Wednesday 26 February 2014

Fireproof - Post-Apocalyptic Challenge.

In which I attempt to write Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Nick stumbled backwards. He held his phone towards Violet, filming her. He dodged behind a pile of stone rubble, as Violet shot the flare at the sixteen foot high wooden cross, doused in fuel, all that remained of the altar of St Marks Cathedral. The sound of the flames hit him before the heat did. He winced, watching as Violet stood directly in front of the cross.
Arms outstretched, Violet welcomed the heat that washed over her. The sparks and embers brushed her skin with fiery pinpricks but she only flinched when a splinter of wood scraped across her brow. She stepped into the centre of the flames. After the longest five minutes of his life, she turned to Nick and grinned, her face an almost macabre mask of flickering shadows and highlights.
It worked! The serum fucking works!” She shouted over the noise of the inferno.
Nick nodded, wiping sweat from his face. He watched Violet step carefully over the rubble of the church. She pulled her skull cap off, and ran her fingers through her long hair and reflexively dusted her charred clothing. Blood marked her shirt and the ash from the embers smudged her exposed skin a granite grey. She was the stuff of nightmares, an angel of vengeance. And like an angel she was unable to be harmed by fire or heat. Nick saved the file, and sent the text to Bondi. He pocketed the proof they'd all been waiting for.

At Haven, Bondi stood on the roof of the Research Block, looking towards Bishop's Peak, the now burning cross and the piled remains of the Cathedral. The others, stood below her, all focused on the same spot. She glanced at her phone, checking again. As the flames continued to burn and they imagined they could almost feel the heat, the others turned and looked up at her. Waiting. She raised her hand and checked her phone again. After a few breaths, the screen lit up and she read the two words they'd been waiting for.
It works!”
She threw her fist in the air and yelled in triumph as the moon rose, smoke-pink, behind Bishop's Peak. She felt the roof tremble as the others took her voice and added their own. While she watched the energy flowing through the crowd, Bondi whispered her sister's name. Thankful that Violet was safe.

Nick jumped into the driver's seat of the once silver roofless Cherokee and started the engine. Violet looked down towards Haven, at the bottom of the hill, as she climbed in and pulled the overhead harness tight. She checked the duffel bag containing the serum was still securely stowed at her feet before nodding at Nick. With a spray of gravel, they headed down the hill, back to Haven. Violet looked at her hands, speckled black where there should have been burns.
Nick, it worked. It'll work now.”
Of course it worked,” Nick said, “How many rats did we incinerate before we hit on this formula?”
She pulled a face at him and pulled her knees up to her chest. “It worked on 999/1000. If we’re okay with that ratio, we can do it!” she said.
He smiled at her and put his hand on her shoulder briefly, the potholed road wasn't to be trifled with.
Ultraviolet, they'll be with us for breakfast in two days time.” he said.
She grimaced at the use of her full name and nodded. “That they will, Nick-Nack.”They laughed as they raced between the piles of rock on the perimeter of Haven, Nick pulled a hard right and they shot through the only gap in the fence. As he pulled to a stop in front of the Science Block, they heard the rattling of the chain link as the gate behind them closed and the sizzle as the electricity coursed through the fence.
Violet looked up as Bondi stepped off the roof and landed on the bonnet of the Cherokee.
Sheesh Bondi,” Nick whined, “That's why our Cherokee looks like it's been through more than one war. Have some respect for the body work!”
Nick-Nack, it's a hunk of junk!” Bondi reached down and grabbed Violet's hand and pulled her onto the bonnet. “Violet! You did it! You saw what we've accomplished!” she shouted as she turned to the others, “We're now able to go onto the rescue phase of the plan. We'll meet here again at breakfast two days from now.”
