Gliders by J. M. Barber - HTML preview

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He thought he knew what Alexis was probably thinking about. She was thinking about, maybe one day, seeing her family again, maybe her friends too. Thinking of seeing Carlo and Maxis again.

It’s not over, the same grim voice from earlier spoke up. The man looking back at Carlo through the mirror furrowed his brow.

“Of course it’s not,” his reflection muttered. “It’s not serious for you and your people yet Mehdi. But I’m coming, and so are the casualties.”

He could hear the sound of the holographic TV in the other room, but the volume was turned too low to be able to make out what the voices were saying.

That’s not what I mean and you know it, the voice in his head spoke back up. It’s not over Carlo! They haven’t—

The building suddenly jarred, violently, and Carlo gripped the metal sink, a gasp escaping him.

Imagine an entire civilization falling from the sky, he heard the past version of himself telling his friends.

Imagine an entire civilization… falling.

Carlo, clad in only a T-shirt and boxer shorts, raced out the bathroom, reached for his clothes on the chair, and tripped over his foot and fell forward, hard. His nose smashed onto the floor, and broke with a single, audible snap. The pain hit like a sledgehammer. But he didn’t have time to acknowledge it.

“No!” he said breathlessly, scrambling back up on his bare feet, the bottoms of them slipping in the blood that had spilled from his nostrils. He extracted his knife from the right pocket of his folded uniform—thank God it was still there—and left his clothes and shoes on the chair, and instead rushed for the rocket pack. He snatched it up as the building jarred again, and this time, canted slightly to the left. Carlo flew sideways into the wall, the side of his head connecting hard enough to daze him. The building straightened and he fell forward again, landing awkwardly on his left hand and sprained it.

He let out a pained growl and proceeded forward, his nose running.

He had maintained his hold on the strap of the rocket-pack and raced out the door with it in one hand, immediately greeted in the hall by the emerging faces of countless patients, young and old, peeking out of their rooms from a position on the floor or some while they stood unsteadily on their feet, clutching the doorway for balance. Some had gashes that leaked blood on their foreheads. Some of their noses were as bloody as his. He could hear the sobs of children, loud and frantic, spilling out into the halls from all directions.

“The world’s Godless,” someone screamed from a room down the hall. “And that’s why the devil’s gonna take all you tech savvy sinners to hell! TO HELL!”

Carlo raced down the dimly-lit hall at full speed, his bare feet clapping painfully against the cold floor. Faces slid by on either side of him, many following his progress with expressions of weary confusion, or outright panic.

“It’s going down!” Carlo roared, his throat tearing harshly with the sheer volume of his voice. “GO!  GET OU—”

The building didn’t just jar this time, but dropped half a foot. Carlo’s feet left the ground, and he was suddenly airborne, feeling like he was part of some sadistic rollercoaster. The building balanced out and Carlo came down hard on the ground once again, smacking on the floor, but skidding painfully forward on his bare knees as he did. The pain was exquisite. Skin was erased from his knees at once. Still, it barely registered. 

Carlo got hastily back to his feet and continued forward, pumping his arms, then came to a skidding, barefooted halt, as he realized the rocket-pack lay on the floor behind him. He turned back around, and rushed back toward the pack, snatching it up one-handed, and whirling back around and making his way back down the wide expanse of hall. It seemed endless, and with the number of people present it was hard to proceed forward at full speed.  More people were emerging from their rooms, their faces alive with panic. They knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what.

“RUUUN!” Carlo screamed, as blood spilled from his nose and mouth. He imagined that he looked like a madman, and felt like one too. Carlo forced his arms through the straps of the rocket-pack as he turned a corner. He knew it would be useless inside the building. Completely useless. What was more frightening was that he didn’t know what floor he was on. He didn’t even know if he was going the right way. 

Patients started to burst into the hall at an alarming rate, and Carlo suddenly found himself having to force his way past men and women in hospital gowns. It wasn’t long before patients were starting to look at him with desperate eyes, as if they understood, as if they saw that—

Don’t get too close to any of them, Carlo thought. You can’t trust any of them. 

In the increasing chaos Carlo noticed a large black sticker on the wall and his heart nearly stopped.

