One Night at Kedasi (3:13)
13. Trouble in Paradise
Tom did his best not to think about the creatures following them. It took his concentrated effort to help Techni keep the diamond moving. For the first time, he missed Big, despite the humanoid’s murderous past. They progressed through a series of cramped hallways packed with faux books and lab equipment. All the while, the same triumphant music continued to play on repeat with the occasional exclamation of ‘You did it!’ or ‘I can’t believe you aren’t dead!’ from the professor and his assistant. Overall, Tom had enjoyed the experience far more than the rollercoaster, but still wouldn’t be repeating it anytime soon.
Before exiting the ride, they came to a bank of monitors displaying rows of images of empty cars. As they walked by, a picture of the three of them appeared. Zip’s arms were in the air with a triumphant grin, Techni was curled in the back seat, and Tom’s head was turned. Even still, he wished he could get a copy. The moment of happiness quickly died as the next sets of pictures came through showing hordes of bugs tearing the autonomous vehicles apart. Tom quickened his step.
They exited onto the street and into the stark daylight of Kedasi’s dawn. They were on the cobbled streets of idyllic Old Earth once again. To their left, the entrance for Journey to Old Earth was in smoldering ruins. It was only by sheer chance that Jack’s team had missed the exit when they sealed the attraction off. In the distance, Tom saw the towering red rocks of Adventure Canyon. They were so close to being free, and yet so far away. Seeing the path forward did not stop the freight train of exhaustion that hit Tom’s limbs. This coupled with an aching reminder that they were now a crew of three. Tom tried to push the feeling down, but it overwhelmed him.
Zip’s voice broke through the melancholy. “Our best course is back the way we came. Straight past Adventure Canyon and back out through the main gates.”
“Or—” started Techni, but Tom didn’t hear the rest. The ground beneath their feet began to tremble. At first it was light enough that only he noticed, but it quickly grew. Both he and Techni let go of the diamond. It made a loud thunk as it fell onto the cobblestones.
“Oh dear,” said Tom, raising his hands. The rifle jumped into them.
Zip’s shoulders slumped. “How many?”
“A lot.” There was no way of knowing for sure, but based on the strength of the tremors, they were about to witness the full strength of an infestation directed into one spot.
“I’m going to do something, but you have to promise you won’t be mad,” said Techni to Zip.
“Is it going to save us?”
Zip threw up her arms. “Why ask permission then?”
Just then, a stream of armored bugs pressed their way out of the exit of the Journey to Old Earth ride. They formed a wall of chittering horror, blocking off the path back toward the midway. Their mandibles gnashed at incredible speed, vibrating the air around them and drowning the scene in a sense of unreality.
Zip raised her rifle, a gesture that looked more than a little futile. “Whatever you’re going to do Techni, you might want to do it fast.”
“I’m working on it. The technology wasn’t built for this.”
“Everyone back-to-back!” Zip didn’t wait for a response and faced the wall of bugs behind them. Techni pressed in without a word.
Tom followed and felt a wash of color go over the world as if he was seeing it clearly for the first time. Everything was vibrant and detailed. He could see each armor plate on the hundreds of bugs before him. The street behind them was beautiful, hand painted, and full of life. He gave a sudden repeated intake of air, and it took him a moment to recognize that it might have been his first genuine laugh. He wasn’t sure why, but the absurdity of the situation called for it.
“Tom, don’t stroke out on me.” Zip’s words were matter-of-fact, but Tom sensed the tinge of genuine concern at the end of them.
“I am laughing.”
Zip grimaced. “Happy for you, pal, but that sound is very unsettling.”
“Noted.” If they survived, Tom would find a way to translate the chittering wheezes into something more palatable by human sensibilities.
“What are they waiting for?” Zip had her finger on the trigger but wasn’t firing.
Tom looked out at the sea of bugs. They were completely surrounded, and yet the bugs weren’t charging. Then he realized the trembling hadn’t stopped. “I have a bad feeling about this.” To be clear, he had several bad feelings about the situation, but humans tended to amalgamate their feelings as much as possible for brevity – or at least that’s what mercenaries did.
