The Phenomenon


The Broadcast

Please remain in your homes, if you are not at home, find shelter immediately. Close all blinds and shades, block out all windows.
Do not look outside.
Do not look at the sky.
Do not make noise.
Your cooperation is vital to your survival. Appointed government personnel will update you shortly.


Erics Story

The light from my cell killed my eyes. This early in the morning what could be so goddamned important?

As I read the emergency alert with one eye I rubbed the sleep out of the other.

Then I sat up and read it again with both.

And again.

This has got to be some kind of joke.

I rolled over and threw my legs off the side of the bed, working them into my slippers.

I stretched and stood up, weakness wobbling my gait as I took a few steps towards the windows. I felt my heavy drapes resist parting, almost as if they knew what would happen.

As I peeked out down the street, I didn't see anything unusual at first, then I remembered, the sky.

I turned my gaze upwards to the sickly orange glow of the cities light pollution splayed across the clouds, and that's where I saw them. Small, black, jagged, like pieces of shattered onyx flocking through the sky, no wings, no sounds, countless shards of ebony wheeling and flitting to and fro in a chaotic scramble.

And then I stopped breathing. My hands let go of the drapes, my legs fell out from under me. Layed down on my carpet, I couldn't move, couldn't breathe.. Oh God, why did I look?


The First Update

At 0310 hours eastern standard time North American Aerospace Defense Command detected an object of indeterminate mass entering the atmosphere over the eastern seaboard.
All personnel who have attempted to observe this object directly or indirectly have been reported as entering a catatonic state, shortly followed by exsanguination through unknown means.
At 0328 an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft approached the unknown object. Immediately after entering audible range the objects radar signature scattered and all contact with the aircraft was lost.
Further analysis has shown that the object separated into a cloud of indeterminate size and a small part of its mass surrounded the aircraft briefly.
Animals in controlled observation environments on the east coast have been seen to be housing in burrows or laying on the ground with their eyes tightly closed.
The cloud of objects is now spreading at low altitude over the entire North American Continent.
For your own safety, we repeat:
Do not look outside.
Do not look at the sky.
Do not make noise.
Keep close watch on your devices for further updates as audio warnings have been discontinued.


The Second Update

The unknown entities which entered the atmosphere early this morning have continued to expand their coverage of the planet. At this point there is no habitable safe zone. Remain where you are.
The phenomenon appears to be attracted to heat, light, and movement.
Visual contact with the phenomenon is lethal.
Physical contact with the phenomenon is lethal.
Maintenance and operation of critical infrastructure is being prioritized, however, there may be brief interruptions in water, power, and communications.
Do not leave your shelter.
Do not look at the sky.
Do not make noise.
Do not generate any more heat or light than is absolutely necessary for your survival.
To personnel with ʌ6 clearance: Blue 12 procedures are in effect.


Millie's Story

Millie has fallen into a routine.

She wakes up at 6:30am, and goes fishing.

After setting her catches on her cooking rock, she turns the lamps to high and feeds the rest of the animals under her care.

She knows it's been 4 days since the first alert. She has no idea when the generators will run out of fuel.

The lizards need warmth and insects, the fish need their bubblers, filters, and fishfood, the fridges, lights, air conditioners, and the phone need power..

Millie knows her situation is unique. Most people caught away from home are probably in nice grocery stores or with strangers, not alone in a zoo, but she's just thankful the reptile house and the aquarium are in the same windowless building. She knows all the equipment and animals make noise, and the building is definitely putting out too much heat, but she doesn't know where any of the controls are, or how to work them. They might as well be on Mars.

She's thankful, she's got food, water, entertainment, and things to keep her busy.

It's the damn noise that bothers her.

All hours of the day and night. Chittering, skittering scratches on the walls and roof, at the heavy wooden doors.

She wonders how long until they break through..


Millie Part II

Millie jolted awake, panicked. The dream again, the same faceless, formless void calling to her, demanding she listen, obey.. But she could never hear what they want, never understand what they command..

And then she heard it. The silence. The lights were off. The air was stifling and humid..

The generators had finally died.

And all was silent. No more scratching, no more rustling. Dead silence.
She checked her phone. She'd plugged it up to charge before going to bed, so it was nearly at full charge, but no more updates, just the same repeated warning over and over again, every hour on the hour like clockwork.

This is a state of Emergency.
Remain in your shelters.
Do not look outside.
Do not look at the sky.
Do not make noise.
Do not make heat.
To personnel with ∆6 clearance: Blue 12 procedures are in effect.

It's not like she had a choice before, but now she was in full compliance. It wasn't going to be long before the fish exhausted their oxygen and their water grew stagnant, after that the reptiles would starve as the supplies of freeze dried crickets and mice went bad.. Then the air itself, she was sure, would become toxic.

It was time to look into finding another place.

She didn't remember the benches being so heavy when she barricaded the doors that first time. Maybe, after a week away from the gym she'd just gotten flabby. Either way, time to take a peek outside, just to be sure whatever they were really gone. She'd use her compact mirror, no way she's looking directly.

As the door creaked open she though she heard something, but looking back it looked like the Savannah Monitor had just crawled up on it's branch. No big deal. Fresh cold air wafted through the crack and she resisted putting her face to it.

She slowly moved the compact mirror into position. She couldn't see anything, just pitch blackness.. No.. Wait.. There are edges.. Intersections in the dark.. Like cracks in glass..

Millie wondered why she was holding her breath, and then she realized she wasn't. She simply couldn't breathe. She slid down against the door, her weight pushing it closed again, her arms deadweights, falling to her sides. Her head fell, her chin coming to rest on her chest, she could see her ankles and feet poking out of her capris.. They were so pale.. So pale..


The Story of Sharon

Sharon had always been a survivor. First in the hell of her childhood, then in the streets, in the shelters, then the Marines, Kandahar..

She thought she'd finally escaped the constant sense of desperation. Out of combat, off the streets, a good job, working from home, her own apartment, a car stashed away in case she needed to leave town.. The anonymity of a concrete jungle.

New York though.. New York had gone to hell in a handbasket damn quick. She liked to do her shopping early in the mornings. She was picking up Rice and beans when her phone chirped the first warning.

She gathered supplies and made her way deep into the back of the store, in the center of the building she'd found what she knew she would, basement access. Sewer access, access to the maintenance stairways and exhaust tunnels leading to the subways. That's why she'd chosen New York. Plenty of winding tunnels and hidden abandoned areas to get lost in quick. Plenty of places to flee to.

She'd gotten close enough to the active subway lines to know that they were no kind of shelter. All the street thugs and worst of the city had hit the subways as soon as things hit the fan.

Down there it was survival by knife and rule by might. So she went to her apartment and grabbed her bug out bag. MREs, cash, clothes, and weaponry. The laser rangefinder was the most useful tool though. She knew that if she was headed up near the surface that any opening to sky could mean her death. She'd seen the dessicated corpses of people at doorways and not-quite-blocked windows too often in those first few days.

Now it was a matter of finding someplace, close to surface for airflow and signal, where she might be able to hole up, gather supplies, wait for the all clear. Survive.


Sharon Part II

She had to be quick and quiet. Open, shove, click-click, yank, and close.

Open the hatch an inch or two.

Shove the hand with the range finder around the corner, pointing straight up.

Click it on.

Click it off.

Pull the hand back.

Close the hatch.

It was an exercise she'd done a dozen times a day for the last week, and it always managed to set her on edge.

If the hatch opened to sky, she was pointing a laser straight up towards.. whatever the hell they were.. If it didn't, she risked being heard, seen, grabbed, by other, more desperate, less civilized denizens of the tunnels. But it was her only way to make it to the surface to check for updates.

Have to keep checking, have to wait it out. She had enough food, but she had to know when she could get to surface, when she could get to her car. It wasn't pretty, but it was tough, and it had a trunk with another set of bug-out bags. The tent might be useless, but the MREs wouldn't be.

She knew that whatever was left of New York after this wouldn't be safe. Too many good people died in the first day, never getting the message, and in the days after.. Too many bad people making it by victimizing others.. Savages.







Freezing in place, listening, holding her breath.. No sounds, no scurrying or shouting.. Good. Bringing the rangefinder close to her face to read the barely luminous display, she found it said 3 .1 meters.

Good, that's just the roof of another tunnel.

A sudden sound sent her heart tearing in two, into her throat and dropping through her stomach like a lead weight.

Knock Knock

It was sudden, terrifying, and hilarious. In a life or death situation, fearing rapists, murderers, possibly even cannibals, someone had seen her take the range and then politely knocked on the hatch above her like they were delivering a pizza.

If she wasn't on the edge of blacking out from the adrenaline she might have been in tears laughing at the absurdity of the situation.

But, should she answer? Or run? Find some other path upwards?


Sharon Part III

Sharon took hold of the handle to the hatch firmly in her right hand, her left, her dominant hand, tightly gripping the .45 she'd gotten from her first bug out bag, she readied herself to spring the hatch open and dive into the tunnel above, ready to roll, take aim, and fire if she had to.

With a silent count to three, she turned the handle and launched her entire body weight against the hatch and to the right, onto the ground, she heard a startled gasp and as she rolled into a crouching firing position, both hands on her weapon, her eyes down the barrel, lining up the iron sights.. On a little girl. No more than 10. Dirty, starving. In what once must have been a frilly yellow nightgown. She clutched a dead flashlight in her hands, tears in her eyes as she gasped and shook with fear.

As quickly as she'd snapped on target she disengaged, putting the weapon on safe and holstering it as she stood, putting her hands up.
"I'm not going to hurt you honey, I thought you might've been.."

And then with a flash of white light and sudden pain on the back of the head, her world went dark.


The Story of Emil & Sarya

The Story of Emil & Sarya

Emil watched the woman like a hawk. She'd come up from below like a demon, pointed a gun at his Sarya, and he'd bashed her across the back of the head with his bat like he had all the other predators who'd been hunting them.

But this woman was different. For one, well, she was a woman. All the rest of them had been men.

She was armed, but she didn't fire. Not that he could've taken the chance, others had played at being peaceful too. Sarya was too important to take such risks. But now that he had her, what was he to do with her? With the men it was simple enough, stuff them in the hole they'd come from, the next predator to come that way would get the warning, but a woman? She'd be taken and raped, unconscious or dead. And Allah would never forgive such mercilessness on his part.

No, for better or worse, she was his prisoner. Her bag had been a treasure trove. Sarya had her first real meal in weeks, and the antibiotics and other medicines would surely come in handy if things went for much longer.

Sarya slept on top of the refrigerator. This stinking basement had been his first and only refuge. Thankfully it was under a block of well-off apartments, all with blinds. Most of them were unoccupied, summer homes of rich out of towners. and it seemed with each passing day another one of the occupied apartments went quiet. He imagined them opening their drapes and welcoming the scourge Allah had sent upon the world rather than slowly starving.

As he contemplated his position, he felt a familiar buzzing in his pocket. His phone was having another damn alert. Hour by hour, always the same now. He pulled it out to check anyway, saw it was the.. No! It's changed! New information thank goodness!

Satellite mapping of the phenomenon has revealed that there are gaps and openings periodically in it's coverage of the Earth.
The next projected opening in the phenomenon is expected to be in the major New York Metropolitan area between 0920 and 1000 hours.
Due to the phenomenon operating at various altitudes, viewing of the sky is still strongly warned against.
This is expected to be the only opening in the phenomenon for some time, as such, it is recommended you do not try and evacuate.
Make a very short scouting trip for necessary supplies or superior shelter.
Do not look at the sky.
Do not make noise.
Generate as little heat as possible.
Move as slowly as possible to avoid accidental noise.
To personnel with ∆6 clearance: Blue 12 procedures are no longer in effect, Red 4 procedures now supersede all previous orders.

Suddenly Emil could make out explosions. Distant, but distinct.

Someone, somewhere, was destroying something. He'd been in Manhattan during 9/11, had heard those sounds before. Somewhere, a building was coming down.

He looked up at his daughter, still sleeping, and more earnestly than ever before, Emil prayed.


Sharon & Emil

Sharon was wandering in the dark. Echoes of images and horrors from the past emerging and then disappearing again along the edges of her consciousness.

Her fathers fat fingers and leering smile.

The moonlight glinting off the knife that first time she was stabbed in the alleyway she called home when she was 14.

The feel of terror, humilation, and pain as the gang from the group home "claimed" her when she was 17..

The flash from a mortar explosion in that god-forsaken desert when she was 22..

But somewhere.. elsewhere, distant.. Like drums, or a heartbeat...

An echo.. Thoughts.. Not her own.. The same voice that had been trying to get in for weeks, ever since.. No. That was just coincidence.. Obey.. Resist! Surrender.. Fight! Despair.. Hope!

With a gasp she awoke. The light stabbed at her eyes. The pain in her head was unbearable. She looked around, squinting. She was in some kind of basement. She saw stacks of old furniture, dusty, disused. A workbench, a fridge. Light came from a single yellowed bulb hanging on a chain.

