Wednesday 6 August 2014

The Catastrophe Theory Chapter 14 by Saul Tanpepper


As soon as Jared realized he’d never find Cassie in the dark, he turned around and hurried back to the cave. No sense to wasting valuable time or risking a collision with a tree. Or worse— running into whoever had put hollow-point rounds into his friends’ skulls. Besides, he’d trained Cassie too well. If she didn’t want to be found, then in all likelihood she wouldn’t be. It was as simple as that.
You forget she’s just a kid, he reminded himself. You give her too much credit.
But he knew she was more than just a kid. He’d always known it deep down, had seen signs that she wasn’t, well, typical. There was always this strange sort of energy about her, almost electrical. Plus the fact that she was never sick, not with colds or ear infections or other things that affected children. She’d sometimes complain of achiness right before severe thunderstorms, which would sometimes be accompanied by a slight fever. But the ague would always pass without intervention. It happened so often that both he and Eve would simply brush the episodes off, forget about them. Until the next bad storm.
But now those memories floated to the front of his mind, and there they bobbed in the most irritating way possible, as if to say, “Bravo, buddy. You’ve finally caught yourself something. But you best be careful reeling it in, because you'll lost it if you yank too hard.”
Whatever it was, he knew it would come to him eventually. He just needed to be patient.
After the power went out, and especially now, he’d come to accept that Cassie was somehow involved in what was happening, not just Eve. Even if he didn’t understand how or why. That was why Emerson’s news hadn’t thrown him off balance as much as it should have. Or why Jared hadn’t flatly denied it. And the matter-of-fact way in which that madman had suggested the trade — Your wife for Cassie — it was like he almostexpected Jared to already know.
He stopped halfway into the cave, suddenly uncertain of what he was going to do. The tiny flame on the candle flickered from his movement, casting ghoulish shadows on the walls that seemed to dance to some macabre tune. He felt lost.
There was no radio here to send or receive transmissions — Cassie had seen to that — and he had no idea where she was going. He assumed it was to save her mother, to offer herself up in exchange. But that begged the question: How did she know where to go?
The bobber tugged at him: Because she knows where Emerson’s holding Eve.
Which meant that wherever it was, it had to be somewhere nearby, somewhere within walking distance.
Another tug: It’s somewhere Eve’s taken her before.
But where?
He absently patted his pockets, his eyes desperately scanning the meager trappings they’d brought with them into the cave, hoping the answer would present itself. His fingers found the shape of his cell phone, and a jolt passed through his body from the sudden understanding which came to him then.
Trapped inside of the palm-sized rectangle was Eve’s contact lens GPS data for the weeks leading up to the power outage and, supposedly, images of those places. He’d been perplexed by her willingness to be tracked by him, to see where she’d been. He’d promised her that he would never look at it, that to do so would feel like a breach of trust, a violation. And she’d laughed his discomfiture off with a careless flip of her hand before wrapping her arms around him in an embrace that now seemed loaded with some other meaning. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, honey.”
But he had been sincere about it at the time, so much so that he’d pushed the whole episode from his mind.
After the pulse, Eve had insisted he continue carrying the phone around, even checking to make sure he’d slip it into his pocket each morning. “Some routines help keep us grounded,” she’d said. “Besides, you never know when the service might come back up.” It was a strange thing to say, and they both knew it. The service wasn’t going to come back, not any time soon, anyway. And when it did, the phone would be fried anyway. Anything with a circuit board was toast.
It had to be the GPS recordings. That’s why she’d made him keep the phone.
So, assuming the chip was still intact, he still needed to extract the data. Well, that shouldn’t be too hard. The equipment he would need was secreted safely away at the main camp, inside its own Faraday cage. Beneath the boards of the raised platform to the outdoor classroom where the bodies of his three dead friends now sat in silent vigil.
He prayed the chip was still intact.

* * *

Jared stumbled over the two-way radio on his way to there. The casing had been violently smashed. More tread marks marred the soft ground — two, maybe three different pairs of boots, each with a distinctive chevron pattern on their soles, and a single partial print of one of Cassie’s smaller sneakers. That’s when he knew she’d been taken, and he nearly collapsed in despair at the thoughts which forced their way into his mind.
Get it together, man! You can still save her. You have to!
Who would do it? Who would take her? If it was Emerson’s men, then the immediate danger was to Eve, not Cassie. Given Emerson’s willingness to swap, Jared had to assume the man behind the outage wouldn’t need Eve anymore. The moment Cassie was safely in his hands, his wife was just as good as dead.
But if it was someone else—
He wouldn’t let himself finish the thought. It was just too horrible to contemplate. For the first time, he actually hoped Emerson’s people had gotten to his daughter—
She’s not your daughter! his mind corrected.
“She is, damn it,” he growled. “I don’t care what anyone says. She’s my girl.”
He stood up and ran.

* * *

Stage floorboards pried up, Jared unlatched the lid of the first thick-walled container and set it aside. Then he reached down past the insulating mesh. He set the small computer tablet on the edge and cursed himself for not adding a few hand-cranked flashlights. In the darkness, he struggled to find the port for the power cable. Once connected to the static generator, he carefully cranked the handle.
Please work. Please work.
After a moment, the power button began to glow. He kept at it for another ten minutes, patiently resisting the urge to crank faster, knowing he could easily burn out the delicate circuitry if he didn’t. Finally, the light turned from yellow to green. The screen woke and cast enough of a glow for the next step.
Fingers shaking, he gingerly removed the back of the phone and tweezed out the tiny chip with its precious digital cargo. To the naked eye, the tiny black object, no larger than his pinky nail, appeared undamaged.
Jared had been in such a state coming back that he had barely even noticed his friends as he passed them, had blocked out the smell of their death. But now, as he prepared to insert the chip into its tiny port in the tablet, the mental bobber popped once more to the surface of his mind. He flashed on the scene he and Cassie had encountered earlier in the day, and now two things registered to him as strange. First was way the bodies had been arranged, seated without bindings. The other was the absence of wounds besides the single small holes just above the bridges of their noses.
None of them had put up a fight.
He could see Percy not resisting. The man had never raised a hand against anyone. Had, in fact, dedicated himself to saving lives.
But both Wade and Ed were highly trained, fit, and young. They knew more about weapons and hand-to-hand combat than just about anyone Jared had ever met. They would never have let themselves be taken without a fight. Not even if the odds were stacked heavily against them.
Which meant only one thing: They knew their killer. And they trusted him
Had to be. But what did it mean?
The tiny chip slipped from his trembling fingers and fell into the darkness at Jared’s feet. “Son of a—”
Panic rising in his throat, he carefully tipped the tablet to direct the meager light into the darkness beneath him, and there he saw the black square balancing on the toe of his shoe.
With excruciating slowness, he bent down and retrieved the chip. Then, just as carefully, he inserted it into the tablet. A folder popped open and asked whether he wanted to view the data. He did.
File upon file scrolled across the screen. He let out a deep sigh and wondered how he would ever find what he needed in time.
“Help me out here, guys,” he murmured, glancing one last time at his silent colleagues. Beyond them, that damn beacon blinked on and off again. Then it came on once more.
This time, however, instead of going out, the light grew brighter and brighter until it lit up the whole southern sky.
And Jared got this awful sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that something terrible had just happened.

