ali and the Dark Worshipers. But they were never going to catch them. And even if they did, what then? What could one woman and a child do against armed combatants. She staggered to a stop, watching the backs of the Dark Worshippers get further away. They were going toward a barn-like structure in the distance. And with no one to stop them, the Friar’s Lantern would be activated again, and this time Cassie wouldn’t be able to return power to the planet. Her creation would be responsible for sending the world back to the Dark Ages.
“Mommy, get up. We have to stop them.” Cassie pulled at Eve’s hand.
“It’s too late. We’ll never catch them.” A deep weariness made her feel like her bones were filled with lead.
“The machine’s are back working, right?”
Eve followed Cassie’s gaze to five parked SUVs. Instantly, the weariness was gone and Eve was on her feet and racing toward the vehicles. She opened the door of the nearest, and quickly scanned the front seat area, looking for a key. Nothing. She went to the next one, frantically fumbling with the door handle before she manged to get it open.
“Try the next one, honey, look for a key,” Eve told Cassie. This time Eve sat into the front seat and checked the glovebox and back seat before giving up and climbing out.
“This one has a key,” Cassie shouted from the next SUV over. “It’s in the ignition.”
Eve ran over, picked Cassie up and swung her into the passenger seat, then sat into the driver seat. She applied gas and twisted the key. No sound, not even the groaning of an engine making an effort to start. She tried again, twisting the key violently. Nothing. Eve let her forehead fall against the top of the steering wheel.
“Mom,” Cassie said. “Try again.”
Eve looked up to see her daughter putting her two hands on the dashboard. Did she still have some of that power left inside her? Eve took a deep breath, shook the gearstick to make sure it was in neutral, touched her foot to the gas and turned the key.
The SUV roared into life. Eve threw it into reverse, backed out of the parking lot and directed it toward the barn. The grassy field they traveled across was bumpy, jolting Eve back and forth but she didn’t slow.
“Put on your seatbelt,” she shouted to Cassie over the scream of the engine. The sound of the engine also spurred her to change gear to second and then third. It’d been a while since she’d driven stick.
Up ahead, the Dark Worshippers were halfway to the barn. They had slowed to a walk, but turning to find a SUV on their tail,they broke into a run once more, dodging out of Eve’s path. The lead-most Dark Worshipper was the only one not to quickly clear the way. Instead she--for it was the girl, Ali--just turned and stood in front of accelerating SUV.
She’s bluffing, Eve thought, driving straight for the girl. Ali didn’t move, just stood there with a smile on her face as if daring Eve to run her down. Eve swore and jerked the steering wheel to the side at the last moment. The jeep lurched, throwing Eve against the door, but she managed to maintain control, swerving around the crazy-stupid girl. She glanced over at Cassie who was shaken but uninjured. Through the rearview mirror, Eve could see Ali direct several the Dark Worsippers in pursuit, while she others began running back to the main camp. To get another vehicle, Eve guessed.
Eve slowed the SUV as it entered the barn. A giant Faraday cage almost reached the ceiling, and inside that was the twisted and intricate combination of metal and electronics that made up the Friar’s Lantern device. She had once thought it beautiful, the complexity of it, the way every piece fit together just so, but now she saw it for the ugly and unnatural thing it was. Some things should never be invented. The Faraday cage itself was made of reinforced metal and locked, but Eve knew what she needed to find. And there it was, on a table in front of the cage. She stomped on the brake, and threw herself out of the SUV, ran to the table and and picked up the Lantern’s key. It was shaped like an old fashioned mortice key but it wasn’t the shape that was important, but the electronics cased in the metal that allowed it, and only it, to turn on and operate the Friar’s Lantern.
“Mom,” Cassie called out, and Eve turned to see Dark Worshippers closing in. One of them fired a shot which zinged against the side of the Faraday cage, throwing sparks. Eve sprinted back to the SUV and jumped into the drivers seat. She would have liked a chance to damage the Lantern but there wasn’t time. The important thing was keeping the key out of the hands of the Dark Worshippers.
She threw the SUV into reverse and accelerated out of the barn. Two of the Dark Worshippers were in a firing crouch, but Eve couldn’t hear shots over the roar of the engine. As soon as she had space, she did a half turn, braked, grinded the gearstick into first, and stomped the gas pedal to the floor. The wheels spun and the engine screamed, then the SUV jumped forward like a wild animal. Dark Worshippers scattered and Eve accelerated away from them. One must have fired a final shot though because the left rear window blew out. Eve jerked in reflex and reached out a protective hand toward Cassie. Neither of them were hurt. It had been a minor miracle for both of them to get out of that situation unharmed, Eve realized.