She was on a mattress, single, no sheets. the frame came up the side like a hospital bed.

Her wrists were bound behind her. by the feel of it, her own handcuffs, looped through a hole in the frame.

She tasted.. Orange Juice? Somebody had been giving her fluids bit by bit while she was unconscious. She was still clothed. a good sign. perhaps they hadn't searched her as thoroughly as they should have. She'd have to see if she got the chance.

Suddenly she heard a door somewhere behind her open..


Emil had done his job, done as he was told. He'd activated the package as the Alert had told him too, immediately after the gap in the phenomenon closed, he threw the switch. He heard the explosions, distant, a series.. And then a splash. Dockside perhaps? Or a bridge? He didn't know. Wasn't his place.

Blue 12 is hold but prepare all packages. Detonators, transmitters, balloons with sensor packages on rooftops. Those he'd had to abandon, since he couldn't go outside. Red 4, detonate red Package 4, all other orders superseded.

All other orders superseded. He wondered if that meant his Blue 12 was the same as others.. Were there others? He survived by chance. Could others have had other orders? He hadn't seen other messages in the alerts, but then, he was only a ∆6, no specialized comms, not even a government phone..

But that was alright. Now he just had one priority, no means to follow any other orders. Just one thing to be concerned with: Sarya.

Well, Sarya, and his prisoner.

As he opened the door to the basement, he saw a bit of small movement from the mattress. Good, movement meant she was alive.

After being out for two days, he'd begun to worry the damage he'd done was permanent.

He saw a small glimmer from under the pile of furniture in the far corner.. "Good girl Sarya, stay hidden where I put you.."

Leaning up against the workbench, he looked at his prisoner. Blonde, fit, weathered, maybe 30, 33.. Now that she was awake, he could see, she had hard eyes.

"I'm glad to see you awake. I'm sorry for having to hurt you, I'm glad it wasn't too badly. I know you holstered your weapon when you saw my little girl, but I had no guarantee that wasn't a trick on your part. Are you thirsty? Hungry? I'm afraid I don't have much, well, more now, with your pack. I hope you don't mind I fed my daughter one of your MREs."

Sharon glared, she couldn't decide whether or not to trust him. He seemed innocent, but there was something to him she couldn't place, something he reminded her of. And nothing in her experience could make that a good thing.


Briefing on the Phenomenon

The following was recovered from a Hard Drive located in the wreckage of Air Force One approximately 12 miles ESE of Boulder Colorado, three months after the End of the Phenomenon.

This is a unique phenomenon we're dealing with. It has a radar signature, but it's decidedly not metallic, or at least it's not ferrous.

They are wingless, yet they fly. They do not seem to consume anything, neither flesh nor fuel, yet they are highly active. We cannot observe them, directly or indirectly, nor touch them, without dying. They seem to react like a predator, hunting by sight, sound, movement, and heat..

They are patient, seeming to interlock and form cocoons over buildings and vehicles that emit signs of life, waiting for an entrance, waiting for a gap, waiting for a way in.

They do not conform to anything previously encountered, biological or technological. They do not stop when hit with any form of weaponry yet tried, including chemical, biological, laser, sonic, or fission and fusion nuclear weaponry.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, after an entire month attempting every method of communication and combat, we have learned exactly nothing of use.

We have utilized agents all over the globe to preserve and isolate pockets of survivors as best we can. Most major cities have one or two confirmed populations of survivors, notably large in cities with major underground rail installations, New York, London, Moscow, Seoul, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Paris.. Though some of them are not in the most organized or civilized fashion.

Mr. President, it is at this point that we have exhausted all options except some attempt at surrender, which we currently do not know how to do even if it is possible to do so.


The Lab

This sort of event was never even conceived when this facility was built! There is no SOP, there is no protocol! Don't you understand!? This is an exception to the rules, an aberration, a possibility unaccounted for!

Irrelevant, please reestablish protocol. Containment is paramount.
If procedures are not reestablished in five minutes, secondary sample elimination will occur.

There is no sample! There can't be! There is no way to study the phenomenon! We can't even look at it much less capture it and analyze it!

Secondary sample elimination will occur in one minute thirty seconds.
Please reestablish protocol.

Goddamnit we can't! There is no sample, there's nothing to contain! We can't open the doors! We can't look out the windows! We can't go outside! We can't evacuate, please!

Secondary sample elimination will occur in thirty seconds.

B.I.L.L., compliance is impossible.

Secondary sample elimination protocol will be initiated.







In a small corner of the American Southwest, an innocent looking facility, from the outside a simple office building, is swept by flame, ignited from within.

A few dozen of the worlds best and brightest geneticists, pathologists, immunologists, and virologists perish, having never had the chance to work or leave since the alert was issued a month ago.

Computers in an empty skyscraper in Pheonix, it's floors inhabited only by a few dry corpses of government workers, calculates that secondary protocols are sufficient for a contingency of the assigned magnitude, and a nuclear device is kept offline in the foundations of that faraway facility.


Sharon & Emil Part II

Sharon was debating stabbing him in the eye with the fork. He'd trusted her with a fork and spoon in order to eat some kind of pasta dish.

She'd never had it before, but since there didn't appear to be any meat in it, she wasn't as concerned as she'd otherwise be. No rats or people in her diet. And they'd had plenty of opportunities to defile or kill her in the two days she'd been unconscious. She was pretty sure they didn't intend to kill her now, but if she stabbed him she might be able to disable him long enough for her to use her free hand to search him, find the key to the cuffs.

She decided against it, but only for Sarya's sake. Sarya had helped tend to her wound. Had brought her water, a pillow, had told her about how her and her father had watched Sarya's mother die after looking out the window, seen her turn pale and dry as the blood disappeared from her body. Had told her about how they took to the basements and sewers and tunnels, just as she had, until Emil found them a place under a building with useful supplies.

She told him how her father was in important man, a leader, she told her how her father used to go on television, and talk to other Muslims, and debate with them, and teach them.

She told her about her school, and her classmates, and her favorite parks, and about her hopes to help other immigrants get accustomed to America, as her and her family had done.

Sharon liked Sarya. And she was beginning to like Emil, but she knew she could not stay. She had to get to her car, or back to her hiding place in the old maintenance tunnels.. They simply didn't have the resources, the food, the water.. She was better on her own.


Emil liked Sharon. Not in any improper way, of course, but she seemed.. Stout. Resolute. Sturdy and determined. Capable. He could fill volumes with descriptions of her. She was admirable. Listening in from up the stairs, he heard her tell his Sarya an obviously abridged tale of her life, and Sarya go into effusive detail about hers.

He also recognized the advantages and disadvantages of his plight. Sharon was like a Tiger, useful if the wrong sort came about, but just as much a danger to himself if he got too close. He had this Tiger on a chain for the moment, but what will happen when he eventually must release her?

His pocket vibrated again. Hoping for new information, perhaps his work having led to some change, he eagerly withdrew it from his pocket and read the newest alert..

This is a state of Emergency.
Remain in your shelters.
Do not look outside.
Do not look at the sky.
Do not make noise.
Do not make heat.
To personnel with ∆6 clearance, Blue 12 procedures are reinstated.
To personnel with ɸ1 clearance, be aware that the lantern is lit.

Emil was confused, why were ∆6's still on standby? It didn't make sense, nothing he can do would be of any further help, even assuming Red 4 had helped in some way..


The Story of Lucinda aware that the lantern is lit.

Fuuuuuuck. Fuck fuckedy fuck fuck fuck. Lucinda stared at the screen for a long minute, her mind spinning with the meanings of that simple phrase. It meant that any kind of professional analysis of the phenomenon was out of the question now. That meant secondary analysis was now their only hope.

And that meant it was up to her and her team. They'd already done the preliminaries, everything they could think of anyway. They'd autopsied victims of the phenomenon, finding nothing they didn't already know. Complete exsanguination and near total dehydration. Every blood cell and nearly every drop of water completely drained from the body by unknown means.

Every corpse exactly the same. They'd had the tech gurus analyze the digital files of recordings of the phenomenon, finding nothing unusual, it was only watching the files that killed you. Any observation of the phenomenon was lethal, blind subjects who'd encountered the phenomenon died similarly, though the point of physical contact also showed signs of severe burns, though nothing showed up on IR sensors.

Ultraviolet, IR, greyscale, tinted, photo-negative, no method of visual detection worked, either the person viewing it died, or in the cases of IR & Ultraviolet they simply didn't show up.

The whole thing was a damn pain in the ass.

And now there was only one method of exploring the phenomenon left, the drastic action. The intentional sacrifice. They'd exhausted their supply of lab animals weeks ago. Most through various tests and autopsies, others through simple economics of being under siege.

They had been starving before the wider gap in their area had allowed them to make a trip to the local grocery. Luckily it had been closed and empty when the phenomenon hit. It was still fully stocked. Most of the fresh was rotten, of course, but power hadn't gone out so the frozen, canned, and dry goods had all been preserved.

But still, now they were left with one option. To intentionally expose a test subject to the phenomenon and record every bit of information from their body as they died.

She had twenty staff and two civilians under her care. uncaring logic of course said one of the civilians, but her humanity said all must share an equal chance, including herself. Drawing straws was not going to go over well.


Dr. Roberts & Lucinda

It made perfect sense, that was the worst part of it.

He was a Forensic Pathologist. His job, his specialty, was to determine details and methodology of cause of death and details of life after death. And there was plenty of that in the first few weeks. Lots of dessicated corpses telling the same story. No commonality among the backgrounds or other wear and tear of the bodies. Just blood loss and dehydration. Blood loss and dehydration. Blood loss and dehydration. Again and again, body after body.. And no new results.

So with nothing having been gained from his work, it made sense that he should be the one here, wired up like a marionette, about to see the Phenomenon for himself. About to become another one of the corpses he'd worked on.

He wasn't scared. Chemical analysis of various capillary, vein, & artery walls hadn't detected any trace of cytosol in what remained of the vascular system. So no cell damage. No trace of nervous system excitement. No pain in any of the victims.

So death from the Phenomenon wasn't painful, at least. But what came after? It was probably a bit late to wane philosophical he supposed. Still, he wondered.

He must have lost track of time, because he noticed that Elysia, the lab tech who'd been elected as their impromptu nurse and assistant, was no longer fussing with his leads and had exited the room.

He looked around, he was alone. there was a wire running from the window blinds to the corner of the doorway. The intercomm was on. He could hear the muffled conversation at the other side. They were getting ready to kill him.

He supposed it's for the best, hell, he'd already had it in his will that his body was to be donated to science. This was bit more directly than he'd figured, but it counted.

The count was going. Less than twenty seconds now. There had been a party for him the night previous. Well, for everyone, festivities to lighten the mood of the drawing. Lucinda's idea. Stone cold bitch that one. once the drawing was done with it had definitely been for him though. Ice cream cake..

The blinds were opening, oh good lord was it time?

Blue sky, beautiful blue sky, he'd forgotten how beautiful it was.. What was tha..


It wasn't catatonia. That in itself was an incredibly valuable peice of information. All the brainwave activity was normal, right up until death by asphyxiation. The exsanguination came after death, it wasn't the cause.

Total body paralysis at the moment of sight. Paralysis of the lungs and heart led to rapid and complete asphyxiation, no blood pumping, no oxygen being processed, all in a matter of seconds. No pain, no panic, no struggle. They just.. stopped.

Of course, they still had no idea the method of exsanguination or dehydration. It seemed like the blood simply drained away over the course of what they now knew was exactly 128 seconds after brain-death. Total dehydration was slower, taking place over the half hour after exsanguination.

A mountain of data. A treasure trove, and all it took was one under-performing forensic pathologist. She had to wonder what other data they could gather from a second test. Choices had been made leading up to the first. With limited input leads they'd had to choose. Do you monitor Heart function or the Liver? The Pancreas or the Kidney? They could gain a wealth from a second test..


Timor & George

Only ten minutes until the Station came back in range. Tracking Station 8 wasn't much of a home, but he was lucky to have been assigned. It had food. Most of the other tracking stations didn't, they were little more than shacks. Station 8 had been part of an Early Warning system during the cold war, re-purposed nearly a decade after the fall of the USSR into part of Russia's cooperation with international efforts with the Station.

The biggest part of the station was underground, in a concrete bunker still kept stocked by some forgotten supply company that never received counter-orders. So Timor had months worth of food, and blankets, and hundreds of barrels of fuel for the generators.

The Station above, orbiting every hour and a half, was his lifeline, his communication with the outside world, literally out of the world.

They'd been on the other side of the world when the Phenomenon entered the Americans airspace, and had been warned early on to cover up all their viewing ports.

They were in contact with three other tracking stations. One in Japan, one in France, and one in America. Enough that the crew was busy all the time, always talking to someone, relaying news.