The Catastrophe Theory Chapter 13 by Samantha Durante


Cassie moaned and shifted her weight on the musty, earthen forest floor. Her head pounded as her ears rang with the never-ending litany of whispers, the volume ratcheting up and up and up until her own voice was barely recognizable in her head.
Shaking her mind clear, she peeked out from her cozy thicket and gazed across the darkened wood at the green haze creeping up on the horizon. Something told her that was the direction she needed to head. She had to find her mother, and fast.
Trudging through the pre-dawn black, Cassie fought back the fatigue clutching at her ankles and squinted her eyes through the fever-induced blur clouding her vision. She tried to concentrate on just putting one foot in front of the other as she made her way out of the forest and back towards civilization. She’d figure out the rest when she got there.
The orange-pink sherbet sun peeked over the tree line as Cassie’s sneakers finally touched pavement. Turning to follow the winding one-lane road, she dragged her weary legs in the direction of the emerald mist pooling at the bottom of the hill, the urgent whispers still clamoring in her brain.
Cassie paused as she approached a bend in the road. Despite the chaos in her head, her fever-induced auditory sense remained unnaturally sharp. She thought she heard something moving up ahead.
A gruff voice rang through the trees. “How does the boss expect us to find a lone eight-year-old girl in all these miles of wildness?” it griped.
“Just shut up and keep looking,” another snapped. “That prisoner told Emerson the girl would be at a camp in this area. She can’t be far.”
It was becoming hard to distinguish reality from the cacophony beating through her mind, but that couldn’t possibly have been in Cassie’s head…
“Talk about a needle in a friggin’ haystack…” the first voice muttered.
No, it definitely wasn’t. There was someone out here, and they were looking for her.
Her father’s survival training kicking in, Cassie quickly scanned the ground looking for a weapon. She snatched up a shard of broken grass from the blacktop and slipped it into her pocket, but before she could run, a group of armed men rounded the corner and spotted her. “There!”
Within milliseconds, there were two guns trained on her and she was being hauled into ropy muscled arms. Cassie sighed deeply, resigned. At least she wouldn’t have to walk the rest of the way.
Her eyelids fluttered shut as the group settled into a rhythmic march, headed – she hoped – back to her mother.
When Cassie next woke, she found herself in a dark underground hallway, still slung over the shoulder of one of Emerson’s men. She shivered involuntarily from the fever that still ravaged her system.
“What do you mean the boss was taken hostage?” the soldier carrying her demanded of the hulking man blocking the door ahead of them.
“I meant what I said,” the other man retorted. “Somehow the prisoner got her hands on a gun and is threatening to shoot him if anyone touches that door. They’ve been barricaded in Emerson’s office all night.”
The soldier carrying Cassie shook his head and sighed with exasperation. “Well maybe she’ll change her tune when she sees her daughter is here.” He heaved Cassie’s weight off his shoulder and placed her roughly on her feet. “Let us through,” he commanded.
The other guy shrugged his shoulders and stepped to the side. “All yours, then.”
Cassie’s soldier rapped on the door. “Emerson? I have the girl,” he called through the heavy metal.
A woman’s voice rang out from beyond the door. Her mother’s, Cassie realized with release. “Leave her here and step away,” Eve barked.
The soldier did as commanded, and a second later, the door swung open and Cassie was pulled into a dimly lit office. Eve kicked the door shut behind her as she embraced her daughter, and over her shoulder, Cassie could see a tense looking older man leaning against a desk beside a flickering gas lantern and an unlit electric lamp. Emerson, she realized.
Cassie melted into her mother’s arms, but her relief quickly evaporated as Emerson suddenly lunged at her mother. He wrenched one of Eve’s arms from around Cassie, and in one motion, stripped her of the gun she’d been holding and pushed her to the floor. Eve’s head hit the concrete with a thud.
Adrenaline buzzed through Cassie as Emerson swiveled towards Eve’s slumped form, pointing the barrel of the gun at her back.
“No!” Cassie screamed, her arms outstretched in protest.
And before he could pull the trigger, something happened that Cassie could not anticipate or explain. Her fear released something inside her, and suddenly the room lit up, the electric lamp on the desk sputtering to life as a radio in the corner crackled with static. Simultaneously, a burst of energy issued from Cassie’s fingers and knocked Emerson back on his heels. Then suddenly it all went dark again, except the subtle glow from the lantern.
Emerson dropped the gun in surprise just as Eve’s eyes flicked open, and she grabbed it and jumped to her feet before he could regain his footing.
“What the hell just happened?” Eve challenged, pulling Cassie protectively behind her as she marched the cocked gun toward Emerson until he was backed against the wall.
He glanced worriedly towards Cassie. “She’s cracking, Eve. Please.” He held up his hands in surrender. “Let me explain. I can help her.”
Eve backed off ever so slightly, but kept the gun trained between his eyes. “Talk.”
Emerson gulped down the thick air and stood a little straighter. “You knew when the Institute helped you conceive Cassie that she wasn’t an ordinary child. But we never told you what, exactly, she was.”
Eve waited, and Cassie held her breath. Cassie had always known she was different, but she never understood exactly how. She was finally going to get some answers.
“Cassie is the antidote, Eve. She holds enough energy in her body to bring the light back to the world.”
“What do you mean?” Eve questioned. “How is that possible?”
“We knew it was only a matter of time before the electromagnetic pulse technology you were working on was used, whether by us or an enemy. We needed some kind of backup that could reverse its effects. There was an experimental technology – originally conceived by energy conservationists – that could theoretically harness the energy within a human being, a person’s life force if you will. Think of how much energy we could capture! The only catch was, the source would be destroyed when the energy was transferred to the vessel.”
“You mean that taking a person’s life force energy would kill them?” Eve hissed.
Cassie didn’t understand. Did that mean someone had died so she could be born?
“Well, naturally,” Emerson explained. “But one person’s energy would never be enough to combat the devastating effects of an EMP. We needed more.”
Eve whispered the same question that rattled under Cassie’s tongue. “How many more?”
Emerson hesitated. “Do you remember that small mining town that was wiped off the map about nine years ago by a gas main explosion?”
Eve nodded.
Emerson looked Eve in the eyes and said the words she’d already pieced together in her mind. “That was the Institute, Eve. The life forces of 25,000 people live on inside your daughter.”
Cassie and Eve gasped in unison. Cassie couldn’t even conceive of that many people dying, let alone for her. “Mom,” Cassie croaked. “It can’t be…”
Her eyes never leaving Emerson, Eve reached back and grasped her daughter’s hand. “I’m so sorry, Cass. I never imagined… I didn’t know.”
“No one did,” Emerson interjected, “except for a few select individuals at the head of the Institute. Your friend Rourke included,” he added.
Eve shook her head in disbelief. Emerson slowly stretched out an open-palmed hand towards her.
“And no one has to know, either, Eve… I’ve already taken care of everyone who was part of the experiment. We can keep it a secret. We can keep Cassie safe.”
“But why?” Eve demanded. “What’s in it for you?”
“Simple,” Emerson shrugged. “I want to keep the lights off . And as long as Cassie is alive, the world will remain dark. But you know that something’s not right, Eve – she’s been sick for weeks. We never knew how long the vessel would hold, and it’s getting to be too much for her. I can help.”
Eve hesitated as she considered Emerson’s deal.
Cassie’s head swam, the voices in her mind shrieking. 25,000 voices.
It was too much. She just wanted a release from this torture. She didn’t want to be responsible for all of these people’s deaths. She wanted the lights to come back on.
There was only one thing to do.
The chorus in her head told her what came next, and Cassie obeyed, reaching into her pocket to withdraw the shard of glass she’d hidden earlier. The voices urging her on, she pressed its razor-sharp edge to her throat, gasping at the sting as the tip pierced her skin.
Against the wall, Emerson’s eyes grew wide as he realized what Cassie was about to do. Eve swung around to see what he gaping at and froze in place, taking in her only child with a blade of glass pressed against her jugular.

“Mom,” Cassie murmured. “I’m sorry. I have to.”

Monday 4 August 2014

The Catastrophe Theory Chapter 12 - T.W. Piperbrook


The last half hour had been a flurry of commotion—men, guns, and orders. Eve stood in the corner of the room, her back pressed against the cold bunker wall, her heart destroyed in more ways than she could handle.

Cassie was coming. In spite of all Eve’s efforts to save her, her daughter was going to deliver herself to this madman. She watched Emerson pace the room, his face smug and determined. It was as if he’d forgotten she was even there.

Ever since Cassie had made radio contact, Eve had become part of the background, a forgotten pawn. Her purpose had been served, and now she was as insignificant as the cement walls or the ceiling. She had no idea what would come next.

But she knew she had to stop it. And she knew she needed answers.

Once Cassie arrived, it’d be too late. It was clear the man in the room was unstable. Whatever his sick game was with her daughter, she needed to prevent it.

She eyed the gun on the table, contemplating making a lunge for it. It was about ten feet away—close enough that she could trace the contours of the metal, but far enough away to be a gamble.

She inched closer. She needed to bridge the gap.

Before she could make progress, the door slammed open and two armed guards rushed inside. They gave her a passing glance.

“What should we do about the light we saw earlier?” one of them asked Emerson.

“Tell the others to keep moving toward it,” he instructed. “We need to snuff it out. Preserve the darkness.”

She recognized the look of resolve on his face. It was the same expression he’d wore at the Institute meetings—the look of a man who made all the rules. A few hours earlier, though, when Jared’s radio had gone silent, she’d seen his face soften.

It’d only been for a few seconds, and she might’ve missed it if she hadn’t been staring at him so intently. When it sounded like he’d lost Cassie, the corners of Emerson’s eyes had wrinkled with concern, and he’d pursed his lips.

Was it possible he felt for the girl? That he cared for her more than he let on? Even though he wasn’t her flesh and blood, perhaps he viewed her as his creation. It was a warped perception, but at the same time, the man wasn’t exactly sane.

