Dread

(This is part 3 of a serial. The first part is here, and the second is here.)

I sat cradled in Mike’s arms for what seemed like forever, but was only about fifteen minutes. I was too stunned to cry. I wasn’t angry, either. I didn’t know what to feel. Or do. I waited for Mike to take the lead.

“Mike! Dee! You guys in there?”

The shout from our back door startled us from the couch. Mike swept to his feet and raced to the mudroom, where he met our neighbor, Charlie. I got to my feet while my brain tried to catch up on the situation. I heard Mike and Charlie talking in hushed tones, but I decided not to interrupt.

Instead, I went in search more supplies despite not knowing what might be needed and when. I was in the middle of deciding if we’d need blankets when I remembered to worry about my adult kids.

My son was fine, I was sure. He was a sensible-headed young man, living and working just across town. My daughter, though, was a flighty romantic, intent on changing her slob of a boyfriend into a respectable man. She also lived right across town, but I was afraid her boyfriend would convince her to do something stupid.

I dropped the blanket I was holding and went in search of Mike. I didn’t hear his voice from the back room anymore. I hoped he hadn’t gone far.

I was passing behind the couch when the front door, directly across the room, opened. I dropped to my knees and crouched, certain the robber had returned. Instead, I heard a familiar voice ask, “Is that you, Mom?”

My heart jumped into my throat then dropped back into my stomach before settling down. I stood up, sheepishly brushing invisible dirt off my clothes, and grinned at my son.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Coop. Do you have any idea what’s going on? Do you have your sister with you?”

Cooper laughed and opened the door to reveal Laura and my heart flip-flopped again. She pushed past her brother and jogged over to give me a hug.

“Hi, Mom,” my brown-eyed girl said. “John-John wanted to go to his parents’ house, and I told him to go ahead. Nowhere’s safer than with you and Dad.”

I opened my mouth to say hello but Mike’s voice interrupted, “Yep. And we’re going to Gran’s farm.”

Both kids turned, wide-eyed, to their father. My stomach lurched again, and not in a my-kids-are-safe sort of way. My eyes met Mike’s and I knew our much laughed-about emergency plan was finally happening.

“It’s not…,” I trailed off my question.

“No,” Mike laughed, “it’s not zombies.” He sobered up and continued, “I’m not really sure what it is, but I’m reasonably sure it’s not an outbreak of the undead. It might be invasion, it might be a natural disaster. Hell, it could be aliens. But we’re going to the farm, where it’s safer than in the middle of town.”

I nodded and gathered the kids into my embrace. After a hard hug and reassuring smile, the four of us gathered our supplies, along with some clothes, blankets and pillows and loaded up our cars for the short trip into the country.

 

To be continued…

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Invasion

(This is the second of a serial. The first part is here.)

Our emergency stash, what we had, was scattered through the house. We hadn’t had a real crisis in ages. I grabbed the first aid kit from the bathroom, the flashlights and batteries from the kitchen junk drawer and piled them all on top of the dining room table.

I had just started filling a pitcher with water when I heard the front door slam open. I didn’t turn, but called over my shoulder, “Mike, did you find out anything?”

I heard a click, but the sound didn’t really register in my mind at first. I twisted the tap off and turned to the sound. The man standing in my kitchen wasn’t my husband. It wasn’t someone I knew from the neighborhood. The heavily built man was grinning at me, behind the dark handle of a pistol.

“Hello,” I stuttered. “My husband…,” I gestured toward the door.

The long-haired blonde grinned wider. “He’s busy. Tall guy? Buzz-cut and glasses? Yeah, I saw him. He’ll be a minute.”

I swallowed hard. I couldn’t help it, I looked toward the front windows. I knew I couldn’t see the car from my position, but it was instinct. Terror washed over me. I slowly raised my hands.

“What do you want,” I asked.

“Just your money,” he replied. He waved his gun at me, moving me back to the living room.