Station 8 had lost contact with Moscow very early on, just hours into the Phenomenon. Japan was still in contact with the last remaining elements of their government. France was cut off like Timor, and the Americans weren't in contact with their government, but they were in contact with a University there, students in tunnels and boarded up halls.

Each nation seemed to have their own warning systems in place, but there were indications that they were cooperating, as the content was almost all uniform. Japan couldn't confirm this, unfortunately, but just the same.

The indicator lit up announcing the ISSs transition into range, and Timor flipped the broadcast switch and keyed his mike:

Hello? George, are you still there my friend?

Er, roger that Timor, things still status quo down there?

Yes yes, no problems, have you any news from America or Japan?

Indeed we have, Americas changed their warning again, more code phrases, nothing anyone understands. Japan, well, Japans official representative, has no comment, as usual, though they seemed surprised by the news.

Oh who knows, they're probably just pretending, everything good up there?

Well Timor I wish I could say so. Truth is, well, we just finished inventory. We've got enough food left for another two weeks. After that, well, we'll be getting awfully grumpy up here.

If I could do anything I would, you know that, but I've got no way of communicating with Moscow, as you know, and even if I did, I doubt anyone could get a Roskosmos up to you to resupply.

We're well aware of that Timor, just letting you know. You're the best supplied of any of the surviving Tracking Stations, we know it must be awful lonely down there with just us to talk to, but we've got a bit of a pool going, and well, to be honest Timor we feel you're going to outlive all the rest of us.

That makes you our best chance for carrying through messages once this whole thing is over.

Do not say that! I am sure that some government somewhere is working on a way right now to clear our skies of these things, and once that's done I'm sure we'll bring you home.

That's awfully nice of you to say Timor but, well, we've detected a few things up here that make us think otherwise.

What do you mean?

Radiation detectors go nuts when we go over the South Pacific. We, uh, well, we think that somebody used a nuke. Radar still puts coverage of the area unchanged though. Even if the nuke did something, they moved right back into the area, unaffected by the radiation.

When was this? When did you detect the radiation?

Truth be told we don't know. The indicator on that panel had burnt out and nobody noticed, hehe.. We were doing a maintenance check over the Atlantic when we noticed and repaired, and then when we got over the Pacific the thing lit up like a Christmas Tree. We were still in contact with the University in the USA at the time and gave them the data. They're crunching the numbers and seeing how old long ago it was, checking decay rates and all that. We'll let you know on the next pass if they've finished.

Fair enough. 30 seconds til you're gone. Good tidings, see you in 80 minutes!

Roger that, enjoy the weather down there, hehe..


Captain Ben Longmire, USS Oregon, SSN 793

Three VLF messages in as many days.. Jesus Christ.. At least we know we're not the last people left on Earth, right?

Yes indeed Cap'n. What's this one say?

Ahem: To USS Oregon.. blah blah blah, bunch of procedural bullshit.. Ah, here we go: Despite your successful deployment of a Thermonuclear warhead to the precise coordinates and it's subsequent detonation coverage of the area of the South pacific inside the radius of the detonation has remained unchanged as measured by satellite radar.. Son of a bitch.

So, so what's that mean?

That, XO, means that last night we utilized a 100 Kiloton, 200 Million dollar warhead for precisely squat!


Yes, shit.

How could that be Cap'n?

Hell I don't know. Maybe whatever these things are are immune to radiation. Maybe they're machines, maybe they're indestructible or maybe they're ghosts how the hell should I know..

So what're our new orders sir?

Uh, lessee.. Proceed at flank speed to such and such coordinates and.. Holy Hell. We're putting ashore.


Sub Pen. They've got a damn Sub Pen!

I've heard the term before but I can't remember..

It's a goddamned covered offshore dock. Concree and steel, meant to be a reload and resupply facility in wartime, haven't been put into practice since World War II, and then by the goddamn Nazis. Where the fuck did COMSUBPAC dig up a motherfucking Pen?

I think we should be glad they did sir.

Hell yes I am. I was beginning to worry, all this shit they've thrown at us, don't use the periscope, don't put men on deck when you surface no matter what, all exterior repairs to be done at night by divers out of hatches.. And then they finally give us the story and it's some gobbeldy gook about strange clouds from space killing people who so much as look at it.. Then they have us nuke someplace in the empty ocean. If it weren't for all the proper confirmation codes and the civilian radio we hear when we cycle the air, I'd have thought our comms had been compromised. This is the first order that's made sense!

Should I have Thompson set a course sir?

Damn straight, here's the coordinates, Flank Speed, just like it says!


The Story of Jesse

You know, they called me crazy. Crazy. Like this couldn't happen. But I knew. I knew.. Oh sure, I thought it'd be the Soviet Union, but then they quit, then China went all free trade and got dependent on us, North Korea was nice to think about but erreybody knew they'd never be a real threat.. But got-damned spaced aliens! Like some shit outta a comic book, go figure.

Jesse knew all his preparations would be put to good use one day. The bunker, the garage, the armory, the stockpiling.. Hell he'd lived longer than any of the folks who used to call him crazy he figured.

Biggest damn surprise to me was the damn Emergency Alert System! Hell I'd figured they was just another tool of Big Brother, another level of propaganda, but damn if somebody there wasn't on our side, those fucking things is damn useful. And then there's all them Military comms, hell, they told me all I needed to know before I ever got started. Infrared and Ultraviolet are safe. Observation the enemy, who'd a figured?

As he drove down the road Jesse smoked like a chimney, his ashes all over the floorboards, his smoke making the air hazy. The bellowing of the engine and the tires nearly drowning out his diatribe. Still, he went on, maybe out of excitement, maybe out of nervousness, the rattling and scratching all over the outside a constant reminder of the danger inches away.

But you know what really surprised me? How easy it is to outwit the damn things! I mean, Right now they're damn near all over, but when we get to Atlanta, all we have to do is park the truck in an underground garage, shut the engine off, and take a damn nap. One hour, two, and the damn things lose interest! They go off and rejoin their brothers in the sky! Easy-peezy, I'll tell ya what.. I mean, sure, that first time they wrapped all over the truck, I was a little concerned, hell who wouldn't be? But they lose interest if you get cold and quiet and stay that way.

The armored truck thundered down the highway, it's windows blacked out, it's body covered with interlocking onyx shards. Two large cameras, one infrared, one ultraviolet, sticking forward out of the grill.


Lucinda Part III

She was getting impatient. She'd been very clear, very calm, and very patient with her staff. She just needed one volunteer. Half the damn staff was useless as it stands, with exsanguination and dehydration as the secondary effects after death both hematologists & the nutritionists were extraneous, it certainly wasn't cancer, so the oncologist was useless, the orthopedist was out.. Why was this taking so damn long? How hard could it be to realize you're useless?

Just one of them, any of them, could lead to the piece of information that would be the key to this struggle. She was especially looking forward to seeing the data from a real-time ophthalmoscopy as the eye witnessed the Phenomenon.

But here they were wasting time debating in some damn committee!

How many people had died already? Initial estimates had put the casualty rate in the first day at 65%. And it had been five weeks. many of those who'd taken shelter had run out of food. There were riots in the shelters in Tokyo, a reversion to tribalism and cannibalism in Japan.. They could not afford to waste time. Every day the survival of the human race grew less and less likely and they were wasting time debating ethics, ethics!

She was beginning to consider taking matters into her own hands. So far, she hadn't had to call for support, even when the food was getting low she considered that a last resort, but then, at the time she was still counting on the Lantern figuring this thing out.

But now it was up to her. She couldn't do it alone. Once again she opened her desk drawer stared at the recessed keypad within. She'd set the access code herself, years ago when she was first sworn into the Agency, 1984, her favorite novel, easy to remember, ironic to use.

How dare they waste time and the future of mankind over one useless life!?

She punched in the code.


Captain Ben Longmire Part II

Port Rudder five degrees. Up three degrees on the planes. Full Stop.

XO, start up the photonics masts, infrared range finder only please. Lets see make sure we're under cover before we go abovedeck.

Aye-aye sir. AN/BVS up.. We've got coverage overhead at 20 meters at the bow.. 30 meters amidship.. 20 meters astern.

Good, hit the infrared.

Going to infrared.. We've got railings, pylons, solid cover overhead, closed doors ahead, doors closing astern.. Fully closed now. Looks like we've got personnel coming out onto the walkways.

Excellent. Get the men up on deck tying us up. Cycle the air, bring the reactor down to minimum.

Aye sir!

Captain Longmire made his way along the passages up to the forward hatch. Emerging onto the deck for the first time in a month, he blinked and looked around, unused to the brighter light outside his boat.

Four massive concrete supports stood up out of the water, two to port and starboard linked by girders and aluminum siding, the other two forward and astern linked by large hanging sliding doors. Men and women in splotchy blue-grey camouflage moved along the walkways, tying ropes, throwing ropes. One with more Stripes than most moved down a gangplank towards the Oregon, pausing at the end near one of the Oregon's own men.

He saluted, oddly, but a salute nonetheless, and requested permission to board for the purposes of briefing the Captain. This.. was going to be interesting.

The Officer came marching forward, extending his hand.

Commander Walther Pepricheck, Royal Australian Navy, at your service sir.

Captain Ben Longmire, US Navy.

Welcome to Oz Captain.

Glad to be here, mind telling me why we're here?

All in good time Captain, time is short, if I might invite you to dinner aboard the Pen, we'll restock and resupply your perishables, give your men some time above deck, and brief you about the Phenomenon.

Have it your way.

All this was damn unusual, but he supposed everything was at this point.


The Fourth Update

At this point we estimate 85% of humanity is dead or likely to die.
There have been no advancements in our efforts to mitigate or end the Phenomenon.
The usual precautions continue to apply.
Do not go outside.
Do not look at the sky.
Do not make noise.
Do not generate more heat or light than is necessary.
We highly encourage remaining survivor groups to coordinate.
Make efforts towards underground farming and animal husbandry.
Movement across the surface is possible in closed vehicles with their windows blacked out.
Infrared and Ultraviolet vision is safe.
The Phenomenon will interlock and cover any moving vehicle, heat source, or structure emanating sound.
The Phenomenon will lose interest after several hours without further stimulus.
You have not been abandoned.
You have not been forgotten.
To personnel with ∆6 clearance, Blue 12 procedures are active, enact Green 2.
To personnel with ɸ1 clearance, Ω protocol.


Sharon & Emil Part III


Green 2 was freedom. All orders negated but one. No further orders projected. No more packages, no more training trips.. Well, those had ended already, but still, freedom. All he had to do was continue to listen for further updates. Standby. Keep listening. That was easy, he'd have done that regardless.

He was free to get out of New York, free to take Sarya away to someplace.. Where? Where could he go? What could he do? He didn't have the skills to go out there, he could barely find supplies in a city of 9 Million.

Sharon was going to have to be the key. But that meant he'd have to trust her. To free her and follow her. When she has every reason in the world to leave him and Sarya to fend for themselves.

Part of him wanted to see if he could somehow keep her in captivity, keep her prisoner while on the move, gain some control, some form of leverage. However the bigger and better part of him rebelled at the very concept. He was not a kidnapper, nor a prison warden, nor a slavemaster.

He'd have to secure her cooperation through diplomacy. Mutual advantage was a good bargaining chip, if he could find it. But how could he benefit her?


Her wrist was raw from being cuffed for so long. Sarya was very helpful, bringing her wetwipes and cold packs as needed. She was a very sweet, helpful, and mindful little girl. But what she really needed was to be released.

Almost on cue, Emil stood up from his normal lounging spot across the room, walked over, and without a word handed her the handcuff key.

In shock, Sharon stared at it for a few moments before sitting up and reaching around to unlock herself. Rubbing her wrist as she stood, she looked around for a moment as Emil sat down, his head set on his clasped hands, his dark eyes following her every move. He raised a finger, following it, she saw her pack, gear belt and weapons in a pile next to the door.

She immediately went over, lifting her gear, she felt aches in her arms and back, a few weeks without exercise and she goes weak, pitiful. She was going to have to double up on her strength training when she got.. Wherever.

She clipped her gear into place, took a look around the basement, and with one last look at Emil, she turned

Take Sarya with you.

She wheeled around and nearly screamed at him "What!?"

Take Sarya with you.

"What!? Why would I do that? Why would you want me to? She's your daughter, I mean, what the hell?"

I'm not as capable as you are. I'm not strong like you. I'm not going to be able to keep her alive. You could. You could keep her alive, see her through this until you both find a group of survivors who can be trusted, a community. I have no chance of doing that, of giving her a future. Take her with you.

"And what would you do?"

He shrugged.

I have no idea. Continue as I am for as long as I can. until I run out of supplies. Until the murderers down in the Subways rise up and take what I've got left and my life. Perhaps take a walk outside when I get hungry and desperate enough.

