FHD Remix Chapter 29
Previous: FHD Remix Chapter 28: The Threat Within Glie
Chapter 29: Life Outside The Wall
[This chapter features a piece of Yaiba's favorite song, Perfect Day, title song and fifth track of the album by Cascada (2008 Zooland).]
The shaved man enters battle for the last time. He emerges from the back of an old armored personnel carrier, but the rest of his squad does not. A pair of missiles hits it on its left side and sends it rolling across the charred landscape. Jack Campbell feels nothing for his comrades. As he turns to his right to cut loose a brutally accurate single discharge from his super-cannon into the head of the Mancubus that destroyed his vehicle, the tears he sheds are for his wife, killed in action three days earlier, on their eleventh wedding anniversary.
It is the nineteenth of November, the year Anno Domini two thousand, one hundred fifty six, the last day any human will ever recall by that calendar.
It just so happens that Jack Campbell is the only being alive who goes by that calendar. As Earth is poisoned by the delta radiation produced by the now numerous hellgates around the globe, the leftovers of a united-too-late force of the UAC, UEG, and Featherwing Brotherhood fled north from the Jordan valley in Isreal, the salty seas and muddy rivers within it having dried up during the short peace.
As this force heads north, the enemy proceeds to murder all of humanity: Men, women, children, books, architecture ... everything. The demons want no trace left of the race made in the image of God. So it seems, God has leaned back in His Big Easy Chair to watch the fireworks.
Jack knows better. Suddenly twenty hours earlier, he started intercepting on his radio, enemy reports of a walled city in Siberia. It just came out of nowhere. The reports are coming in nonstop, and he has sorted out its exact location.
His cannon has been heavily modified and is fed by a hose to a pack on his back which carries two hundred charges. He uses different levels of discharge, both with and without the projectile chips. It is easy to tell the difference since the ones without chips glow blue and travel faster. With his Big Featherwing Gun, he levels an area around him. Without any more enemies in sight, he switches the mighty device to projectile mode and charges a six-count blast to fire over a ridge where he hears massive concentration of enemies disembarking from their bony wagons towed by Guardians.
The green fireball travels over the top of the ridge, powerful beams emanating from it erase the seekers from the air, and the chompers from the sky. When all the beams from his projectile connect with targets on the ground behind the ridge, Jack clamps home the detonation trigger. His computerized visor goes black, and he can see nothing except the tiny green glow of his fireball. Even the harsh sun cannot illuminate the horizon enough for it to be visible to his eyes.
The green fireball detonates, sending concentrated pulses of plasma coursing into the veins of two Guardians through their open portals, and six of the bone wagons. The explosions send debris which scratch all of the smaller creatures in the little gorge. The confused Guardians "look" at each other, unable to see without their seekers. The lesser creatures die from their wounds, scratch doing its dirty work. A Guardian who opens her portal immediately senses the glow of an incoming fireball. Struck in the portal glowing above her back, she immediately collapses as the poison of the angels enters her metallic bloodstream and kills her from the inside out.
Jack Campbell deploys his widower's wings and flies across the valley, heading north, demonstrating that he has truly mastered the art of using the Big Featherwing Gun on the wing.
He flies for an hour before landing for a rest, and because he senses another line of resistance ahead, one which he would rather face on foot. He remains deployed as he approaches. A column of tanks and armored vans rushes towards where he was before. He wonders if there is anyone else left. He hides as it rolls by, completely buttoned up. One turns a big plasma cannon on him and opens fire.
Jack is glad the vehicle missed with its first shot and unleashes a one man ambush on the tank column. He destroys several vehicles, then blows the turret off of an armored van with his last discharge. The backpack empty, he disengages the hose on his super-cannon and reaches into the open back of the van to grab a bottle of plasma left by one of the enemy commando creatures. He turns to face an Arch-Vile, a fully skinned, but still bony monster with fire coming from his hands, spawning reinforcements from elsewhere in the area to points near his position.
Without the scratch poison in its ammunition, the BFG puts on little more than a lightshow. Not only that, but the enemy's own version of scratch, the horrible vector of delta radiation, protected the Arch-Vile so that it did no damage at all. He merely takes a step back, then laughs at his last enemy.
Jack shivers, dropping the cannon and pulling his wings close. He recognizes the trap too late, and has poisoned himself with the deadly substance. Suddenly, he is freezing cold, a cold the invisible feathers covering his body are useless against.
The Arch-Vile walks up to the helpless mercenary, and puts a hand on his forehead. "Take a good look, Jack," he is able to taunt without moving his mouth, "I'm the last thing you'll ever see."
With a flash Jack's face burns under the helmet, visor shattered. Wraiths materialize beside him and sadistically saw his wings off.
