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[Ultimate RADlands] Bad Moon Rising [Babblepunk] Mutton Sliders
The city is packed. Above the throbbing lines of traffic, the sky is swirls with dark grey clouds. No rain, just... clouds. It’s been like this for nearly two days, now. The weatherman calls it “strange” and “unseasonable”. Most people just call it bullshit.
There was a scare, a few days ago - an earthquake in Euclid knocked out power for a good five hours. Then there was that tornado in LA, which didn’t do any damage itself, but did cue nearly a full day of looting. Add that to all the shit that happened in Japan, and suddenly it seems like there’s more than just the usual crazies screaming about the end of days.
It’s sweltering, the cloud-cover having turned the spring warmth into a choking humidity. The honks and muffled complaints bounce off the taller buildings, the heat and noise, the smell of sweat and hot metal, the dull gray sunlight filtering down through the haze all fading to a dull, annoying gray. It’s sort of miserable.
Leaning back in the cabin of his semi, Arthur Colmsby undoes the a few more buttons on his plaid flannel shirt, readjusts his bulk, and twists the stereo knob. “You’re listening to WHLK, The Lake - playing all the biggest hits from yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Up next-”
2:37. Henry Steadman is late. The whir of his sedan’s air conditioning protects him from the heat, but it can’t save him from the traffic. It’s impossible to tell what’s even causing it, the radio’s not mentioning any accidents. He was supposed to be at the museum by half-past. So much for that now. The U-Haul ahead of him lurches to a halt, its trailer swaying back and forth for a moment before settling. 2:38.
From above, the cloud-cover is a plane of swirling gray, a storm as wide as the city, on a perfectly clear day. The Cessna whirrs and sputters, circling over the gray mass, flying smoothly in the strangely still air. Chet glances back as his passenger leans out the door, his harness going taught.
James snaps several shots of the sky-scrapers rising up through the haze. In one image, a man is visible on the top floor, pointing at something in the cloud.
Dan’s jeep rattles to a stop beside the wrought iron gate of the University, the long-suffering engine hissing and popping as it cools down. It was the sort of reliable that small towns are built on - never breaking down, but never quite working properly either. A scrawny girl with a mohawk raises a pierced eyebrow at him as he steps out of the vehicle. It might’ve been the Sheriff’s uniform, it might’ve been the hat.
It was probably the hat.
On campus, the heat may have scared away the hackey-sackers, but Ultimate Frisbee continues on undaunted, albeit with fewer shirts. They dart and weave through the shade of the grounds’ trees, satyrs in khaki shorts and puka-shell necklaces. Jayce is dominating. He kicks off a tree and snatches the disk from the air, pausing to grin at the two girls on the bench beside the path.
Michelle and Ashley shoot each other looks.
Across the way, Gary "Cobalt" Steele stares curiously at the screen of his laptop as its list of wireless networks dwindles to nothing.
Chuck and Jimmy should not be here. They tip-toe around the corner, slipping by a security guard and ducking below the red velvet ropes. The heat and humidity could not pierce the rigidly controlled environment of the museum, but the eerie silence and sluggish movement of the adults proves that the weather’s effects are still felt. Past stone boobies and pictures of lions eating dudes, the two boys slink into the secondary exhibition hall - they have no time for distractions. They are on a mission.
In the east wing, Oscar’s hands grip the handle of his mop, white knuckled under his plastic gloves. Field trip, and one of the children was so scared at the sight of the wax cavemen that he lost control of his bodily functions. The mop slides across the floor, metal bracing scraping against tile. The music piping through his ear-buds crackles. In his pocket, the mp3 player’s screen flickers.
High, high above, Dustin untethers himself from his seat and drifts to the window. It hangs there, shimmering blue and green, bigger than anything. His eyes catch movement along the curve of it, gray swirls, faint, barely visible. On the console behind him, a red light clicks on, and the sirens begin.