Sharon looked around again at the basement that had been her prison for weeks. The stinking drain they used to relieve themselves. the piles of rags and furniture. The workbench she'd idly considered trying to get to and use the tools to escape..

She made up her mind then.


Jesse Part II

Oh Come On! There's gotta be someone here!

The sound was beginning to get on Jesse's nerves. The constant clicking and rustling of the "critters" on the outside of the CDC was disconcerting. He expected them to be there, hell, he expected the building to be jumping. If there were going to be anyone left alive, anyone who had any idea what the hell these things were or how to get rid of 'em, it was gonna be here. But they weren't.

I can't believe this. I mean, it ain't dead. the building ain't chock full-o-corpses like all the other hospitals and shit..

The weight of the IR goggles and the full body armor he wore kept him hot, sweating. The cloth underlayer was beginning to chafe the longer he wore everything.

One more sweep, maybe we missed somethin'.

As Jesse made his way from floor to floor, he kept a careful ear out for the sound of wind. The building was without power as far as he could tell, so there was no air conditioning, but a single broken window could mean a sudden and (he was betting) unpleasant death. As he came to the doorway from the stairwell to the next floor, he was hammered by the sudden smell.

I'm starting to think this whole trip was a waste of time. We're gonna have to find a hotel or somethin', somewhere with an underground garage we can siphon gas out of parked cars to get home.

Is there.. Is there somebody there?

The voice from the dark was frightened, desperate, and weak.


Timor & George Part II

Timor idly chewed a piece of jerky as he watched the counter click down until George came back on. A small piece flecked off and got caught in his beard. He'd get it out later. Just like he'd shower later. and cut his hair later. He had time now, time for everything. For all the books, movies, video games..

Timor! Timor are you there?

He threw himself forward in his chair, crumbs and dirt falling to the floor off his growing belly in his rush to key his mike.

Yes, yes, hello George, did you have a good rest? You've been off the air for nearly eight hours, I was beginning to get worried..

Yes Timor I'm here, of course, where else would I be?

Of course, of course, sorry..

It's alright. Um.. We have a bit of news from the Japanese.


They've had a bit of an Earthquake. No warning. Tokyo is a wreck. There's no contact from the government anymore, just the engineers at the tracking station. They.. They think.. They think the entire metro system collapsed.

So.. So that's it then? Do we consider the Japanese government gone? Is that it? Our last official link gone?

I'm afraid so Timor.. And, you know what today is.

I do.

This is our last communique.

Have the Americans calculated a landing site?

They think so. They've calculated a trajectory that'll put me off the coast of France in the channel.. The French are going to try and pick our escape capsule up, but it's going to be a long shot. They've been making their way to the coast for a few days now, but they're not sure if they'll find a ship, much less figure out how to get her running or find us.

So how long?

We've already fired the retrorockets. This is the ISS' last orbit friend.

And my last contact with anyone on the outside.

You'll survive. You'll be found or make your way outside eventually. I believe in you Timor.

I wish I had your courage friend.

We're about to get ourselves into the escape capsule. Not too long now before we have to separate from the station.

I understand. Fly safe my friend. I hope you have clear skies and a soft landing.

Haha! Clear skies would indeed be a welcome sight! Goodbye Timor.

Goodbye George.


The Project

Doctor Rodriguez was at a loss for words. Confronted with this new evidence he was forced to alter his position as to the projects efficacy, but his ethical opposition still stood. If not for the procedures in place he'd argued for that curtailed the dangers of permanent damage, he would never have agreed to this.

As it stood, those procedures had been cut to the bone, and still they had very nearly violated them on countless occasions. But, all things considered, he'd do it again. The scientific applications of the findings were beyond reproach, and the applications of the findings would surely have far-reaching consequences.

..Not that he'd ever be able to publish his findings openly. The subjects would go on, forever connected by their experiences and training. Each were specially educated and trained based upon their unique characteristics and strengths.

He doubted they knew what they were getting into when they signed up for the program. They'd been recruited from all walks of life, military, trades, academia, white collar blue collar.. Each from somewhere different, all twenty six of them.

They each had names before, but he knew them only by their designated numbers. Subject 12 was his favorite, but he wasn't about to show it. She had too much ego already, too likely to go to extremes at times, attention and praise only exacerbated her worst qualities. Better to keep her seeking approval, she performed best under pressure.

Now that the project was over, he was tasked with delivering their new identities, new names, assigned places of work.. Subject 12 was next.

He sighed, and opened the door. She was sitting ramrod straight at the table, like always, hands folded in front, dark eyes following his every move as he sat across from her, like twin pools of ink..

Good Afternoon sir.

Hello 12, how are you?

I'm fine sir.

I suppose you know why I'm here.

Yes sir, we're supposed to get our orders today.

I wouldn't phrase it that way 12, it's not orders, they're assignments. You can request changes or even a discharge..

He knew she wouldn't, of course, none of them would. Ambition, loyalty, and desire to do great things were high on all their personality tests. They'd see things through to whatever end came.

No sir, I'll accept whatever assignment is given me.

Alright then, lets have a look at what's been chosen for you..

He opened the manilla envelope marked 12, and slid the leaf of papers out on the desk. A small plastic bag filled with identification cards, a passport, credit cards, and licenses spilled out along with them.

Looks like.. Well 12, your new name is Lucinda Alvarez.. Oh, excuse me, Doctor Lucinda Alvarez..


Captain Ben Longmire Part III

It's a damn long shot, sir.

That's the understatement of the century Commander, this is a damn near impossible shot.

Surely a boat in the Atlantic is closer?

COMSUBLANT has been out of contact since the day after the Phenomenon hit. It hit the East Coast first, they got the worst of it, their entire CoC is in tatters, some Subs reported in, some haven't. None of the ones that did have the shallow draft or bunkroom to do it.

So who are we losing?

Perkins, Smoot, Winthorpe, a few others from the forward torpedo room, Sonar, Weapons Control.. This isn't a combat Op, and no combat Ops are forcasted for the forseeable future, so they're getting off here. Australia's converting the HMAS Success to operate in the blind by GPS nav and IR, she'll put out to get our boys home as soon as she's able.. Hopefully we'll have got things in the US back in hand by then.

Is it that bad sir?

From what I've been told, we don't even want to ask how bad it really is, but what they've had to tell me is enough to make me think nobody on this boat may have any good news waiting for them when we get home.

What should we tell the men sir? I mean..

We tell them the truth. We've got a long cruise ahead of us, plenty of time for the men to get their heads in the game.

Aye sir, should I..?

No, I'll handle it. That's the problem with being the Captain, sometimes it has to come down on my shoulders. This is a textbook example of when that is.


Sharon Part IV

Chapter 28: Sharon part IV

It was far, far quieter than she was comfortable with. It was eerie. New York city on a.. Hell, what day was it now? It didn't matter. It was afternoon in the Big Apple, and there was no traffic. There were no horns blaring. There were no crowds. And Sharon was alone.

She was moving quietly and carefully car to car in the middle of the structure. Eyes down, sunglasses dark, crouched, almost crawling. Quiet and slow from space to space, only looking up at the number on the wall.

Her bug-out car was parked in space B19, odd cars on the exterior spaces evens on the interior, she was on B12. Three more spaces then across. It was a silver bumper with a Semper Fi Plate Border. She wouldn't have to look up.

B14, Red Ford by the looks of it. It had a flat tire and was coated in dust, it had probably been here months before the Phenomenon.

B16, a Yellow Camaro, might make for a nice midlife crisis car if she ever got to live to have a midlife crisis.

B18, Green Range Rover, could definitely use that if she had to leave the city.

Across, by the bumper, down low, stay away from the opening in the garage that leads to sky. She could feel the warmth of the light on the top of her head, but she didn't look up. Key in, turn.. Damn. It's stuck.

Hasn't been opened in a while. She gently pushed upwards but it didn't move. She sighed, squeezed her eyes shut, and stood up, putting both her hands into a strong heave on the trunk. It sprung open with an uncomfortably loud clang, the keys flying through the air over head head and landing behind her on the ground.

She peeked out of her right eye looking down into the trunk. It was all there, the duffel bags, the arms cases, the boxes of ammunition, the cardboard box full of MREs, the road bag with it's blankets and flares and various emergency tools.. The spare gallon of gasoline.. This would all help. A little spray-paint, a stop by one of those spy shops to pick up a a pair of IR goggles.. It would work, she could do this.

Thump. Something hit the roof of the trunk, felt like inches from her hand.

Without hesitation she closed her eyes, threw herself in, and closed the trunk.

As she lay in the dark, the stink of gasoline choking her, she heard, and felt, as innumerable things thumped into the outside of the car, she could tell they were covering it, cocooning it. And then they started moving, shifting, maybe vibrating, it was hard to tell, but they were tapping all over the car.



Jesse Part III

Gat-dang son! You look like you've got a tale to tell..

Yes, yes I do.. But first, who are you? Are you military? Agency? Who sent you?

Aw hell ain't nobody sent me Doc.. I just came here to see if there was anybody doing anything about them things in the sky.

Ok, so, you're a civilian? How'd you get here? How'd you avoid the, er, "things in the sky"?

Got a truck.

A truck?

Yeah, big old armored truck, like they use for bank deliveries and all that? Got it at auction when they upgraded their fleet. Repainted it, stocked it up, parked it in a hanger that I put up over meh'bunker. When the alert went off, I got down in to the bunker and hunkered down, listened to reports, police scanner, military radio, the EAS, all of it. Then I prepped my trunk and came here.

Ah, I see, and, uh.. You haven't, uh, haven't made contact with anybody in the government?

Oh hell no! For all we know they made the dang things.. The ultimate way to wipe the slate clean and leave all the material goods untouched. Better than the Neutron Bomb.

(Oh god he's one of those) Well yes, I suppose that's possible..

So what's your story doc? How'd you get up here? How long have you been there? What'd you do?

My name is Doctor Warren Rafei, and I am, or was, an Exobiologist with NASA on loan to the CDC. Anytime there's a question of a contaminant with possible extraterrestrial origins I'm called in.

So this thing really did come from outer space?

Most definitely.

Aw dang I was bettin' on escaped government experiment meself..

I'm sorry to disappoint you. Can, can we get out of here? This place is a bit.. Exposed for my tastes..

Oh hell yeah, I'm sorry Doc. Stairs are this way, c'mon..

You'll have to guide me.


I'm blind. I was blinded.. It's a long story.

Aw hell, I'm sorry, I can't tell, I'm looking at ya in infrared Doc.

Infra-!? That's brilliant. Lead the way.

You got it Doc, I'm right here, let's go.

EDIT: Please note that there is a Thread specifically dedicated to discussion of this chapter. I'd like to keep this main story thread as clutter-free as possible. Existent comments will not be removed, but whatever critiques, fan theories, or simple "This is cool" comments you have, please post them in the discussion thread.


Captain Ben Longmire Part IV

Easy does it Thompson, you don't want to oversteer here there's no room for correction.

Aye sir, easy as I can..

You're doing a good job, just don't get nervous.

Heh, too late for that sir..

Wentworth whats our depth sounding?

A voice from an aft station pronounced "We've got 12 meters under the keel sir".

You hear that Thompson? You've got some wiggle room, relax.

Aye sir..


A twin pair of voices responded immedietly "Yessir?"

Whats our current position, how far have we gotten?

The Navigator, a wiry redheaded Ensign, responded "We are approximately 6 miles upriver in the East river, west of Roosevelt Island, we're about to go under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge connecting Manhatten and Queens."

And how much further until our destination?

"2 1/2 miles until we're sitting pretty off the coast of East 97th and FDR Drive."


"Aye sir?"

Are our accommodations ready for our passengers?

"Absolutely sir."

Good, lets hope they're there waiting for us. I'd hate to have come all this way for nothing.

"Now that we're almost here sir, can I ask who, exactly, we're picking up?"

No idea. All I know is they're Government Agency VIPs, people in the know who are important to the efforts to understand this whole thing.

"What if there are others waiting for us?"

I somehow doubt the Chinese or North Koreans are waiting for us in the East River..

"No sir, I mean, other survivors, New Yorks a city of a couple million sir, there's bound to be survivors other than our VIPs."

We only take the VIPs. It's a tough deal, but this boat doesn't have room for civilians. We're only here for the VIPs.

"How will we know them?"

They've an authorization level and pass-phrases which were relayed to me, I've got them written down in the notebook in my left breast pocket.. Wentworth, sounding?

"15 meters sir!"

Nav, position?

"Only a few hundred yards sir.."

Good, time to hit the surface. Blow tanks, set planes at 15 degrees upwards bubble, rudder amidships, all stop on the engines, raise the AN/BVS and hit the Infrared.. Lets see if there's somebody waiting.


Lucinda Part IV

The hard metal seat was cold, and the way the helicopter was bouncing up and down in the wind and banged against her rump wasn't helping. She was sure that when they got to their destination she'd have bruises all over from the rough treatment she'd received during her evacuation.