Bondi turned and hopped off the Cherokee, Violet and Nick, shouldering the duffel bag, followed behind as the others dispersed to their homes. One didn't argue with Bondi. Back at their home, Bondi held out her hand, Nick placed his phone in her hand as he passed her and headed up to the main shower. Violet followed him, boots tracking soot and ash up the stairs. Turning back to her, he pulled her into a bear hug before playfully pushing her through her door as he said, “We did it, sis! But you smell like a fire pit now - get cleaned up!"
Violet nodded, walking into her room, suddenly exhausted. She stripped off her filthy clothes and stepped in the en suite shower. She could hear Nick in his bathroom on the other side of the wall.
Fifteen minutes later they joined Bondi in the kitchen. Violet looked like the fifteen year old girl she would have been. Pretty and innocent until you looked too closely, comfortable in her floral dress, knife sheaths and combat boots. Nick looked like every seventeen year old guy, combat pants, white tee, shotgun and flack jacket. Bondi, always in black, looked older than her sixteen years. She was sitting at the table, looking at a map of the city on their hacked eReader as it was now. Red and blue dots marked various locations on its screen. Bondi nodded as Violet lifted the kettle, Nick settled in a chair, grabbing a slice of apple pie from the dish in the middle of the table and lit a citronella candle, mosquitos were such a pain.
As Violet brought over three mugs of coffee, Bondi flicked a switch and the lights went off as the eReader’s screen was projected on the kitchen wall. The candle flickered. Violet and Nick waited for Bondi to speak.
If we can get here” she said, indicating a red circle about twice the size of the others, “if we can get inside without being caught in the defenses, we can get our parents out. The serum worked so we're one step closer.”
It worked, so we are ready to do it.” Violet said, “We have the means to breach their defenses and to get out. That coupled with the vaccine we developed means we are able to get in and get our parents out of the compound.”
We need to make more of the serum - we need more people to assist in the rescue” Bondi countered.
Vi’s right, Bondi.” Nick spoke quietly but firmly, “We've tested the vaccine – it's been ready for a year now. It works. The serum has been hard to perfect but we can safely use it now. We can be fireproof. The smaller our group the faster we can move.”
Bondi rolled her eyes and started arguing her point – pointing at documents and diagrams on the table. Nick countered. Violet sat quietly while they spoke, she watched the milk and coffee mix in her second mug. She waited for a lull in the argument.
I'm fireproof. I can move through their flame barriers without burning. I am able to get into the compound safely. I can do it alone. I can carry the vaccine with me. You can be in the Jeep waiting for me to bring them out.” Violet spoke quickly into a pause
No. You are not going alone!” Nick and Bondi shouted together.
Jinx!” Bondi said.
Nick glanced at Bondi in surprise and continued, “Vi you can’t be the hero alone… Mostly 'cos I mainlined the serum after my shower and it would be a waste not to use my new found skills. I've got enough for you, Bondi, if you're game.” He held his finger in the candle flame, unflinching.
Bondi nodded at Nick and extended her arm, rolling her sleeve up. Nick pulled a syringe out of his jacket pocket and prepped it. He pushed the needle into her cephalic vein and pressed the plunger. She barely flinched at the burning of the serum in her bloodstream. She pulled her sleeve down as Nick tossed the syringe in the sink.
So we take the Cherokee, head over Bishop's Peak and then we park it where?” he said.
Behind that barn on Farmer Jones' land – near the apple orchard. It's a fifteen minute hike to the weakest pyro-link of the Compound's barricades which is also the least patrolled section.” Violet pointed to the sectors on the projected map. “If we get through here, we're within seven hundred metres of the Science Block. The resident scientists' sleeping quarters are here and here. Our intel says that Mom and Dad are in the two that are closest to that watch tower.”
Well, we can't get it all easy can we?” Nick laughed. “We'll take the shotguns – they've been modded to withstand the heat surge as we cross the pyro-link. It's partially underwater so...”
So... we'll need to be fast and avoid lingering to become an easy target once we’re passed the pyro-link. We'll need the shotguns to be waterproofed too.” Violet finished.
I've already dealt with that,” Bondi said, “The guns are now fully submersible and can fire under water if need be." She looked at her astonished siblings and smiled, “I did it at the same time as I heat protected I, duh!”