Cassie took Eve’s hand and kissed her palm. “That was amazing.”
Eve managed a half-smile. “Bond. Eve Bond.”
Cassie made an effort at a laugh but it came out more like a grunt. “Where are we going?”
Eve glanced down at the Lantern’s key in her lap. She needed to keep that out of the hands of the Worshippers and she knew exactly where to go. “The signal beacon.” She nodded toward the top of the hill. That had been the only thing providing hope while the Dark Worshippers were spreading their evil brand of darkness. “There’s a road just ahead, we just have to drive up that hill and we’ll be safe.”
Eve returned her hand to the steering wheel and bumped the SUV off the grass and onto the road. In the rearview mirror, she spotted another SUV moving but it was far in the distance. There was no way they could catch up. The road wound upward, and Eve pulled back into third gear, then second as the ascent increased. She turned around a corner and saw a gate closed across the road.
“Hold on, honey,” Eve said without hesitation, increasing speed. She wasn’t going to come this far and let a gate stop her. Her grip tightened on the steering wheel and she leaned forward, willing the SUV straight through.
At the last moment, she saw the thick reinforced metal attached to the sides of the gate. She braced herself, then jolted forward.
* * *
“Mom, Mom.”
Eve groaned. There was a blinding pain behind her eyes. She raised her hand to her forehead. “What happened?”
“You crashed.”
Eve jerked upright and opened her eyes, suddenly remembering what had just happened. There was blood on the shattered windscreen. “Are you okay?” She reached across to touch Cassie’s cheek. “You’ve blood on you.” Panic welled up inside her. She’d just deliberately crashed with her daughter inside the vehicle. What had she been thinking?
“It’s your blood, silly.” Cassie was close to tears, but trying to be brave.
“My beautiful strong daughter.” Eve hooked her hand around Cassie’s head smearing it with blood but she didn’t care. The headache had faded to a bearable throbbing.
“Isn’t this touching? The daughter of light and her virgin mother.”
Eve turned her head to see Ali pointing a gun at her. Letting out a despairing sigh, she turned to see a second SUV parked behind them. “Ali, please help us. You’ve got to believe me. Rourke and Emerson were evil evil men. They were just using you and your friends.”
“Using me?” Ali’s lips curved up into a sinister smile. A smile that no fifteen year old should have been able to form. “For someone who invented the Lantern, you sure are dumb. You’ve been working side by side with the men for many years, and you’ve never noticed how much they changed in recent years.”
The hazy dimness of twilight was descending, and the air around Ali shimmered, darker than everywhere else. At that moment, Ali barely looked human. Eve reached her hand out and gripped Cassie’s fingers. “It was you?” Eve’s dry mouth could barely form the words.
“You don’t think they got it right first time, did you? Capturing all those souls.” Ali took a step closer. “I was the first successful experiment. But the souls used for me weren’t fresh. Emerson arrived at a plane crash two hours after impact. The souls had already found a heavenly darkness before being pulled back and thrust inside my embryonic self. And those souls still crave darkness. I crave darkness. And interestingly enough, most who spend time with me come to feel as I do.”
Eve opened her mouth, ready to object, to argue, to reason, but closed her mouth again, the words unsaid. It was clear that Ali was not a creature that could be reasoned with. Eve glanced up at the top of the hill, which was now barely visible in the darkness. They had gotten so close to the beacon.
“Looking for some hope?” Ali asked. “Here, let me help you with that.” She removed a device from her hand and pressed a button. The beacon lit up.
“That’s impossible,” Eve gasped. “You said...”
Ali smiled again, that dark horrible smile. “I don’t always tell the truth, you know. We kept the beacon in a Faraday cage and now use it to draw everyone for miles around. Like moths to a flame they come. After a while, they begin to change. When that happens they hate the light as much as me.”