Omega Protocol, immediate recall of all ɸ1 Clearance to the Safehouse.

That had been hammered into their heads over and over again at the Project. For years.

The Safehouse, that was what they called it. When she got back out into the world and was able to look up what the coordinates actually meant she was taken aback, just as she was sure most of the world would if they knew. But it was the last stand. The final place where the best and brightest and most important were to take shelter if all else was lost. Every member of the Project was a part of it. Every member was aware. She didn't expect to see them all. Their contingency plans were all based around nuclear exchange, or biological or chemical attack.. The Phenomenon was something else.

If she had followed her plan to the letter she'd have been dead multiple times over, stuck in a resort cabin in the Appalachia's with no escape, too few supplies, and too many windows. Still, she expected to see most of them there, reunited after nearly six years.. She wondered if any of them had gotten used to their new identities? Had they had families? Gone rogue? There was no way to know.

The choppers engine sounds changed, they were winding down. It was a subtle change, but with sound her only real way to know what was going on it couldn't be helped. The Pilot and Copilot, the men who'd pulled her out, they all had IR goggles. She was blindfolded to keep her safe. Still, in the meantime she'd learned new information that might fit into the wider puzzle. The pilots had been very talkative about the things they'd discovered with regards to mid-Phenomenon flight.

The Phenomenon cocooned aircraft like they did cars or ships, but only while the aircraft was on the ground, and they avoided the engines. Once the plane was at speed or in the air, they peeled off and resumed their normal activities. So as long as you could board the plane and fly her in UV or IR, you could fly reliably. Air Force One was still in the air, moving from controlled landing site to controlled landing site.

The President, well, the old president, had died in the initial event, looked right out the window of the White House. The Vice President had as well. The new President, the old Speaker, was not the best person for the job (she thought) but he wasn't overreacting or going overboard. He was a cautious politician, and a cautious Chief Executive.

A sudden bump told her they'd landed. Now was the worst part, waiting. A couple of hours of being still and quiet. As the rotors wound down above them, she started hearing thumps all over the body of the helicopter. The Phenomenon, finding the chopper hot and on the ground, were suddenly interested again.

The pilots whispered that the best thing to do was take a nap, unless you snored, if you snored, it was just loud enough to keep them interested.

A couple of hours, a quick run from the pad inside, and she'd be reunited with the Project. The only people she'd ever truly related to her entire life.


Sharon Part V

Even through the mask , the fumes were enough to make her eyes water. With nothing to look at anyway she closed them. The rustling and chittering of the things on the outside of the car was disconcerting, but only mildly so. In fact it was rather soothing. Like a fan or rain on a roof, white noise.

But there was no way she was taking a nap. No way she could sleep through that smell. Plus she knew from the EAS that so long as she was still and quiet they'd leave her alone eventually. She had to find a way to bide her time quietly.

She figured if she made noise in the initial few minutes of her captivity it wouldn't be so bad. She began by rolling over on her side to face the bug-out bag and find her flashlight. Finding the moonbeam strapped to the pack itself rather than inside, she clicked it on and began rifling through the pack for something to read.

Survival manuals, hunting guides from various game reserves, game cookbooks, Everyday Chemistry, maps, guidebooks, reference manuals for various firearms.. Aha! I can always reread The Art of War..

Rolling back, her left elbow and funny bone slammed into the roof of the trunk, sending lightning bolts of pain shooting up her arm. It was oddly quiet, the things had ceased their wriggling, their chittering, whatever the hell they'd been doing, they weren't doing it now.


Either one of the things had just thumped the car or a mass of them had coordinated to do so.

Annoyed, Sharon slapped the roof intentionally this time, telling them under her breath to be quiet.


Again they thumped right back at her.

Angry now Sharon punched the roof of her confinement, rapid fire, three strikes, left-right-left.


Sharon gave them one last slap before angrily grabbing for the book from where it had settled beside her.




EDIT: Please note that there is a Thread specifically dedicated to discussion of this chapter. I'd like to keep this main story thread as clutter-free as possible. Existent comments will not be removed, but whatever critiques, fan theories, or simple "This is cool" comments you have, please post them in the discussion thread.


Jesse & Dr. Rafei

So what's the deal Doc? What'cha doin' here still?

I have duties, assignments. I have to stay here.

Well jeez what kind of assignments Doc? I mean, pardon me if I missed something, but I don't exactly see a whole bunch of things to accomplish by a blind man sitting around an empty building.

There are subbasements, levels below the ground, that still have supplies, power.. I'm supposed to stay here, there are people coming for me. I can't be sure they'll know of the subbasements, so everyday I go upstairs and wait quietly. So long as I keep to the center of the building, near the elevators and stairways, away from the windows, then I'm relatively safe from harm.

Who's coming for ya Doc?

I can't be sure. I'm a member of a specialized organization, or project. I've received my evacuation orders, and my procedure was to remain here, to await rescue.

Are we talkin' thin gentleman in black suits with bland features, pale skin, and dark sunglasses here Doc?

I'm not sure. Might be, could be military, or something else entirely, I'm not sure.

Alright Doc, we'll stay put. I gotta be honest wid'ya, I ain't exactly looking forward to meeting the folks coming for ya, always been mighty suspicious of figures in authority and the folks who kowtow to 'em. But, er, considering the circumstances..

Better the government than the loneliness of a dead world?

I wouldn't'a phrased it quite like that Doc, but, pretty much, yeah.

I figure we've still got a few hours, do you have anything to eat?

Oh, dang, heck ya, hold on, you stay right here, I've got plenty of food in the truck.

Don't leave me alone, please..

Oh, ok, alright, well, lets get going, we got a few floors of stairs, and then a quick trip through the garage, but when we get to the garage we'll have to be quiet, there's opening to the sky in there and we don't want to attract nothing.

I think you could leave me at the staircase in that case.

That sounds like a good idea.

As Jesse led the blind Dr. Rafei down the winding staircase to the garage level, they spoke of the researchers who'd staffed the building before the Phenomenon, their initial efforts to survive it, their dwindling numbers and isolation limiting their previously presumed research capability. As they approached the lower levels, Dr. Rafei held up a hand, signalling Jesse to halt his line of questioning. As they listened to the silence, the sound of an idling diesel engine could just be made out coming from below.


Timor Part III

Timor was running for his life.

He couldn't remember how he got into this situation. All he knew was that he had to escape. He was moving through the tunnels of the Station, dodging hanging pipes and debris left over from a cold war long ago.

The sounds of his pursuer behind him were subtle. His own footfalls nearly drowned it out. The shadows of his pursuers stretched ahead of him. The cloud that chased him was a wall of broken glass, black and sharp, whirling and surging, as it moved through the station the world around it changed, he knew.. But he didn't know how he knew. The voices from the dark were the damnedest thing.. A constant cacophony of whispers and hushed commands.. obey.. bow.. worship.. sacrifice..

They were getting louder, it was getting closer. The hall was twisting under his feet, his shoes sinking through the cold concrete as the angles went wrong and what was flat became curved and solid became pliable..

An errant pipe snaked out of nowhere and caught the cuff of his pant-leg, sending him flying onto his hands and knees. That was all it took, the void was upon him..

With a start, flailing against his attacker, Timor awoke in a cold sweat, wrapped too tightly in his blankets.. again. He had to start taking a sedative before bed. He couldn't keep moving so much in his sleep.

He swiveled his body to the side, throwing his legs off the side of the cot. His knees ached, his feet were swollen, and his breathing was ragged.

Unlike his dreams, in real life, the halls of the Station were too cramped and narrow for running, and with no open space large enough for anything but tight circles of six or seven feet, the lack of activity and exercise, the wealth of processed foods, and complete boredom were taking their tolls on his health.

His waistline was testing the limits of the biggest pants he had on hand. Pretty soon, he'd have to go nude and just bump up the thermostat.

As he made his way into the Communications Center on his way to the privy, he kept an ear out for an alert notifying him of active comm traffic, but as usual, there was nothing.

Timor was sure there were still satellites in operation, but the systems here were hardwired to certain frequencies, and none of them were military, commercial, or civilian. Unless somebody started making uses of the ISS bands or the NASA shuttle bands, he might as well be the last soul on earth.

As he sat on the cold steel rim of the privy, he contemplated what he was to do. The same options kept cycling through his head, the same ones he'd had since the ISS went down two weeks before. He could try to live out the rest of his life in the Station, or, he could take a walk outside and skygaze. He was starting to think the latter was better than ending up obese and dying of a heart attack alone in a concrete cave.

His reverie was broken by a shrill tone coming from the Communications Center.


The Story of George

"Gravity is a bitch."

George had forgotten how heavy his hands were. It was a funny thing, coming back from a long-term stay in orbit. One he felt wonder at each time.. And this, now, was likely to be the last time, and all he could marvel at was the weight of his own damn hands. He manipulated the controls of the Soyuz Capsule in slow, heavy precision, pressing each key, flipping each toggle methodically.

Again, he settled back into the seat. For the third time, there were no signals the Soyuz' radio could pick up. No civilian bands, no EAS messages, nothing. Of course, he couldn't remember which frequencies were within the sets range, and his Russian was too rusty to make any sense of the manuals..

But, his own beacon was functioning, that much he knew. So he waited, and hoped. At least he could open up the vents to breath the fresh air. He dared not look out the porthole though. He'd used gum to stick a few pages of the useless manual to the glass, just in case.

The ride was pleasant enough on the way in. Bumpy as usual, but not overly so. He tried not to think too much about the future. About the people coming for him, and whether they'd managed to make it to the coast or not. About what his life was going to be like on Earth. He didn't speak any French, after all. Thankfully, he'd never married or had children. He couldn't imagine if he had. One of the men on the American West Coast that had been at the Tracking Station attached to the ISS, a Professor, Dr. Walthers, had a newborn, somewhere, he hoped.

He preferred not to think of the other distinct possibility. That the French hadn't made it to the coast, or hadn't found a ship that they could use, and no-one was coming. That he'd sit here, in the capsule, until either he starved or it sank.

He pondered what kind of future he could have if he was rescued. He was a physicist by trade. He couldn't think of much he could do as a member of a post-apocalyptic community. Well, unless France had a Nuclear Reactor that was still operable.

Well, he'd always enjoyed metallurgy, maybe he could take up blacksmithing. That would be a proper survival skill in the new world, wouldn't it?

His train of thought was interrupted by a sudden clanking as the capsule impacted something, or rather, something clanked into the capsule..

EDIT: Please note that there is a Thread specifically dedicated to discussion of this chapter. I'd like to keep this main story thread as clutter-free as possible. Existent comments will not be removed, but whatever critiques, fan theories, or simple "This is cool" comments you have, please post them in the discussion thread.


The Story of Angela

The snow did little to comfort her now. When she was a little girl, snow had always seemed magical. Christmastime, sledding, and snowball fights.. Fresh baked cookies and Hot Chocolate..

Now the swirling blizzard outside was nothing but cold. Alien shapes moved in the darkness just beyond her vision, trees, perhaps, maybe elk. She'd seen elk moving outside before, keeping their heads down and their eyes low, moving slowly, one hoof at a time.. It was probably elk. Hopefully.

She shouldn't even have been looking outside, she knew, but she'd hoped, prayed even, that the snow would bring her some kind of respite from the loneliness, some shred of happiness.

But there was none. Just howling wind, snow, and darkness beyond the glow of her flashlight. As she turned to go back into the depths of the store, she heard them impact the glass behind her. She squeezed her eyes shut. They'd occasionally wrapped the building before. She knew what to do. As she began walking, she heard them start their infernal noise. She knew she was safe, but she still quickened her pace. Suddenly the sound of shattering glass and the feel of a cold and biting wind struck her from behind. They would get inside!

She knew better than to look. She ran. She could hear something giving chase, something big.

EDIT: Please note that there is a Thread specifically dedicated to discussion of this chapter. I'd like to keep this main story thread as clutter-free as possible. Existent comments will not be removed, but whatever critiques, fan theories, or simple "This is cool" comments you have, please post them in the discussion thread.


The Project Part II

Doctor Rodriguez pored through his notes, looking again and again at locations, assignments, addresses, drop sites.. He had records of the eventual destinations of all 26 of the Subjects, spread worldwide. He knew there had to be at least one of them posted near to where he'd taken shelter.

Now that he knew travel across the surface was possible, it was only a matter of getting the right materials, and having a destination. All the subjects were well trained, and most were well equipped, cover stories, drop sites, bug out locations, safe-houses.. If he could find one of them, any of them, they would help him, he knew it, he was the one who'd argued for them, for their conditions, for their comfort and their treatment..