Emerson stood in the center of the room, giving direction to his subordinates. If he cared about Cassie, it was impossible to tell now. A few more people had meandered into the room, and he was speaking to them like a crazed televangelist, waving his arms and raising his voice. She recognized a few of the faces as some of the people who’d first captured her, and she felt a surge of hatred. The Dark Worshippers. They’d abused her creation. Destroyed the Institute’s vision.

She’d built the weapon as a safeguard; it was never supposed to be used unless absolutely necessary, and only then, for security measures. It was never meant to destroy. The idea seemed like a contradiction, and it was one she’d wrestled with over many sleepless nights. And now it was one that would weigh on her for the rest of her life, however short that life might be.

She shuddered.

Right now, her focus was on Cassie. She needed to keep her safe. Given Emerson’s apparent mental state, there was no telling what the man might do.

Nine years ago, she’d agreed to keep Cassie, to raise her as her own, but she’d never been apprised of the details of her daughter’s involvement. Many of the Institute’s teams were siloed; for safety’s sake, the details of each project were kept from the others. As her contract stated, she’d kept the appointments; she’d brought her daughter to the Institute once a month. She’d done as she was asked, and she’d never told Jared. And now they’d betrayed her.

Emerson had known everything, and he’d used it to his advantage. He’d known about her trouble conceiving, and he’d twisted it for his own personal agenda. She wasn’t sure what his motives were, but clearly he had a plan.

Eve’s anger mounted. Bastard.

The others had left the room, and all at once, it was just she and Emerson. He sat down behind the desk and stared at her. For a second, it was almost as if the two were engaged in an Institute meeting, rather than a meeting between captor and captive.

Emerson looked at Eve, then off into the distance. A wistful look crept across his face. “We’ve all known something like this was going to happen, Eve. How many times had we talked about it? That was the reason we worked so hard, and so fast. We were the first to develop this technology. It only made sense that we’d be the first to use it. The darkness was inevitable. We just helped usher it in.”

Eve shook her head, staving off tears. The man was sick. Delusional. Although she’d known it before, she was certain now—there’d be no reasoning with him.

Emerson continued.

“This all happened a little quicker than I expected, but I intend to make it work. My group will be the new leaders, the ones people will rely on, the ones people will follow. There’ll be casualties, sure, but when the dust settles, we’ll rebuild.” He paused. “Things will finally be the way they were meant to be.”

Eve didn’t answer. She covered her eyes, feigning tears. In the time Emerson had been speaking with the others, she’d been moving closer to his desk. She uncovered her face, making sure he was looking away.

Then she sprang for his gun.

Sunday 3 August 2014

The Catastrophe Theory Chapter 11 by Scott Cramer


Cassie lifted her head and placed her hand on the folded jacket she was using as a pillow. The metal zipper where her cheek had pressed against was hot. All around her, the floor of the cave was cold and damp, but her body heat had warmed the soil. How much higher would her temperature go?
After she became ill weeks ago, her mom and dad had stuck the thermometer under her tongue every hour, it seemed. One would read the display, show it to the other, and they’d both grimace. Then, with furrowed brows, they’d force smiles, and one would tell her she was doing better, followed by the other nodding in agreement, saying, “Cass, all you need is some rest,” or something like that.
One hundred and three degrees. That was the last reading Cassie remembered them telling her. Or had she overheard them whispering to each other. Or had her mom told that to her dad in the upstairs bedroom while Cassie was on the couch in the living room. As her fever had worsened, her hearing had improved.
Cassie heard the beat of her dad’s heart. He was lying next to her, half covered with a plastic garbage bag. His heart was now racing. It told her he was awake. Pretending to be asleep, she had listened as the rhythmic lub-dub had slowed and his breathing became deeper, and she had wished he would drift asleep. Then a thought or dream had startled him and his heart once again started galloping.
Had Dad relived his conversation with Emerson? The man on the radio who was holding mom captive had given him an ultimatum. Trade her, Cassie, for her mother, Eve. Swap child for an adult, but not just any child. Cassie had watched as Dad brought the radio to his lips and paused a long time, ready to respond to Emerson. Cassie's throat had been thick with fear. Then Dad had cursed silently and turned the radio off.
The cave was silent except for the ringing hum of crickets in the tall grass outside.
The voices were getting louder, but nobody else could hear them.
            Cassie opened one eye a crack. Her dad was on his back, the radio wedged under his arm, locked between his elbow and ribcage. Moonlight through the cave’s mouth provided just enough light for her to see that his eyes were closed.
            She shut her eyes and wondered why she considered him her dad. The question startled her and she jerked her arm so violently that she nearly hit him, which would have revved up his heart rate. Then he might never have fallen asleep. Then what?
Cassie used to think about her parents all the time. What was a mother? What was a father? She had known forever that Eve and Jared were not her mom and dad, and yet they were her parents. She had never understood why she had stopped asking herself those questions. Maybe it was because she loved them and they loved her and that was enough.
She breathed in slowly and exhaled a silent whistle between cracked lips. The fever was swelling her tongue and parching her lips. It was causing her to think about certain things again and it was agitating the voices. The fever was pushing her toward the splash of pale green on the horizon.
 Her dad’s heart rate dropped suddenly and leveled out. She opened her eyes and used her nose as a fixed point to measure the steady rise and fall of his chest. She had to act before his next nightmare kicked in, before Emerson’s threat echoed in his mind again.
Cassie reached her arm out and held her hand above the radio until her arm was shaking. She pulled her arm back and sat up. The blood pounding in her ears was muting both the crickets outside and the chorus of voices inside. At ABC, they had taught her many survival tricks, but the saying she liked the most was this: “Hunt like a wolf, survive like a fox.” She had to plan for the worst.
Dad had piled up branches at the cave entrance. He had told her it was to make the cave warmer, but she knew it was to slow down an intruder long enough for him to take aim with his gun.
The branches would slow her down, too. If she awakened him by accident, it would be impossible for her to race to the mouth, clear away the blockage, and escape into the night. He’d grab her first. She’d blame her behavior on a nightmare, and he would believe her. He would hug and comfort her, and keep her in his sight, but then Cassie would have to find a way to do the unthinkable to one of the people she loved most.
            Cassie’s stomach dropped as she eyed the pistol within easy reach.
She flushed all thoughts from her mind and then tiptoed like a fox. She carefully and as quietly as possible took apart the barricade. Straight ahead, an overgrown lawn led to a pine grove which turned into dense forest, all of it covered by a veil of pale moonlight. She’d slept and foraged in those woods before, pretending she was alone, when really an instructor was following her every move, ready to assist if she had got into trouble. Cassie had cried out in fear every time and the instructor came running. Now she had to make her way through the frightening dark forest to reach the light that was pulling her.
Cassie shivered when her dad mumbled. She held her breath and exhaled a sigh of relief when he remained quiet.
She moved close to him and went down on one knee. She could ease the radio from the crook of his arm, or she could rip it and run. Wanting to get far away from the cave before he awoke, Cassie reached out and as her hand was hovering above his chest, she felt her heart stop. Her fingertips were glowing. She gulped and the sound that came from her throat was a soft croak.
Her dad’s eyes shot open.
Cassie grabbed the radio and jerked it from his grasp. For a millionth of a second, they made eye contact, neither moving.
She turned and raced out of the cave.
“Cassie,” he shouted.
She tripped in the grass and sprawled out in the icy dew, the radio firmly in her grasp. She was halfway to the pine grove when her dad emerged from the cave. “Cassie,” he kept shouting.
Sprinting through the tall grass, she didn’t dare look back, fearing she might trip again. She could hear him thrashing through the grass as she was dodging pine trees. She heard him huffing and huffing and branches slapping against his body as she was enduring the pain of branches slapping her face. He had stopped calling her name, perhaps because his lungs were burning the same as hers.
As she went deeper into the forest, the trees were taller and the branches above screened the moonlight. Soon it was impossible to see where she was going, and she ran with both arms extended in front of her.
“Cassie. Cassie. Cassie.”
He had stopped.  He was far back, so she slowed because it was safer, but she wanted to keep moving.
“Cassie. Cassie.”
Now she could barely hear her dad, but still she kept moving.
Finally, she stopped and doubled over, trying to catch her breath. She took small steps and her toe struck something hard. With her hands, she identified the object as a large tree that had toppled. Survive like a fox, but hide like a rabbit.
She crawled on her knees until she was under a tent of the fallen tree’s branches. She was alone in the woods with the voices in her head and the radio.
She turned on the radio, brought it to her lips, and pressed the button. “Hello.”
“Identify yourself.” The gruff reply crackled immediately.
 Cassie recognized the voice. Emerson.
“Who is this?”
“I want to speak to my mom.”
“Cassie?” Emerson blurted.
“I want to speak to my mom.”
“Cassie, where are you?” Emerson asked. “You have to tell. Where are you?”
As Emerson spoke, Cassie listened. Behind and between and around his words, she heard her voice. Cassie heard her mom crying out, gasping. Then Emerson said, “Here she is.”
Cassie’s heart pounded as she brought the radio close to her ear.
“Cassie, it’s mom.”
“Mom, I’m coming,” she said and turned off the radio.