I walked to the sofa table and picked up my purse. My wallet held a little over two hundred dollars. I handed it to the gun-wielding maniac who snatched it from my fingers. His eyes searched the room and landed on Mike’s wallet, on the bookshelf near our bedroom door.

I nodded and walked past him. I stripped the additional hundred dollars from the black leather wallet and held it out to the burglar. He snatched that as quickly as the first.

“Now, if you’d be so kind, go into your room and lock the door. Count to a thousand before you come out. Then, tell whoever you want. I don’t expect the cops will worry much about me with everything else going on,” he said.

I followed his instructions. Mostly. I went into my room and locked the door, then I waited until I heard the back door close. As soon as I was certain the man was gone, I charged into the living room.

Right into the chest of my husband.

“Whoa, hold up, love. What’s going on?”

I couldn’t help it. I burst into tears. I told him what had happened, the tears running down my face making me even angrier than the encounter had.

Mike checked the doors and windows, making sure they were all locked and secure. He helped me gather up the rest of the emergency supplies, then pulled me onto the couch.

“Alright, bad news,” he said.

“Oh, I forgot. I’m just…,” I trailed off. He knew what I meant.

“I know,” Mike said. “We’ve got bigger things to worry about, though. I got a few bits of chatter on the AM band, but it wasn’t English. Sounded Russian.”

“That’s not good,” I started.

Mike hushed me, then continued, “It gets worse. It also sounded military, like a drill sergeant in a movie.”

He wrapped his arms around me. “I think we’ve been invaded.”

 

To be continued…

In the beginning

I don’t know when it started, not really. I think it was just before dawn. I remember going to bed around two in the morning and everything was fine, then. But when Mike got up for work, we had no power.

“We did pay the bill, didn’t we,” he asked me. He didn’t wait for me to answer. Instead, he went to the door and looked up and down the street. When he came back, he shrugged.

“Guess it’s the whole neighborhood.”

We tried calling our son across town, but the cell towers weren’t working, either, which also meant the phone’s data was out.

By that time, most of our neighbors were outside, milling around and whispering worries about what was happening. No one was truly terrified, but the concern was building. I joked to Ruth, the older lady next door, that if it was really something bad, we’d already have soldiers riding down the streets, telling us what to do.

I don’t think she found that funny, since she glared at me, crossed herself, and rushed back into her house. I decided to keep my humor to myself.

Mike slid up to me after Ruth disappeared and whispered, “Have you checked the radio? AM or FM?”

I nodded my head. Of course, I had. Right after we realized the cell towers were out. I motioned for my husband to follow me back inside. I grabbed my small digital radio on my way to the bedroom.

“I checked every station I know of, and there’s nothing. On either band.” I handed Mike the small device. “You might have better luck. Maybe some fine tuning? Or…,” I turned to look out the window.

“The car.”

I nodded at Mike’s astute guess. The car had a more powerful antenna than the tiny handheld radio. It was also easier to narrow down the wavelengths.

“I’ll go check,” he said. “Want to come?”

I shook my head, “No. I’m going to find our candles and other storm supplies. We might need them if this lasts long.”

“Good idea. Oh, and in case you were wondering, I’m not even going to try to get to work today. I think this is a good day to be sick,” Mike joked.

I smiled and nodded. I watched Mike’s broad shoulders slip through the front door and down the walk to the driveway before I started gathering our emergency stash. I hoped we wouldn’t need any of it for long.

 

To be continued…

Dexter Liu’s ending

The medical lab was sparklingly white in the bright overhead light. Dexter thought it would probably glow even if all the power in the ship were turned off, it was so sterile and polished.

The stasis pods lining the walls were full; the crew of the starship slept peacefully and unaware inside. The frosted glass covers allowed Dexter to see the men and women who were at his mercy.

