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Episode 13 Part 5

By:  North

Bullet savored the sounds around him.  Heels scraping pavement, idle conversations, and tires gripping roads were all paradise.  Each of these sounds meant that for a few blissful hours he was not listening Vonter.  Vonter was back on his own ship doing who-knows-what, and Bullet personally hoped he would never find out.

Bullet glanced up at the high, relatively uninspired, architecture surrounding him.  He had opted to go into this city to find parts for his damaged ship.  A few weird, but evidently important bags hung heavily from his hands.  The city (he had forgotten its name, something with an ‘H’ maybe) had been an easy to find and logical choice for mechanical work.  It had only been a southerly jaunt down the coast of the continent.  There had been so many cities recently.  He was sure that they all had names, but they were not sticking to his memory the way they used to.  The search through this town had proved surprisingly hard, but he had done it, albeit long after the gates of the city had been closed for the night.  One of the bags was growing increasingly heavy.  He shifted it to his other hand and absentmindedly flexed his fingers to stretch the white and red places were it had cut his circulation.  While doing so Bullet allowed himself a brief chill as the wind picked up.

The sun would set soon.  The view of it must have been amazing from the top of one of the buildings.  He could imagine the way it seemed to sink into the ocean turning the clouds to neon and scattering moving pieces of light across the water.  He could only imagine, because the huge protective wall that surrounded the city blocked the view from every side.  The wall was old.  It was made of thick ancient stone reworked and reworked over centuries into a several meter deep structure.  It stood there like a memory, inalterable and helpless.  Once upon a time it would have been described as formidable, efficient, and maybe even indestructible.  Now the guards took pictures with tourists.  They had saluted Bullet on his way through and welcomed him to Deseva.  Bullet twinged with envy even as he gave a mild nod back, these were not guards the way he was a guard.  Shame mixed in with his envy.  If they only knew.

            It had been a long time since Bullet felt like a guardsman.  His uniform somehow did not fit quite right.  His stride and posture, which had once been effortless, now exhausted him.  They were part of a physical lie he was telling himself.  Sometimes it crept past the surface, but his mind was still littered with memories that would come back at the simplest prompting.  If anyone watched him for a significant amount of time they would see, only every so often, the posture slip, the narrowed eye, or the shift of a muscle.  In an instance the motion would pass leaving the ideal guardsman walking down the street.

 He had been so close to having the Norian.

Bullet tried to see the buildings around him, but hey just made him more acutely aware of her presence in the universe.  Were it not for her, the buildings on the colony would still stand like this, nothing special, but important to someone.  Bullet knew that if he thought about it for a moment he would be able to figure out how long it had been since the colony.  Down to the hour.  But it was better this way, letting the time slip past while waves of mourning hit him with gradually less power and frequency.  Maybe it would become a dull ache, reasonable and part of him.

So he tried to notice the individual people walking pat him.  There were fewer people out on the street than even a few minutes before.  Like many times recently, Bullet had to consciously acknowledge how much his chase was consuming him.  He mentally forced the world around him come into focus.  The rapidly chilling breeze predicted a storm as it blew paper down the street.  From tiny pieces of trash to the austere tower corners everything was covered with orange and pink sunset.  Each thing temporarily took on significance in that light, but heavy clouds were crawling in behind them.  Bullet resisted observing the pathetic fallacy of the moment and instead continued searching for a hotel. 

He had been so close.

The Red Death could be anywhere by now, dragging around that poor young lady, deluding her.  Bullet pushed the thought out of his mind as he approached the first hotel on the map.  He took one look at the intricacies of the tile work which lead to lavish columns.  The columns in turn were attached to an entry way designed to instill its viewers with a sense of awe while draining their wallets.  Without missing a beat he changed direction and headed off to a less fiscally punishing environment.

The clouds reached closer and tension blew through the trees.  He walked a little faster.  There was one tiny moment of narrowed eyes between his glance at his map and his next few steps as the quintessential guardsman. He stayed on task trying to decide if he should contact Vonter or not.  Preferably not.  They probably needed to know why Bullet was not back, but he could not stomach it.  He would rather just hope they met up later.  Just a few months ago Bullet would have considered his behavior rude.  Funny the way things change.  The orange glow was beginning to fade from the buildings.  Bullet, with a mind more prone to allegory than he would ever admit, noticed the clouds advancing and a rolling bass sound almost at the edge of hearing. 

Bullet actually made it through the door of the next hotel before finding out that once again there were many things too rich for his blood.  In this case the mildly suburban looking hotel was a little too much for a man who had not received his pay in some time. The clerk had been nice enough, though.  People seemed genuinely glad to see guardsmen around here.

By the time Bullet walked outside the sky had darkened.  A block after that hotel the rain started.  It was just a sound on the distant roofs at first.  It was followed by an unnerving amount of thunder.  Bullet started a brisk jog along the sidewalk, while others glanced at him passing. Nathians always knew about rain before anyone else.  They could smell it in the air and their sensitive ears with twice the auditory equipment of any other species had no trouble picking up the slow rise in background noise.  He could not imagine what it must be like being anything else.  How did they live without the subtleties?  How could their cultures thrive with such limited information? 

It had been a nice aside in his brain for a moment, but inevitably his mind hopped on his train of thought that led him back to the Norian.  Hers was a species that had walked out of the primordial seas, taken a look around, then walked right back in with a shrug.  On land their senses were unsophisticated at best.  He had done some research on that.  He could use that. 

