Rick is a Peacekeeper--an officer of the law. He guards the remnants of civilization in a city that is the last bastion standing after the cataclysmic events of the far future. One fateful night he meets Andy, a mysterious young man who seems too good to be true... and who may endanger the lives of everyone Rick has sworn to protect. But Andy knows things about Rick's city that he ignores, including the monstrous secret hiding deep underground...
This is the sixth chapter of 'Spark'. A new chapter will come out every week. Any comments or questions can be directed to the author at nothlit(at)hotmail(dot)com
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or events is entirely coincidental.
The sound of a gunshot snatched my attention away from the struggling queen and over to the place Andy was pointing at. There! Coming through the dust and the circular hole left behind by the drill was some kind of cylindrical vehicle with a crystal dome that was smoothly coming more fully into view. Leaning out of it, brandishing a gun, was Bentley.
"Take cover!" I shouted automatically, and sprinted for the wreckage of the drill. Andy was close behind me, and we barely had time to jump behind the red-hot drill cone before two more shots were fired. One of them rebounded in the metal above my head, making me flinch.
"Shit!" Andy shouted. "He's got a fucking gun!"
Bentley fired two more shots and then stopped. The way he was coming into the chamber, descending down the tunnel directly above us, he wouldn't have a clear shot of either of us if we stayed where we were.
"Stay put!" I told Andy, taking hold of his shirt and pulling him close to me, shielding him with my body. "Make him come for us!"
It was nerve-racking staying where we were. Whatever vehicle Bentley was riding was slowly coming down, and he tried shooting us twice more before giving up completely. Both times, the shots sounded so close to my head that I thought for sure he was going to get me. I hunched protectively over Andy, but when the shots stopped the second time and I heard the unmistakable sound of something big and heavy landing on the floor, I knew we had to make a move.
"I'll go first, draw his fire," I told Andy. "You get behind him and take him out however you can. You got it?"
Andy hesitated. "But you'll be exposed!"
"Can't help that. Come on, we have to move."
Andy nodded slowly, his eyes darting everywhere before settling down on mine. I could tell he was scared, but now we needed to act.
"Stop hiding!" Bentley yelled loudly, his voice confident and echoing in the chamber. "You made me come all the way down here; at least come out and say hello!"
He fired a shot at our hiding place, the bullet slamming into the floor far too close to where we were. I expected the white-hot bite of a ricochet, but it didn't come.
"You should have helped me, Peacekeeper," Bentley said, walking slowly around our cover. We had nowhere to go; as long as he kept his distance and his gun at the ready, he would be able to take both of us out with no problems. "Or you, Lake. Either of you could have helped me and this would have been much easier. Now I have to come all the way down to do your job, gather for myself all the information in the mainframe... Well, I'm here now. Come out!"
"Ready?" I asked Andy.
"I should go first," he protested. "If you go, he will shoot you."
I had an instant of the weirdest déjà vu I had ever experienced. Only instead of Andy it was Smith and Jane, hunkered down with me in a trench with our stealth suits useless. Debating who would go out first. I had let her take the lead that time. Never again.
"You going behind him, however you can," I told him. "Use your knife if you still have it."
Bentley fired another shot, making both of us jump. We inched away from him, partially hidden by the smoke and dust of the drill, but not for long.
I looked at Andy, nodded. He nodded back. Then I sprang.
I rushed out blindly, head low, charging with everything I had towards the source of the voice. Bentley saw me and turned swiftly, not panicking, already sure of his kill. I had only a second to see him, but his cold demeanor and the smooth grace of his movement told me he was a trained killer. I gritted my teeth and put every last amount of power into my tackle. Bentley crouched slightly, took aim, and fired.
I threw myself towards him just as the gunshot exploded impossibly loud in my ears. I wasn't fast enough; I felt the bullet tear a gash through my right arm, throwing me off balance and causing me to tumble to the floor instead of crashing into Bentley's like I had intended.
I thought I was done for. Andy was coming behind me, I knew it, but he would be too late.
Except he wasn't. I had barely hit the floor when I heard his rage-filled cry and saw him do what I had tried unsuccessfully to do, launching himself at Bentley like a human projectile. Bentley fired again, but too late. His shot was off, and it hit the glass instead.