The steady lights on the individual control panels indicated that all was well with the crew and no one had begun their wake cycle. None of the pods sat empty, either, leaving Dexter to question whether it was a malfunction or the shadowy forms that had led to the overhead lights being on. Dexter Liu knew enough about space travel to know that during stasis trips, minimal power was used during the flight.

Dexter searched the glass canopies, looking for signs of familiarity in the faces of the crew. He found none. He touched each canopy, his fingers leaving greasy smudges on the glass. He bowed to each one, his supposed ancestors, apologizing for his actions.

Then the bare-footed man turned from the stasis pods and fled down yet another corridor, continuing his flight to the bridge.

Sound followed Dexter. He heard the same alien voices, calling his name, taunting him in the unfamiliar language. He heard the swooshing of doors, opening and closing in his wake. He heard the computer, chiming and chirping to itself from distant rooms. His uneasiness grew. He ran faster.

Dexter’s path from the medical bay led him to a nearby access tube. His fingers trembled as he pulled the panel from the wall. He ducked his head inside. The interior was illuminated by micro-lights, evenly spaced along the edges of the ladder, reminding Dexter of the landing lights at his home space port. He shook off the memories and began to climb.

Halfway up the tube, a gush of air flew past Dexter’s upturned face. He paused. Fear swarmed inside, but he roughly pushed it aside to continue his journey.

The last access point of the tube was just three corridors away from the secondary bridge door. He was almost to the end of his mission. Dexter prayed that this time his expensive override code would work to open the locked room.

The dim hallway lit up dutifully as Dexter Liu crawled from the access port. He glanced quickly around, searching for signs of the shadowy aliens. But he saw nothing unusual. He jogged the remaining distance to the door, listening to the mocking sounds that followed him still.

The electronic lock was easily manipulated and the door swooshed open with a quiet huffing sound. The voices fell silent, leaving Dexter in a stunningly loud vacuum. He felt his nerves quiver as he stepped inside.

The bridge was blue and white, with chrome fixtures. Dexter paused to take it all in, but a quick glance at his watch put him into overdrive. He rushed to the main computer bank.

Dexter’s fingers flew across the keys. He modified the flight plan, taking the ship further into the depths of space. He smiled to himself. The ship’s new course would have it running out of fuel near Aryth, a world far more civilized than his ancestors had originally planned to settle on.

While he waited for the warning chimes of his chrono-watch, he punched up the crew manifest. The short list of officers held none of the familiar names of his predecessors. A rapid search of the remaining crew gave him no answers, either.

It wasn’t until he searched the entire ship’s record did he find his ancestral name. Seventeen of them, just as the Liu family history claimed. But not as officers and crew, but as exiled slaves, sent to do hard labor on a penal planet.

 

Dexter Liu continues

(Part 1; Part 2; Part 3)

Dexter felt his legs move. They carried him, almost against his will, toward the dojo door. With his heart thudding wildly in his ears, he strained to make sense of the murmuring voices coming from within the room.

Dexter managed to filter out one or two words, but they held no meaning for him. He could tell there were two voices, but they were so similar in tone that it took him several minutes to decide on that number.

The bare-footed man tiptoed closer to the keypad. He saw the steady green light indicating the door was unlocked. He let his eyes roam to the other doors nearby. All showed steady red lights.

Dexter Liu’s uneasiness grew. He felt his chest tighten in anticipation. Without second guessing himself, he stabbed the keypad, firmly hitting the ‘open’ command key. In response, the dojo door swooshed open and the light inside flickered on.

Before he could lose his nerve, Dexter rushed through the opening. As he crossed the threshold, he realized the voices had stopped. His eyes darted around the room, searching for the source of the conversation. All he saw were shadows cast by the equipment stands and the pair of decorative armor sets near the back wall.

Dexter moved further into the room. His bare feet sank into the protective mats that covered the dojo floor. The door closed behind him with a whoosh and the air pressure inside the room increased. Dexter felt the small hairs on the back of his neck stand to attention.

He continued his search, though now he considered that he might have been imagining the voices. The pressure to quickly finish his mission was making his mind whirl in confusion.