The demons are always reluctant to leave a human, let alone a featherwing, alive for a moment longer than is necessary. His suffering ends as a wraith plunges a claw through his head after he collapses.
His awareness returns. Unexpectedly, he feels no sadness, no happiness, no relief. He can move only a little. By an instinct he is not familiar with, he starts nodding his head up and down. His large, hard nose starts bonking against the shell that confines him. He cracks it, then rotates himself a little, then nods again, spreading the crack around the shell. It is a simple task, leaving him able to reflect as he does it.
He remembers his wife, Devon, but that marital connection is no longer there. He can no longer remember the sweet details of her body, those memories fuzzed out as though by some cosmic censor. He remembers the war. He remembers the first battle even, on the planet Mars. She chased him relentlessly until finally, she caught up and treated otherwise mortal injuries inflicted upon him by Sergeant Kelly in his demonic tank form. He knew wings for eleven years after that. They flew together on wings shared by the love of marriage, traveling around Earth, sharing the Saviour's love, an extraordinarily risky endeavor since both Saviour-spawn and featherwings were horrendously persecuted. They fought on behalf of the persecuted Saviour-spawn and rescued featherwings as they were discovered.
From prison, a certain Vanessa Bradford, once renowned as the most brilliant medical doctor on the planet, was derided as insane for just holding these beliefs, let alone voicing them, was imprisoned two years before II Mars, the second battle. He remembers how the United Earth Government, united with the demons after they attacked Mars the second time, hijacking the fleet that UEG had sent there. He and Devon cried as they watched from Mars after having closed the hellgate after the second battle. An unbelievable peace. Poor Bradford was the first to be executed as part of the deal. She started singing beautifully as the executioner raised his sword.
"I'm alright, yeah, yeah
And I don't mind, yeah, yeah
Baby, you're no longer creeping in my head
Say, I'm okay, yeah, yeah
I'm on my way, yeah, yeah
And it's time for me to face that perfect, the perfect, perf-"
They had to smile as her voice continued to sing after her head fell from her body.
"Tired of having you around,
I don't need you.
I won't let you bring me down."
The feed cut as they softly sang the old Cascada song to themselves.
"I'm alright, yeah, yeah
And I don't mind, yeah, yeah
Baby, you're no longer creeping in my head
Say, I'm okay, yeah, yeah
I'm on my way, yeah, yeah
And it's time for me to face that perfect day"
He remembers everything, every name and every detail, even better than he did before with a few exceptions. Finally, he separates the top of the shell, pushing his shoulders up, his head emerges into the world, and he breathes the dry air. Anxious to hear his own voice again, he caws.
<What was that?> he thinks at the sound of his new voice. He can see almost completely around his head, and only for a tiny sector ahead can he perceive range with both eyes, and he has only a tiny blindspot behind him. He climbs out of the shell with his arms. Arms?
No, wings, he realizes. The carbon colored bird escapes his cocoon, flops ignominously onto the cinders. He realizes many things, that his egg is part of a plant with roots in the ground, rather than in a nest. That he is fully grown, and knows how to look after himself. He starts preening his still wet wings with his bill, realizing somehow, that he picked up Japanese between his two lives. The barbules lean the normal way on his feathers. He walks over to a water-plant and taps it. A flower opens and he drinks from it. Shortly after his wings dry, he senses a storm coming, and flies to a cliffside, finding shelter in a tiny cleft.
When it storms, it storms. With a harbinger of only a few drops, the first of the enormous hailstones bounces off the cliff above him and crashes onto his cocoon. Every hailstone weighs between thirty-five and fifty kilograms. The storm lasts only three minutes.
Somehow, it all seems normal. Strange lightning, like veins in a leaf covered the sky, which was red. When the sun is up, it is pink. Yet somehow it is Earth and not Mars.
Jack Campbell, resurrected as a raven, climbs from his cleft in the rock out onto the shattered ice, then takes flight, seeking to complete the last mission he had as a featherwing angel: find the new city which appeared out of nowhere the day he died.
He stands in the top branch of a tree, gnarled and twisted, it savagely clings to life. Somehow its branches turn skyward again after every time the huge hailstones smashed it, splitting its trunk every twenty years or so. Jack thinks as he looks at it in the sunset's light, that perhaps Noah could have built his entire Ark from one such stubborn tree. After the sunset, he easily finds Polaris, the star the axis of the planet points at.
Vega is gone, he notes with sadness. He finds other stars missing, recognizing mangled Zodiac constellations, he learns that it is indeed late spring, shortly before the summer solstice, whatever year it now is, and that he is near the latitude of this new city already, fifty-six degrees north. One third of the stars in the sky are gone. The moon, in its waxing quarter, rises red from the horizon. He finds Mars, but gone are Venus and Saturn he learns over the next several nights, familiarizing himself with this strange new universe and his rootless existence as a scavenger bird.