Saturday 2 August 2014


Wherein, David Wright ties up a lot of potentially catastrophic loose ends.

The Catastrophe Theory: Chapter Ten (David Wright)

“What the hell are you talking about?” Jared asked.
Emerson’s voice came over the radio. “She’s not your daughter. She’s mine.”
“Bullshit,” Jared said, his eyes on his daughter, who looked at him confused.
“What is he talking about, Daddy?”
“Nothing, dear,” Jared said, putting a bit of distance between himself and his daughter, though not wanting to move so far away she fell out of sight. Whoever attacked the camp could still be nearby.
“Don’t believe me?” Emerson asked. “Hold on.”
A moment later, the radio crackled and he could hear crying — Eve’s crying.
“Tell him,” Emerson said, “tell your husband the truth. Is Cassie mine?”
All he could hear was crying on the other end.
“Is she?” Jared asked, swallowing, turning from Cassie and hoping she couldn’t hear him.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Emerson was back on the radio. “Now, do we have a deal?”
Jared couldn’t believe it.
Eve had to be lying. Had to be.
With a gun against her head, she’d say anything. Yet, at the same time, the tone of her voice — he knew that tone. He’d heard it before when she thought about leaving him, back before Cassie was born. She’d said that things “weren’t working out.” He’d practically begged her not to leave him. To give him another chance, to be the husband he should have been from the beginning. Shortly after that, she found out she was pregnant with Cassie, and they managed to work things out.
But what if her pregnancy was the real reason she’d wanted to leave — because she’d cheated on him, or maybe didn’t really love him?
“Well?” Emerson asked again. “Do we have a deal or should I just kill her now?”
“I don’t know,” Jared said. “I need to think about it.”
“You have thirty minutes. I’ll be calling you back. Decide, or I’ll make your choice for you.”
The radio went dead and Jared stared ahead into the woods, so full of conflicting emotions, he felt paralyzed.
What if Eve was lying? She’d say anything with a gun to her head, wouldn’t she? She’d say anything to spare her child harm.
And that’s where things didn’t make sense. If Cassie was Emerson’s daughter, and he expected to trade for her, why would he drop this bombshell on Jared? Hey, I’ll trade you your innocent best thing that ever happened to you daughter for your lying, cheating wife.
If Eve had cheated, most guys Jared knew would’ve been so pissed, they might just tell Emerson he could keep her.
Yet, Jared couldn’t do that.
Can I?
Then another thought occurred to him. Perhaps Eve had gone along with the lie hoping he would take off with Cassie. Maybe she counted on him being like most guys and being so pissed that he’d just leave. Maybe this was her way of preserving their safety.
No matter what, he couldn’t see himself just handing over his daughter to some monster.
As he considered his dilemma, he heard footsteps behind him, and saw Cassie staring at him with a hurt look.
She’d heard everything.
“You’re not my Daddy?” she asked.
How could he possibly explain this to a girl who knew nothing about the birds and the bees? She was a wide-eyed innocent, and he wasn’t ready to have this talk, let alone suggest that her mother had been unfaithful, especially when Jared didn’t know the facts.
“I am your father,” he said. “He’s lying.”
“But Mommy said…”
“He’s making Mommy lie, Cassie.”
“I wish I knew.”

* * * *

Eve glared at the bastard who broke her husband’s heart. She’d never wanted to murder someone before.
Now it was all she could think about.
Killing the bastard who not only threatened her family, but also betrayed the Institute and joined this weirdo ass no-tech cult. Worst of all, he’d used her device, the one that was supposed to help the good guys, against the nation, and possibly the world, crippling it.
They were in his office in some underground bunker that looked like it had been in the planning for months, if not years. She wondered how long she’d been working for an evil madman.
Large glass lanterns cast flickering shadows on the wall, which kept making Eve think that someone else was in the room even though they’d been alone since Ali brought her from the cell she’d been kept in the past couple of nights.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“Taking my daughter back or … this?” he said, waving his hands about at the darkness and lack of power.
“Both,” she said.
“The Lantern,” he said, “happened a bit sooner than planned, otherwise I would’ve already arranged to pick up my daughter. But sometimes things don’t go quite as planned.”
“She’s not your daughter,” Eve said, pissed that she’d had to lie to her husband. While Cassie wasn’t Jared’s, she also wasn’t Emerson’s flesh and blood.
“She is the Institute’s property. Therefore, she is mine. Let’s not forget, you were barren before we helped you. You signed a contract. Be glad that you had her for as long as you did. If it’s any consolation, you did a wonderful job raising her.”
“The contract didn’t say anything about you coming and taking her! I was supposed to raise her as my own.”
“So long as you and your husband were able,” Emerson said, echoing one of the provisions she never thought could actually happen. “And now, you are unable.”
She wanted to launch herself across the room and gouge his eyes out. But the gun on his desk, and the two big men outside his door kept her from doing anything too reckless — yet.
She asked, “Why do you even want her?”
“You really haven’t put this all together yet, have you? And here I had been fearing that you’d figured me out months ago.”
“No! None of this makes sense. Why would the director of the Institute be againsttechnology? And why would you want to take Cassie from me? She’s just your average little girl. A sickly one at that.”
“Oh, no, she’s so much more than average, Eve. So much more.”

* * * *

As twilight tinged the horizon in red and violet began to swallow the sky, Jared and Cassie made their way along a path to a hidden auxiliary camp where they could rest, assuming they didn’t need to run off to meet Emerson somewhere. There were also supplies at the other camp, including much needed food, water, and light.
He hoped that whoever had sacked the main camp and killed all his people hadn’t discovered the second one. He wondered if Emerson had been responsible for the attack on the camp. It didn’t make sense, but hell, little did at the moment.
Cassie had been quiet in the twenty five minutes since Emerson’s call, likely lost in her own thoughts, maybe trying to reconcile the fact that her father might not really be her father. The poor kid.
Jared still wasn’t certain what he would do when Emerson called with his ultimatum.
He couldn’t let Emerson kill Eve. Even if she had cheated on him, she must’ve had her reasons. She didn’t deserve to die. But at the same time, he couldn’t hand over his daughter to a monster capable of even making such a demand, let alone striking Eve.
Whether Cassie was biologically Jared’s or not, she was his daughter in every way that mattered. He had rocked her to sleep at night as a crying infant. He had made her boo-boo’s all better. He had read her stories before bed every night. He’d gone to her dance recitals even when Eve was working late. Even if Cassie wasn’t blood, she was still family, no matter what anyone said.
And he wasn’t about to let her go.
As they approached the second camp, hidden just inside a cave system, he readied his 1911 pistol, and looked back to tell Cassie to wait.
As he approached the cave, he saw the signal again. The flashes of light that his wife was headed toward. It flickered twice and then twice again after a moment.
He wondered if the light was Emerson, or if it was legitimate help. Maybe military? He wondered if that’s where Eve was, or if she’d been caught early in her trek before getting anywhere near the signal. If that were the case, perhaps he should head toward it, he wondered.
As he approached the cave’s darkness, he tried to peer through the gloaming and see any sign of movement. His flashlight had died last night and he’d given Eve all the glo-sticks. He would kill for either right now.
As he drew closer to the cave’s mouth, his heart pounded so loud he could hear it.
He whistled the call to his men to alert them to stand down, hoping they hadn't met the same fate as Percy, Ed and Wade. He waited for a response.
He stepped closer to the cave, gun starting to shake in his hands.
The radio crackled to life.
Jared fired off a shot into the darkness, surprised by the radio.
Emerson’s voice crackled loudly, “So, Jared, have you decided whether or not I’m going to kill your wife?”