Ali pressed the button again and the beacon shut off. Hope quenched. “Now,” Ali continued, “if you’ll glance to your right, you’ll see a burly man with a gun pointed at the girl who is now oh- so-empty of the horrible light she used to carry.” Eve didn’t look, she didn’t want to see a gun aimed at her daughter; she just squeezed Cassie’s fingers. “So you’ll hand over that key to me without thinking of doing anything silly.” Ali nodded down to where the Lantern’s key lay by Eve’s feet. “And then you’ll come with me. I’ve a mind to let you see your creation suck all that nasty artificial light from the world for the final time.”
A shiver ran through Eve and a drop of blood dripped from her forehead down onto her lap.
Ali reached over and gripped Eve’s shoulder. “Then we’ll spend some time together, you and me, until you start to see things my way.”

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Catastrophe Theory: Chapter Seventeen (Tony Bertauski)

A drip of sweat fell from Jared’s nose. It grazed the gun’s barrel that was pressed against Rourke’s forehead, splashed into the man’s swollen eye.
Jared leaned into the gun, both hands squeezing the grip, pushing Rourke’s head against the floor. His left arm burned where a bullet had ripped through the triceps. Blood trickled down his arm, pooling at the base of his thumb before finding its way to his friend’s cheek, smudging his whiskers crimson red.
Former friend.
The door slammed open behind them. Jared pressed the barrel deeper into the folds of Rourke’s forehead. Boots came to a stop. Weapons snapped.
“You’re not getting out of here.” Rourke grimaced. His forearm was pinned beneath Jared’s knee and bent at a funny angle.
“Tell them to stop,” Jared said.
Rourke drew a ragged breath. Jared, straddled over his chest, refused to lift his weight to give him more air. “When he shoots me—” Rourke grabbed another breath “—kill him.”
For the greater good. That was the camp's axiom. An individual didn’t matter as much as the whole, and the whole didn’t matter as much as the greater good. Rourke had always been dedicated to the camp, to have men and women ready for survival when catastrophe arrived. He believed in the camp’s greater good as much as Jared. But his beliefs had changed.
Or maybe they were never what I thought.
“Why?” Jared said.
“You know why.”
“But this…chaos and suffering, all this death, how is this for the greater good?”
Rourke swallowed hard, twice. Sweat beaded on his pasty complexion.
Jared leaned into the gun, again, felt the muzzle press into the man’s pale flesh. It began to slip on the perspiration. Rourke could’ve used that moment to knock the pistol away. Jared’s weight was forward, the pistol pinning his head to the floor. With all the guns aimed at the back of Jared’s head, all Roarke would've needed was a shift of his hips and half a second to end this. But he was limp beneath Jared, not because he’d been beaten, not because his forearm had been shattered against the edge of a desk. He was spent, finished.
His mission, complete.
How?” Jared seethed. “How is this for the greater good?”
“It was inevitable, Jared.”
“Not this! We were preparing for it, not causing it. We were preparing to defend against men like Emerson. Like you.”
“There will always be men like me.”
“Damn you! I trusted you…the camp trusted you!”
A joyless smile flared. “The camp was all wrong. You know it.”
Boots shuffled closer. Rourke’s eyes flickered over Jared’s shoulder. He lifted the fingers on his good arm and movement stopped. With the pressure Jared had on the trigger, even a rifle butt to the back of his head would end Rourke. But that’s not why he stopped his men from charging. Something compelled him to pause this bloody end.
“We’re slaves.” He spoke in fragments to catch his breath. “The human race…we’re slaves to technology…even the camp. And men like me, like Emerson…had weapons pointed at each other…the camp wasn’t preparing us, Jared.” He forced another breath deep into his chest. “But this will.”
This wasn’t necessary! You killed men and women…children! That’s not what we were prepping to do!”
“You know what the models…predicted.”
Rourke insisted a major catastrophe wasn’t just imminent, it was near. The predictive models showed humankind’s demise at their own hands. If we didn’t destroy ourselves, then a natural disaster would. A solar flare was due to hit any day, he said. It would knock out technology and chaos would ensue. Each week he would bring a new prediction based on population dynamics, politics, economy…each one more dire than the last. We must be prepared, he would say. For the greater good.
But none of those preparations included a preemptive strike.
“You’re saving the human race,” Jared said, “by destroying it?”
“Only those…worth saving.”
“Worth saving?” Jared’s hands quivered, the barrel denting Rourke’s forehead. Nervous footsteps edged closer. “Cassie and Eve…the men at the camp, they weren’t worth saving? Not worth…you murdered them, you bastard!”