Still, there was the distinct possibility that they'd want nothing to do with him or the Project at this point, regardless of their previous orders. The nature of the Phenomenon changed everything. If this was a traditional WMD apocolyptic situation, a specialized command system would have been activated and each of them would've been picked up and gathered into a specialized facility in the Rockies. But the sudden and devastating nature of the Phenomenon had been uniquely unlike anything they'd prepared for. They never considered the possibility of being totally blinded above ground in the initial stage, much less requiring specific precautions other than preserving environmental integrity.

The Project was never intended for this kind of survival scenario, but, it could be adapted, even with their known losses. But, first things first, he had to get to one of them. His own access to the Project Satellite had been cut off. Stupid, a driver, killed by the Phenomenon, the out of control vehicle slamming right into Rodriguez' own shelter facility in the initial hour, destroying his satellite up-link.

26 subjects, 13 men and 13 women, each with their own unique traits and specialties. Spread all over the world, to minimize causalities in the event of total Thermonuclear War. The last resort. There had to be one within reasonable range of the Kansas City area.. And he was right.

Subject 26, Art Historian, Zoe.. Sweet, gentle little Zoe. The Art Institute of Chicago. It was a little far, but according to this her safe-house was optimal, underground, independent water & power, serious stores.. Not that that was the deciding factor. The next likely candidates were Subject 23 in Atlanta or Subject 10 in New Mexico, and he knew 10 was dead, burned with his lab.

EDIT: Please note that there is a Thread specifically dedicated to discussion of this chapter. I'd like to keep this main story thread as clutter-free as possible. Existent comments will not be removed, but whatever critiques, fan theories, or simple "This is cool" comments you have, please post them in the discussion thread.


The Story of Dr. Warren Rafei

The Phenomenon, day 2, 10 weeks ago.

In retrospect, whoever designed the CDC with one entire side of the building as floor to ceiling windows was an idiot. NASA had much better sense when it came to architecture. Large buildings, surprisingly few windows. As it stood, the CDC was in piss poor shape. Fully a third of the labs were inaccessible.

The natives, as he thought of them, were getting restless. They acknowledged that his expertise and the mandate of the Surgeon General were enough to put him in charge, even as half of them had better qualifications and many had decades in experience, his was the relevant field.

Even so, things were going quickly south. Many of them were completely irrelevant to the work at hand. And in survival situations as this, feelings of powerlessness and isolation could be a potent recipe for trouble. Not to mention the lack of supplies. The facility mess was well stocked, but perishables were going at a prodigious rate. The vending machines had already been raided and collected, though goodness knows what several weeks worth of JuicyFruit would do for them once the real food had gone.

Fortunately the underground facilities were untouched, but with travel impossible none of the proper staff were going to be coming in. He had no choice. He opened up his desk and punched the four digit code into the pinpad there.

The Phenomenon, day 16, 8 weeks ago.

Dr. Rafei finally gave up hope. Help wasn't coming. Food stores were gone. He was going to have to show them the subbasements. They'd be angry, they'd been working like dogs with little food and almost no sleep for over two weeks, and he'd been holding out on them. Angry.. was probably optimistic, actually. Still, they would have to understand.. He'd have to tell them about the Project, or at least, his part in it, the purpose of the subbasements.

The Phenomenon, day 37, 5 weeks ago.

They were going to abandon their posts, and he couldn't do anything about it. He couldn't help but admire their courage. They had no way of seeing in the IZR or UV spectrums, no definite guarantee of effective shelter at any stage of their journey, and little hope of finding food or help awaiting them at the end of their journey, and yet still they were going.

At least they'd used a gap to restock all they'd taken from his stores.

The Phenomenon, day 55, 2 weeks and 3 days ago.

Dr. Rafei winced as he pulled the bandages off. Each and every time the gauze liked to stick to his skin, sometimes in his skin as it healed. He braced himself, then leaned his head back over the washroom sink and poured the isopropyl alcohol over his face. The burn was intense, but he had no choice. It was the only wound disinfectant he could rely on, as it was the bottle in the medkit. Any number of other bottles throughout the labs could be any number of things that could be deadly to pour on his face or even smell.

The Phenomenon, day 88.

Dr. Rafei listened carefully to the men who'd finally exited the vehicle in the garage. Their hushed conversation was too quiet for him to follow, but he could hear a singular word here and there.. Suddenly, he realized who the men were. He quickly pulled at the arm of the neanderthal Jesse to encourage him to lead them both back up the stairway towards the elevator lobby.


Sharon Part VI

Sharon was running. Something pursuing, something behind, something dark.. She knew she had to get away.. No way to fight back, nowhere to hide, escape was the only option. If she turned she would die, and she knew it. But the voices kept demanding she look. or maybe they wanted something else. Her acquiescence, her surrender.. As she focused her attention back on her path, she realized there was a precipice ahead. It was too dark to see the other side or the bottom. It had to be a leap of faith..

With a sudden jerk she awoke, banging her elbow yet again against the hard plastic of the trunk floor. She froze, straining her ears to listen for any indication the things had heard her. It was silent outside, until she heard someone fumbling with keys outside, heard one key after another pushed into the trunk.

She fumbled around trying to get at her weapon, but that hand was numb and the bug-out bag was in the way of the draw. Suddenly the trunk lid opened and a blinding light flooded in, forcing her to squint.


Emil was a welcome sight, even if unnecessary, all she had to do was hit the internal trunk release and she'd have been out.

Sharon! Thank goodness I found you, I came looking after so many hours.. Found these keys right next to the drain grate.. I was worried you'd, well..

I'm fine, but you shouldn't be here Emil. What did I tell you!? What's the protocol?

One person..

One Person Out At A Time. OPAAT. One person out, everyone else waits, that way if one person does something stupid it doesn't put the others at risk. Where is Sarya? What would happen if you came looking for me and we both died? What would she do?

Yes yes, you're right.. But I'm naturally an impatient person, I couldn't help myself.

Well help yourself next time, stick to the protocol. Stay home. I didn't need your help.

I'm sorry, I just...

Enough, lets get back indoors, even in the middle of the day it's not safe out here.

Yes, yes of course, need any help carrying any of that?

Well you're here, might as well make yourself useful..


The Day Things Changed

A man in a rumpled and grease stained black suit sat under an awning along the waterline of the East River. He was cold, tired, and the weight of the Infrared goggles were beginning to make his neck hurt. He was dying for a cigarette, but even sitting still under cover from the sky, the heat of a lighter and then the slow burn of a smoke would attract the damn things.

As he shivered and wished for the thousandth time he had brought a blanket or something, he suddenly saw something he never expected in a million lifetimes to see so up close and in person. Through the various multihued rainbows that the goggles made of the world, he could see a sleek, cold, metal, rounded hump rise from the water, quickly taking a more recognizable form. He slowly reached into his inside vest pocket and keyed the radio tucked within..

The ride's here, it's a Submarine.

A crackling voice from the radio started speaking and then was drowned out in static.


Sharon and Emil made their way quickly and quietly through a series of tunnels, headed towards their latest shelter in a warehouse along the waterline, lugging several large seabags of gear and supplies.

So do you think we'll make it?

Under normal circumstances, no, way too much traffic on the river and in the bay, but with things the way they are, so long as we stay in the center of the current, we should easily be able to pass through to the Atlantic.

And what then? You still haven't told me where we're going.

The way I figure it, there's bound to be more civilized survivors out there, and the best bet for where they'll be is Washington DC. Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, they're all high priority in situations like this. There'll be survivors there. All we'll have to do is get into an important building and wait. The White House, the Capital Building, the Library of Congress..

After that, we just trade services, my combat training and survival skills, your lingual skills, for food and shelter.

Sounds like a good plan, but how will we navigate? We can't exactly navigate by the stars..

My phone GPS still works, so long as the boat has a plug, I'll be able to charge my phone.

..And if it doesn't? If we can't find a suitable boat?

Emil, we have the choice of every floating vessel on the New York waterfront. There's going to be at least one decent boat we can use.

As they made their way forward, they could see a shaft of light from a ventilation shaft ahead suddenly go dark.


Jesse spooned out some soup from the pan for Dr. Rafei. Cheddar Broccoli, not his favorite, but as far as premade powdered mixes went, it wasn't too bad. The simple fact that Jesse could cook without fear of burning down the building was a welcome relief. Dr. Rafei was sick and tired of playing guessing games with prepackaged food. Too many times he'd been hopeful he was opening a box of cereal only to find himself eating cheez-its or with hands full of pancake mix.

As Dr. Rafei brought the spoon to his mouth, he inhaled the rich aroma of the watery mixture. Suddenly though, he heard a tone coming from the Control room down the hall. Jesse placed his own soup down on the table and hurried to discover what was the matter.

Dr. Rafei listened for his new assistants report. As they'd gotten to know each other over the past day and a half, he'd gradually reassured and allayed his companions fears, explained his place as a part of the Project, and dissuaded him of his initial plans to evacuate them back to his bunker. They may have to retreat there eventually, but no time soon, thanks to his eyesight.

Hey Doc, there's a little light flashing back here, has some letters next to it.. E T S, what's that mean?

It could mean several things, which panel is it on?

External Environmental Indicators.

Extreme Temperature Shift, there should be a readout somewhere nearby it, should show either a positive or negative number, red or blue, what does it say?

Uh, er.. It's blue.. 8? What's it mean Doc?

It means that the temperature sensor on the roof detected a temperature drop of 8 degrees in less than 30 seconds, check the display that reads "WD&S", what does it say?

Uh, hold on a second, lemme find'er.. Uh, looks like W2.

That means the wind is headed west at 2 miles per hour, so it's not a sudden gust of cold wind, not fast enough to drive temperatures down that fast.

Doc that readout's changing again..

Which one?

The first one, the one that beeped, it's now blue 14.

That is a significant change.. I wonder what's going on out there.

I think I've got an idea Doc.

What is it?

There's a camera here, pointed at the ground, well, it's like noonish, right?

You'd know better than I.

Well, it is, and it's pitch black out there.


Angela Part II

The Phenomenon, day 89, 6pm, Lycksele Sweden.

Angela could feel the heat being drained from her body by the cold. Cramped inside a small metal cabinet in the employee break room of a grocery was not the ideal place to be. If she'd had some warning, some hint of things to come, she'd have been nice and warm and safe in her basement, or better yet, retreived and evacuated with the rest of the Project members.

She could hear whatever it was walking around outside. It's footfalls were strange. Definitely bipedal, but the floors here weren't made of glass, and the storm definitely couldn't penetrate this far indoors, certainly not this quickly, and yet.. It's every step crackled like it was crunching through icy puddles.

If it had been an Elk, or a Moose, or a Bear, it would have made other noises, but other than it's footfalls it was silent. Eerily so. She couldn't even hear any breathing.

Suddenly, she heard it rush off, heard doors being slammed open and wind howling as it rushed back out into the blizzard. She waited, listening, not even breathing, straining to hear anything and everything going on outside her hiding spot.

3 heartbeats, 6.. Nothing. Nothing at all.

She gently pressed on the door of the cabinet, it's freezing metal burning to the touch. It didn't move. She pressed firmer, and still it stayed closed. She thought she might have jammed the latch when she slammed it closed just moments before the.. whatever.. came barreling into the room.

She braced herself against the rear of the cabinet and heaved against the door after an agonizing second where she was terrified she might be trapped, and then with a crack it broke open. Peering around the break room she was astounded to find everything, everything, coated in ice. She'd been frozen in.

Nearly a quarter inch of ice covered every square inch of the floor, walls, and ceilings, every stick of furniture, even the heater was encased in rapidly thawing ice. The footprints of the creature were clearly outlined. As the tiles underneath were shattered like glass. The shape of the footprints were odd in and of themselves. Neither hooves nor pads nor feet.. Just oblong ovals.

She'd only just hidden from the creature when it came in, it had only stomped around the room a few seconds before leaving. She looked around, the shattered tiles, the layer of ice.. Whatever it was, it was freezing by it's very presence.

As she shored up the door and started clearing up the puddles as the ice melted, she started to notice new details. The chair legs, the tables, the door frame itself were all slightly off. Bent, warped, as if they'd been exposed to heat instead of chill. Already her mind was working, running through scenarios and hypotheses..

Heat was out of the question, acid, well, it would've left distinctive traces, smells, bubbling patterns, runs of dissolved materials, plus, she wouldn't have been able to touch any of it so quickly and easily after exposure. Perhaps some high level of radiation, but even that was unlikely, at that high a dose she wouldn't have survived.

She was going to have to find some way to get out and make contact. No choice about it now.


Captain Ben Longmire Part V

Everything looks clear Captain. We're getting some funny readings on the Temperature sensors, but we figure it's just a bad sensor.

Funny, what do you mean?

Well, It's December, and it's New York, so we expected cold, but the sensors reading 20 below, and there's just no way it's that cold. Last reading when we were off the coast in the Atlantic had us at 35 above. Chilly, but not freezing. And that was just a 12 hours ago. Unless there's a major front come in the sensor's bad.