Thursday 31 July 2014

The Catastrophe Theory Chapter Nine - Shalini Boland


The Catastrophe Theory: Chapter Nine (Shalini Boland)

Fear turned Jared’s body cold. He peeled his hand away from Cassie’s mouth and they stared at one other, wide-eyed. Disbelieving. Silent. The Institute wouldn’t hurt Eve. They wouldn’t dare, surely? She was one of them. She was too important. Eve was the one who had given them the means in the first place. She was vital to their plan−whatever it was−wasn’t she? But no, they weren’t bluffing; they had just killed Rourke.
“Mommy,” Cassie whispered. “Mommy!” she screamed, this time. “Daddy, don’t let them hurt her!”
Jared crouched down and pulled his trembling daughter close to him, kissing her damp hair, inhaling her sweet scent, wishing he could’ve prevented her from hearing Emerson’s chilling words on the radio. He lowered his face, so his cheek rested next to hers, and he whispered in her ear through gritted teeth. “No one is hurting Mommy. Do you hear me, Cassie? No one.”
“But that man said . . . “
Jared jerked his head back and stared into his daughter’s terrified eyes. “That man’s an idiot,” he said. He’s lying.”
“You promise she’ll be okay?”
Still gripping the radio in his right fist, he squeezed it hard, imagining it was Emerson’s head. Imagining crushing it into a mass of wires and circuits and brains and blood. Emerson’s grin turning to terror as he squeezed . . . Jared shook himself; he was losing the plot.
Cassie’s screams would have alerted anyone close by to their whereabouts. He had to get them out of there. The camp was compromised for now and he didn’t have time to scope it out. There was no time to bury his dead friends. No time to mourn them even. He had to save Eve and he had to protect Cassie. Scooping his daughter up into stiff, aching arms, he jogged out of the camp security gate and back toward the ragged tree line. The fast-gathering darkness now almost absolute. Their breaths uneven and raw. Cassie’s sweat-soaked body, making his arms and hands slick.
“Jared, did you hear me?” Emerson’s voice on the radio, infused with a note of irritation.
As he ran, Jared pressed the radio button. “Yes. Yes, I heard you.” He came to a stop about twenty yards inside the woodland, squatted, and propped his daughter up against a broad-trunked tree. “Wait here, sweetie,” he whispered. Pushing himself upright, he took a few paces back the way he’d come, staring across at the dark shape of the camp. The calm, quiet night mocked the rising panic crashing through his body, just as the enduring landscape mocked the ongoing turmoil of humanity. “What is it you want, Emerson?” Jared exhaled. “Whatever it is, it’s yours. Just let Eve go and then you can carry on with whatever twisted plan you’ve got going on. But leave us out of it.”
“Glad you’re seeing sense, Jared.”
“How do I know you’ve even got her there? You could be . . .”
“Jared?” Eve’s voice came low and defeated over the airwaves.
“Baby, have they hurt you? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine . . . I love you.” Her voice broke, and then she yelled: “Forget me! Take Cassie and get as far away as you . . .” A squeal and a thud cut her off.
“Eve! Evie!” he hissed.
“She’s alive for now.” Emerson’s voice was back on the radio. “But I’m afraid that little stunt earned her a pretty little bruise on her face . . . and possibly a few broken ribs.”
Jared wanted to unleash all hell on the man, but Cassie was close by, her staccato sobs and shivers sending stabs of anguish through him. He had to keep things as calm as possible, for her sake. She was too young to hear any of this, but it was more dangerous to move her completely out of earshot.
“Tell me what you want,” Jared repeated flatly.
“It’s quite simple. We’ll do a straight swap.”
Jared wondered what this powerful man could possibly want from him. His brain trawled the list of possibilities. Too bad he’d lost all his electronic devices. If Emerson wanted any of his working tech kit he was screwed.
“Eve for Cassie,” Emerson said.
For a moment, the impossible words hung in the air.
“You . . . You want Cassie?” Jared thought he must have heard wrong.
“That’s what I said.”
Jared choked out a short laugh. “You’re dreaming. If you think I would ever hand over my little girl to anyone−let alone a murderer. What could you possibly want with my eight-year-old daughter? You’re crazy.”
“So should I shoot Eve? Or slit her throat? You can choose.”
Jared’s mind went numb. His head swam and for a moment he thought he might throw up. This could not be happening. Why had he let Eve go off like that? What kind of a husband was he who would just let his wife go off into the murderous black night on her own, while he cowered in the house like a . . . like a . . . But she hadn’t given him a choice. Cassie was sick and Eve had had to go. There was nothing he could’ve done to stop her. Was there?
“Don’t hurt my wife,” Jared said. “Please. There must be something else you need. Anything. I’ll get you anything else. Whatever you want.” He realized he was crying. His anger had evaporated and desperation had slayed him. He sank to the ground and swiped a hand across his face.
“I’ve told you what I want, Jared. You know I won’t settle for anything else. Bring her to me and you and Eve can go free. Your daughter is sick. You know she won’t survive out there. She has days left. Weeks if she’s lucky. With me she’ll have a chance at life.”
“Shut up,” Jared snarled. “Shut your mouth. You’re not getting my daughter. However long she’s got, she won’t be spending a second of her precious, beautiful life with you! Why? Why is Cassie so important to you?”
“Calm down, Jared. Take a breath and listen to me. I’m going to tell you something. Something that is the God’s honest truth. Something that might make this trade much easier for you.”
Jared ran his hands through his hair and waited for the man to speak. Not holding out any hope that Emerson’s words would hold comfort, or make anything ‘easier’. Knowing that nothing would induce him to turn over his daughter to a lunatic.
“Jared . . . Cassie’s not your daughter.”


Wednesday 30 July 2014

The Catastrophe Theory Chapter 8 - Megan Thomason


The Conspiracy Theory: Chapter Eight (Megan Thomason)