Rourke closed his eyes. “These are dark times…they have been…for quite some time.”
Jared felt the room tilt. A dark tunnel was closing around his periphery. His breath was short and choppy. He ground his teeth. An animal groan started in his throat and morphed into a whine. Fresh boots charged into the room and stopped short. Rourke lifted the fingers on his good hand. He kept them raised.
“They’re gone, Rourke,” someone announced. “Eve and Cassie got out. They were intercepted heading for the signal light, but they escaped. We can’t find them.”
“Stop them,” he answered. “You must.”
Boots left the room, but Jared could feel the remaining men and women close in around him. The weight of their weapons shifted in their hands. Their steps were careful. Rourke, though, never took his eyes from Jared. He blinked like a man exhausted from a lifetime of heavy decisions.
Of betrayal.
“Not Cassie,” Jared said through a watery veil. “Don’t hurt my daughter.”
“She belongs…to all of us.”
There was little strength in Jared’s left arm, but he no longer felt the throbbing pain of the bullet wound. There was no chance of lifting Rourke, of backing out of the room. The room was stifling, the air thick. His breath slowed and a sense of peace filled him. Finality had arrived. No more striving, no more struggling. Eve and Cassie still had a chance. Someone was flashing that signal light, calling people to it. Someone with power.
Someone that didn’t belong to the Institute.
Rourke’s heavy eyelids dropped for a long moment. The fingers on his good hand, still propped up, were quivering. All the air seemed to leave his chest at once. Jared’s weight sank into the man’s midsection.
Rourke drew one last breath. “For the greater good.”
His fingers dropped.
Before the world around Jared went black and empty, he felt the trigger beneath his finger release, felt the recoil of the weapon in his hand. Jared’s life ended suddenly, painlessly. He fell forward into the eternal dark knowing that Rourke went with him.
His former friend wouldn’t hurt his wife and daughter anymore.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Catastrophe Theory: Chapter Sixteen (Shelbi Wescott)

The blast of the gun echoed in the small room. Eve could smell the gunpowder and the faint traces of singed fabric. Her own voice echoed in the room—a scream so loud and incomprehensible that it tore at her vocal chords as it propelled its way to the surface. Cassie fell. Her small, weak, body, laboring under the fever and the torment tumbled downward, caught off guard by the presence of a man she had trusted.
            In that moment before the gun went off, Eve recognized Cassie’s innocence in that flicker of recognition. And he had shamefully betrayed her. Eve scrambled toward Rourke, her hands outstretched.
            “How could you?” she managed before Rourke turned the gun on her and sent her weeping to the floor.
            “Easy, Eve,” Rourke sighed, as if he found her annoying, tiresome, and he holstered his gun. He walked over to his prey and stalked above her; blood pooled against her shirt and under her small body. Even tried to crawl closer, but she was kept at bay by Rourke’s domineering presence. Cassie lifted a weak hand to her wound: a quarter-sized hole under her collarbone. She pushed against the entrance wound, her eyes narrowing.
            “You trained me,” Cassie said. Eve recognized the strength in her daughter’s voice and she put a hand over her mouth to stifle the sobs.
            “And I trained you well,” Rourke replied. He crouched down. “To stay alive when I needed you to stay alive. To be the kind of kid to come save your mom. Yes, Cassie. I trained you well.”
            But as he said this, Eve noticed the faint glimmer surging up from Cassie’s gunshot wound. Like a dim bulb, the energy pulsated, sputtered, and hummed. It was no longer bright and white, but yellow and hazy. Still, Cassie hadn’t used up all her power on Emerson and the phones and the lights. She’d quit before exerting everything; she must have kept a little for herself. And now the wound sealed like before, but slower.
            Cassie closed her eyes and her breath became heavy; she scrunched up her nose and whispered, “No. No.”
            Eve saw Rourke’s glower and used it as an opportunity to advance. She found herself by Cassie’s side and she slipped her hand into her daughter’s and stroked her head. It was clammy, not burning up like before. She let out a small sob: a mixture of anguish and confusion. She and Jared had been so worried about the fever, but they had been worried about all the wrong things.
            In an instant, she felt a rough hand push her away from Cassie.
            Rourke drew his gun again and looked at it and Cassie with measured intensity.
            “Maybe we need to do this another way,” he mused. “Eventually you won’t be able to heal…eventually your powers won’t save you.”