The man moved quietly to the middle of the floor, his eyes still roving. From the far wall came movement. His eyes darted back to stare at the decorative armor. It took several long moments for his mind to register the absence of one of the shadows.

A sound from behind caused him to turn, but too slowly. Something barrelled into him, knocking him onto the cushion of the dojo mat. His breath rushed from his body as he landed. A heavy weight on his back kept him down, unable to turn to see what had attacked him.

“D e x t e r,” a voice whisper-slurred in his ear. It was the same voice from earlier, in the dojo, and, he suddenly realized, from near the bridge.

“What do you want? Who are you?” Dexter’s voice was frantic with fear. Tears filled his eyes and overflowed, spilling out onto his cheeks.

The voice laughed, but Dexter found nothing funny in the sound.

A shadow disconnected itself from the wall behind the armor and slithered across the floor toward the prone man. Dexter shivered in terror. He couldn’t make out any details in the dark shape. The only thing that registered in his mind was the shape; it was not quite the shape of a man with its elongated arms, shortened legs, and triangular head. It was certainly not a member of the crew.

The approaching shadow hissed, but not at Dexter. Its arms moved and it continued to speak to the weight on Dexter’s back. After a few bursts of indignant sounding replies from Dexter’s attacker, the weight lifted and the pair of dark forms scurried through the wall of the dojo.

Dexter Liu stared, unbelieving, at the solid wall where the shadows departed. He was too frightened to move, but the urgent tug of his mission pulled on his mind. The man rolled onto his back, then sat up. He pushed himself from the floor and ran for the door, his bare feet slapping solidly against the safety mats.

The mechanical whooshing of the door opening was musical to Dexter’s ears. He paused at the door, looking back toward the interior, wondering what exactly it was he had just encountered. Shaking the puzzle from his thoughts, he turned once again to the med lab and its mysterious light.

He feared for his mission’s success, but he was also beginning to fear for his life.

Should Dexter Liu continue his quest to take control of the ship, or should he awaken the crew for their assistance in handling the alien invaders? You decide.

Dexter Liu’s decision

(Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.)

His instincts won over his desire to finish his mission quickly and Dexter Liu hurried down the corridor toward the medical lab. The lights in this corridor worked properly, lighting his way then dimming behind. His bare feet carried him at a trot down the long hallway, passing junction after junction.

The med lab was near the rear of the ship, close to the hangar bays. When Dexter reached the final branching of hallways, he paused to listen. He heard nothing but the throbbing hum of the life support. He smiled to himself.

He turned right, away from the elevator that led to the massive hangars. His confidence returned and he checked the watch on his left wrist. He chuckled to himself when he realized he still clung tightly to a suede slipper. Dexter dropped the shoe, then thought better of it; he might find a use for it before he reached the bridge.

He bent over to retrieve the slipper. Just as his fingers closed on the hard sole of the shoe, he felt a rush of air across his back. Dexter dropped to his knees. He twisted his head to look down the corridor toward the med lab, but he saw nothing out of place.

He whipped his head toward the elevator. His eyes widened as the doors to the lift closed silently. He watched the numbers flip on the display next to the door. The numbers stopped at the bottom, the entrance to the hangar bays.

Dexter Liu’s heart rate increased. He could feel the thudding of his pulse in his temples. In horror, he saw the green lighted numbers begin climbing. Fear screamed in his ears, urging him to run. He turned away from the elevator and scrambled to his feet, letting the terror fuel his flight.

Just past the corridor junction, the short hallway widened into a dining room. Dexter recalled the wall map and decided this must be the crew dining hall. He tore past the metal chairs and tables with their super-weighted legs and into the adjoining kitchen. He ignored the sparklingly sterile area as unimportant and continued his dash toward the medical lab.

Another corridor, lined with doors leading to larger rooms, loomed just past the kitchen. The locked doors all lead to various fitness and leisure rooms. A crew in space needed regular exercise to maintain muscle mass and flexibility.