Bullet’s jog turned into a run.  The rain was no longer a distant sound.  He could hear it all too well and knew he would be soaked no matter what.  Pleasant drops turned to a water gun fight with nature.  From there it only built, reaching a crescendo when the water felt like buckets being thrown at him sideways.  Bullet cupped his hands over his glasses and dashed ahead.  It was as if all the people on the streets had evaporated into thin air.  He heard the thunder beating loudly, some seeming right over head.  The darkness fell as quickly as the rain.  Nothing but street lights and windows lit the world.

He passed the hotel not seeing it.  He only realized his mistake when he found himself at an intersection he knew was too far on his map.  There was hail mixed in to the rain by the time Bullet doubled back and groped his way to the doors of what he hoped was the inn.  He wrenched the door open throwing himself inside.  The door crashed shut behind him jingling  a cord of bells at the top with extreme prejudice.  Bullet stood dripping on the carpet.  He tried to catch his breath and smear his hair out of his way.  He pulled his glasses off hoping to clear them but his sopping clothes just spread water more evenly around the lenses.

“Hello?” he tried as he glanced around the room taking in the desk and the inexplicable bare bulb hanging over it.  He let his eyes lingered on it for a moment.  Any port in a storm, right?  He reminded himself.  He walked to the grubby desk and tried saying hello a little louder.  Finally a man came out of the back room.  He was a small, elderly man with tiny eyes and long spikes.  Like many Desevites on this continent he had no tusks.  He gave Bullet an annoyed nod and a fourth hearted greeting of, “Can I help you?”

Bullet glanced back out the window, “Yes, sir, I would like to use one of your rooms for the night.”

The man looked Bullet up and down.  He seemed about to say something, but stopped himself.  With a shrug he pulled open a drawer and told Bullet the price.

Within a few minutes Bullet held a key card in his hands.  The hail sounded like marbles scattering across the windows.

Maybe it was because Bullet was a guardsman, but for some reason the man bothered to say, “Better get to your room son.  News says-“

The lights went out.  The man just nodded in the dark and disappeared quickly into one the backrooms.

Bullet took a deep breath and dodged back out to find his room.  He struggled vainly with his glasses matching up squiggly lines.  When he found the door he tired to slide the card in only to find it was useless without electricity.  Bullet cursed himself turning back against the tiny pieces of hail.  Then he heard a noise that set every hair on end. Something inside him reacted.  It was visceral and old, older than the wall outside and it was built in to him.  He dodged back into the lobby knowing the glass doors would do nothing but burst apart.  They seemed to flex like the pressure was shifting.  Bullet crashed over the desk diving into one of the rooms marked with a very unfriendly alien word that probably meant ‘private.’  He had expected the old gentleman to be in there but all that was there were storage items.  Bullet’s face fell.  He was surrounded by all the tools needed to run a building with all its quirks and charms.  Heavy old wrenches, screwdrivers, saws, half empty paint cans, hammers, and everything else he would hate to imagine having picked up and swung at him at several hundred miles per hour lined the room.  Bullet stumbled back out of the room and dived into the next door over.

The sound had been growing all this time, but now it was out of control.  It overthrew everything in its path and it was right over head.  Bullet later remembered falling through the door and closing it behind him.  He remembered crawling under an incredibly old unidentifiable piece of furniture.  Then it was just his eyes closed tight and his arms wrapped around his head trying to stop the noise.  Every creak and groan and howl tore through the building as the tornado ripped the front of the building off. He knew it was gone.  Pieces of it were hammering into the wall in front of him.  He heard the door crash through the room followed by an avalanche of masonry and wood.

Bullet was fairly sure he was about to die, but all he could think about was where that man had gone and what a nasty thing it was to let Bullet go to the room with the key card not working.  Bullet found himself thinking that maybe the nod had been some backward message saying ‘hey kid follow me into the backrooms were it is safe,’ but he seriously doubted it.  Bullet was very disappointed that these were what could easily be his final mortal thoughts.  He tried to think about his family and friends.  Those thoughts lead to the Norian.  He determined he was going to become a ghost and haunt the hell out of her.  His thoughts then turned to Vonter.  He decided that jerk could use a few nasty moaning noises and some moving chairs too.  Now Bullet was very disappointed in his last thoughts.

He felt pressure on his back as something heavy landed on the furniture above him.  He clinched his eyes in expectation, but the wooden monstrosity held.  The sound roared on and on taking the world with it.  What felt like an eternity later Bullet pulled his arms down enough to make sure that, yes the sound was receding.  The rain became clear to him again as the cacophony died away.

Bullet took account of himself.  All limbs and faces were there, and he was certainly alive, but he was not ready to let optimism take charge just yet.  He first had to entertain ideas that he might be trapped under rubble.  This quickly proved untrue when he found himself able to squeeze out between some panels of cheap drywall.  The fist thing that surprised him was just how dark everything was.  It was as if the world had been redrawn in black ink.  He pushed on his glasses to make sure they were correctly on his nose, a motion he had done countless times.  This time there was a give in the frame that was not supposed to be there.  Bullet winced as pieces of the lenses crumbled onto his cheek.  He thought back to his earlier consideration of Nathian senses.  Yes, their hearing was great, their olfaction was unparalleled, but sight, that one was quite normal.  Bullet sighed, or in his case much less than normal.

There were already sirens in the distance as he started to feel his way through the dark wreckage.

 

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