"What did she say?" Death wanted to know.|
"She said no." Hazel sighed before going on. "I mean, I can understand it. She's got to go to the premiere. She did the title song. And she wants to meet the director-- he says he might have a part for her in his next movie. And then she has to go to Europe for the album. She has to."
"So, are you coming?" Death asked.
Hazel was resigned. "I don't suppose I have any choice."
"No. I'm afraid that you really don't." Death replied.
- Neil Gaiman
"Very good," I said. "Now, as has been hinted at in church, in school, and even on Howdy Doody, a single step outside the circle means death. Understand?"
- Stephen King
• • •
The farmhouse had been silent for the past 20 minutes.
Timothy tightened his grip on his assault rifle, swallowed dryly, and called out. "Majors! Foster! Walker!" He looked longingly at his radio again, but they were under radio silence until this region had been secured.
45 minutes ago, the rest of his squad closed in on the farmhouse.
"Come ON guys!" Timothy muttered. What the hell had happened?
40 minutes ago, his squad was fired upon. 7 men went down before Majors, Foster, and Walker finished their advance and made it inside.
Timothy prepared himself to make a solo assault. It was his only option.
38 minutes ago, the sounds of gunfire inside the farmhouse began.
Timothy left his post where he had been left to guard the road leading to the farmhouse, and began crawling toward the silent farmhouse.
35 minutes ago, the gunfire stopped.
Timothy was now 100 yards from the farmhouse. With every motion his neck, where he expected a bullet to enter at any second, burned incessantly.
33 minutes ago, Majors opened the front door and, with hand signals, told Timothy to hold his position. The front door closed again.
75 yards now. Timothy stopped every minute or so to scan every window with his rifle scope. No sign of life.
28 minutes ago the screaming started. Two, maybe three men from the sound of it.
When Timothy got within 50 yards an unbearable stench assaulted his nostrils. What on earth could cause a smell this bad?
20 minutes from the time he last called out, the farmhouse grew silent.
Timothy was close enough to charge the house now. And he had to, the stench was so awful that he was going to be sick pretty soon.
He jumped up, cradled the assault rifle in the ready position, and stormed the front door. He kicked the door, which had been slightly ajar, open and stormed through. Living room clear! Dining room clear! Kitchen...
Majors, Foster, and Walker were all lying on the floor, amidst pools of bile and blood. In one corner was the body of a Spanish soldier. Walker was still moving a little, and seemed to be trying to say something.
Timothy knelt beside his peer and bent to hear the whispering man.
"... run ... it might not be too late ..."
"What do you mean?" Timothy asked urgently after scanning the room again. No one else was in sight.
Walker started laughing maniacally. He weakly gripped Timothy's jersey and spewed blood and saliva as he forced his last words out. "... De ... Des ... Destruction! It was Destruction!"
Timothy's blood ran cold. His mind was screaming (ohmygodohmygodohmy-) as he stumbled to his feet, tossed aside his rifle and ran from the room. He threw off his pack with one trembling hand as he charged from the farmhouse. His utility belt came next. It didn't matter that he would be defenseless if Spanish stragglers caught him. In fact, if Destruction caught him first then being shot would be a blessing.
Faster and harder than he ever had in his 18 years of life.
Timothy almost made it back to his post before the screaming started.
It took him a moment; the last moment before his feet failed him... the last moment before he felt Destruction's cold fingers grip his spinal cord; before he realized the screaming was his own.
Earth 7749: "The Exodus, Part I"
"What a nightmare!" Arturo grumped.
Wade giggled. "We've been on worse worlds than that! What about Cannibal world?"
Quinn smiled as well. "Yeah, or the world that had Liver Friday instead of Fish Friday?"
"Laugh it up, Miss Welles and Mr. Mallory, but I assure you that I am quite serious! That was the worst world we have ever been to! I would rather land on a world where beards had been outlawed than ever land on a world that hideous again!"