A shadow flitted by the windowed door of the main gym as Dexter sped past. His steps slowed, then stopped. He backtracked to the gym’s door and gazed at the window high in the metal door. Nothing moved inside the room.

Dexter Liu waited, willing his breathing to equalize and his nerves to calm. He listened intently and was rewarded with the sound of the digitized keypad being depressed on one of the nearby locked doors. He spun in a circle, searching for the origin of the noise. His eyes were drawn to a room several doors back toward the kitchen.

The dojo, where most of the crew gathered to learn hand-to-hand combat in the forms of ancient martial arts. Curiosity drew Dexter toward the door.

He took several steps then paused. He heard voices, low and urgent, coming from the direction of the dojo.

Dexter’s feet, with a mind of their own, slid backward, carrying him away from the beckoning voices in the room down the hall.

But his feet stuttered to a stop only seconds later, when a light flickered on in the distant med bay.

Dexter Liu stared at first one anomaly then another. He needed to get through the medical bay to reach the bridge to complete his mission, but the flickering light suggested he might have to contend with an awakened crewman. On the other hand, the furtive voices in the dojo might mean he was already in the middle of a flanking maneuver.

Which way should Dexter go? Continue toward the medical lab with its many sleeping crewmen and mysterious light? Or should he investigate the voices in the dojo, hoping to outmaneuver any enemies? You decide.

Dexter Liu’s flight

(Part 1 of this serial is here.)

Dexter Liu’s heart thudded wildly in his chest as he turned to the left. He raced down the hallway, the lights flickering on and off in response to his flight. He ignored the solidly closed doors to either side, knowing that they were dead-ends, single occupant rooms.

In his panic, his thoughts jumbled together. He slowed to a jog, then a walk before finally stopping his head-long rush. Dexter looked around himself, trying to determine where his frantic flight had landed him.

His roving eyes saw, several feet down the hall, a ship schematic hanging on the wall. He hurried to it, his eyes scouring the map for a route back to the bridge. No matter what he believed he had heard or seen, he needed to access the bridge. His whole future depended on that.

Dexter Liu studied the map for minutes, committing the best route to his memory. He reviewed two other routes, as well, in case something unexpected occurred in his journey.

He turned from the map, gazing back along the hallway from which he’d come. Nothing seemed amiss, now, and he chided himself on his panicked flight of fancy. But, preferring to be safe rather than sorry, he twisted on his bare feet to continue along the metal-walled corridor.

As he walked, Dexter ran over his course in his mind. He counted one junction as he passed by, then the next. At the third junction, Dexter turned right. A few steps in, however, an uneasy feeling washed over him. He hesitated. The small hairs on the back of his neck shivered in an imagined breeze.

Past where Dexter Liu knew the next branching corridors to be, down the hall he hesitated to continue into, the low-energy lights flickered.

Once.

Twice.

Then several flared at once, brightening to an unbearable level, then suddenly failing altogether, plunging the distant portion of the corridor into an inky blackness.

Dexter considered the path ahead, then considered the longer, more roundabout route that would take him through the medical bay, with its occupied sleep pods, to the bridge. He turned around, looking across the junction to the longer route. His feet carried him back into the wide area where the corridors met.

His instincts urged him to flee from the darkness, but his desire to finish his work pulled him toward the well of inky blackness.

Dexter Liu worried over both options. He could take the direct route, through the pool of dead space, where the lights had suddenly gone out, or he could make his way through the medical bay, where several of the ship’s officers slept. Either way could be dangerous. One way could put his plan back on schedule, while the other risked putting his plan, and his life if he was caught, in danger.

Which way should Dexter Liu take? Straight through the menacing darkness to the bridge, and completion of his dread plans? Or should Dexter Liu avoid the darkness and its possible dangers, to risk total disruption of his timeline by going through the medical lab?

You decide.