FLASHBACK

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FLASHBACK

Post by Senmut on Sun Feb 26, 2012 10:42 pm

In this tale, Nick comforts Natalie after the death of her father, and begins to realize the twist of fate that has brought them together.




FLASHBACK



“And who’s this?” asked Nick, of the photo before him. He leaned closer to Natalie, on the couch in her apartment. Across the room from him, Sidney watched the interloper, trying to decide whether or not he liked him.
“Dad,” she replied, somberly, smoothing down the page of the old album. “Before he met Mom, of course.” The sadness in her voice was nearly palpable.
“He looks so young,” said Nick. The black-and-white picture was of a handsome, tow-headed boy, but with a very somber expression, eyes almost vacant. Printed below was a number.
“He was about 14 or so when it was taken, Nick. Yeah, he does look a lot like Ritchie. Just the same at that age.”
“When was it taken?” asked Nick, slowly, reaching for the yellowed snap. Nat handed it to him.
“Date’s on the back.” she added, less lightly, looking away to hide a tear. Nick understood exactly how she felt. He’d felt just the same, at his own father’s death. He turned the snap over. “It was taken in one of the DP camps the Army set up, after it was over.” There, scrawled in a messy hand, was a date.
Sept. 1953
“I see,” he said, after a few seconds, memories rushing back. “The invasion.”
Mon Dieu! 1953!

He wasn’t certain just how much longer he could stand that horrible noise. The high-pitched shriek tore into his ears like knives, sending pain up and down his frame. It was bad enough for others, he was sure, but for one of his kind it was pure agony. So much so he almost missed the tons of flaming debris raining down upon him from the upper stories. He barely made it out of the way, before slamming into a wall.
There it was again. That noise! Once more the building shook and junk tumbled down, though less violently this time. Again and again the weapons were fired, only now, thankfully, there was growing fainter, more distant. At last he could take his hands away from his ears. They had turned away it seemed.
For the moment.
Slowly, carefully, Nick worked his way upwards, out of the ruined building. Most of the top was gone, the back was in flames, but the portion abutting the alley was still intact. He crushed the locked doorknob with ease, and emerged into the dying light. He surveyed the street before him. Some of the buildings had been trashed by the looters as they fled the city. Shops, restaurants, a bank. At one end of the street an overturned car was burning, someone still in it, his senses told him. But the majority of the damage had been done by them. In the distance he could still hear their machines, humming and hissing. Still hear their awesome weapons firing, laying low yet another building, another helpless refugee.
He’d lost his watch somewhere, but his senses told him that it was the fourth day of the invasion. An invasion that had, literally, come out of the clear blue, without any kind of warning.
He’d come to attend an archaeological symposium at the Pacific Institute of Technology and Science, an invitation arranged by a friend, Dr. Clayton Forrester, spending the evening beforehand at the Pasadena Playhouse with Janette, during one of their periodic reconciliations, when it had begun. They had both enjoyed the play, a modern interpretation of Sheridan’s School For Scandal, and gone for a long drive afterwards. There, up on Mulholland, she’d seen it first.
Nichola?” she asked, pointing. Overhead, towards the north, a meteor was flaming its way towards the ground.
“A shooting star,” he replied, watching it disappear. “I’ll bet it hit.”
“Where, do you suppose?”
“Up north aways. I don’t know. Towards Pomona, maybe.”
They stayed there, concerned with other things, for several hours, till Janette grew hungry. She scoffed at Nick’s proffered fare, and declared that she would seek out “real food.” Nick sighed, and reached for the ignition…
And saw another one. Another meteor, full and blazing like the first, broke through the clouds and descended towards the north. Janette quipped that flying might prove hazardous tonight, when they saw yet another, this one coming down near the coast.
“That was close,” said Nick. “San Pedro? Huntington Beach?”
“It certainly is odd, Mon Cher,” replied Janette, getting out of the luxurious Packard. “Perhaps it is the Little Green Men, come to get us, eh mon chevalier?”
“Oh please,” scoffed Nicholas, starting the car. “Be serious.”
