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Archive for March, 2013

Anomalosity V

Okay, it’s been a couple months since I’ve added to this blog.  This is the fifth installment of my Anomalosity series.  Soon, in the next installment, our jounalist character arrives in the Charlottesville area.  But for now, a new meeting with Stratos in Harwich, England, and our little friend Eddy is brought to a survivor’s camp in the Dogwood Valley up in Greene County.

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Anomalosity V 

The seas were rolling, long green swells with barely a whitecap. Harwich was in sight. Nostrum stood in the bows of the lively schooner. A hissing bow wave threw spray over the railings. It was invigorating. He felt alive. He needed this cleansing. The past weeks had been a depressing descent into chaos.

The crew shortened sail as they entered Harwich Harbor. The schooner’s action calmed, but people back in the cockpit were green, and their vomit swirled in the scuppers. This was a small schooner, barely 40 feet along the waterline, and not a vessel for landlubbers to brave the seas on.

The captain started the engine and for the last few minutes of their voyage they motored to the docks. Nostrum shook hands with the captain and the two man crew as he debarked, and headed quickly towards the city’s business district a short distance away. People were out and about. The city had the appearance of normalcy, but it could not have been normal. He attributed it to British ‘stiff upper lip’.

He came to the building that housed U.C.U.E., but before the door stood an armed guard.

“Your business?” the guard said in a quiet but direct manner. He wore a uniform of sorts, the name of the security company on a patch on his right shoulder: ‘Security Systems Ltd.’ He was also armed: a holstered automatic pistol on his right hip, and an FN sub-machine gun hanging by a lanyard under his right arm.

“I’m here to see Mr. Stratos.”

“No one by that name here,” the guard said.

“I met him here, in his office, not long ago. He doesn’t expect me, but it is important that I see him.”

The guard looked Nostrum up and down.

“What’s in that bag?”

“My personal belongings. Look, I know Mr. Stratos has an office here.”

“I think you should empty that bag onto the walk, sir.”

“I won’t. Let me in. I know Mr. Stratos has an office here.”

The muzzle of the sub-machine gun rose to point at Nostrum’s groin.

“I think you will.”

Nostrum stood still. The guard leaned his face towards a microphone attached to his left shoulder and spoke softly into it. The muzzle of the sub-machine gun rose to Nostrum’s chin. Both men stood still, staring hard at each other.

It seemed a long time, long enough for Nostrum to think that if this were his end, it wasn’t so bad, not as bad as many an end he had seen these past weeks.

The glass door behind the guard opened.

“Mr. Nostrum. I wasn’t expecting you.” It was Stratos, looking tired and worn. “I didn’t think I’d be seeing you again.”

“Forever’s a short time. I went to that place to meet your acquaintance… ”

“No need to hide our movements now, Mr. Nostrum,” Stratos interrupted. “As you say, things have changed drastically in just a short while. Will you let Mr. Nostrum through?” Stratos said to the guard.

With reluctance that the guard lowered the gun, then stepped aside so Nostrum could enter the building. Nostrum breathed a sigh of relieve.

They walked through the lobby and headed for the stairs.

“That ‘guard’ said there was no one by your name here.”

“Well, he was either being protective or he just didn’t know. They have a head quarters nearby. He must have radioed there. They keep a list of names of who belongs where.”

“He doesn’t look official to me.”

“He’s not. Just someone who was briefly trained and armed. Those like him are dangerous pumped up little men who think much of themselves. There’s not enough police, so the municipalities have resorted to this.”

“What’s happening?” Nostrum asked.

“The need to keep order, to keep things from breaking down. So far most seem to be minding their Ps and Qs, but there has been trouble. More frequently now. You hear sirens all the time and occasional gunfire.”

They quickly ascended stairs and entered onto the U.C.U.E. floor. It was dim, the offices lit only by daylight.

“We’re a bit handicapped, you know. We only have electricity a few hours a day. Who knows how long that will last. But until that time we still have occasional use of some computers and shortwave radio.”

“So what is it you hear?”

“You first, Mr. Nostrum. What have you heard? What have you seen?”

“On the continent, there are safe and orderly places, and then there are places that have broken down. Gangs roam streets. Villages and homes pillaged. And then the anomalies, the news of strange animals, UFOs, alien-like humanoids.

“More sea monsters!” Stratos said.

“Yes, and apparently some aggressive land predators. I haven’t seen any yet myself. I did see bodies that were viciously torn up. I don’t know if that was dog work or something else.”

A murmur arose from the surrounding offices, and several staffers emerged into the hallway outside Stratos’ office.