He was on floor number five. Floor goddamn five! The idea was so frightening that at first, it didn’t completely register. And he didn’t see so much as a single elevator or a door leading to a staircase. Had he missed an exit sign or the elevator in his haste? When he turned the next corner he saw a window at the end of the hall, past twenty or thirty patients. The building dropped again, five feet this time, lifting everyone to the ceiling coming to a jarring halt. It resulted in a cacophony of thuds, crunches and exclamations of pain. When Carlo landed the laser blade flew from his hand, landed on the floor and sliding several feet. He wasn’t sure, but he thought that he may have broken his right hand with the landing. 

Yet again, he scrambled back to his feet, tripping and stumbling over sprawled bodies as he made his way forward. His knife lay closed against wall to his right, a sprawled out, large old woman lying next to it. The woman lay on her stomach, her white curls a mess, sobbing. Carlo made his way over to her, climbing over four bodies, and nearly tripping over the last one, to get there. He retrieved his knife, took a giant step forward, and fell forward hard on top of another body as the lady clenched his bare ankle with both hands. The feel of her palms were ice cold, like she had just taken her hands off a baggie full of ice chips. 

“Noooooo,” she moaned, the veins under her pale white hands standing out in stark relief.

The building trembled, the cool white lighting flickered. A chorus of screams ran from one end of the hall to the other, pieces of the ceiling falling from above. Some pieces landed and broke apart on people’s heads, and some on the floor.

“He’s got a rocket-pack,” someone screamed from down the hall. “The goddamn kid’s got a rocket-pack!  Asshole’s going to try to fly out of here through the window.”

Why am I the asshole, Carlo thought.

“Let go!” Carlo screamed at the lady, forced to put his hands on the set of bare thighs he lay on and push himself up. The person groaned under Carlo’s weight.

“Pleeeaasseee!” the woman moaned, and pulled.

Carlo fell back on his stomach, his face falling against the bare ass of the man under him. He turned over on his back, cocked back his right leg, and slammed his foot forward. It hit on the first shot, connecting with the woman’s temple just above her right eye. She let go, her head thudding to the floor. Carlo scrambled back up, snatched up his knife, and dashed forward, leaping over people and moving left and right to dodge people lying down or running in the other direction. The window, clear, and mockingly big, stood twenty feet ahead at a dead end. 

“Come on, let’s get this guy! He has a FUCKING rocket pack!”

A commotion was building behind him.

The building canted back half a foot and Carlo struggled to stay on his feet as patients started to slide back toward him. His feet caught traction, lost it, caught it again. It was like running on a treadmill. The window was ten feet away, sickeningly close now.

“God, where are you,” a man screamed, from somewhere behind Carlo. “I need you to show me where you are God! I need you to show me right now!”

Carlo was suddenly tackled from behind, and went forward hard.

Still at a cant, the building jarred.  More screams and falling debris followed. Carlo could smell the bits of broken ceiling, taste its crumbs on his tongue. The interior of the building was turning into a construction site of horrors. 

“Give it to me,” a man shouted breathlessly into his ear, his voice thick with panic. “Give it to me now kid, or by God I’ll murder you where you lay!”

“No!” Carlo shouted, struggling to get up under his weight.

They were sliding back slowly, at the mercy of the slanted floor.

He was fifteen feet away from the window, saw a number of people standing inside of the leaning doorways of their rooms. 

Carlo’s hair was grasped by a strong hand, and pulled hard forcing his head back. Then it was slammed into the floor.

Everything went black, becoming suddenly like that peaceful time he’d experienced in between digging monster teeth out his calf and waking up in the hospital bed. This blackness didn’t last as long though, and when he came to, what must’ve been fifteen men and women were clawing and biting at each other, throwing wild haymakers and slaps, as they battled each other for a chance to take the rocket pack off Carlo’s back.

The lights stopped flickering for three to five seconds, and went into another series of flickers. Somewhere from above Carlo, came the sound of gurgling, about five or six breathless grunts, then a loud splash of liquid and a thud seconds after. Someone had just been killed. Carlo was sure of it.

Don’t get up too fast man, he thought. Don’t get up too fast now man! Be smart about—

There was no time for that shit. Carlo, no longer weighed down by whoever had been on top of him, leapt back to his feet, swayed to the side from the unexpected rush of dizziness that hit his head, and fell back onto his ass, and slid back on the sliding floor. He still held his laser blade in his left hand.

“Get him,” a buff, red-faced, middle aged, white man shouted, white specks of spittle on his lips. 