But as he drove back towards town, listening to the radio, he heard reports of more meteors. North near San Francisco, east in New York State, New Jersey, and Florida, even overseas. He looked back towards the north and saw yet another meteor, trailing fire. Janette’s little joke was looking less funny by the hour, and Nick began to get a sick feeling in his stomach.
And so it had progressed. There was a call at his hotel, telling him the symposium was postponed, and he wandered the city puzzling it all, when he saw yet another meteor. When he saw trucks filled with troops and others hauling artillery tear through the city heading northwards, his curiousity got the better of him, and he followed. Followed to where companies of Marines, fresh from Korea, were encircling the impact site of the first meteor.
Only it was no meteor. The shooting star he and Janette had seen was in actuality the landing vehicle for an extraterrestrial craft. Her “Little Green Men”. He wondered who and what they might be, as he watched from the branches of a tree a few hundred yards away. His wonderment only grew as he saw the bizarre machines float -float!- up out of their gully and head towards the highway. He focused, watching as someone, an emissary perhaps? walked out towards the lead craft. Its shape reminded him of a manta ray, wings swept into tips, its underside shimmering with whatever force kept it suspended in the air, vegetation smoldering in its wake. Atop it, on a long flexible neck, was a flashing red "eye” of some sort. Nick was at once struck with the ugliness of the things.
Then it happened. The lead ship, dropping down a few feet, fired, its “eye” spitting intense rays of pure heat at something on the ground. In response, every gun, rocket, and rifle in the area opened up, raining destruction down upon the alien machines.
Utterly without effect. Bullets, rockets, grenades and artillery shells all fell short of their targets, stopped cold by a shimmering, translucent bubble of light, like a bell, surrounding each vessel. The barrage continued, gun crews and pillboxes pouring fire into their adversaries, but they weren’t even scratched.
Then, as if having sized up their opposition, the alien ships returned fire. The pulsing eyes on each ship spewed intense orange-red fire, melting or incinerating everything it touched. Each of the ships picked out a target, and fired. Huge guns were reduced to molten scrap, their crews turned into Human torches. Trucks exploded & ammunition blew, everywhere those orange beams touched.
Nick covered his ears in pain, watching as the horror only grew. From the tips of each wing, blobs of green light spewed forth, bathing men and machines. Unlike the heat-rays, they caused no fires or explosions, but whatever they touched disintegrated. One moment they were there, the next they had vanished! Nick watched as tanks, howitzers, and whole companies of men were reduced to nothing.
After less than two minutes, over four thousand heavily armed, combat-hardened troops had been reduced to a hundred or so fleeing refugees, their equipment destroyed, their positions annihilated. Then, the alien warships began to move, following the routed men. Stragglers were mercilessly cut down, incinerated, as if without a second thought, or for that matter even a first.
Sick and horrified, Nick flew back to town, but could not find Janette. It was nearly dawn, and he could do no more. He downed two bottles, and fell into an uneasy sleep. Next evening, the radio and papers were full of the news. Invasion. Already, people were beginning to leave, packing up families and possessions, and heading out of town. The President went on TV, and numerous foreign leaders could be heard on the radio.
Till one by one, they all fell silent. Moscow. Peking. New Delhi. Cairo. Tel Aviv. One by one, the capitals and great cities of the world grew quiet. Montreal. Istanbul. San Francisco. Paris. Sydney. Johannesburg. Lisbon. Rome. As the night wore on, the list got only longer.
Panicked, Nick searched the city for Janette. She wasn’t at any of the usual haunts, and her apartment was empty. Nick knew few of their kind on the West Coast, but apparently they were sharing in the general panic. As dawn approached, he found two bodies, bearing the marks of their kind. He dared the growing light as long as possible, but no Janette.
His hotel was in chaos, people leaving in panic. He made it up to his room, and found that it had been hit by looters. Not much was left. His papers for the symposium were strewn about, and most of the bottles of vin d’beouf broken on the floor. He took a swallow from the one that remained, and locked himself in. The radio told a sorry tale. Absolutely nothing had been able to stop the “Martians” from moving forward with their conquest. And they seemed utterly void of mercy. Stories told of literally millions of refugees in India, incinerated by warships sweeping down from the Himalayas. In China, millions more were reported wiped out across the country, as were huge swaths of Central Africa, and the Amazon. Whoever they were, they weren’t just soldiers. They seemed to kill for the sheer joy of killing.
