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?”