Sunday, 6 August 2017

Short Story: The Flyer

The acrid smell of smoke made my eyes water, making it hard to see. I tried my best to avoid the hoards of people pushing past me. Their faces were gaunt from hunger, which enhanced the acute agitation in their eyes.

No one noticed my steady journey against the crowd. I took the quickest route I could through the main street and took care to avoid the cars that had been lit on fire. The entire city had fallen to shambles mere weeks after the first outbreak. Before long, this city would join the scores of cities on the Fallen List, cities which had succumbed to the infection.

The zombies were winning. The first city had taken months to fall, people were keen to fight back, to help others, to protect their homes. But as news started to spread, and the hysteria increased tenfold, people started to become selfish, hoarding supplies and withholding information, making it easy for the zombies to attack the city and watch it disintegrate from within. The strong bullied the weak and the opportunistic looted the miserable. 

A cacophony of distressed cries formed the soundtrack to my singular journey. Help. Help. Someone please help. As always, I couldn’t stop. My mission was to locate the Flyer. Intel had come in from multiple sources that a new mutant-zombie, or MZs as the team called them, had emerged. This one was an S-level threat which meant that it had to be eliminated immediately. My job was to locate, observe and report. Simple as that, nothing more nothing less. I knew from experience that if I stopped to help one person, things would spiral out of control and my mission would fall wayward. Concentrating on my mission to eliminate the MZs would be more worthwhile, given their immense capacity for damage and destruction. With that thought, I blocked out the cries and trudged onwards. 
I watched as a zombie near me devoured the twitching arm that it had just ripped off from a young lady. Blood drained from her face as she watched her dismembered limb being eaten in front of her and her heart slowly gave out. I knew that I was getting close. Zombies stuck together, especially around the MZs.

It was time to turn on my shield. The zombies were getting too close for comfort. I closed my eyes and felt the familiar tingle pass through my body. I was getting better at this. The shift was taking less time and less toll on my body. Back in peaceful times, I had almost no need to use my gifts and honestly, no desire to do so. Using my gifts exposed me as a mutant and there was no way to tell if someone was mutant-friendly or not. It was better to blend in.

A strong gust of wind almost knocked me off my feet as something descended from above at an incredible speed. I heard the petrified wail of a young mother as her baby was snatched out of her arms. A young teenage boy with massive black wings sprouting from his back had taken the baby.
Target located. 

I watched the Flyer soar into the sky. He was without a doubt an S-level threat. A freely-mobile, super-strong mutant-zombie like him would wreak havoc, not to mention being able to spread the infection to multiple cities in an incredibly short time. All cross-border transport had ceased as part of a nationwide governmental shutdown in order to curb the spread of the infection. This MZ would change everything.

I had to report this to the team as soon as possible. This needed to be flagged to the higher-ups at the network. The Mutant Allied Network (MAN) had taken charge of putting together task forces of “volunteer” mutants to tackle the MZs and I was part of one such task force. All missions had to be sanctioned by MAN and strict protocol had to be followed. 

An armoured tank nearby exploded into flames. The zombies in the vicinity rose up simultaneously in excitement. This must have distracted the Flyer. My heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach as I watched his hand slacken and the baby slip from his grip. 

Adrenaline rushed through my body as I strained every muscle to get to the baby. I expanded my shield as far out as I could manage, focused it on the baby and ran forward. With superhuman effort, I managed to reach the baby in time, catching him before my body slammed into the concrete ground. The baby let out a piercing wail and I let out a sigh of relief. He was alive.

I cradled the baby to my chest and scanned the vicinity for a place to take cover. A human baby was a magnet for zombies, a sweet treat to their main course of adult flesh. Besides, I wanted to get a closer look at the Flyer and for that I would need to get on higher ground.

I walked quickly with the baby on my hip, praying that the zombies would be too distracted by the tank to follow me. I chose to enter a nondescript building to my left. Once inside, I quickly followed the signs to the stairs. 