Nick spent much of the daylight hours using the phone, when it worked, searching for Janette. Nothing. Nor could he reach any other of his kind. Cities had fallen silent, and only the transatlantic telephone cable to London remained, now commandeered for defense purposes.
He awoke that evening to an empty hotel, abandoned by guests and staff alike. Both power and phones were still up, and he resumed his search for Janette. Nothing. He flew out into the night, senses wide, but could feel no trace of her. Why did he just not flee, he asked himself. No doubt Janette had. She was, after all, a sensible girl. He should follow suit, before the enemy made it this far. He wondered why they were being slow about it. Were they slow by nature? Lethargic? Or did they just feel no need to rush? Probably the latter. After all, they seemed to be holding all the cards. They could afford to take their time. Come morning, he returned to the hotel, and fell asleep, after deciding that he would go, come nightfall.
Barely had he fell asleep when an intense flash of light penetrated the shades of his suite, followed by a rumble and shaking a few seconds later. While it did him no harm, he could at once sense what it had been.
The bomb! The military had actually used a nuclear weapon, this close to the city. Mon Dieu! Was it that desperate? For a moment Nick felt a ray of hope. He’d seen firsthand the results of atomic weapons. The Nagasaki he had once known so well had been reduced to lethal dust within seconds. Surely “The Martians” had fared no better?
But no. Within an hour, sound trucks were moving through the streets, urging people to flee. Apparently the bomb had done absolutely nothing, and the enemy was once more on the move. Nick stayed where he was, having no choice, till he heard them. That same horrible screech that resounded when the aliens fired their weapons was drawing closer. He dared a short look out his north-facing window, and saw them. Flames and smoke marked their passage, as Arcadia and Pasadena were laid waste. As he listened, he could hear more of them, approaching from the east. Listening, waiting, he wondered what sort of beings these invaders might be. Were they like men? Did they resemble us at all, or were they hideous and bizarre creatures, like in the movies?
And, above all, why?
He sat up, sensing something. Someone was here. Close by. He stretched out with his perceptions. Yes, someone was here, in the hotel. He raced for the door, tripping, and falling down the stairs. Of all the stupid…he thought, glad that neither Janette nor LaCroix was here to see him so. He raced down to the ground floor. Yes. He could hear and smell them. He followed them through the dining room into the kitchen. Someone was raiding the place.
Of course, thought Nick. Refugees. And hungry ones, too, no doubt. He sensed again. Only one, and small. A child? His long-dead heart felt a stirring of pity. A child, lost and alone, because of war. How many times through the centuries had he seen it? Hell, how many times had he caused it! He could sense the kid becoming aware of him.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said, as gently as he could. As he spoke, he could hear the war machines drawing closer. Their guns… He drew closer himself, and saw the fugitive. A boy, no more than 13 or 14, and covered with grime. He was chewing, his mouth full of someone’s undelivered steak dinner, his hands fuller yet. Over his shoulder was a bag, likewise stuffed with food. He had a wild-eyed, terrified look, like soldiers Nick had known. Men who had seen far too much horror. Far too much death.
“I won’t hurt you,” he repeated, as kindly as possible.
“Oh sure,” said the kid, clearly not believing it. “That’s what the other’s said.” He had a slight accent, and Nick recognized it as French.
“No. I mean it,” said Nick.
“Let me go,” said the boy, a hard edge to his voice.
“Look, I don’t want your food. I…”
The windows flashed with the brilliance of the attacker’s guns. In a second the lights died, plunging the kitchen into near-darkness. The boy took the opportunity to run, at first tripping over something, then making it to the door. Nick moved to follow when one of the warships fired again, sending the entire wall to his left crashing inwards in flames. Something hit him on the side of the head, and he blacked out.
But not for long. He came to, something heavy pinning him to the floor. He heaved, pushing it off him, and felt pain tear through him. He waited a few moments, letting his body start to heal, then got to his feet and made for the door. It was blocked with rubble, so he threaded his way through the wreckage till he found the door to the alley, and crushing the doorknob, exited what was left of the hotel.