And we certainly didn't crack through ice on our way up, so it's got to be the sensor.

Exactly sir.

Alright, well, get the shore party ready. Make sure they bundle up, even 35 degrees can be dangerous if they're wet going ashore.

Aye sir.. Should they be armed?

Yeah.. Better safe than sorry. Have the Master At Arms issue out sidearms and longarms to the party, them as can use'em.

Shotguns or rifles sir?


Aye Sir, who should lead the party?

I am XO.

Sir, regulations..

More than 80% of the world is dead Commander, we're picking up VIPs for the survival of the human race from the greatest city on Earth, which it so happens I've never been to. I'd like to see New York, even as she is now, and this is likely to be my last chance.

Sir, all due respect, I can't let you go. I just can't.

Are you going to have Cox hold me here at gunpoint?

Eyes all over the bridge of the Submarine were locked on Captain Longmire and Commander Gaines. This was the first time they'd ever disagreed in the view of the crew before, their normally smooth partnership suddenly in rough waters. Regulations were clear, and in normal circumstances the XO would be indeed well within his rights to have the senior Master At Arms, a CPO named Cox, keep the captain on the boat regardless of the circumstances, but even Cox himself at this point, standing at the aft hatch with his hand on his holstered weapon, didn't look too sure about what could or should be done under these circumstances. It's not like there was likely to be any kind of legal review in whatever port they ended up putting into.

After a tense number of seconds which felt like minutes, the XO turned his gaze to the Master At Arms and spoke:

You heard the Captain, get the Shore Party armed and dressed for the cold, yourself too. If the Captains going, you're going with him, and you're not going to let him out of your sight or out of arms reach, understood?

The Master At Arms stood at attention, locked eyes with the XO and belted out a sincere "AYE SIR" before turning and heading towards the Arms Locker.

Commander Gaines turned to the captain once more, a hard look on his face.

This is the compromise, I don't presume to give you orders, but I'd rather not hear anything from Cox when you get back about you trying to get away from him.

XO that will work, that will work.. It's your boat, I'm going to go get changed.

Aye sir, my boat.


Lucinda Part V

Lucinda was shocked into silence. At no point had she thought there'd be so few of them.

The list of confirmed casualties amongst Project personnel was the worst part. Dr. Ferguson had died in the Lantern, that she'd already known, but he wasn't so much of a loss, but Daniel, Gretchen, Patricia and Quentin were going to be sorely missed.

The few who were confirmed living but inaccessible was no better, Warren Rafei would be useful, but he was out of reach at the CDC, Henry Walthers was alive and well at Berkley, Zoe was in Chicago, Nikki, Xenia, & Yosef were safe, but with dwindling resources in London, there was talk of a mission to rescue them later, but their supplies might not last long enough..

The list of those missing and presumed dead was the longest, naturally, and read like a laundry list, Angela, Elaine, Kelly, Terrance, Viktor..

There was definitely work to be done. The Hangar was abuzz with activity. It looked like they were trying to refit a MI-26 for operation in the Phenomenon long term, extra fuel tanks, food stores, beds for hot swapping the crew, 360 degreee IR camera mounts..

When it was finished it'd be very useful. The covered dock had long since been closed off and the Nautilus was being worked on as well,. She was told they were going to clear it's aft deck and make it a landing pad for the chopper, which people had nicknamed the Blind Ghost based off it's completely enclosed cockpit and white skin.

She'd been pressed into service in the infirmary, even though the fascility had the proper outfitting for her to continue her research, caring for the other, non-Project VIPs had taken priority she was told.

She disagreed, but here she was just another cog in the wheel rather than the person in charge. She hoped that if the results came back positive from Roberts experiment, they could re-prioritize, but contact had been lost, hopefully just an equipment failure, because the other possibilities were less than positive.

As she ruminated on the possibilities for future research in this environment, her charge reached out and grasped her sleeve, the famous (or infamous) former Vice President was having yet another heart attack.

She hit the intercom and called for her team.


Timor Part IV

Damn these concrete floors.. My feet freeze every time I get out of bed, the shower..

As Timor made his way from his quarters to the storerooms near the bunker entrance, he ruminated and mourned his lack of adequate footwear. He'd worn through his sneakers in the first few weeks when he'd still pace for exercise.. Cheap black market Nike rip-offs simply weren't up to par.. As he approached the storerooms he wheezed and gasped and grasped at his side.

I've got to start shifting stores around the bunker, get a big empty space opened up.. Make myself a gym.

As he came round the last narrow corner into the bunker entrance, still crowded high with the creates and pallets of the last delivery before things had gone to hell, he caught sight of the massive steel doors that had seemed so superfluous on his first arrival.. Now, knowing what last beyond, he was grateful for their weight.

But.. Something was wrong. The doors seemed pale..

As he approached, he saw what was the matter: the massive steel doors were covered with a fine layer of frost. Russian winters were notoriously cold, but, the doors were three feet thick, they'd never frosted before, no matter how cold it got.

Curious, Timor approached the guard post nearest the doors, long unmanned, it still held readouts and screens for the suite of sensors and cameras outside the bunker.

He'd covered the camera screens when things first went to shit, but the other readouts were intact.

The temperature gauge shocked him, and he thought the readout was wrong, or in the wrong scale. He pulled out the binder that held the operators manuals and quickly double checked the scale temperature was displayed in. -196° Celsius.

What the hell is going on?

Almost in answer, the door reverberated with a deep impact from outside.


George Part II

The sounds of metal screeching together allayed his fears that the impact was some inane and accidental contact with a bouy.

He could hear voices, muffled, dim, and distant, though he couldn't make out what they were saying. He was sorely tempted to uncover the porthole and take a peek outside, but before he could even begin to reach for it the pod shifted and rolled onto its side, pushed, seemingly, from outside.

A few panicked seconds and the craft begin righting itself, only to jerk to a halt at a 45° angle to the sound of yet another impact.

Moments later, he heard an electrical winch begin whirring as the pod was lifted, it's balance returning as she was pulled from the water.

The voices were closer now, louder, though still tinny, as if coming through a long pipe. They were telling him, in English no less! To remain calm, not to look outside, and welcome home.

A few minutes more than he'd liked of hanging in the air like a yoyo, and then he felt the pod thump and settle onto a hard surface.

The glow of sunlight, filtered through the paper stuck against the porthole, suddenly dimmed as he heard large hydraulics humming above him.

The voices were distinct now, telling him he was aboard a Royal Navy Supply Ship, and that after a waiting period of some few hours to let the phenomenon clear the decks, they'd seal the forward cargo bay he'd been lifted into, and then go about getting him out of the pod.

Just a few more hours, a few moments really.. A nap wouldn't hurt him one bit..

George was rudely interrupted by the chattering of his own teeth. It was freezing, he could see his breath fog the air.

He looked at his watch, he'd been asleep nearly six hours.. Far longer than he expected. They'd said it would be about three or four hours, not six.. And they hadn't come.

Something was wrong. He supposed, his exit this long delayed, that it was a reasonable choice to take a peek outside..


George Part III

Lot of good that did.

George slumped back into the seat, disappointed and yet relieved that the porthole was iced over and dark. Even with the pages of the manual removed he couldn't see anything beyond his little capsule.

It had taken him twenty minutes of debate to even work up the courage to remove the page from the window, five minutes after that to actually scrape it off and look.. Now he was a half hour past six hours in the pod waiting for the royal navy to open things up and let him out.

Fuck it.

He grabbed the hatch and turned the handle, throwing his weight against it.. And it didn't budge.

Of course. The outside is frozen, just like the window. Winter in the channel.

He turned away, shielded his eyes, and pulled the cord affixed to the inner hatch frame to blow the explosive bolts.

With a sudden muted thump they blew apart, simultaneously shattering the ice coating the pod and severing the hatch from the craft. It hung, balanced on the frame for a brief moment before falling to the deck outside, clanging loudly against the metal plating.

Do not make noise.

George suddenly remembered the cardinal rules of how to live on the surface. He'd been in space. He hadn't had to worry about these things until now, not really.

His breath caught in his throat, he squeezed his eyes closed, and he strained to hear anything coming from outside.. Two seconds, three.. Nothing. Silence. Dead silent. Too silent..

He slowly turned, opening his eyes, getting out of the pod, breathing in the cold air. And saw nothing. The bay outside was empty. Cold steel flooring, and a cold steel wall with a lone lightbulb sitting high up in a wire cage. All seemed coated with a fine layer of white frost.

He crept out onto the deck, his soft slippers doing little to protect his feet from the chill.

He kept hold of the edges of the pod as he stood upright for the first time since landing. Feeling his weight settle and his back groan for the first time in month.

He looked around, seeing the rest of the bay. Large crates stood piled against a far wall, obviously shoved aside to make room for the pod.

The ceiling was mostly taken up by four large doors with hydraulic pistons attached, the doors overhead slightly ajar, the gap between them only an inch wide and iced over, a cable leading from their center down to a hook looped through one of the grapple rings on the exterior of the pod. On the other side of the room, opposite of where the pod opened, a hatchway stood, the door within cracked a scant few inches.

George was beginning to think something was very, very wrong.


George Part IV

George's feet were starting to lose feeling. The decks were freezing. The bulkheads were freezing. The whole damn ship was frozen.

He made his way through the narrow corridors, the various markings and codes printed on various pipes and hatches a complete mystery to him. He just knew he had to find the berths. If he didn't find some thicker clothing soon and some boots he was going to start worrying about losing toes.

Finally he found something he could understand, a handmade sign, in plain English, warning him not to open the hatch above as it opened to the exterior.

Best not go that way then.

He made his way, best he could figure, towards the center of the ship, the keel line, where the ship was most stable.. He'd heard that's where most ships put their crew quarters..

Two, three compartments in he found what he was looking for. He crawled under the blankets of the first berth he came to. Let his body warmth return.

A brief foray into the nearest lockers for clothes and a scramble through another few cabins for a pair of boots that fit, and then back under the covers to thaw them before he put them on.

Properly outfitted, he began to wonder just where the crew had gotten to. All his wanderings he hadn't found a trace of them.

He made his way up every ladder he could find. Most ships, he knew, had their control centers in a superstructure amidship. Even with precautions taken against the Phenomenon, they had to use the bridge, and it would be manned.

He passed through what looked to be the mess hall, meals frozen on plates with glasses of frozen coffee or tea next to them, forks and knives still neatly placed on napkins next to each plate.

At last he began to figure out the stenciled codes, A for aft, F for Fore, P for Port, S for Starboard, deck number, then compartment.. He followed them until he was amidship and then started moving upwards, finding the narrow, near vertical stairs to worrisome.

At last a simple sign, "Bridge" with an arrow. As he opened the hatch to the bridge, he knew instantly that he'd made a mistake, the sound of howling wind and it's bite against his face told him that a window was broken or an outer hatch was opened.

He kept his eyes on the deck as he moved slowly into the room. The consoles were all smashed. There was nobody in the room. As he approached the forward view ports, he could see the ragged edges of the shatter resistant materials - not glass, certainly - and how they'd been painted over with black paint.

Glancing out at the deck, and the channel beyond the railing, his already short breaths turned ragged with panic.

Clothing was strewn about the deck. Haphazard and scattered. As if cast off in orgiastic dancing. But that, that was just unusual. The channel, the channel was frozen. Salt water. Frozen solid.

Well, at least if worse comes to worse I can walk to shore.


George Part V

George was sure he couldn't be more than a few miles from shore. The channel was only 20-30 miles wide, and he could be certain the chances he landed in the exact middle were slim..

If he were to make his way west northwest he'd hit the UK sooner than later. That had to be why he'd been picked up by a royal navy ship, he'd landed closer to England than France, that's all.

With the fog, the phenomenon wouldn't see him direct, and with the frost that would cover his clothing and beard he was sure he'd be nearly invisible in infrared..

A few miles to shore then finding shelter somewhere with a radio, police, fire station, hospital.. It was a good plan, a solid plan.. And he was scared shitless.

No use delaying things.

He climbed the ladder to the upper deck, keeping his eyes on the ladder. He wondered why he couldn't hear them. He'd always imagined that the "things" would make noise like a flock of birds. And shadows, there should be shadows, shouldn't there?

He pulled his way along the deck railing to the point lowest and closest to the ice. There he tied up the rope ladder he'd found below decks. As he swung first one leg then the other over the side, he listened warily to the creaking and groaning of the ship, squeezed as it was in the ice..

One misstep was all it took.

His foot missed the rein below, his other slipped, and his grip couldn't hold him alone with the weight of his layers and supplies..

It wasn't a long fall, only seven or eight feet. But, it was enough. The wind knocked out of him, his head cracked against the ice.. And his eyes snapped open turned upwards towards the foul grey sky.

There were shadows moving in the clouds above, hanging low like fruit on an overburdened tree.