It was much harder than I expected to climb stairs with a baby. By the 10th flight, I was huffing and puffing. I leaned against the handrail but before I could catch my breath, I heard voices that made my entire body stiffen and go into red alert mode. As luck would have it, the baby chose that exact moment to cry.

“Who’s there!” a male voice called out. A young man and woman approached us from the stairs above us.

“It’s okay, I’m alone!” I tried to demonstrate to them as best as I could that I wasn’t a threat. 

“It’s just a woman and her baby,” the young man said to his companion.

The young lady scowled at me, her arms folded across her chest.

“Mama, mama,” the baby cried out, pointing at the young lady.

The young man chuckled and gave the young lady a gentle nudge in the ribs. “Look, he likes you.”

“What’s his name?” he asked.

“I actually don’t know,” I said. “I found him outside…”

“That’s nice of you,” the young man said.

The young lady snorted. “She’s just prolonging his suffering. He’s never going to make it.”

“You have quite a cheery disposition don’t you?” I said.

My sarcasm was not lost on the young lady. Her eyes flashed in anger and I braced myself as I noticed her fist curling into a ball. 

“Now now, let’s play nice,” the young man said. “My name is Alex, and this is my girlfriend Jenna.”
“I’m Heidi,” I said, “I would shake your hand but my hands are kinda full right now…”

“Oh dear, you must be tired. Please, let me hold him,” Alex said. 

I hesitated for a moment, wondering if I could trust him. Alex was over six feet tall and very well-built but his sandy brown hair and soft eyes reminded me of a puppy. He looked harmless enough. At this point, I was too tired to care. I handed over the baby, my aching arms grateful for the respite.
“Shit, they’re coming,” Jenna said. “We need to go.”

I could hear a little commotion from down below. The zombies had found us. Alex and Jenna started running up the stairs and I followed their lead.

Alex and Jenna suddenly halted. We had reached a dead end. The metal door that led to the rooftop was bolted shut and draped with metal chains. Whoever had blocked this exit, had clearly done a good job.

I started calculating my exit strategies. If I protected myself and the baby, I could possibly make a run for it. My shield would not hold up if I had to protect all three of us, that was for sure.

“Do you want to do it or shall I?” Alex asked Jenna.

“I’ll do it,” Jenna said.

Wait, what was going on? No one was involving me in this discussion.

Jenna walked to the metal door. She closed her eyes and placed her palm gently on its surface. Within seconds, I felt a strong surge of power and I instinctively activated my shield around me.

The entire door shattered. Tiny bits of sharp metal flew through the air. Alex covered himself and the baby with his arms.

A concrete wall loomed over us the moment we stepped through the door (or what was left of it). Thankfully, there was a ladder that led us upwards. The moment my foot left the last rung of the ladder, I let out the breath that I had been holding. My heart was still pounding as I looked down from the rooftop. Everything looked so small from up here.

A loud clang rang through the air. Alex had somehow managed to disconnect the ladder from the wall. It now lay beside him.

“This should stall them for a bit,” Alex said.

“You guys are mutants aren’t you?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.

Jenna rolled her eyes. “You're one too,” she said. “No one survives my decimations without a scratch.”

“Hey, what about me?” Alex chimed in, flexing his muscles and grinning at Jenna cheerfully.

I frowned. It was bad news that they were mutants. "Haven't you guys received the order from MAN? Mutants aren’t allowed near red zones. With powers like yours, the consequences are unthinkable...” I glared at Jenna for emphasis. 

Although it seemed altruistic for powerful mutants like Alex and Jenna to be out in the cities fighting the zombies, the unfortunate result of a mutant getting infected by a zombie was the creation of the MZs, extra-powerful mutant-zombies. Vigilante mutant heroism often created more trouble than their help was worth.

“Hide the baby,” I said as I noticed the Flyer circling above us. “I think it’s attracting the Flyer.”

“The Flyer? Is that what you call him?” Jenna asked, her eyebrows raised.

“Yes, that’s his code name,” I said. “Careful, he’s an S-level threat.”