The ship that had flattened it had moved on, but he could hear more of them approaching. Obviously they would not stop until every inhabitant of the Earth was eradicated. Why, he again asked himself, as he picked his way through the shattered street. Why? About half a block from his hotel he found a car, still intact. Escape! He felt too weak to fly, still healing and too long without sufficient blood, but if he could just make it to the countryside…
He heard a scream, and turned. It was a child’s scream. The boy? He heard it once more, and headed towards the source. The building had once been a hardware store, but both looters and invaders had left it in ruins. He felt the presence of a Human, and moved that way. As he got closer, he caught the whiff of beef, bread, and…garlic! Food. It was the boy from the hotel.
And…something else. He saw the boy all right, with his sight, in the back of the wrecked store in what had once been the stockroom. Saw the boy and…
Saw them. It could only be them, and they were hideous! About the height of a man, they were anything but manlike in appearance. Their skin was a sick-looking greenish gray, and the head seemed to be more a part of the huge torso. The arms, thin and spindly, terminated in tri-dactyl hands, each finger tipped with a sucker. The legs, likewise spindly, disappeared into heavy boots. The abdomen was small and thin, giving the creatures a top-heavy appearance.
But the face! If you could call it a face. The creatures had only one huge eye, and it seemed made up of three lenses, each one a different primary color. There were no obvious ears or nose, and only a thin mouth below the eye, and pulsating membranes on the sides of the face. Two of the horrid things were slowly closing in on the boy.
“Stop!” bellowed Nicholas, and the creatures turned. Now he could see that each had a third arm extending from the center of the chest. The aliens regarded him a moment, then one drew what Nick assumed must be a sidearm from its belt.
But the vampire gave the alien no time to fire. Summoning his strength, he moved through the air, sending one of the ponderous creatures crashing into a stack of pallets. He then turned on the other one, fangs down, eyes ablaze. The second alien hesitated. Obviously, it had never encountered anyone or thing like this before. Nick could almost hear its surprise. That hesitation was its undoing, for in those few seconds Nick reached around and took up a length of broken wood, bringing it down on the thing’s head as it moved to draw its own weapon. With a hideous squeal, its head burst asunder, splattering him with gore and dropping to the floor, twitching and writhing. Nick turned to the boy…
Who had a pump shotgun leveled at him. He flinched, then heard a noise behind him.
DOWN!” shouted the boy, and Nick obeyed. The gun blazed, and the first alien, back up and armed, was ripped open by the first salvo. The boy followed it up with two more, and the alien fell to the floor, its body shredded by what it, no doubt, would have considered a terribly primitive weapon.
“Thank-you,” breathed Nick, letting his appearance return to normal.
“Yeah,” said the boy. “Why did you come here?”
“I heard you scream. I came to help.”
“But why? You don’t…” He stopped, looking at the dead aliens. Both bodies were rapidly dissolving into a whitish, steaming goo, filling the room with a foul stench. Nick looked at the horror for a moment, then heard another warship firing close by.
“Come on,” he said. “They’re coming. Let’s go.” The boy grabbed up more shells and two pistols, and followed him outside. Sure enough, more ships were heading their way, guns blazing. One fired in their direction, obliterating the shop next to them. The next shot utterly wiped out the hardware store.
And the car. The remains of the building had fallen on it, crushing it beneath tons of flaming rubble. Nick looked around them. Warships blocked one way, gigantic heaps of debris the other. He wasn’t sure he had the strength to fly, after all this. The only way out was…the manhole cover, ten feet away.
The lead ship fired again, and another building exploded in flames. It collapsed into the street, burying his intended escape route under it. Merde! He’d try and find another one, and…
He looked up, to see the lead ship, focusing on them. He and the boy retreated as far as possible, but every way was blocked. Summoning strength he wasn’t even sure was still there, he grabbed the boy, ready to take to the air, when…
When the alien fired. Fired and missed. The searing heat-ray missed the two of them by nearly a dozen feet. As they stood frozen to the spot, the ship visibly began to lose trim, and the sound produced by its propulsion system changed. It fired again, a weaker beam, as it continued to tip, going up on one wing, its lights flickering. The wingtip scraped the street, causing it to bounce, then hit the street flat, skidding for several yards till it at last came to rest directly in front of them. The red scanner eye continued to flicker, drooping, but did not fire again.