Thoughts of Rourke Mullen filled Jared’s mind as he trudged through a familiar ravine. Rourke, head of research at the Institute of Progress, had first approached Jared at Eve’s company picnic two years prior. Jared delighted in Rourke’s penchant for preparedness, so he told him all about his Adventure Base Camp. As it happened, Rourke sought an outlet for his three teenage sons’ endless energy and thought the ABC Camp fit the bill. The two men agreed to meet for drinks the following evening as Rourke had several ideas for taking the Jared’s camp to “the next level.” Over drinks, a partnership was formed and a charter brewed, yet another thing Jared kept from Eve.
As Jared watched the sun set behind the ridge in the distance, he fiddled with the sole working electronic device in his possession, a very sophisticated two-way radio. It was his connection to Rourke, the Institute…and Eve. Should I make the call? Can Rourke be trusted? Those were the million dollar questions and the ones he spent the last seventy-two hours contemplating, distracting himself from the pain of the journey. Jared had always considered Rourke a visionary, his ramblings prophetic. But now? He was positive that Rourke had either made sure his predictions came to pass or had knowledge of someone else’s plan and wanted to prepare for the inevitable. It has to be the latter. Jared had always been a good judge of character. He couldn’t bear to think he was wrong about Rourke.
Rourke had smuggled out prototypes of every Institute creation but one—the one that Rourke claimed kept him up at night, the one that was a game changer. The one that likely caused all of this—Eve’s creation. Jared didn’t know the details of the device—just that, “Used properly, it would eliminate any threats to national security. However, in the wrong hands, it would be the end of life as we know it.” Jared saw the dark circles under Rourke’s eyes, the worry in his brow as he talked about it. If he faked his concern, he deserved an Academy Award for the performance.
Jared stopped to catch his breath before attempting to climb the steep hill in front of him. In his mind’s eye, he saw the camp just beyond the ridge, over the stream, and beyond the orange groves. Is it in tact? Have the others gathered there? He went through the list of “locals,” counting them off on his fingers. Three at the camp. Thirteen within a twenty mile radius. Upwards of forty within fifty miles.
Cassie snored softly in his ear, asleep in the sling Jared had fashioned for her. Her sickly sweet breath caressed his neck. Sweat dripped down her curls. She needed medical attention and soon. Jared’s right hand man Percy had once been an EMT. He lived at the camp alongside Ed and Wade, two ex-marines. Together, they served as Jared’s staff. Jared needed to get Cassie to Percy, his own rest be damned. Three days of traveling at full throttle with sixty-five pounds of dead weight hanging off his neck—first through small towns full of looters and thugs, and then through dense forest—had sapped all his energy. His only rest was forty-eight hours ago in a dumpster at the edge of a town. The meager water and protein bar rations had done little to bolster Jared’s strength.
Jared rubbed his hand along his jaw, feeling the effects of days without a shave. He chuckled at how livid Eve would be. “Scruff is hot, a scraggly beard is not,” she’d say as she handed him his razor. Had she reached the Institute? Could they fix this? Jared shook his head, disappointed in himself. His job wasn’t to worry about whether the problem was fixed. His job was to assume it couldn’t be fixed and to help the nation’s new generation of leaders survive long enough to rebuild the new order.
The temptation to turn on the radio and make the call was strong but the desire to get Cassie to camp and help was stronger. Jared took a swig of water and pressed forward. He wouldn’t need the light of the sun to reach camp. Every felled branch, tangle of roots, and change of elevation had been seared into his memory long ago.
Jared imagined the crickets to be singing a tune, urging him towards the finish line. When the camp fence came into view, he found a reserve of energy and made swift progress the final quarter mile. He grabbed for his water bottle to wet his lips and whistle a signal to his men, warning them of his approach. Given the circumstances, they’d be armed and ready for an attack. He awaited their response for ten, twenty, thirty, then sixty long seconds. Silence. Jared repeated his sequence of short and long whistles but even the crickets stayed quiet.
“Daddy, are we here?” Cassie whispered in a weak voice. Jared lifted her from the sling and set her down at the base of a large tree. He raised his finger to his lips and motioned for her to stay put. She whimpered in protest, but he repeated his hand gestures, letting her know that he was going to see if the camp was safe to enter.
Maybe they’re all holed up in the bunker. Jared and his crew had excavated a bomb shelter below the camp kitchen a year prior. At most, it could hold a dozen, but those lucky few could live off the supplies for well over a year.
Jared followed the fence line a few hundred feet until he reached a hidden gate, the lock powered by a solar keypad. He entered the six digit code and then propped open the gate in case he needed to get back to Cassie quickly. A pungent odor filled the air, all too reminiscent of his journey here. Death at every turn. He pulled his shirt up over his mouth and picked up his pace.
A gasp escaped his mouth when he saw them. Lined up, side by side in the camp’s outdoor classroom, three bodies, each with a bullet hole in their head. Percy, Ed, and Wade. From the stench and decomposition of the bodies, they had been here for days. Jared crumpled to the ground, dry heaving into the stony soil, mourning for his best friends and colleagues. It wasn’t until he heard snapping branches and telltale footsteps that he gathered his wits about him, yanking his gun from his harness and raising it.
Jared dropped the gun just as fast when he saw his daughter standing before him, tears in her eyes. He ran to her, trying to shield her from the sight of the corpses. Cassie had been close enough with these men to call them each, “Uncle.”
All thoughts of training the next generation of leaders were discarded, replaced with yearning for revenge. Jared needed to know who was responsible—for the deaths of these men, for the carnage of everything he held dear. He would not waste another moment. Gripping Cassie tight with his left hand, he used his right to switch the radio on, push the button, and to enter his authorization code.
“Took you long enough, Alphabet.” Rourke knew better than to call him that. Something had to be wrong. The last time Rourke called Jared, “Alphabet,” for naming his camp, “ABC,” he got a right hook to the jaw and had his mouth wired shut for two weeks. Rourke’s wife fed him kale smoothies through a straw for the duration. Jared told him that the next time he called him that he could expect to eat through a feeding tube.
“Been a little busy, tending to…” Jared was cut off mid-sentence.
“No matter what, keep the assets safe.” Rourke’s voice started out strong but trailed off. Jared heard scuffling at the other end of the line, followed by a gunshot. Cassie screamed out in terror.
A new voice boomed across the transmission, and Jared clamped his hand across Cassie’s mouth so that he could hear. “Welcome to the dark, Jared. I should have known Rourke would turn to you.” Jared knew that voice. It belonged to Eve’s ultimate boss, head of the Institute, Reggie Emerson. Jared had never liked the secretive bastard. Reggie chuckled before his tone turned icy. “Would you like to hear your wife, Eve, be executed next, or are you ready to listen?”

Tuesday 29 July 2014

The Catastrophe Theory Chapter 7 - Jenni Merritt


Chapter Seven - Jenni Merritt

Darkness. Pitch black and so thick Eve could barely breathe. She gasped for air as she reached for her eyes, only to find that her hands were bound tightly behind her back. She shook her head back and forth, trying to shake away the blindfold that kept her vision from her. But there was nothing there. She blinked again, realizing the darkness was around her. Not a dot of light. Just pitch black nothingness.
"Hello?" she whispered. Her voice felt hoarse even though she hadn't been screaming. She licked her lips and wondered how long it had been since she had last drank anything. She couldn't remember. "Is anyone there?" she croaked.
Something crunched to her left and she instantly scooted away from the noise. Another crunch, then another. She pressed her back against the cold wall behind her as the sound of footsteps filled the darkness.
Blinding light filled the room and Eve finally screamed, clenching her eyes shut as pain shot through them. Someone chuckled. Another someone shushed them. Eve slowly opened her eyes. The light came from a single gas lantern. It wasn't super bright. But compared to the pitch darkness that had surrounded her just moments before, it felt as if the noonday sun had been let into the room. She blinked her eyes and dared to look up at the faces of those who surrounded her.
Men and women. Dirty, tired looking, clothes torn and faces grim. People like this used to be the ones who lined city streets, powerless unless you threw a penny into their hat. Eve pulled at her arms, feeling the rope that bound her cut into her wrists. Who was powerless now?
"What do you want?" she asked. "Who are you?"
A delicate hand reached out and gently tapped the shoulder of the man who stood in front with the lantern. He stepped aside and a young lady stepped forward. She was cleaner than the rest and she smiled down at Eve. Her smile wasn't inviting or sympathetic. It was the smile of someone who had won. Eve squinted at her, recognition dawning quickly.
"Hey there, Eve," she said, stepping closer. "Comfy?"
"Ali," Eve said, almost spitting but stopping herself at the last moment. Keep control, she reminded herself. "I was just helping you."
Ali nodded and crouched down so she could look Eve in the eye. "And that was very sweet," she said with a snide smile. "But you see, you can't help someone if they don't need it."
"What do you want?" Eve demanded. She looked around her room, trying to find her bag, but it was nowhere to be seen. Panic started to pulse in her veins. The map. She couldn't lose the map.
Ali stood and nodded to someone behind her. Two men stepped forward and grabbed Eve under the arms. They hefted her up and started to drag her towards the door. Eve thought about fighting, but with the room full of people, she knew she wouldn't stand a chance.
They stepped through the doorway into another dark room. Another door clicked again then creaked open. Out they went, into the chilled night air. It was lit with bonfires. The fires crackled and danced in the dark, casting eerie shadows that bounced off of people and trees. The men carried her past the people who were singing, chatting, slurping drinks and nibbling on food. Finally they reached a fire that was separate from the rest and let her tumble to the ground. With her hands bound behind her, she couldn't catch herself. Her mouth filled with dirt and grass and she sputtered, rolling to her side so she could gasp for air.
"Be nice," Ali said, clucking her tongue at the men light a chastising mother. Someone helped Eve sit up then disappeared into the shadows. A cup was pressed to her lips. She turned away. "It's just water," Ali said. "I bet you are thirsty."
Better judgment told her not to drink it. But Eve's mouth was filled with cotton and her throat refused to swallow any more. She turned to the cup and sipped at the lukewarm water. Nothing tasted funny about it. Hopefully it stayed that way.
"What do you want?" Eve asked again. "Who are you people?"
"We are just people like you. Just trying to find our place in this world." Ali's voice was teasing, lilting and pulling like she was talking to a small child.
"I wasn't hurting you. I was just following the..." She stopped. Who knows how many people actually saw that light. What if she was one of the few?
Ali leaned forward. The fire lit her face. Despite the remaining dirt she hadn't washed away, she was a beautiful girl. But her eyes danced with something ugly. "Following what? The Light?" When Eve didn't answer her, she just laughed and leaned in even closer. "Yeah, we figured. And that's what made you such an easy target." Ali stood and stretched her arms above her head. She smiled down at Eve then started to pace in front of the fire, casual and easy, without a care in the world.
"We are Dark Worshippers, since you asked," she said. "We embrace life as it is now, free from the technology that had kept us bound. We are primal. We are what mankind should have remained, dependant on the earth and what she gives us." Ali stopped and looked down at Eve, her eyes narrowing. "And we really just do not like those who think otherwise."
Eve licked her lips. She darted her eyes to the side and noticed something laying just out of reach. Her bag. The contents were spilled out along the ground, but everything was there. The map's corner stuck out of the bag, ripped more than ever. Relief flooded through her. She looked back at Ali, who was smiling again.
"So this light," Ali continued, "has become the perfect trap. We don't know what it is or where it is, but we do know people keep flocking for it. And here we are."
"What do you think you can do with me?" Eve asked. "I am no one. Just let me go and..."
"Nope, not happening." Ali crouched down again, her nose so close that Eve could smell her stale breath. "Here is what we figure: Whoever has that light must have tech. And they must be flashing it in the hopes of bring mankind back under tech's power. So we have to stop it. We are following the Light too, but not for the same reason you are. We plan to stop it. And you Light followers gives us a nice little package to barter with."
She stood, grabbed Eve under the arm pit, and lifted her to her feet. Despite how small Ali seemed, she was strong. They started to march away from the light, down a hill, Eve stumbling on rocks and twigs as Ali pulled her along. Light appeared once more, just a small jumble of candles perched along a fence. Just past the fence Eve could make out the shapes of bodies, tons of bodies. Some were curled on the ground, some pacing back and forth in the near dark, some pressed against the fence no doubt watching the two as they approached.
They reached the fence and stopped so suddenly that Eve fell against Ali with a grunt. Ali turned and smiled sweetly at Eve. The candle light darkened half of her face and Eve gasped. Ali looked like a demon come from the very dark that surrounded them.
"Tech killed our world. It ravaged our bodies, destroyed our lives until all we had was screens and antisocial children and wars raged on the basis that our tech was better than yours. It cannot come back." Ali reached over to the fence and unlocked a part of it. A little gate swung open. "The people flashing the Light have two options: Turn it off and you all can go free. Or you die." With that, she shoved Eve in through the gate and slammed it shut.