"Come here," the soft voice of the Saviour summons as he soars east in search of the sudden city, or more likely, its ruins. The Saviour guides the little black bird to a knocked out tank. It is grey, with orange fenders, and on the side of its turret, peeking through overlaid vegetation, is the triangular logo of the Union Aerospace Corporation. Moss has overgrown it, and invades the open hatch. "You clean, I will provide power," the Saviour instructs.
Jack Campbell cuts away the stubborn moss inside the turret with his bill and talons, then when he has a screen and keyboard clear, he taps the power switch.
It turns out that this prototype tank is the famous Beaver Butch, victim of one of the strangest accidents ever: the tank journeyed into the Siberian taiga, transmitted a message about a winged man, then disappeared forever in 2135. The Featherwing Brotherhood alone learned its strange fate. A rogue featherwing found the tank, wondering what the strange vehicle was doing, literally, in his neck of the woods. He had disappeared from his adoptive human family after fledging, thinking he belonged in the forest. He had the usual electrical discharge built up from flight, and during the tanks' last unscratched transmission, landed on the roof and inadvertantly nicked the satellite antenna with an alula claw, somehow scratching the tank's entire computer and power system. The human crew suddenly couldn't see anything, and comically enough, the featherwing couldn't see anything wrong with the tank at all. The rogue "hijacks" the tank after the human crew abandoned it intact, seeing no need to fry electronics that were "obviously already fried" according to their reports when they got back to civilization.
Beaver Butch was used as a top-secret radio station by a Featherwing Brotherhood chapter established in the wilderness because of the persecution against them and the Saviour-spawn in the years leading up to the first battle of Mars.
The tank had obviously picked up the scratched transmissions from Mars. It locked onto the Communications beacon from Mars on 15 November 2145 and received a report. Jack leaves a dropping on the moss covered floor of the turret as the header of the report appears on the screen:
"FROM: Operation Tatakai
TO: Featherwing Brotherhood; All Chapters
DATE: 1125Z, 15 November 2145
SUBJECT: I Mars: Battle Report 1"
The tank goes dark. The raven complains out loud, tapping the power switch, but the Saviour decided that he had seen enough for that moment. Jack didn't mind much, since he already knew what the report contained. What he really wanted to know was the year.
<Oh, yeah, it's midnight, 1 January 2130, bird brain,> he remembers, <That was the first thing I looked at.> The tank's clock battery had long been dead. The little bird huffs. He hears a caw from the hatch and looks up with one eye by turning his head sideways.
Two ravens are perched on the hatch of the abandoned tank. Jack flies up to the hatchway and looks at them. He caws. They caw.
Talk about a language barrier. Suddenly he finds himself wishing he was a parakeet. He flaps in frustration, making the most complex noises he can.
One of the other ravens flaps its wings furiously, emitting a frustrated series of caws because it is unable to take off. Something on its foot is tangled in the moss.
Jack flies around to the body of the tank, standing on the outside, he helps his fellow raven out of its predicament, then sees the symbol engraved on the black wooden leaf, battle in his new language.
<Where did you get this!?!> he wants to scream.
The raven it was caught on takes off towards the east. Jack follows.
The sudden city. It looks old. How many years? How many generations has this city sat here, quietly within these walls. The raven leads him to the archway where it stole the nametag from, a community bulletin board.
Darkness, Downwards, Fluffy, Storm, Big Wave, he reads, all in his new language. Battle, he reads.
Tatakai, the only Japanese word that was familiar to him before. <Could it really be?> he wonders.
He sees a human running towards him from the left.
<Oh crap,> he flies off, perching up on the archway, cocking his head rapidly to monitor the range of the girl. The archway is attached to the eastern wing of a delapitated academy, the northernmost building of which is surrounded by scaffolding, apparently being dismantled. Several modest houses line the cobbled street to its west, one under construction.
<What the heck?>
She has these small grey wings on her back, and attached to her head by nothing more than an invisible force, a halo which glows even in the archway's shadow.
The little raven refuses to fly away, skillfully dodging the balls of paper the girl throws at him.
<Helen Ochreby,> he realizes, <How is this possible!?>
This young woman, aside from her age, wings and halo, is the spitting image of a lady stationed on Mars, part of the Site 3 logistics crew. Her skeleton, flesh picked away by hungry Trite, was identified by Devon while they were mopping up. She was found at the bottom of the main Area 1 heat exchanger shaft with a broken neck, obviously a casualty of the First Battle of Mars. Otherwise, her fate is unknown to him.
Helen finds a long stick to chase him away with, and he flies away, all the way to the top of city's wall to the west, from which he can barely see the academy, indistinct on the horizon. There he sleeps as he is now accustomed to: standing on one foot.
Next: FHD Remix Chapter 30: A Bird's Eye View