A cobblestone popped out of the road sailing into the air before shattering on the ground.
“Oh, that’s not good,” said Zip. “ETA on that miracle, Techni?”
“Depends, do you like your friend there,” she jabbed a finger at Tom, “deep fried or still alive.”
“I prefer alive,” answered Tom.
“Don’t deep fry Tom!”
Another brick, followed by another, and another. They shot into the sky, raining back down on the street below, mixing with the chittering rage of the bugs. Zip, Tom and Techni backed away, but not so far that they would come into contact with the bugs behind them. Tom caught a glimpse of the earth beneath the cobblestones and saw that the dirt was churning. “It is the creatures from the caves.”
“I thought we killed those,” said Techni.
“There’s always a bigger bug,” answered Zip.
The ground burst as a hulking form snaked its way out of the ruined street, rising high into the sky and shaking off layers of grey-brown dirt. The scorpion-like creatures below had been large, this creature was huge. Limbs extended off each segment like a millipede, and the head was a convergence of six mandibles, all vibrating in tandem like a horrifying anthropomorphic meat grinder. It twisted into the air before finally finding its footing and looking down at the four intruders.
“Is it the queen?” asked Zip, unable to see the creature behind her.
“Not the queen.” Tom remembered what he had thought was the queen, and it looked nothing like this. “Worse.”
“Nothing is worse than the queen.”
“This is,” answered Techni.
“How bad are we talking?”
“And your plan?”
“Just hit execute. We might want to get down.”
Tom looked over the edge of the giant creature and saw a faint glimmer of light on the horizon. “What is that?”
There was no time to answer. The large creature before them roared and the bugs all charged at once. Zip’s rifle erupted with fire, and she screamed. “If we’re going to die, might as well give them hell!”
Techni raised her own guns and fired at the crowd.
Tom raised his rifle and did the same. To say it was ineffectual would have been an understatement worthy of comedy. The bullets pinged off the massive creature, occasionally throwing off small gouts of blood, but not enough to do any real damage. At the same time, the circle of bugs closed in around them in slow motion. And yet, there was that light on the horizon. Tom looked at it, even as he was spraying potentially his last hail of bullets into the charging crowd.
“It can’t be.” His words were drowned by the machine gun fire and roaring of the hoard. Flying out of the sunlit sky was Nana’s Hog. Even through the cavalcade of noise and destruction, Tom could hear the hum of the antimatter guns as they buzzed to life. There was a split second before he wondered if someone was going to kill them with their own ship, but then chaos took hold of everything.
Tom had only seen the antimatter guns fired from a distance. Being in the thick of their barrage was a completely different experience. All around him, pieces of bugs flew off, disassembling midair into component parts so small that they resembled dust. The large creature stopped mid attack as parts of its midsection were carved away, briefly making holes of light where Tom could see clean through to the other side. A moment later, the rest of the body caught up to what was happening and sprayed blood and viscera through the holes in a macabre imitation of one of Kedasi’s many fountains.
Tom curled into a tight ball, waiting for the stinging feeling of an antimatter round hitting his shell. The feeling never came. Sound, light, blood and heat were all he felt. The Hog’s engines hummed low over them, kicking out waves of wind and debris. The antimatter guns continued their hum uninterrupted. Tom looked up from his position on the ground at the chaos surrounding him. The bugs were still attempting a charge, but many had started to hold back. With each advancement, they died by the hundreds. An antimatter round would pierce the front row only to spray the back row with the same materials. It was a never-ending cycle of sudden dissassemblage not seen on such a scale since one of the many mass extinctions. All in one moment, Tom understood why antimatter guns were illegal and truly questioned Zip’s reason for owning them. In another sense, he was glad they were there.
A screeching squeal went up from the crowd around them and Tom felt the earth beneath them rumble. Over the myriad of corpses, he could just see the tops of the bugs as they returned into their hive deep below Kedasi’s surface. He let out an exhale, closed his eyes, and passed out.