Monday 28 July 2014

The Catastrophe Theory Chapter Six - Sarah Dalton


The first time Friar’s Lantern lit up the sky, Eve held a frightened Cassie in her arms, listening to the screams. She remembered how Cassie’s tense little fingers seized her own; tenacious, strong, yet vulnerable with youth.
The panic started so quickly. But it wasn’t because of the televisions that died, or the lights that went dark, or even the cars that stopped dead in the road, it was from the plane that fell from the sky. So many people watched the sudden plummet of the aircraft. The town stood at their windows like mannequins. She remembered making eye contact with an open mouthed stranger on the street outside. They both knew the world was changing.
No one could have survived the crash and everyone knew it. That’s when they realised they weren’t protected anymore. And no one could talk about it with the world. They were cut off. No more phones. No more internet. There was nothing to tell them how far this had reached, and there was no protective barrier anymore. The days of hiding behind a camera lens were over.
She swallowed, the image of Doug’s dead body popping into her mind. The corpse left in the street. So many innocents killed by the opportunistic looters. Lives claimed by an invention she’d helped to create.
This time the green light meandered across the horizon to an almost silent audience. Eve wondered if Jared and Cassie were sitting by the window watching, their hearts in their mouths. Her chest tightened at the thought. They’re safe, she thought. They have to be.
Eve whipped her head around at the sound of shuffling feet. Closer now. More urgent. Whoever it was had been spooked by the sight of the aurora. Unless… unless they saw her hide in the culvert.
With nervous fingers, Eve unzipped her pack. Had Jared left her unarmed? Had he packed a knife? Or worse, a gun? The thought of using, even holding a gun made her stomach flip. He was the one with training. He was the one who knew how to load and aim. He’d taught her the basics, but the thought of actually using it made her stomach turn to water. She reached into the compartments and searched.
The mystery footsteps hurried along. Shoes scuffed against the dry ground, quicker with each stride. Running. Running from what? From whom? Eve let out a breath and continued her search through the supplies. A breath too loud, she thought. She should be still and quiet. Surely the runner wasn’t close enough to hear her breathe. But sound carried in this dead world. Before the Outage, Eve had complained about the noise. Now she longed for it so she didn’t have to listen to the sound of buzzing flies and growling dogs. A shudder ran down her spine. Only a few days ago Jared remarked at the change in domestic animals—how they were grouping together to form packs. Fewer humans meant fewer pets, and more wild animals.
Her fingers groped into the front compartment of the bag. There they met cold metal and she knew immediately what it was. A gun. Bullets, too. She shook her head and half-smiled, ignoring the churning of her stomach. She pulled the gun from the compartment and examined it with her glow stick. It was small, but it looked scary enough, at least to her, and to most of their small town. Jared had been considered the scary survivalist on the street. He was the one most people greeted with a friendly smile but wary eyes. It seemed laughable now.
Perhaps the presence of the gun is enough to frighten her follower. Eve ran a finger over the barrel. She wouldn’t even have to load it—just let them see it. Those footsteps could belong to a neighbour. They could be friendly, helpful even. Her mind filled with random names and faces from the town she lived in: Rachel from book club, the old guy down the road, Cassie’s teacher—what was her name?—or a colleague from the institution. No, not one of them. Eve shook her head. Jared would disapprove of this train of thought. It’s you against them. There is no decency in chaos. That’s what he would say after reading one of his doom-mongering books.
Eve froze. There was a change in rhythm. She thought she heard the sound of someone tripping, of a longer scuff against the ground followed by a heavy thud. Her heartbeat quickened. That thud sounded close. Too close. A young female voice cried out. Eve lifted the gun and gripped it in both hands, waiting. No more footsteps. No more voices. The only sound outside the culvert came from the rushed breathing of the fallen girl.
There was a sob.
Eve closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall of the ditch. She longed to go out there. She knew Jared would shake his head and grit his teeth. But she wasn’t sure if she could be so cold.
That word. That one, magic word. Oh, Christ, she sounded just like Cassie. Eve pressed the heel of her hand into her eye socket. Could she ignore another human in peril?
Her mind drifted to thoughts of Cassie lying in bed, sick and afraid. She thought about her own daughter out there in the middle of this catastrophe, alone and afraid. Hurt. She got to her feet and slipped the backpack over her shoulders. She wasn’t ready to lose it yet—her humanity.
“Where are you?” she said, not too loud, as she climbed out of the culvert.
“Over here. It’s my ankle. I think I twisted it,” said the girl.
Eve saw a dark shape lying on the ground, not far from the entrance to the culvert. She suspected that the girl had noticed the hiding place during Friar’s Lantern and hurried over. They would have met eventually.
“All right, I’m here. But don’t try anything, I have a gun.”
“I won’t,” said the girl. “Thank God you’re here. I saw the green sky and I ran.”
When Eve approached her, she realised that the girl was a teenager, around fifteen, sixteen years old. She was filthy, her blonde hair clumped with dirt and her clothes torn and ill-fitting. Eve frowned as she bent low to examine the girl’s ankle. This amount of neglect came from more than being in squalor since the Outage. The girl had been living rough for a long time.
“What’s your name?” Eve asked.
“Ali,” she replied. “Short for Alison. I prefer Ali.”
“Okay, Ali. Can I have a look at your ankle?”
She nodded and angled herself so that Eve had better access to her leg. But in order to check the girl, Eve had to put the gun in her pocket.
“It doesn’t seem swollen,” Eve said, gently pressing her fingers against Ali's skin. “Are you sure you…”
She sensed the change immediately. Ali’s head turned ever so slightly and her body tensed. There was the sound of quiet movement around them, and then she heard a cough. Eve reached for her gun, but a click made her stop.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said a man’s voice.
Eve slowly raised her head. Still crouched, she saw three pairs of boots. Beads of sweat formed on her upper lip as she looked higher. Three large men, armed with weapons far more frightening than her small pistol—rifles, automatic weapons—faced her. She lifted herself to her full height and turned around. A man smiled and waved. Even in the dark she could tell that the smile did not meet his eyes. The blood drained from her face and a cold chill lifted the hair on the back of her neck.
“It’s okay, Ali. We’re going to be okay,” Eve said, trying to keep the tremor from her voice.

“Well, I am,” Ali replied. Eve turned in shock. The girl was on her feet and grinning through the dark night. “I don’t know about you though.”

The Catastrophe Theory Chapter 5 - Deirdre Gould


The narrow wheels of her old bike crackled over an empty chip bag before Eve realized how foolish she’d been. She’d been so anxious to get to the flashing light that she’d assumed she was the only one to see it. But without streetlamps or car headlights or the glow of neighbors’ windows, the dark was almost complete. The strobing light Eve was chasing must have been like a beacon for miles and miles. She wondered how many people had left immediately, the very first night, to find it.

So far, Eve had been lucky. She’d taken the bike against her better judgement. She didn’t like the idea of having something that others might want, but anxiety for Jared and Cassidy won out. It was agony to leave them in the first place and it would take her only half as long with the bicycle as on foot. She’d seen no one and during daylight, on the comfortable well-worn roads of her own town, it was hard to remember that she should be cautious.