Marcus watches the waters over the rim of his coffee mug. The sky was grey, and the lake was dead. Water flat as glass and just as reflective, the mirrored clouds strangely silver on the surface. No boats were out. No one would be in this weather. His first mate glances out at the water, then back to him. “Eerie, isn’t it?” he says with a dumb grin and an elbow to the side.
A small plane circles overhead, and Marcus takes another sip.
Richard Anderson was not strictly required here. No one was injured, exactly, just dead. The little garage was burned nearly to the ground before the firemen could even get there. The place was soaked in kerosene, every last inch. Hell, they were keeping them around because they were worried it might still go up - something about gas in the air. A big fire-fighter by the name of Crabbe had explained it, but Richard hadn’t really been listening - it was already too damn hot in this city, and standing in a burned-out house wasn’t helping.
A man in a suit and sunglasses was examining the body, or what was left of it. A human being reduced to a burnt little spindle of bone and flesh, strung up on a steel bar. Fifth in the last month, Kane knew, but it was being kept quite. Tension in the city was already up. He glanced down at the piles of ash below the corpse. Wood, likely. It was absurd. Something this awful happening...
...and in Mayfield of all places.
Manhattan is freezing. It should be snowing, but, instead, rain trails down the thick, tracing strange lines through the frost on the wide, east-facing dining room windows of the penthouse. Below, water slides across the ice that clings to the gutters and sidewalks below. There’s still people on the streets - this is New York - but they move slowly, and keep their distance from one another in the haze.
“Dreadful isn’t it? Just miserable.” Elize stares down at the city over the edge of her martini glass. Ice rattles against delicate glass - hers and a dozen others. People mill about the living room, looking with intense interest at each of the pieces put up on display there. Massaging their chins, nodding, and whispering small things to one another. Everyone wears black or white, formal attire, very respectable. Elize wears lime, and her eyeshadow matches. “Do not be so down! Ze weather may be bullshit, but zis is your big moment, Ma-Ka-Li!” She nods to the crowd. “All zese people here to bask in your glory.” She cocks an eyebrow and grins. The frost cracks and pops against the window.
“Thank you for coming to collect her, Officer McGee,” the dean says curtly. He glares at Sydney for a moment before turning back to her father. “...good luck.” He adds, closing the door just slowly enough so as not to qualify as a slam. A young man with a black eye and a beige polo shirt glares at the red-headed teen as Dan escorts her from the office.
Henry’s cell phone dies in his hand. He could’ve sworn he just charged it. Five blocks away and hours to go. The traffic light at the end of the street begins to flicker. The U-Haul ahead rumbles and begins to accelerate into the intersection. It seems the driver has had enough. Perhaps this won’t take forever after all.
The small silver spoon chimes against the glass. In the penthouse, all eyes turn to look at Elize. “Attention, e-very-one!” She beams. She waves her hand toward Makali, the emerald rings on her fingers throwing light wildly around the room. “Ze man of ze hour, our host and honored guest, Mr. Ma-ka-li-” she pauses, her eyes widen, her face pale and blank. Her shoulders lurch.
Outside, raindrops the size of golf balls slap onto the asphalt.
Above Mayfield, the clouds thrum. On the twenty-first floor of the Mayfield Tower, an office temp finds the windows rattling. Silver light glints off the trembling panes.
In the museum, Oscar glances down at the muddy brown water filling his bucket. It ripple, the soap-bubbles popping in unison.
The Cessna bucks suddenly, a strange whistle coursing through the cockpit. Before Chet can act, his instruments seize, the engine sputters once and dies. No smoke, no fire, no fanfare.
From the docks below, Marcus watches as the plane begins to drop. Marcus is already moving.
In Houston, several lights flash and then go out. Men scramble and scream into headsets for a few moments before a silence drops on the room. The project lead stands and bows his head.
Kruppe smiles and nods at a student as he leaves his office, suitcase in his left hand, “World’s Best Teacher” mug in his right. She shoots him a wink and continues walking. Oh my.
Elize staggers backwards, glass still held high, but her posture drooping. “Ma-ka-li,” she whispers under her breath, wide eyes fixing on him. “It hurts.” The stem of her glass slips between her fingers, and the delicate item tumbles toward the ground.