“That’s the electricity gone off again,” Stratos said. “Well, my computer has some battery back up. Come see what I think is causing the damage you saw on those bodies.”

He turned the screen to face Nostrum and opened an icon.

“This was taken by one of our associates in Germany.”

It was a picture, most likely taken with a cellphone, of an animal that was at the far end of a farm field. It was hard to tell its size, but it looked something like a long polar bear on short legs with a long snout.

“Here’s a picture that she took of its footprint. That’s her own foot next to it.”

“More than twice as long as her foot,” Nostrum said. “I’d like to see that animal close up.”

“Safer seen through a telescope,” Stratos said.

“What do you think it is, and where did it come from from?”

“Maybe that’s what we should talk about,” Stratos said.

“Your acquaintance in Finland showed me pictures of a sea creature, the one that apparently wrecked that fishing boat. It resembled a masosaur, a prehistoric sea reptile. Then there’s the die-offs in some places, the break down of society in others…

What is going on?” Nostrum asked.

Stratos turned off the computer and remained silent in thought a moment. The distant crack of gunfire seemed to rouse him.

“Maybe this is way off in Dr. Who’s universe, but I think we’re seeing an alien invasion.”

“I don’t think you’re off base, Mr. Stratos. I’ve wondered the same myself. Your acquaintance in Sweden is convinced the strange body that was found washed up on the beach was alien. What became of the body? Who took it? Has it been autopsied?”

“We don’t know. But here’s my initial theory, subject to change as we learn more. I think we are being invaded, or perhaps more accurately said, absorbed. The intelligence behind this invasion has disrupted major networks: electricity and internet, transportation and distribution. We still have some ability. We can still use generators. Some of our computers still work. Some of our earlier model vehicles work. Some ships are operable, the older ships. Older aircraft work. It’s seems that electronic systems built after a certain time don’t work.”

“Have you had news from the States?”

“Not a lot. None of their media is working. What we get are short wave broadcasts from the amateur network. We listen in. It’s mostly members reporting to other members what is happening in their various districts.”

“And what’s the buzz?” Nostrum asked.

“Much like here. A break down of order in some places. Food is the biggest issue, and shelter, as winter is approaching. Medical attention. People of our time don’t keep stockpiles food and medicine. And unless they have a fireplace, they get cold when the electricity goes off. It doesn’t take long for people to get desperate, and the government can’t supply their needs.”

“I need to get back there. Can you recommend a means for me to do that.”

“Good luck to you there, Mr. Nostrum,” Stratos said with a sad smile. “Take care of your self.”

“What’s his story,” Rogan asked.

“The foragers came across him. He was on foot. He’s a mess.”

Rogan reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small Albemarle pippin apple. “Can I give you this,” Rogan asked.

Eddy looked up at him, his hazel eyes watery and dumb. He was maybe 14 or 15, skinny, dirty, with a dusting of chin fuzz.

“When did you last eat?” Rogan asked.

Eddy’s eyes slid away.

“I don’t know,” he said in a whisper.

“Here, take this.”

Eddy took the pippin and looked at it a few moments. Then he pushed the apple between his lips and took a bite. It was juicy and sweet. The taste woke something in him, and he greedily bit at the apple, the best gift that had ever been given him. Jason gave him a water bottle. Eddy drank with sloshing gulps, his eyes rolling from Jason to Rogan, and then he started panting, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“You’re safe here. You’re going to be okay.”

Eddy shook his head.

“I’ve seen it. I’ve seen what it does. We’re not safe. No one is safe.”

“What’d you see, boy?” Rogan asked.

But Eddy became quiet again, eyes observing his surroundings.

This place was impermanent. A high meadow surrounded by trees. Tents were set up in rows with an avenue between. There were vehicles too: cars, jeeps and trucks. And pairs of people, both men and women, walking around the edges of the field.

“Eddy Shifflet! Eddy Shifflet! How’d you get here, boy?”

It was Corbit Morris, a boy Eddy knew from school but wasn’t really friends with.

“Don’t know,” Eddy said.

“Foragers found him and brought him in,” Rogan said. “Corbit, why don’t you show Eddy around the camp, get him oriented.”

“Sure,” Corbit said. “C’mon, Eddy. Let me show you around. This is home for a while.”

Eddy handed the water bottle to Jason and got up to follow Corbit. It was hard. Tears ran down his face and he struggled to keep from whimpering.

“You look rough, Eddy. Where’s your folks?”

Eddy couldn’t find the words. His mouth worked but no words came out.

“Are they still around, Eddy?”

Eddy couldn’t answer.