I sprang to my feet, clutching my wound with my good hand. Andy and Bentley were grappling on the floor, rolling around in a flurry of punches in their fierce struggle. I wanted to dive in, but there was no way to do it without hurting Andy or getting in his way. Then I saw Bentley shift the grip on his gun and slam it butt first into Andy's temple.
"NO!" I roared, and threw myself at the two fighting men. I aimed it so I would fall right on top of Bentley's arm, and I was lucky. I managed to pin it to the ground with my leg, and fiercely wrestled the gun from his grip, narrowly avoiding another panicked shot which Bentley managed to fire before I snatched the gun from his hand. With a weapon in hand, I rolled away and came back up on one knee, cocking the gun in their direction. Andy was not moving. The unfocused look in his eyes told me the blow to his head had left him stunned.
"Bentley!" I yelled, trying to keep the gun steady despite the trembling in my wounded arm. "Get away from him now or I swear I'll fucking kill you!"
Instead of giving up, Bentley took advantage of Andy's momentary helplessness and locked one of his arms around his neck, grabbing Andy's left arm with the other, pulling him along as he staggered to his feet, using him as a human shield.
"Drop the gun," he warned me, his voice ragged but his eyes cold and determined. "Drop it or I strangle him, Peacekeeper."
He meant it. I saw Andy snap to, but by then it was too late. Bentley had him in a headlock, and as soon as Andy started struggling he tightened his grip around his neck, the muscles in his forearm bulging with the effort. Andy's eyes went wide, and his face started getting red from the sudden pressure on his windpipe. He tried to elbow Bentley, but the other man merely shifted his stance and took it. He wasn't even paying attention to Andy. His eyes were locked on mine.
"Drop the gun," he said again, inching back away from me. "Drop it and slide it to me, or I kill him."
I still had the gun and I knew I could try taking a shot. But Bentley was smart; he forced Andy to follow his erratic, waving motion as he walked all the way back to the cracked glass wall on the other side of the room, where the queen was standing. He was purposefully blocking my shot, shifting his legs around and particularly his head, making it impossible for me to get a clear angle. My right arm was also trembling from the gunshot wound; I couldn't hold the gun straight and shooting one-handed would almost certainly mean I was as likely to kill Andy by mistake as I was to shoot Bentley.
"Fuck!" I yelled in frustration.
Time was running out. Andy gasped, trying to get air. He was using his one free arm to try and claw at Bentley's face, but he couldn't quite reach. And he was weakening. His face was going darker now, his eyes bulging from their sockets. I had to do something fast.
"The gun," Bentley said, a single drop of sweat running down the bridge of his nose.
There was nothing I could do.
"Fine," I said. "But let him go."
I saw Andy mouth the word no, but I had made my choice. I threw the gun down, and kicked it in Bentley's direction. The gun slid on the metal floor, catching a bit on the debris, but it made it all the way to his boot.
"Smart choice," Bentley told me. He suddenly let go of Andy, pushing him away and then pushing him again with a kick on the small of his back when he was far away enough. Andy stumbled, then was knocked off his feet by the second shove. He fell to the floor, hard. Quicker than a predator striking, Bentley bent over and snatched the gun from the floor. He pointed it at me.
I think Bentley saw my eyes dart over his head when I saw that the queen was moving. His reaction was instinctive; he kept the gun trained on me but looked behind him at the wall of cracked glass, and then saw it, too.
"Oh my God," was all he managed to say before the queen broke free.
She made a sound like a madwoman screaming, and in a single sudden violent motion tore herself free of all the tubes that were binding her. The machinery behind her buckled, and the tubes exploded all around her, flailing like electrocuted snakes, tearing metal apart, and some launching themselves straight up at the glass wall. Glowing spark gushed from a dozen wounds in the queen's body, and wherever it hit the metal or her own carapace it sparked, crackling with alien brilliance with the terrible energy that gave it its name.
The awful screeching of the queen's legs digging into the metal was overpowered by the sudden bone-wrecking impact as she moved faster than a hunting spider and slammed her entire body against the glass that was imprisoning her. The spark on her body burst into miniature white lightning with the impact. She hit it again, harder. Then there was loud, wrenching groan. And the entire glass wall shattered.
It was horrifying, spellbinding. One moment the wall had been whole; the next a million tiny cracks spiderwebbed instantaneously over the entire glass structure, and hundreds upon hundreds of knife-sharp shards burst into the chamber with the force of the queen's assault. I ran three long steps and threw myself to the floor over Andy, then I felt the sharp bite of something slashing through my leg. I cried out, and Andy called out my name in alarm, but then the queen screamed again and I simply had to look at her.