It had been him that had been on top of Carlo, he thought, grabbing onto the doorway of a nearby room to stop his descent, now behind the man instead of in front of him. The man had a crowd of fifteen people around him, all bleeding, all wearing clear expressions of utter desperation. The buff man held an old fashioned switch blade in his hand. It and his hand was covered with blood. The building rumbled a canted another inch and a bleeding body slid down the hall, a streak of blood trailing behind it. That was the man that had been killed.

Bodies slid past Carlo like kids going down a slow moving water slide. A good many of them were dead.  The buff man and the people with him were across the hall, and carefully moving in Carlo’s direction, some in hospital gowns and some not. Some slipped and fell sideways as they approached, having to get back up, and fight against whatever had been hurt, sprained, or broken. Then the building, its interior lights still flickering madly, canted the other direction and evened out. The buff man and the people with him stumbled and fell, and Carlo, who had been, luckily, using the doorway for balance managed to stay on his feet. He broke into a run, heading for the window, the laser knife still clutched tightly in his hand. Two seconds later, a man from a doorway to his right, tackled him yet again, and brought him hard to the floor. 

He grunted, forced the person off him and got back to his feet, his nose being cracked again by a fist an instant later. He hadn’t even seen who had thrown it, all he knew was the pain. Everything was a temporary blur, the sound of people gathering around him clear, their words vulgar, and their hatred palpable. Carlo was hit again, dead in the mouth and stumbled back, was kept on his feet by what felt like a large pair of hands, shoved forward, and felt his head rock back with the force of another, brutal blow. His left eye would soon be closed, that was a certainty.  More punches from the crowd around him were thrown, some busting him in the lip and some getting him in the nose and some right above the temple. The punches hit like rush of bullets, connecting at all angles. He felt his neck pop as a particular punch forced his head hard to the right. The breathless grunts, and angry outbursts that punctuated the flurry of punches only grew.

“Kill him,” someone breathed.

Someone now held Carlo from behind, his body slumped helplessly in the person’s arms. He was breathless and beaten. Too tired and hurt to try to resist anymore, and barely able to remain on his feet. His chest rose and fell slowly with his breaths, and blood appeared on his lips in spit bubbles, generated by the exhaled air. The man with the knife approached. And the building abruptly dropped two feet. Everyone went up into the air and came back down, and this time when Carlo did his right ankle broke cleanly and audibly, sending a monstrous flare of pain up his lower leg. He screamed in agony, his lips swollen and cut in numerous places, and his left eye now completely swollen and closed. He was suddenly leapt upon, and pressed into the ground, immediately finding it hard to breathe. Another person jumped on top of the person that had just leapt on him, and the wind was knocked out of Carlo. Then came the sudden weight of a third person. A sickening wave of faintness overcame him, and everything went black again. So sweet. So peaceful.

When he re-awoke, it was just the buff man on top of him, breathing his hot breath into his ear and jabbing his knife into Carlo’s thigh again and again, causing him great pain but in his haste neglecting to see that he wasn’t hitting any vital organs. Carlo, breathless, nauseous, and a grotesque mess, reached toward the side screen on the rocket pack, touched it, and turned it on. Its hum was drowned out by the surrounding noise.

There was another jab of the knife, as the buff man began to free the left strap of the rocket pack.

It took a moment to load and Carlo used his memory to the best of his ability to navigate the screen with his finger.

Another jab of the buff man’s knife, this time puncturing Carlo’s kidney, his hot breath wafting over his nose.  In moments Carlo tasted fresh blood as it swelled into his mouth. The left strap came down to his elbow.

“Mine motherfucker,” the buff man hissed. “Mine…..”

Carlo chose idle by pure luck.

“Miiiinne—”

The crowd, now down to roughly ten, didn’t get the rocket pack from Carlo. Because the next instant Carlo disappeared, and so did the man on top of him. Nothing was left of him but his blood and smoke from the rocket-pack burners. Carlo shot backward, the buff man holding on and his knife in Carlo’s side. Carlo watched as the window out in front of him shrunk, the doorways and dead and injured people flashing past him as he flew backwards, now blessedly airborne. Carlo went back…back…back, a cool wind rushing against his face. When he felt it was right, he flicked his feet the other way and shot abruptly back in the other direction, launching the large man off of him, and sending him crashing into the elevator—what Carlo had been looking for just minutes ago—at close to two hundred and fifty miles an hour. The man broke almost every bone in his body when he hit and fell from the metal door with a rough impression of his shape. He slid down to the floor and lay dead, his head cocked crudely in Carlo direction as he sped toward the window, past the crowd of people that had fought so desperately to get his rocket pack off him. 