A spark in the clouds above draws a frat boy’s attention, and his throw goes wide. Instinct and muscle carry Jayce after it, soaring through the air like a sweaty missile. Michelle and Ash watch it form the bench, close enough to see all the details, but not near enough to stop it.
Kruppe never stood a chance. The frat boy slams into him, and the two tumble to the ground. The professor’s coffee mug spins from his hand, dropping to the hard pavement of the footpath.
Kane follows the ambulance and firetrucks back toward the center of the city. The sky above sparks and flashes. Something is wrong. He turns and watches as a U-Haul pulls out into the intersection. Before Kane’s eyes can trace across the street, it’s already too late - the semi comes barreling through. The fatman behind the wheel spots the smaller truck, and slams on the brakes, but not fast enough.
Henry watches as the inevitable unfolds in front of him.
Elize snaps like a woman on the end of a noose, her body lurching into the air. Silver light rushes into the penthouse. There’s screaming, but it is short, and muddied by the singing of the radiance. The furniture is torn apart, disassembled, made into its components, and into its component’s components. The guests are simply burned away. The glow consumes them. Takes them to pieces. They are made as ash, and they flow to her, as her dress is cut from her, the material disintegrating in the air. Everything unmade. Everything destroyed but his sculptures.
The ash of the guests around her. For a moment Elize is herself, she kicks and screams silently against the din of perfect harmony. Then she is gone again, and the gleaming gray dust settles on her face. hardening into a half-mask of featureless, perfect gray, like impossibly polished ceramic. Blank and empty as her remaining human eye.
She drops to her feet, and Makali finds his back is against the cold window. Outside, car alarms sound, screams break out, and the roar of water rushing through the streets reaches him through the soles of his feet - bare now, like the rest of him, his clothes unmade.
The light swirls around her. Her hand lashes out, and Makali is beside her. Her green eyeshadow survives, mirrored now by the faint lime lines that trace across the reflections in her mask. They close around Makali’s image.
Her mouth does not move, and her eye does not show any hint of emotion, of understanding. When she speaks, her voice is like crystal ripping through flesh.
Makali. You will serve.
Chet and James brace as the plane hits the lake, water flooding into the cabin, the force knocking them from the vehicle. Marcus dives in after them, moving on instinct.
Dustin snaps to, his lungs screaming, his body aching. Steam curls off his skin, trailing out into the dark. Someplace small. Someplace metal. The shuttle? No. Light coming through the cracks. Cardboard boxes. A truck. Small. A moving van?
Cobalt slaps the side of his computer. It freezes for a moment, then shuts off. His eyes raise to see the frat boy plow into the professor.
Kruppe stretches out a hand, but he’s pinned, and momentum carried it too far away. The mug hits the ground.
Chuck and Jimmy step in the exhibition hall, passing below the wide advertising the upcoming exhibit, all horsemen and fur helmets. She sits in front of a suit of ancient armor, kept safely behind thin glass, seeming massive next to her. She clutches her knees to her chest, her bright pink cell phone lying dead on the ground beside her, her shoulders bobbing as she sobs.
Cassandra Steadman looks up as the boys enter, a single blue eye poking through the curtain of blonde hair. “He’s late.” She presses a hand to her head. “He’s late and it hurts.”
Silver light flickers around her, pooling around her feet. There is a pulse of air, and all glass in the museum shatters, dropping to the ground in great shards.
The semi side-swipes the U-Haul, crushing the smaller vehicle’s cabin. The shattered cabin slips under the sixteen-wheeler’s front axle, and the truck is launched up, spinning through the air before crashing back to the earth, throwing its doors open and tossing its driver through the windshield.
Arthur Colmsby slaps against the asphalt and skids to a stop, motionless. Music from the cabin filters out onto the street as the bystanders begin to climb from their cars. In the hot, choking air, bottled by the cloud cover that now churns and sparks overhead, the music spreads out across the intersection.
This is the way the world ends, not with a whimper, not with a bang...