I wished I had not.
Bentley had been too close to the exploding glass wall. He lay on the floor, a bloody and mangled mess. But he was not dead, not by a long shot, and he still held the gun in his hand. He fired once at the queen, and the bullet went right through her. She screamed a third time, but this time the scream was accompanied by a mental burst of animal hatred so intense that I felt as if somebody had knocked the air out of my lungs. Andy choked back what he had been about to say; the mental assault eclipsed our own emotions, so tiny in comparison to her vast, incomprehensible anger.
With deadly agility , she moved through the shards of the wreckage to stand over Bentley. He fired again wildly, and the bullet pierced the queen's body. He didn't get a third chance. The queen lifted one of her razor-sharp legs and brought it down, skewering Bentley's torso with it. Bentley gave a gurgled sort of cry and then howled as the queen lifted him up clear off the ground, impaled on her leg like a helpless insect. I was struck dumb with horrified fascination, and could not tear my eyes from the carnage even when she brought her ever-moving mandibles closer and closer to the frantic screaming and flailing form of her prey.
The sharp scythes of her mouthparts tore through the flesh of Bentley's head. Then he was suddenly still.
The second I knew Bentley had died, the vehicle he had arrived in beeped very loudly three times.
"He had them rigged!" Andy managed to say.
I didn't understand what he meant.
"Duck!" he yelled, pulling me back down to the floor.
There was a sharp, loud skittering of razor claws on the metal floor, and suddenly the queen was standing directly over us, her pulsing and wounded abdomen leaking pure undiluted spark directly on top of us both. A drop of the crackling white liquid splashed on my face, over my open wounds. It burned.
Then the bombs that Bentley had rigged to go off in case he died exploded, a series of incredibly fast skull-jarring booms that fractured my entire world and deafened me with their vicious slam of noise and rock.
I opened my eyes and wiped spark from my face. It didn't burn anymore. I spat some of it out; there was blood mixed with it, and for an idle instant I wondered if I was about to die. Then I coughed; dust was everywhere, choking me.
I shifted in my position as much as I could. Something stirred beneath me. Frantically, I dug through the debris, unmindful of how the sharp rocks tore at my hands, and after shoving some small rocks out of the way my hands touched something soft. I grabbed it; it was piece of fabric. I tugged on it, pulled it out. It was Andy's shirt. I pulled again, harder, and Andy suddenly jerked into motion, helping me pull him out. I saw him cough and sputter as his head cleared the debris. I could see him clearly despite the fact that all the lights had gone out. He was covered in spark, as was I, and his skin glowed soft and white in the dark.
"Andy?" I coughed out, struggling to break free of a boulder that was spinning my leg down. "Are you okay?"
I couldn't hear out of one ear, the one that had been facing the blast. It was weirdly disorienting but I was glad to be alive.
Andy retched, coughed something out, but nodded. "Yeah. You, Rick?"
I nodded. "Still alive."
Andy's eyes widened when he noticed. "You're glowing."
"So are you."
Suddenly, something above us began to move, dislodging even bigger rocks. Andy and I moved out of the way as much as we could, and a violent shudder right above our heads turned our eyes upward. The thing above us was breaking free of the rocks, shedding them away with ease as if they weighed nothing.
"It's the queen," Andy said in a low voice.
"She's alive," I said, slightly awed. She had survived the explosions and the collapse of the rocks. Her body had shielded us from the worst of it, or else we would have been crushed long ago. Still, the explosions had been so big... It was almost a miracle that she was still alive.
There was a cracking sound, and the queen lifted her body clear off the ground. Like us, she glowed faintly where the spark had fallen on her carapace and coated her legs. She shifted in the darkness, stepping clear over us, pushing rocks and debris away as she made her way up in a pronounced diagonal.
"She's heading to the surface," Andy said.
"Yes," I confirmed. "She will dig herself out. She will be free."
A wordless thrum of emotion echoed my word. Free. Then it was followed by a strong image, an alien thought which my brain translated into a single word as the queen left us behind to claw her way to freedom.
Andy and I were struck dumb by the thought. It was vast and warm and incomprehensible, and I caught a glimpse of the sentience of the creature, of the alien way she saw the world.