“Mine aren’t. Things happened. We got separated. I went back to find them. But they were dead. They were all tore up. I threw some dirt over them.” Corbit’s voice grew weaker. “Nobody believes me. No one’s ever seen dogs do that. No one’s ever seen bears do that. They were in pieces.”

Eddy swiped a hand across his eyes and turned to look at Corbit.

“They didn’t just have small holes shot through them?”

“No. They were in pieces. Tore up. My dad, my mom, my little sister. I should’a been tore up too, but we got separated. I went over a hill to see what was there. I heard this commotion and screaming. When I got back there they were all in pieces. I threw some dirt over them and ran. I was afraid.”

“I was afraid too,” Eddy said. “I saw it. The thing that got my ma. It wasn’t very big. Just a metal pipe looking thing on wiry legs. It shot out a laser beam or something. It made a noise. It nearly got me. I got in the car and ran. But the car broke down so I ran on foot.”

Corbit didn’t seem like he had in school, sort of a mean punk. Eddy poked him with an elbow and gestured about.

“How does all this work? It looks like most people are doing somethin’.”

“Yeah, everyone has a job. No loafers. Unless you’re sick or hurt.”

“Who runs it?” Eddy asked.

“Rogan, Jason and a couple others. They’re like bosses. Everyone has somethin’ to do: searchin’ for food and stuff, keepin’ lookout, and keepin’ the camp in order. Watch out you don’t get picked to dig latrines. Oh, man, we’ve all had to do a shift on that, and it ain’t fun..”

“I haven’t seen people walking around with guns,” Eddy said.

“Oh, there’s guns. The bosses don’t want people walking around the camp with guns, but a lot of people have them. The people walkin’ on lookout, they always have guns.”

“Where are we?”

“We’re in the Dogwood Valley. How’d you get here?” Corbit asked.

“I’m not sure.” Eddy laughed. “I must have been wandering around awhile.” Eddy became quiet for a moment. “I thought the world was coming to an end, but Am Here said it’s being changed. I don’t know what he means. But then these guys came along in that jeep. They were looking for underground tanks to get gas from.”

“Yeah, we have an old tanker truck they got working. We can use it to get gas and haul it back here.” Corbit’s face screwed up a bit. “Who’s ‘Am Here’?”

Eddy kept walking along as though nothing strange had passed between the two boys. “Am Here talks to me from my computer. I don’t know how he got on it, but he’s in there.”

“In your computer.”

“Yeah. He’s runnin’ away too. I think that’s how that metal thing came to find us. It killed my mom and her boyfriend. Nearly killed me too.”

Corbit walked along a while before saying, “I think you need to talk to Rogan and Jason and the others.”

” There’s still a lot of people in their homes,” Rogan said. “But as they come to us for protection, we have more need. Our hunters have pretty much cleaned out the surrounding area of game. Pete has his folks out looking for anything in the woods and fields edible. A couple ladies in his band are naturalists. They’ve been a blessing. So far the meals have been pretty good. But winter’s coming on and we’re going to be hard put to feed everyone.”

“We’re stockpiling canned goods and packaged products that we come across,” Jason said. “It’s enough to hold us a few weeks.”

“We have to find more,” Rogan said. “We need the foragers to go through homes we find abandoned and hope we don’t run into someone hiding with a gun.”

“We’re getting it down. So far no conflicts,” Jason said. “But we have to go further afield. The supermarkets in Stanardsville and Ruckersville are cleaned out of everything. We’ve gone into a few rural markets. We picked up a lot in a basement storage area that got overlooked. Tinned meats and fish, some canned vegetables. Some sacks of concrete. We can use that to build a cook stove. Be a lot better than an open fire.”

“Should we venture into the Charlottesville area?” Rogan asked. “I expect all the markets there will be cleaned out, and Big Lots and the Dollar Store too. But if we go into the edges of the city there’s bound to be homes that have things we can use.”

“We’ll be seen as looters. I think it’s too dangerous right now. In another few weeks when things really break down, we may have a better chance of getting in and getting out without much trouble.”

“By then those homes will be cleaned out good,” Rogan said. “We’ll be reduced to harvesting squirrels and whatever small game we can find.”

“Not so bad,” Jason said. “The cook squad does a pretty good job making up the daily stew. We won’t get tired of it. We’re getting hungry.”

Several people came running up. A tall lean woman with light brown hair and piercing brown eyes interrupted them.

“There’s something strange over on the north side of the camp.”

“What?” Rogan asked.

“We don’t know. Never seen anything like it. It’s like a metal thing standing on wires, a few feet long and a foot off the ground.”

“Sounds like a car muffler,” Jason offered, laughing. “Maybe we can use it.”