“What the…” the boy began, when behind the first ship, the second seemed to be trying to turn around. It did so, got about 50 yards, and just fell flat onto the street. A third one fought on till it too faltered, careening into a building, burying itself in rubble, and fell silent. The sudden silence was almost more terrifying than the endless shriek of those weapons. And of course, Nick wondered…why?
“What’s going on?” asked the boy. “They just stopped.”
“Yeah,” said Nick, as confused as his fellow refugee. “They…stopped.” He extended his senses. In the distance he could hear other ships stopping, their weapon’s fire becoming weaker and less frequent, the sound of crashes.
“Oh my God,” he said, as something moved under the fallen war machine. He heard a mechanical whine, then what sounded like heavily labored breathing. From underneath, something was crawling out.
“No!” he said, hand on the boy’s gun. The alien creature was crawling, obviously in serious trouble. Its breath was horribly labored, and it was making squealing noises. Its tunic or uniform was stained with a vile-smelling something, and it was vomiting.
“It’s…sick,” said the boy.
“Yeah,” said Nick. “Something is killing them.” Another alien had emerged, looking even worse than the first one. It tried to draw a weapon, but the boy fired, blowing it to bits. By the time it had fallen, the first one was still, its one eye gone glassy, its skin turned black. Tentatively Nick touched it. It was barely warm, and he could sense nothing he understood as life at all. “It’s dead,” he told the boy.
“But how? One minute they were winning, and then…”
“I don’t know, son,” he said. He looked around at the burning city, then down at the dead creature, and pondered it. It had obviously been ill. Dying. Disease. Bacteria? He pondered it a moment. Could it really be something that simple?
“Let’s go,” said the boy.
“Right,” said Nick. They picked their way through the streets. There were other alien bodies outside the ship, an arm hanging from a hatch in the second. But none of them were attacking anymore. They saw a few more go down, but the danger, it seemed, was over.
“Thanks for helping me,” said the boy. “They’d have gotten me.”
“It’s okay.”
“Why’d you do that, Mister? Help a stranger?”
“It’s how I am,” said Nick.” I was brought up that way. Where are your parents?”
“Dead,” said the boy, manfully controlling his emotions. “We’re from Vancouver. Canada. We were visiting family in Burbank. We tried to get out, but…”
“I see.”
“They blasted the road. The car went off into a ditch. I got out, but they…” He fell silent a moment, shaking his head. “Nothing left. I just kept trying to stay ahead of them.”
They turned a corner, and beheld another fallen machine, crashed near a church. Outside, perhaps a hundred people were looking at the warship and its dead occupants. Nick and the boy moved towards them.
“What’s your name?” asked the boy.
“Nicholas. Professor Nicholas Girard.”
“Professor of what?”
“Archaeology. At the University of Chicago. And what’s yours?”
“Richard.”
“Richard what?”
“Lambert. Richard Lambert.”

“And he never said who?” asked Nick, still looking at the old snapshot.
“No. I only heard him talk about the invasion once, one night when I was about, oh, twelve. It was when he was very drunk. He lost virtually his entire family in it. He was the sole survivor of the Lamberts.” Nat took the photo from Nick, and returned it to its hallowed place. Then, she embraced him, letting the tears flow, getting them all out. He let her wind down, and she thanked him yet again for attending the funeral.
“Hey, what are friends for, Nat? You’d do the same for me, and Cohen understood.”
“Yeah. I know.” She took a deep breath, and looked at him squarely. “You know, I’ve often wondered who it was who saved Dad. I owe him my life. My very existence.”
“Just some kindly soul who reached out to another, I expect. Some things we just aren’t meant to know.”
“Well God bless him, whoever he is. Wherever he is.”
“Yeah,” said Nick, sipping at his wine. “God bless him.”
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Senmut

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