So tonight we go?” Nick said.
As the siren for breakfast went they looked at each other and nodded.
Tonight we bring them back” Violet and Bondi said together.
They left Haven quietly, no fanfare that night. They had all been hoping for this rescue mission since the War had ended and they’d been in Haven, knowing all their parents were in Compound. Nick drove carefully, avoiding potholes and crevasses left by mortars and deterioration. Bondi and Violet checked the gear repetitively. Checking the safety of the vaccines. The positioning of the magazines for the shotguns. They were wearing the suits, designed by Bondi to be both waterproof and fireproof. What good was being fireproof if your clothing burns off? Within an hour they were past the burnt out cross, silhouetted against the darkening red sky as they paused to look back towards Haven.
Nick raised his hand in salute towards Haven and accelerated down Bishop’s Peak. They’d covered the silver paintwork with mud before leaving and were driving towards Compound in the shadow of hill. They wouldn’t be spotted yet. twenty minutes later,  Nick put the Cherokee in neutral and coasted in to the shelter of the remaining two walls of the barn. They hopped out and started getting ready for the mission.Got your gear?” he asked as he finished fastening the harness holding the large bag of protective suits to his back.
Yeah, all loaded and ready to go” Violet looked eager, shouldering her shotgun and binding the packs of vaccine tightly to her thigh. She’d tied her hair back and smudged her face with ash. She looked at Bondi, similarly kitted up. Bondi strapped a knife to her ankle and stood up. They walked into the orchard, Bondi leading. They hunkered down between the last trees they could use as cover. Nick tapped them both on the shoulder, they turned to him and he pulled them into a hug and whispered “Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno!”
Bondi and Violet echoed him, smiling as he picked an apple and cut it with his knife. They had a few more minutes to wait and together they watched the pyro-link glowing ahead of them, eating slices of the apple.
At full dark, Nick and Bondi watched Violet closely. She’d give them the cue to run for the river. Violet had studied the pyro-link for over two years now and knew it by heart. She stood after a particularly bright fluctuation. They followed suit. She marked time on her thigh, timing the fluctuations. She raised her fist and motioned follow as she ran out from the trees. It was a long fifteen metres to the river bank.
Bondi kept close to Violet’s heels, scouring the dark, looking for something out of place. An unease filled her. There was something wrong. She shrugged, pushing it all into the “too hard basket” in her mind. She would deal with it tomorrow. When they were kids again.
They made it and sunk below the water. Violet turned and gave the others a thumbs up. She moved slowly towards the pyro-link, being careful not to disturb the water too much. They moved in unison, step by step closer to the barricade. The water got warmer the closer they got but they barely felt it. At the base of the pyro-link, they dove beneath it and swam through the boiling water and securing cables. Beneath them, had they bothered to look, were the charred remains of others who had tried before from both sides. They surfaced, gasping for breath in the humid air. Violet glanced at the last twenty metres to shore before checking that Nick and Bondi were still with her. Nick signalled A-Okay and Bondi nodded while treading water. They began swimming towards shore. Strokes slow and smooth, trying not to splash. They made shore in good time. The cool night air felt frigid on their exposed skin. But they’d made shore and were the closest they’d been to their parents in six years. The buildings that made up the Residential Quarters which had been lit up as they made shore plunged into darkness as they dropped down behind a water tank and caught their breath.
Bondi rubbed at her exposed skin. It itched. She shook her head, dismissing the questions that she wanted to ask Violet and Nick. She would ask them when it was over. She leant back against the water tank and imagined how life would be once the adults were back in Haven. She looked at Nick as he moved into a starter’s position. Nick indicated that he would take the left side as agreed. Violet would go in the right and Bondi would cover them, once the adults were released she would climb down and meet them on the shore. Bondi climbed silently on top of the water tank and nodded to Nick and Violet. They looked at each other and grinned, adrenalin racing. Nick tapped Violet’s shoulder once, twice and on the third, they started running.