Remmy had gone to the edge of the alley to scout the situation, and was back. "It doesn't look too horrible, guys. Now, anyway. I get the feeling if we'd arrive last week it might have been different!"
"What do you mean?" Quinn inquired.
Remmy grinned cheerfully, beckoning with one hand for them to see for themselves.
San Francisco was obviously a recent war zone. Burned out husks of cars, shattered buildings, and cratered roads made that much readily apparent. But it must have been recently liberated because the debris that should have been everywhere was non existent. There were no discarded arms, no corpses, and no entrenchments. A pile of signs in Spanish suggested who the occupiers must have been. Partially torn or defaced posters also presented evidence. The people on the street were laughing and smiling as they cleaned up more of the mess or took apart destroyed vehicle or repaired buildings. The Sliders passed a few scattered service men as they explored the battered city, but none of them were holding weapons. Most of them were helping with the cleanup efforts.
A lot of the buildings had survived and they passed several restaurants offering free food to returning refugees. The Sliders were disheveled from the experience on the previous world, making them look like refugees, so they stopped at one such place. There was no menu service, everyone was served a beef and vegetable stew with a quarter loaf of bread each. Small cans of juice was the only offered beverage. None of the Sliders complained.
They listened for a while to the other conversations, and then Arturo tried to summarize it out loud. "Apparently, on this world Spain invested their plundered gold on their nation's infrastructure instead of squandering it, as they did on our world. Perhaps they became the world wide empire that our United Kingdom did. Or perhaps they were merely strong enough to have kept Mexico. In either case, they must have eventually gone to war with the US. A lot of this is conjecture, but it is reasonable since it is obviously the Spanish who held this city until last week."
"That makes sense." Quinn agreed. "I heard one guy say AS War III, which I assume means American-Spanish war. They've probably been battling most of this century, with cold war turning into hot war three times."
Remmy tossed the last scrap of bread into his mouth and eyed the others. "Well, I get the idea that this war is winding down and the Spanish have lost. Or, at least, the front lines are far enough away that we can survive the next week until we Slide. It could be worse, we could have Slid in here last week!"
Arturo smiled kindly, reaching over and giving Remmy a friendly nudge. "Yes, my pragmatic friend, it should be easy enough to keep our heads down, shouldn't it?"
• • •
The general raised a hand to hold the aide in place until he finished surveying a report. Another battalion had reported cases of men dying of Destruction, the biological weapon for which there was no defense, no cure. And the first reports of civilian casualties were coming in. If Destruction got out of hand and started spreading among the civilian population, this war would suddenly cease to matter to either side. How could the Spanish generals be so foolish as to authorize the use of the worst biological weapon ever conceived?
Finally, General Rickman leaned back in his chair and glanced at the aide. "Report."
"Lieutenant Gaiman and Major Chalker request your presence in Holding Block C, sir."
This sounded interesting. Rickman dismissed the aide and decided to see what his two best staff members, who happened to be two of his best friends, had on their minds.
The two men were grinning like school chums, which the three of them had been 30 years ago. "Look at this! You're not going to believe this!"
"This is the holding area for the Aztec contingent of our POWs." Rickman commented idly.
His two men nodded, barely containing wide grins. "Go ahead, walk in there. There's a Plexiglas shield on this side, so it's not like they can harm you."
Chalker added, "we think you'll get a kick out of this!"
Intrigued, Rickman opened the door and entered the observation portion of the holding cell. Beyond the small area shielded off, which contained a desk and chair and one observing guard, lay a room containing 50 bunk beds, a wall of sinks and toilets, and a 100 POWs.
Upon seeing a ranking officer, the highest ranking Aztec-Spanish Officer shouted a command and all 99 other POWs jumped to their feet and stood at attention.
Gaiman and Chalker guffawed and elbowed each other. "Isn't that a riot?" Gaiman chuckled. "What is going on in their minds? They do that every time a high officer enters the room!"
Rickman stared at the prisoners for a long time. "Interesting. Very interesting."
He said it without a trace of mirth.