Hell, I could’ve just flown out the cave, Carlo thought wildly. I could’ve save myself this God-forsaken visit.

Carlo hit the switch on his knife and the laser blade flipped out from the handle. The building abruptly canted three feet and everyone who had attacked Carlo became airborne as the building launched them back toward the paralyzed body of the buff man. Carlo continued forward, the blade out, and its tip pointed at the window. The lights flickered, more debris fell and broke apart and slid down the slanted floor. Carlo directed the rocket pack right up to the window, shoving the laser blade into the reinforced glass when he made contact. The building canted further.   Outside the window Carlo could see hovercrafts—the faster more expensive version of a hover-cart—gliders, automatons and people and pieces of buildings tumbling down the surface of the slanted platform like objects falling down the stairs. He watched as something erupted outside, miles off to the right, and what looked like several bodies were launched into the air, silhouetted against a massive red ball of fire. A split second later the sound of the explosion ripped through his ears like a ship breaking the sound-barrier. Carlo’s jaw tightened as he worked frantically to cut an opening into the window. He spit out more blood. His kidney was a burning and agonizing horror. 

As the platform canted even further, large objects and countless people tumbled faster down the gravel like a sadistic amusement park ride. Inside, sobs ran through the hall like water through a faucet. The building, still tilting, fissuring, creaking, and breaking, started to tremble. At the end of the hall, where Carlo had left the buff man, a pile of roughly forty or so people were piled on top of him. A dark-skinned black girl to Carlo’s right, balancing inside the doorway as the building proceeded to tilt downward, was trying to reach out for him, her face a flawless portrait of fear. Tears ran from her eyes, and made trails on her dark skin. She wore a white hospital gown. 

The lights flicked out. The screams and moans—already deafening—swelled. In the blue glow of the rocket’s flames Carlo saw the girl leap out the corner of his eye, while he proceeded to cut an opening. She latched onto his right ankle with both hands, and the sudden pain and weight brought Carlo down a foot. He pointed his feet downward and guided the rocket pack back up to the window. Carlo continued to cut, grimacing as the girl’s nails dug into his skin.

“You bitch!” he grunted. He could barely see anything, but he knew he was making progress.

The building was now still, turned comically on its side, the platform it had been built on in an identical position. As Carlo worked on cutting the last three feet he needed to fit through with his rocket-pack, he realized that it wasn’t going to balance out this time. The central hover system was giving its final breath, and Carlo could feel it.  It trembled slightly. Unseen beams and supports continued to snap and break from within the walls all around him. From outside came another eruption—this one closer—and the glow of its ensuing flame briefly washed the hospital interior with bright orange light. The force shook the foundation like a giant set of hands, and a male, somewhere off in the distance, let out shriek that rose above all the others and stretched out for what seemed years. Then he went silent.

As the building proceeded to shiver, a large white man with a jutting gut on Carlo’s left, who was clad only in boxer shorts, positioned himself to leap from his doorway, apparently to grab onto him as well. He was crouched down, unable to stand all the way up inside of sideways facing doorframe.

“No!” the girl screamed at him, trying to climb further up Carlo’s leg. “You’ll fucking kill us!” Her young, sharp fingers tore fruitlessly at Carlo’s lower leg, only causing him pain instead of helping her gain any new purchase.  Carlo cut the final length of glass with a hard sizzling swipe, shoved it hastily out the building, and caught his pinky on the window’s edge, cutting it down to the bone. Blood gurgled from the wound, and ran down the side of his wrist. 

Carlo let out a wet, exhausted sigh.

The foundation began to shake violently. Light fixtures and more large chunks of ceiling fell. The fat man leaned forward. Leapt. The young girl’s nails dug deeper into Carlo. And the building plunged abruptly downward, the central hover system now dead. The bodies at the bottom of the hall that were all living, broken or dead, shot upward as if propelled by rocket-packs of their own. 

And at 11:40pm, Andreas77, much like the hacked platforms before it, fell out of the sky.

Miles away on another platform, a boy of ten, who stood observing the distant display of fireworks that was the collapse of Andreas77, watched a blue flame extend from the plummeting wreckage and ascend high up into the black sky. The boy watched its progress as it climbed toward the stars, watched as the blue flame faded…and faded…then eventually went out.

Within a minute a cold rain began to fall onto his own home platform, and with his brow furrowed, and his curiosity peaked, the boy turned and walked back into his house.

 

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