But the woods were closing in on the road in front of Eve and shadows were clustering around the edge and pressing in as the sun rolled behind the trees. The dull shine of a bullet casing caught her eye as she passed and a chilly cramp hit her stomach. She was still alone on the road, but she scanned the treeline for movement. The trash on the road became heavier, plastic bottles bounced over the tar in a light breeze and soiled diapers tossed to the side were thickly covered with buzzing flies. It was almost dusk when her bike tire hit something small and loose and sent her tumbling to the side. She picked a few pebbles out of her scraped hand and checked the knee that had taken the brunt of the fall and then her tire. She and the bike were alright. She peered at the patch of road for what she’d run over. It glinted and she picked it up. A lone double A battery. Was it just someone trying to find a working device? Or was it someone who actually had one and was discarding the used up battery? Eve put it in her pocket, not even sure why she was doing it. A sort of talisman maybe, a little act of faith that everything would go back to normal.

Her knee ached too much to get back onto the bike, so she walked beside it for a while. The ride had left her drained and she wanted to rest, thinking that she soon wouldn’t be able to see anyhow, at least until the moon rose. But thinking of her family made her keep bargaining with herself. Just over the crest of the next hill, just down to the curve, just a couple of more steps. Her sneakers flashed a dull grey against the tar and that’s all she focused on. So she almost tripped over the body in the road. She froze when she saw it, just a lump, an outline of its back. She couldn’t see much, just a darker dark, but from the way it lay as she circled it and the slight odor that was beginning to climb from it, she knew that the person was dead.

Eve didn’t waste time looking for others. She forced her exhausted body back onto the bike and sped away, her adrenaline giving her a burst of energy. She managed not to hit anything, and after a few minutes, she slowed again, unable to see the road at all. She knew if she took a serious tumble and hit her head, there’d be nobody to help her and she’d be the corpse melting into the tar. She needed to reorient herself anyway. She’d sit until the flash again and then sleep. She decided to risk a small light so she could find a clean patch of grass. She reached into her pack for a glo-stick. It made a satisfying crunch as she bent it and relief washed over her as the chemicals brightened. It wasn’t much, just a little globe of green around her, but any light was better than wondering what was creeping up on her unseen.

She rolled the bike down into the ditch and then slid it into the culvert where it wouldn’t be seen. She climbed up the far bank and sat, leaning on her pack. She faced the woods where she thought the flash would be and pulled out a bottle of water and a protein bar. Her breathing slowed and the pulsing ache in her leg muscles died to a dull pinch. Her eyelids fluttered and she shifted so she’d stay awake.

She didn’t know how long she’d been dozing for when she heard the voices. She sat up and adrenaline crunched her into a tight ball. She closed her hand around the glo-stick. The light leaked out of her fingers. She stuck it back in the pack and zipped it, but panicked when the world was still a misty turquoise around her. The voices got louder and she began to hear the shuffle of feet. Eve slid down the bank into the ditch and crept along it into the culvert. It took another second or two to realize it wasn’t her glo-stick lighting up the dark. She leaned a few inches out of the culvert, pressing her back against the side of the ditch and looked up. An emerald aurora snaked across the edge of the treeline and Eve’s heart sank. Friar’s Lantern they’d codenamed it at the institute. It meant whatever had happened was happening again. It meant that the flash she’d been following, the help she’d been chasing for Cassidy, might be gone.

The Hunt for Tomorrow: The Catastrophe Theory: Chapter Five (Deirdre Goul...:

Sunday 27 July 2014

The Catastrophe Theory Chapter 4 (Katie French)


“Tell it to me again,” Jared said as they sat at the kitchen table, squeezing out the last rays of daylight before the whole city plunged into thick darkness.
Cassie rolled her eyes, something she never would have done with any of the other leaders at the base camp, but Jared didn’t flinch. “This isn’t a game, Cassie.”
She blew out a frustrated breath. “We travel silently. No main roads. If we see anyone, we do not engage. No helping strangers no matter how badly we want to. You are in charge. What you say goes.” At this last part, she rolled her eyes again. She was eight-years-old and acted eighteen Jared thought as he looked, really looked, into his daughter’s face. When had she turned into a small version of Eve with her dark, arched eyebrows and her red, puckered mouth that frowned, disappointed, whenever she thought Jared was being ridiculous? At the thought of Eve, a flare of regret and remorse gripped him, but he pushed it away.
“Good,” he said, handing her the smaller pack. “Let’s go.”
They walked to the back door with little fanfare. He’d taken only one photo and one book. A survivalist knows what’s important after all. Plus, his bag was stuffed with the most precious cargo from the Faraday Cages. It’d been hard to pick from the three barrels of electronics, but he’d made good choices. Then they’d taken pains to hide the rest in a cobwebby corner of the basement under tarps and cardboard boxes. It would be a miracle if everything remained untouched until they’d be able to send a team back to get the rest, but Jared liked to think miracles still happened.
As he took his final step across the threshold of his house, a pain clenched his heart. He never was good with goodbyes.
Three days. It would take three days at best to reach the camp. Three days of night walking, exposed to any number of dangers along the way. They’d heard the gun shots, seen the fires. Chaos reigned in a world gone dark. If he was honest, three days was a generous guess. With Cassie’s illness they were lucky if they could make ten miles a night. It was thirty-seven miles to the camp. He’d inched his fingers along the map, counting and swearing and wishing to God Eve would've let them move closer liked he’d begged three years ago. Thirty-seven miles. And Cassie hadn’t kept down a full meal in four days.
Ten miles a night would be a miracle.
They slipped down the walkway and into the neighbor’s yard, the grass already pushing up past their ankles. How quickly things went to rot, he mused. He flicked a glance at the house, but his eyes didn’t linger there. Instead they swept the dim street, noting the changes his nice suburban cul-de-sac had undergone. Two houses burned to the ground and another singed like an overdone casserole. On the other side of the road, a Volvo stood, doors open, windows smashed into tiny glass shards that winked in the twilight. As they passed another house, a curtain twitched and he caught a glimpse of a face before it ducked back into the shadows. His hand itched as if wanting to draw the Remington 1911 from his shoulder harness. But the last thing he wanted to do was stalk the streets with a handgun pointed at every shadow. It was a great way to get shot by frightened neighbors and, besides, he didn’t want Cassie to think that was what the world had come to. Not yet, anyway.
The swish of the grass and the hum of cicadas accompanied them as they trekked past the yards and through a dense field. He flicked a glance at Cassie to see if she was appreciating his insistence on the long black pants instead of the shorts she’d wanted to wear. She said nothing, just walked, head high, eyes alert like she’d been trained. His gaze fell on the pink sparkly nail polish on hands that gripped a survival pack. The paint was already chipped and fading.
Cassie stopped mid-stride, her body tensing. He jogged up beside her and studied her face. It was twisted in pain.
“What is it?” he whispered, putting a hand on her shoulder. It was hot. Burning hot.
Her hands went to her stomach and she doubled over. Jared watched helplessly as she wretched the MRE meal into the weeds. Only after she’d throw up twice did he remember to hold her hair back. God, how could he be so good at some things and so useless at others? It wasn’t the first time he missed Eve since she’d left.
“Are you okay?” Stupid question, he thought.
She stood, hands on knees, spitting into the grass. “Water.”
He dug around and unsnapped his water bottle from his pack. She took it and drank. He didn’t have the heart to remind her of rationing as he watched her hands tremble.
Long minutes passed as they stood in the grass, batting away mosquitoes, Cassie resting. How far had they gone, a half mile? Thirty-seven miles might as well be three thousand.
He was clipping the water bottle to his pack when he heard it. A crackle in the grass. Twigs breaking.
Someone or something was coming.
He grabbed Cassie’s arm and tugged forward. Her eyes widened and she followed, sprinting through the grass. The sound of pursuit followed.
They ran for a half mile through grass that grabbed at their clothes and the bushes that scraped their flesh. Cassie’s breath became ragged. He glanced at her, willing her to keep going. What he didn’t say was there were at least three human shadows running after them. He thought about the hand gun, but dismissed it. Shots in the dark were just that.
When she fell, she fell hard, tumbling into the grass with a cry that tore his heart to pieces. He reached down to pull her up, but she might has well have been boneless. He should have known. She was her mother’s daughter and didn’t quit until it was impossible not to.
He tried to lift her, but, between the heft of his pack and the weight of his daughter, the strangers would be on them in minutes. He looked at his pack, filled with priceless working electronic devices, the only usable currency in this broken world. Then he looked at his daughter. His baby girl. Wet curls clung to her sweat drenched forehead.
There was only one choice.
He unzipped the pack, pulling out the one item they could not live without, and put the rest on display. The GPS, the cell phones, the lap top with solar power supply. So many untold treasures. Treasures they would need.
But none more than he needed his daughter.
He hefted Cassie into his arms and took off running.