“I don’t think so,” the woman said. “We’re walking our section of the perimeter and it wasn’t there 20 minutes ago.”

“Someone put it there to freak you out,” Rogan said.

“Well, then, it’s working. Please, let’s go take a look.”

They’re crossing the camp with a purpose drew other campers after them to see what was up. Jason waved them back, but they followed anyway.

“There it is,” the woman said, as they arrived at the north edge of the camp.

“Yeah, and it’s moved since we first saw it,” said a companion of hers, a skinny man with chin whiskers and a strong rural accent.

“It has moved!” the woman exclaimed.

“Let’s take a look,” Rogan said.

He and Jason started towards the strange cylinder, but the others held back. Jason looked back and saw the fear on their faces. Everything that had happen over the past couple months had strained everyone beyond their experience, except maybe for the actual combat veterans in their clan.

“Come on,” Jason said. “Let’s check this out. It’s not a flying saucer or anything.”

They approached the object, but when within fifteen feet of it, it moved suddenly on its spindly metal legs and pointed itself at Jason. They stopped.

“Okay,” Rogan said. “Let’s back off and see what it does. Maybe this is something the military has to gather intelligence.”

“Maybe,” Jason said. “Wouldn’t it have some kind of markings on it?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Rogan said. “Let’s back off slowly.”

When they had reached the group that followed them Rogan turned to address them.

“Haven’t a clue what this is, but it’s animate and seems to react to us, so let’s not get close until we figure it out.”

At that moment a teenager in that group picked up a rock and with surprising accuracy hurled it at the cylinder. It struck it with a dull clang. The cylinder turned slightly to point at the boy and emitted a crackling beam of light that struck straight through him. He stood motionless, a pained look of surprise on his face, whisps of smoke curling upwards from the holes in his abdomen and back. Two men grabbed him by the arms and started running in the opposite direction. Then, with a strange dancing motion, the cylinder pivoted and shot crackling beams into the group. Screams and havoc seized them. They ran away, leaving behind three people lying on the ground. Then on crazily walking legs the cylinder started moving towards the center of the camp.

Everyone was running in different directions, trying to escape. Rogan headed straight back into the camp, waving his arms in prearranged signals at two people up on a platform in a tree. A young woman who had been watching the scene below leveled her Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle at the cylinder. It was a straight line of sight shot, the target much closer than the usually anticipated enemy. She fired, hitting the cylinder squarely in its middle. It staggered and tipped over, its spindly legs wagging wildly. She fired again. And again. And again. The big .50 caliber rounds finally tore a hole into the cylinder. It lay still.

Rogan and several others came back cautiously. Seven people were down, some not moving.

The cylinder was impacted with dents, and where a round had penetrated it, a florescent slime with tendrils of silver oozed out.

“You think it’s dead?” Jason asked.

“Does something like this die?” Rogan said. What is it?”

There came a thin wailing. Rogan looked around expecting to find more injuries. Instead he saw Corbit waving excitedly. Curled up on the ground beside him was Eddy, his hands covering his face.

“What’s going on, Corbit?” Rogan shouted, his voice strained.

“He says he knows what this is,” Corbit answered.

“Let me talk to the boys,” Rogan said, not willing to dismiss anything in this new age, and wanting for a moment to escape the need to make sense of this and give directions. “You want to poke around on that thing? Maybe get a couple UVA eggheads to help you?”

“Sure,” Jason said.

Rogan walked over to the boys.

“What’s this about, Corbit?”

“Eddy says something on his laptop talks to him, telling him what’s going on.”

“What’s this about, Eddy? You even have a computer that’s working?”

Eddy stayed curled up on the ground, whining softly. Corbit opened Eddy’s backpack and drew out the laptop with its cord and solar panel. He opened it and turned it on. Rogan knelt by the boys, breathing deeply, trying to collect his thoughts. He heard the medical people talking amongst themselves as they moved among the injured, and the camp defense team was deploying. They’d have some warning if attacked again, but by what? It used to be pillagers and gangs. But now, robots? Dept. of Defense killer robots? The stress of these past weeks weighed solidly on him. How he wished he could just be one of the campers, attending to simple tasks and worrying only about the next meal.

The laptop booted up.

“Come on, Eddy. I believe you,” Corbit said. “Show me what you’re talking about.”

He gently slipped a hand beneath Eddy’s shoulder and lifted.

Eddy sat up, wiping grimy hands across his face. He tapped a few keys and the screen opened up into a swirling multi-dimensional display. Rogan and Corbit both caught their breath. And then a thin electronic voice started to speak.

 

 

 

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