Bondi leant back against the water tank’s solar heating system, and poured water on her now burning hands. She grimaced as she lifted her shotgun and sighted the guards on the watch tower. She swore brutally under her breath as the skin on her hands tore open and her vision blurred as warmth ran down her face.
Violet heard the thudding of her feet as she ran, and the quiet whump of Bondi’s tranquiliser rounds as she took out the guards in the watchtower. She glanced toward Nick, he’d reached his target door at the same time she had. She put her hand to the handle, flinching as it caught fire. The door dissolved into a sheet of flames. She breathed in deeply, as she stepped through it, knowing that Nick was doing the same, they would see their parent’s on the other side.
Violet stumbled slightly over the welcome mat and reached reflexively for her gun. She looked up at the rows of beds amidst homey touches, all the occupants staring back at her. She raised her finger to her lips, her eyes searching for her father. Her eyes locked on a once-familiar face and a man stepped down from his bunk.
Ultraviolet?” he whispered disbelieving, “What are you doing here? You’re not eighteen! They made a mistake!”
Daddy!” she ran to him, trying to hug him. “They didn’t. Bondi-Blue, Nick-Nack and I, we came to get you out!”
He sighed, hugging her tightly before stepping backwards, putting space between them.
Stop, Violet! ” he barked at her. “There is no vaccine though. It’s impossible to create. That’s why you children were put in the Haven. To keep you safe!”
Daddy, I found the genetic trigger! We can switch it on and off. We tested it on rats and then on volunteers - when they turned eighteen and the gene activated, we put them in isolation and worked out how to switch it off. When that worked we started looking at younger kids...They wanted to get you out of Compound!” She whispered, unstrapping the serum vials and syringes on her thigh.
Is that why Maui and Hana weren’t brought to us last month?” A man asked from the beds.
Yes, they were our last volunteers. They're planning a family now.”
Voices filled the room, names of the children that would have been traced by the Compound on their eighteenth birthday. They would have been found miles away from the Haven, living an apparent lonely existence. And brought to live in the Compund for ever.
They’re all safe. We’re living like we would have before. And now you can join us.” Violet said.
But the fire…”
There was a sizzling sound behind them as Nick stepped in over the welcome mat holding their mother’s hand.
The fire is no longer a deterrent, Dad, the serum notes we found in your lab worked with a few tweaks. We are fireproof, like Violet probably told you.” Nick said, “You have about a minute to make your decisions, the tranqs wear off in fifteen.” He turned and walked out the door to the waiting women. Violet ran to her mother and hugged her close and held her hand before following Nick. The sound of the men rushing to get out the dormitory followed them down the steps.
Line up and pull up your sleeve. Wait under the water tank. there’s a large bag - put the gear in it on. Follow Violet when we run. Then head to Farmer Jones’ barn.” Nick said with quiet authority. “We promised the others a surprise for breakfast.”
Bondi!?” Their mother turned to Violet. “Where is she..?”
Violet spun round, handed her mother the vials and syringes and ran to the water tank. The light of the moon cast a shimmering light on the solar panels, silver but for a slumped black form. Violet sprinted to it, biting back her instinct to yell Bondi’s name. She climbed the ladder and scrambled to her sister’s side. She gasped as Bondi painfully turned to look at her.
“They can go home now.” Bondi whispered, “We helped them.” through burnt, cracked lips. Violet choked back her tears and tried to stop the flow of blood. Bondi’s hand touched hers as she shook her head. There was no coming back from the damage caused by pyro-link.
You did! You’re the reason they can go home.” Violet whispered, over her sorrow, voice catching on the unspoken words.
Tell them I love them Vi, I love you.” Bondi said. “Go.”
Violet nodded, turned and fell blindly down the ladder, turning back she saluted her sister and ran for the water. The adults fell in behind her, running for freedom.

The End

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Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I try to reply to as many as I can either here or by email. <3 LJx