            “Then why does it matter?” Eve yelled. “If she’s got nothing left, then she’s useless to you…”
            “Useless?” Rourke said with a sneer. He leaned down and yanked on Cassie’s shirt to expose the bullet hole. Where he had shot her was now a tangled mass of scar tissue, the glowing light subsiding with each pulse. “We don’t know what she is capable of…and I’d be an idiot to risk—”
            The door to their room swung open. Jared, flanked on either side by two armed guards, flailed and spun. Eve jumped up and took a step toward him, before she realized that Rourke had pulled his gun and trained it on her.
“Jared!” she called, but Jared had noticed Cassie on the ground, her breathing labored. And when his eyes lifted, they went straight to Rourke. Eve recognized that look: it was a look that made her stomach turn hard and cold. It was pure anger, unadulterated focus. It was the look Jared had when he was trapped and cornered and ready for a fight; she’d seen it a few times in their marriage—and it had always ended badly for someone.
The guards holding on to Jared’s biceps took note of the charred, rubbery remains of their former commander on the floor, and gawked, then their eyes slipped to the child on the floor, and those distractions were all Jared needed to tear free. He wasted no time and launched himself at Rourke; his feet carried him to Rourke faster than the man could pull the trigger, and they tumbled downward. Eve heard the crack of their bodies against the floor.
“You killed them,” Jared seethed and he got a punch in against Rourke’s jaw. It was heavy enough to send Rourke’s head into the floor, but not hard enough to end the fight. Rourke let a stream of saliva and blood drip down his chin. “You were my friend,” he continued.
Eve took a step forward.
“Stop!” she tried to yell, but she knew it was no good and the message came out strangled. She turned her attention back to her daughter. Cassie was looking right at her. Her hand raised in the air, her glare piercing.
The guards in the doorway were moving around Cassie, their hands on their weapons.
From the ground, Rourke thrashed against Jared and both men fought for possession of the gun. He lifted his eyes to the men.
“Go,” he managed to say. “Go…Ali…the Friar’s Lantern. Launch it. Do it now.” The Dark Worshippers didn’t hesitate and then spun and rushed out of the room as quickly as they had barged in.
Eve spun to Jared wrestling with Rourke, and Cassie, who attempted to sit up, her arms outstretched to her mom. But Eve knew she couldn’t let them succeed. If Cassie had used up her energy to turn the lights back on, another round of her technology could wipe out the lights forever. No turning back, no rescue.
            Rourke had a grip on his gun and Jared clawed at his hand. He turned, for just a second and caught his wife’s eye. It was frantic and quick, but Eve didn’t need a translation.
            “Go! Now!” Jared yelled. Rourke took a shot at him with his free hand and Jared was rocked off-center. He recovered and kept the gun at bay. It was a strange dance: quick, quick, slow.
            “Now!” he said to her again.
With her heart in her throat, Eve rushed to Cassie.
            “Can you walk?”
            Cassie gulped. Then nodded.
            “Can you run?”
            Cassie nodded again.
            “We have to stop them, mommy.”
            Eve tried not to look at the hole in her daughter’s shirt and the way she smelled like hot metal. This was still her girl; still her baby—she’d held her the moment she was born, she’d rocked to sleep at night, and fed, and bathed, and cradled. She’d live with the guilt of her naivety for the rest of her life. The rest of their long, lighted, lives.
            With a quick shudder and a glance at her dear husband, Eve grabbed Cassie and rushed toward the Dark Worshippers and into the unknown, leaving Jared to finish Rourke. Leaving herself and Cassie to stop the Friar’s Lantern from striking again.
            As they rounded a corner, the gunshot echo followed them.
            Eve froze.
            “Daddy!” Cassie yelled and she spun back toward the room.
            Eve shuddered. Hot tears stung her eyes and she scrunched her eyelids tightly. He’d found her using her GPS. He was smart. He was resourceful. He wasn’t dead. She pictured Rourke lying in blood. It had to be. It wouldn’t be Jared. It couldn’t be.
            “Daddy’s fine,” Eve said, but her voice betrayed her own lack of conviction. “Okay?”
            Cassie stared straight ahead. “Okay,” her brave daughter answered, and they pounded forward, ignoring the worry searing through them both. Eve pushed aside a worse thought: if Jared was gone, God, he couldn’t be gone, then Rourke would find them. And he would kill them, too.