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Episode 13 Part 9

By:  North

The sirens were distant, but that didn’t stop them from piercing through layers of destroyed masonry to find Bullet.  He was digging his way out of the wet piles of wood that made up the bulk of what was left of the hotel front.  The sirens ate through his disoriented senses as he climbed over drywall slabs, which crumbled wetly beneath him. He moved slowly so he could feel for nails and broken glass in the darkness.  Suddenly a strip of black sky opened in front of him where he had expected to see the lobby.  Piles of hail lay in puddles.  Constant rain and wind from the north cooled the night.

            Bullet’s mouth slowly opened at the strangeness of it all.  Buildings just across the street were nothing but dark shapes, most had remained untouched, but the one he came out of was decimated.  His shoulders sagged as he stared trying to remember what the road should look like.  There were so many things that were not there anymore, and so much trash that had taken their places.  The sirens wailed from the south.  All of them were traveling that way.

“Hello?” he tried, but the sidewalk was empty.  He looked up expecting lights to start coming on in windows, but there was nothing close.  The blurry glow of windows from the other side of town was as relevant at distant stars.

            Surely there was something he could do, but when he tried to raise his arms they just fell back to his sides in uncertainty.  He squinted into the gloom.  Even if his glasses were still usable he wouldn’t be able to make much sense of what he was seeing.  His eyes fell across a strange shape near the curb.  At first it could have been just another pile of debris blown there by the tornado, but then he saw movement.  Bullet stepped closer, each foot crunching as if he were walking through autumn leaves.  Yes, those could be shoulders and maybe a towel.  “Excuse me?”

            The figure remained still.

            Bullet felt a chill that had nothing to do with the rapidly dropping temperature.  He prepared himself for the worst as he closed in on the figure he could only barely make out. “Are you alright?” He said more loudly.

            The figure moved to look up at him.  The motion was slow and seemed to come from a long way away.  Bullet had to squint even more to make out a shadowy image.  Vague soft features looked up at him from under a soaked towel, showing the person to be a woman.  He could make out very little, but there was recognition on her face and she began to speak.  Before the first word was completely out of her mouth another woman’s voice shouted over her.

            “Arika!”

            A second form came rushing up out of the night.  Long wet hair flopped around the head as the new silhouette knelt down in front of the woman on the curb.   Though the two were just indistinct shapes Bullet noticed the concern in the posture.

            The kneeling woman looked at her friend “Arika, it’s me Zora.  Is this guy bothering you?”  The woman tilted her head in Bullets direction, but didn’t look up at him.

            “Zora?” Said the lady on the curb.

            “Yeah,” said the other lady quickly, “you okay?”

            “Yeah, but why is the guardsman here?”

            “You mean this guy?” Zora turned to look at him, “you in the military?”

            Bullet was taken aback by the brusqueness of the woman.  He found himself automatically saying, “My name is Bullet Russier.  I’m a Nathian Guardsman.  Is there anything I can do to help you ladies?”

            Bullet felt a rush of relief for just offering help.  He had no clue what to do to aid these girls, he probably couldn’t do anything.  Still maybe now he could take some action to help undo just a tiny fraction the destruction surrounding him.

            The two looked at each other then looked at him.  Some silent conversation seemed to have passed between Arika and Zora.  He could not make out their faces, but he was sure of it.  “Yeah,” said Zora evenly, “my friend Arika got hit on the head pretty hard she may need some help-“

            “I’m fine” insisted Arika.

            “That means she really needs it.”

            “I said I’m FINE.”

            “Uh-Huh,” said Zora, “We could use some-“

           A vehicle that could only be a Desevite police car pushed its way south with sirens blaring.  It was only one road over.  Bullet was forced to cover his ears as best he could.  “Sorry,” he said when he was finally able to take his hands away.

            “No worries” said Zora helping Arika to her feet.  Helping wasn’t the right word for what was happening.  It was more like a slow motion slap fight with both combatants angrily mouthing words at each other. He could not make a bit of sense out of their motions.  At least his translator was still working; otherwise this whole interaction would just be nonsense.  He wondered what language he would be hearing if his translator was off.

“You two aren’t Desevites, where are you two from?”  He asked in what he hoped was a friendly voice.  It was forced and strained.  Everything was hitting him as his adrenaline declined.  The hurt was creeping into his back and limbs.

            “We’re from Euchruska.” Said Zora.

            That made sense.  Euchruskans looked like Setorthians, which is to say they looked like just about everyone else.

            “What brings you to Deseva?”  Bullet wished he could have taken the words back out of the air, but they were already free making him look pushy.

            “Big F.O.E. convention coming up.  We’re part of a larger group on our way there” said Zora.

            Another figure appeared, coming through the gloom and heading the same directions as the sirens.  The person was the first in a group stalking down the sidewalks on the far side of the street.  “Stay here. I’ll be back in a moment” said Bullet as he started to jog across the street toward the people. He wasn’t sure why he wanted these two women to stay, maybe it was so he would not be alone.  He didn’t dare think about it.

            Bullet slowed down as he approached the dark figures.  He could tell by the quills these were Desevites.  They stopped when he hailed them.  They stood there holding bags and tools anxiously, obviously in a great hurry.  Bullet introduced himself and started looking for answers.

 

***

 

            “Thanks a lot Zora” hissed Tilly.

            “No problem” said Sanrook in a thin whisper, “be careful what you say.  Those Nathian guys have unbelievable hearing” she turned her back toward the Nathian who was just a dark figure down the road, “How the hell did he find us? I mean, how can he not know who we are?  When I walked up I had my teeth out ready to go.  This just can’t be an accident, odds don’t work like that.  Doesn’t matter, but he seems honestly not to recognize us.”