There were loud crunching and tearing sounds above us as she made her way. A large pile of dirt fell on top of me and finally released me from the spell.
"We have to follow her," I told Andy. "We will be buried alive if we don't. And we have to hurry. She is our only source of light now."
"Not counting ourselves," Andy said, lifting his bare hand covered in that glow. The light made our surroundings look oddly beautiful.
"Come on," I told him. "Let's get moving."
"Lead the way," he answered.
It was very hard going. We were basically scrambling along almost blindly, going on hands and knees over debris of various sources, piles of loose earth and irregular large boulders. Where the queen was digging, the going was easy enough as long as we kept directly behind her, but right at the beginning we had to fight to catch up to her and twice she almost left us behind where she used her much bigger body to force her way through the remnants of the tunnel that Bentley had made coming down. She didn't follow this tunnel directly, since most of it was caved in, but she used it to make it easier to dig herself out. I didn't know how she was doing it, and I didn't care. All I thought about was keeping her glowing white body in sight, breathing to calm the burning of my straining legs, and making sure that Andy was following right behind me.
The ascent was endless. It was a desperate mad scramble that simply would not end, a desperate crawling over shifting earth, jumping, climbing, sometimes even running. The queen was tunneling way too fast for a normal animal or even a machine; it seemed that she had been designed to dig tunnels in the first place. Behind me, Andy panted but kept up, the glow he was giving off dimming as time passed, the same as mine. Only the queen glowed as white as ever, the one beacon that kept me going, my one and only goal and direction. Nothing else mattered but keeping up. The darkness pressed all around me, the claustrophobic weight of the earth threatened to engulf me, but we kept on going. We couldn't afford to stop.
Long minutes passed. Maybe hours. The queen was not tunneling straight up; in fact, the slope of her tunnel was flattening out the more we advanced. How long had we walked? I was thirsty, thirstier than I had ever been in my life. I couldn't remember the last time I'd had water or food. My legs were shaking, threatening to give way. My arm throbbed painfully, maddeningly. Then darkness... more darkness... and the faint glow there, ahead. I was certain it had been hours of following, now. It felt like it had been walking forever. But at least now I could actually walk upright, and Andy too. The tunnel was tall and wide, and I had not had to crawl over debris in quite a while now. When had that changed? I couldn't remember. I just had to keep going.
Some time later a stumble and a gasp behind me made me stop.
"Can't..." Andy panted, on hands and knees.
I walked unsteadily back to where he was, grabbed his arm and pulled. He resisted.
"You go on," he said. "I can't."
I was too thirsty to speak, but I shook my head, grabbed him and pulled him up by his armpits despite his grunt of protest. Then I slung one of his arms over my shoulders, took some of his weight and walked on.
We were slower now, and at first I tried to keep up with the queen. Soon, however, I saw that it was helpless. She was too quick. We kept going, though, because I feared that the tunnel would collapse behind her at any moment. We walked and walked, and then walked some more. At one point we began climbing upwards again, and it was almost more than we could take. But then...
"Daylight?" Andy croaked next to me. He was not leaning on me so much anymore. In fact, I was surprised to see that somehow I was now leaning on him.
I looked. At first I thought it was the glow of the queen, but the bright point of light got bigger as we approached, and I saw it was an opening, an actual opening into daylight. I felt an adrenaline surge and picked up the pace slightly. Andy did the same. We walked toward sunlight, unable to believe that the darkness was ending, and soon the opening became the mouth of a cave. Then we were stumbling past rocks into cool air, into warm sunlight, into blessed freedom.
I let go of Andy and collapsed outside, exhausted. He did the same. We rolled onto our backs and just lay there, panting, looking up at the impossibly blue sky. It looked like water. I was so very thirsty.
"I got... a beacon," Andy whispered, his voice raw. "Dean... will know."
I shifted my head to look at him. He took something out of his pocket, something that looked like a pen, unscrewed it clumsily and pressed a hidden button. Then he let it fall to the ground, as exhausted as me.
"I'm tired," I said. Why was I so thirsty? Was I still bleeding from the gunshot wound?
I felt Andy's reach out until his hand brushed mine, then grab it and hold it. I gripped him back with all the strength I had. It wasn't much.
"Don't fall asleep," Andy cautioned me. "Stay with me."
"Yes," I whispered, but my mind was wandering. Stay...
My eyes fluttered closed. I lost consciousness.
Chapter 7 will come out next Monday!
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