“S-level?” Alex asked. He looked nervous, the first since I’d met him.

“That just means he’s very dangerous. But don’t worry the team is on it. After I report my intel today, they will execute a kill mission.”

Jenna’s blue eyes turned a stormy grey. Alex went to her side and held her hand. I had definitely struck a raw nerve.

Before I could probe further, radiation shockwaves threw all three of us off balance. A nerve bomb had struck the corner of the rooftop. I quickly activated my strongest shields. Looks like the army was carrying out an air strike.

That worried me. Air strikes were only reserved for final missions since they wiped out everyone, innocent or not. Were they already giving up on this city?

“We need to go,” I said. 

A spark of fire flashed in the sky near us. An air strike had hit the Flyer! We watched as one of his wings burst into flames and he started free-falling to the ground. 

“Noooo,” Jenna cried out. “We need to get him,” she said, pulling Alex towards the stairs. 

I grabbed her shoulder. “No, it’s too dangerous.”

“Get your hands off me! I don’t need your help!" Jenna's body radiated with anger as she glared at me. 

“Jenna, calm down. Let's get to safety first,” Alex said.

"I'm not letting my brother die," Jenna said. She turned her back on us and took off. 

Jenna’s words knocked the wind out of my lungs.

The Flyer was her brother.

When Alex and I caught up with her, Jenna was kneeling beside her brother’s body on the street. Up close, you could see their resemblance. Both had blonde hair and waifish features. He was lucky. His face hadn’t really changed from the infection although his neck and arms were covered with a scaly green rash. His left shoulder was bleeding profusely as one wing had almost been entirely burnt off.
“Damien, wake up! Can you hear me?” Jenna shouted repeatedly as she shook her brother’s body.
Damien stirred at the sound of Jenna’s voice. His eyes fluttered open.

I was stunned to see that his eyes were a brilliant azurean blue. Usually, the infection turned people’s eyes into a muddy yellow colour. Looks like he was different.

“Jenna…” he said weakly before closing his eyes again.

Jenna’s face lit up. "He recognized me!" she said, looking at Alex excitedly.

Jenna grabbed the baby from Alex's arms. "Damien, we’re going to save you. Look, I brought food."
I watched in horror as Jenna put the baby's arm near Damien's mouth. 

“No!” Damien said, "Get it away from me." Damien pushed the baby away from him, spitting out blood in the process from the exertion. All of a sudden, something changed. Damien's eyes turned yellow and his mouth started salivating. 

Alex quickly snatched the baby away from Jenna and handed him to me.

Damien's eyes turned blue again. I could tell that he was struggling within himself to regain control.
“Jenna, please… I don’t want to hurt others anymore,” Damien clutched Jenna’s arm. The sorrow in Damien's eyes was so deep that I felt a strange ache well up from deep within my chest. 

“Please end this...” Damien said. 

The silence between them seemed to go on forever until at last, Jenna squeezed Damien’s hand and nodded. Damien looked relieved and closed his eyes.

Jenna put her palm over Damien’s heart. Alex knelt beside her and put his arm around her, steadying her shoulders as tears started streaming down her face.

Damien’s body jerked once, twice and then stopped. Then, something strange happened. The green rash that covered his body started to fade. His black wings started to turn to ash and the little black particles disappeared into the air. 

Jenna pulled her hand back in alarm. “What’s happening! What did I do?” she said, her eyes round with fear as she looked at Alex.

I concentrated my power over Damien, trying to stop whatever was happening to him. A ripple passed through his body as my force field counteracted with Jenna’s. I flinched as I felt the shockwaves of her power hit mine but I pushed back. Beads of sweat dripped from my brow as I concentrated.

Jenna looked at me pleadingly, “Do something, please.”

A warm glow passed over Damien’s body and then he went still. I relaxed as I felt my shield cover him completely.

“Check his pulse,” I said.

Jenna leaned forward and put her fingertips gently against Damien's neck.

She looked at me and then Alex, her voice hesitant but a small glimmer of hope flickered in her eyes, “I think he’s alive...”

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