            “I was being sarcastic” said Tilly, not sidetracked by Sanrook’s rant.

            “I chose not to notice,” said Sanrook smiling her most coaxing smile, it was mostly eyebrow.

            It had no good effect on Tilly.  “Something’s wrong.  I- I don’t know where they went-” Tilly stopped herself.

            “Who?” Sanrook’s voice and searching eyes betrayed disquiet that Tilly didn’t like one bit.

            “I’m fine” said Tilly forcefully, “What’s F.O.E?  I gotta understand our lie.”

            Sanrook ran her fingers through her hair anxiously, “Alright, it’s a group of people who really like Earth, I mean really like it, and other up and coming planets.  They watch too much TV and are responsible for some crop circles.”

            “What?” said Tilly winching.

            “Not the really artsy crop circles, those are human made.  I find the whole thing a little weird, but humans started it.”

            “Up and coming planets?” Tilly looked horrified.  The arrival of the Nathian and the sudden notice that earth had a fan club was sobering her up.  Still, her head swam, and she was sure Sanrook was talking, but it sounded like nonsense.  Tilly only caught the last part.

            “-you know, about to make contact, that sort of thing.”

            “He’s gesturing toward us” Tilly growled, “I can’t believe that jerk using me for information” the memory of their previous meeting was fighting through Tilly’s mental cloud, “I’m glad he doesn’t know who we are.  He was wearing glasses before maybe that’s why.”

            “Great.  Let’s just play this by ear” said Sanrook eyeing Tilly uncertainly.

            “So how are you doing Zora?”

            “I’m fine” said Sanrook giving an empty smile that Bullet did not see as he walked back up to them.

 

***

 

            Bullet walked up to Zora and Arika.  He would tell them all the things the guards had told him.  That was who the figures on the street had been.  They had received word that the tornado had taken a terrible toll on the area not far south of the hotel.  These streets had only seen the tail end of the funnel and everything except for very shoddy old buildings was still intact.  The city guards had been given orders to search the areas and report.  They had already helped several people and were working their way toward the closest impromptu shelter that was being set up in the lobby of a nearby hospital and the office buildings beside it.

            The guards asked Bullet some questions about the hotel and solicited his help as a guardsman.  Most of the guards went on ahead, but two branched off to search the remains of the half collapsing hotel for the old man.  Bullet had quickly agreed to join the efforts as soon as he had escorted the two women safely to the shelter.

 

Bullet wished for his glasses.

           

The girls waited for him to return and listened.

            “Don’t worry about us, go take care of things” said Zora.  Arika remained distant and quiet.

            Bullet had not been quite ready for this answer.  He stammered a reply, “I can’t just leave you…” He tried to quickly, politely say that two women walking alone in unfamiliar streets at night after a disaster could meet all sorts of ends.  They were just civilians, unarmed and maybe Arika was injured.  He tried in stilted, what he prayed were not sexist, sentences to explain his misgivings.

            With some reluctance the ladies agreed and the three set off down the wreckage filled sidewalk.

            The three crunched through the street in miserable silence, each in their own world.  To Bullet’s dismay the sirens were getting louder.  They bounced off the walls funneling into his sensitive ears.  The world in front of him was nothing but a blurry black smudge punctuated by a few, distant lights.  Arika walked several strides behind him looking around in slow motion, each step taken as if in another world.  Zora stood close to Arika and on occasions would make an unsettling choking sound in her throat. It was slow going, but they finally made it to a corner were they could see the distant flash of lights from police vehicles. As they turned the corner light caught the buildings and made Bullet shiver.

It was too much to take in.  Places where there certainly should have been buildings there was nothing.  A noise in the air drowned out the sirens as a helicopter hacked through the sky overhead. It, like everything else, was heading for the south.  There were people too, indistinct, moving, and yelling.  More and more showed up as they approached a large building incredibly close to the path of destruction, but seemingly untouched.  Bullet shouted that this must be the hospital as it was the only building that would have a large enough generator to have so many lights on.  The ladies nodded.  Bullet felt a fool for mentioning this.  They must have deducted the same thing, but felt no need to say it.

As they came closer they passed under dim lights, and Bullet was caught off guard.  Zora’s hair had shown copper when she walked beneath the glow.  Here were two women traveling alone one with red hair, but surely it had to be coincidence.  Bullet forced himself to relax.  Not every redhead in the universe was the red death.  He chided himself for jumping at shadows, and tried not to worry that this was becoming a witch hunt for him.  Shouting from up ahead shook Bullet from his troubled thoughts.

It was terrible.  Voices called for help.  People ran.  All this managed to pierce through the constant terrible howl of sirens ringing in Bullets thoughts throbbing against his brain.  A guard ran past them only hesitating for a moment to call out that they had found someone trapped.  Someone, anyone must help.  Once again Bullet felt a chill.  There were people all around the hospital carrying others in on stretchers.  Bullet could hear crying.

            Another person ran by screaming for them to come quickly.  The buildings the man ran toward were in fragments.  “We have to-“ he looked at them, “I have to go.  Take care of yourselves” Bullet said encouragingly.

The two women made eye contact.  In an instant they gauged the goodness of their own hearts against each other.  It seemed to Bullet that there conversation was so clear he should have been able to read the words out of the air, but the moment passed and he would never know what had been seen and said.  Evidently they had reached an agreement.

            “I’d like to stay here.  There may be more I can do” said Arika nodding toward the hospital and pulling her arms tight around herself.

            “I’ll come with you” said Zora to Bullet.  There was strange finality in this statement.

            Bullet ran toward the broken buildings with Zora in his wake.  Arika started toward the hospital with her arms still wrapped tightly around herself.  She was clutching a strange metal communicator in her hand and for the first time since seeing Bullet dared turn it back on.

 

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