He rolled over, squeezing his eyes closed and curling into a ball on his stomach, his arms wrapped around his head, his hands and gloves in his sleeves, his face pressed to the ice.

One deep ragged breath, two.. And then they were on him. The first impacted square in the middle of his pack, it's impact a slight thump and muffled sound of cloth compressed.. Others followed, five, ten, then too many to count all over.

They were hard, and cold, and he could feel them shifting and pushing into his layers upon layers of clothing all over his legs, sides, arms.. Even the back of his hooded head.

They were squeezing him, pulling tighter and tighter together, the pressure was unbearable.. He screamed.

It just drove them to push harder, an edge, a blade pressing against his left leg cut through, he felt it pierce his skin, a flash of understanding, knowledge imparted, a vision of elsewhere, of a void filled with strange shapes with too many angles and too few sides..

And then nothing.


The Project Part III

Day 90 of the Phenomenon, I44 East, Missouri.

Doctor Rodriguez squinted at the road through the IR goggles, confused as to what he was seeing. His progress has been simple for the most part. He managed to find an auto dealer and scrounge up a vehicle far superior to his own old broken down Hyundai.

In fact it was probably the nicest car he'd ever even ridden in. Even with his salary there was no way he'd have ever afforded a Lamborghini. He regretted the damage the phenomenon was doing to the paint job, but he supposed that wasn't important since nobody would be looking at it without IR goggles..

But all that aside, he was growing concerned, temperatures had plummeted as he'd gotten further north, as expected, but not like this. The heat was on full blast and barely keeping up, the engine temperature gauge was barely registering, almost like the sports car had just been started rather than driven for nearly six hours.

The road was covered in a light layer of frost or snow - no telling which - and the only indication he had of the road ahead was the smoothness of the highway and the occasional mile marker, road sign, or wrecked vehicle, mostly large tractor trailers.

But things were getting thicker, a haze in the air was beginning to make things difficult to see.. He reduced his speed yet again, now down to 30mph.

He lifted the goggles to check his gauges yet again, temperature nil, rpms holding steady, fuel.. Down to a quarter tank. He'd have to stop soon. A garage was his best bet. Closed interior, a few cars nobody would miss, easily siphoned from.

Pulling the goggles back down, he looked back to the road, just catching a glimpse of what appeared to be someone standing in the middle of the road on stilts just before he hit them.

The Lamborghini was brought to a stop instantly as the front end crumpled around the figures legs. Broken glass peppered the Doctors face, arms and chest as he struggled for breath against the pressure of the seatbelt.

Looking up, his goggles lost somewhere in the maelstrom, the Doctor was eye to eye with something inhuman. Before he could so much as find and put on his glasses it struck forward with an arm like a tree trunk, ripping Rodriguez out of the vehicle, bones snapping like toothpicks as the seatbelt held.

Shock kept the pain at bay just long enough for the doctor to realize he'd been ripped in half, and that his blood was crawling of its own accord up his torso before being absorbed by the creatures porcelain flesh.

Then the pain and the darkness swallowed him.


Sharon & Emil Part IV

The Phenomenon, Day 90, New York City, Lower East Side

Sharon, Emil, & Sarya moved cautiously through the warehouse passing rows and rows of shipping containers as they made their way towards the waterfront.

Sarya & Emil kept their heads low, eyes shut as Sharon guided them between the containers and the wall with the only set of Goggles they had, always cautious as they approached a door or window opening to the outside.

There had been a bait stand at the entrance to these docks so she knew there had to be a civilian marina or tie up somewhere along the waterline here, though she had yet to see it.

She took the opportunity of another doorway to look out and see if they were any closer to escaping from New York when she saw something that didn't make any sense.

She turned and told Sarya & Emil to keep low and their eyes on the ground. Looking down, Sharon removed the IR Goggles and placed her hand across her forehead as a makeshift visor. Slowly she lifted her head and hand together making sure her hand blocked all of the sky.

There, in the bay, something was walking, and as it did the bay ahead and to the sides would freeze. The thing was tall, even at this distance that was clear. With alabaster skin and limbs that were longer than any mans, the legs ending in surpassingly narrow feet, the arms with long nimble hands. The eyes at this distance nothing more than small amber points of light.

To the left of it she saw another, also making its way across the bay.. And another, even more distant.. A line of these.. Things.. Moving across the bay.. The bay freezing around them as they go. Further out the whirling winds kicking up snow and frozen fog obscured how many there might be.

She pulled the door gently closed and tugged Emil & Sarya down to the floor.

We're going to have to consider a new strategy.

Emils voice dripped with rising panic even in whisper.

Why, what is wrong? Are there no boats?

No, there's something else. Things. Creatures, they're freezing the bay.

How could beasts be freezing the bay?

I don't know, they just are. We've got to get back inland, back underground. Someplace that won't freeze, near a steam vent maybe.

Whatever you say, we trust you.

Let's hope it's well founded.


Captain Ben Longmire Part VI

Keep your eyes down boys. Those goggles the Aussies gave us are supposed to protect us from seeing the things, but we're not paid nearly enough to risk it.

Begging your pardon sir, but, uh, are we being paid? I mean.. It's not like there's many stores left.. Or banks.. Or a Federal Reserve.. I mean..

Well, Mr. Homme, if you feel three hots and a cot in the most secure vehicle in the world isn't good enough recompense for your paltry services, I suppose I'll have to take your arms, your uniform, and allow you to put about on a more permanent basis on our return to the Oregon.. Is that along the lines you were thinking?

Uh, er.. No sir.

I didn't think so. Cox, correct me if I'm wrong, but does that look something like a man waiting on shore ahead of us under that overhang?

Cox leaned a few degrees port to clear his line of sight, peering through his goggles ahead of the inflatable zodiac.

It would appear so sir, but can we be cautious, we don't exactly know who else might have survived..

Cool it Cox, most of humanity is dead, I'm not about to make enemies of every last remainder we run across. In fact, while we can't take any with us except our assigned VIPs, I'm sure as hell going to tell any groups we encounter to head for shelters we've been informed are still operable.

Aye sir, just saying, having Forsythe keep a rifle trained on him from the bow on our way in might not be an unreasonable precaution.

Is this you fulfilling your promise to the XO?

Partly so sir. Partly. Otherwise I've just got a damned bad feeling about this whole venture.

Don't be so paranoid.

As the zodiac approached the river wall, Forsythe kept his rifle trained on the figure standing against the building above, never moving. As they tied up to the boardwalk above, The Captain, Forsythe, and the Master At Arms Cox made their way up to meet the man on the shore.

Approaching cautiously, they waited until they were a mere ten feet from the man before speaking.

Captain Longmire, USS Oregon, I believe the passphrase is "Oh Say Can You See".

The man finally looked up, responding "God save our gracious King."


Captain Ben Longmire Part VII

Inside an abandoned bodega, NE Manhattan, The Phenomenon, Day 90

So how are we doing this? You've got one VIP inland that needs evacuation, we've got one very good way to get them where they need to go. We were told to be here, now. We are. Now as I understand it, you're supposed to bring your VIP to us, is that what's happening?

The man from the sea wall warmed his hands over a kerosene lantern on the counter.

Aye. But with a complication. Our VIP is a couple blocks away. We were going to bring'em here by sewer..


Better than you'd think, you've got to remember this cities been a corpse for three months. Rains in the first few weeks did wonders to clear out every drainage system she had, and now, without millions of people flushing warmth down the drains even the sewers are frozen over.

Right.. So what's the hangup?

The cities been dead for three fuggin' months that's what.. Sewers froze, pipes that weren't never supposed to freeze froze, burst, then froze over again. Half the sewers are blocked by big frozen sprays. The route we'd planned is completely bolloxed.

Our hope is that you fine folks might have means to bring'em out. Frankly, we were hoping you'd arrive by whirly.. Submarine though.. That complicates things.

Hold on just a damn second.. We didn't exactly plan for much of an inland excursion here.. I mean.. We're sailors, not Marines. Our Master At Arms here, Cox, has the most experience and training, but I don't think..

Oh, no, I know, I know.. But, you might not be Marines, but I am, y'see, Second Lieutenant Hardy, His Majesties Royal Marines, at your service.

Good to meet you Lietenant, now.. What did you have in mind?

I thought I'd borrow two of your men and make a little jaunt inland, get my VIP, and get back here as quick as we can.

How long do you figure?

The colds been kind, brought fog and haze in, the bugger's up above seem to have just as much trouble seeing or sensing us through it as we would them, well, were we looking.. I'd say we could get there and back in two hours.

Two hours it is. Homme, Forsythe, go with Lt. Hardy. Cox, get on the horn, tell the XO we're going to camp here and wait, when they get back, we'll all get aboard the Oregon together.


Sharon & Emil Part V

The Phenomenon, Day 90, New Yorks East Side.

There's got to be a way through.. Or under..?

Not that I can see. Sewers underneath are blocked. Building inside is.. Burnt out. Some fire sometime after things went to shit. Looks like the automated suppressors killed it but.. There's no way through that's safe.

So around?


In the open?

In the open.

Have you seen.. I mean.. Have there been signs..?

No bodies. But that's no guarantee.. I mean.. I don't know. Slow and low and quiet, like before.

Before we had cover, walkways, vehicles.. This is open open.. They'll be right above us..

Emil.. Would it be better for us to..

Sharon stopped mid sentence, sensing something amiss. The very air had taken on an even more bitter chill.. It's currents accelerated, the howling outside taking a high shrill tone.

Motioning for Emil & Sarya to take cover, Sharon lowered her IR Goggles down over her eyes and moved forward towards the storefront, stepping high to avoid tripping on anything that'd fallen off the shelves over the past three months.

When she got to the door she paused. Pulling her sidearm from its holster on her hip, she gently pulled back the slide to put a round in the chamber.

The door was cold. Freezing in point of fact. She holstered her sidearm for a moment, putting on a pair of thin leather gloves, then redrawing her weapon, she eased open the door and looked each way, first left, then right..

Coming face to face with three raised rifles in her face.


Sharon & Emil Part VI

The Phenomenon, Day 90, East New York

For a moment, nobody moved. Sharon froze, but recognizing two official uniforms and a dress suit, she slowly lowered her weapon towards its holster.

Three rifles followed suit until a loud noise altered fate.

A piece of office furniture on the fourth floor of the building they stood under, pushed by the quickening wind, rolled out a window and fell four stories, crashing to the street not twenty feet from where four very nervous armed individuals stood.

Petty Officer Homme panicked. A single twitch on an improperly placed trigger finger and a weapon that wasn't on safe, and three times in rapid succession his rifle spit rounds that never should have flown.

The first tore through Sharon's thigh, grazing bone and splitting muscle.

The second flew through empty air before shattering the glass door Sharon had just opened.

The third blew through Sharon's left wrist, severing the Ulnar Vein.

Without a sound, Sharon pushed back with her right leg, falling back inside the store she was exiting.

Emil, shocked into action by the sound of gunfire, grasped Sarya and pulled her into the back office of the store.

Lieutenant Hardy, Seaman Forsythe & Petty Officer Homme stood shocked. Homme, at the rear, stood mute as Seaman Forsythe turned to him in anger and confusion before falling over like a puppet with its strings cut. Moments later Homme felt the impact as the first Phenomenon slammed into his back.

Hardy knew what was happening. And he knew not to look. He dived for the store entrance, trying to follow the unknown woman, but he wasn't fast enough. Several Phenomenon, initially attracted by the noise of gunfire, were now attracted to his heat and movement, they flew into his legs, cutting immediately through the thin material of his suit.

Visions of beings walking amongst the stars like dust motes in a sunbeam, gods without form that no man ever worshipped twisting gravity and time like old women knit mittens..


Captain Ben Longmire Part VIII

The Phenomenon, Day 90, NE New York City

Captain Longmire leaned back on the stool behind the counter of the bodega, his thick navy issue parka insulating his shoulder from the chill of the wall behind him.

His Master At Arms, Cox, stood against the far wall, it was reinforced glass, but it was plastered over with adverts long ago..

The remaining members of the shore party had taken up on the second floor, better view of the river, the zodiac, and the Oregon.

Their momentary reverie was ended by the sound of distant gunfire. Longmire and Cox were on the radio in seconds calling the Oregon and the retrieval party on the radios. The Oregon confirmed no shots fired aboard, the retrieval party answering only in static.

Just as Longmire was about to order Cox to prepare to move out, a flash of light from the stairwell told him his observers had something to report.

Climbing the stairs two at a time, he came out in the nursery that had the observers and their post. Without a word they indicated he look for himself.

Looking through the IR scope they'd set up in a window gap, he looked down on the East River. Walking along the Oregon was a solitary figure, easily twice again as tall as a man. As it walked the IR scope registered everything around it drop in temperature, quickly and severely.

His curiosity and his gut lurched at the consequences of what he was seeing, even so, he knew he had other priorities, his men unaccounted for, the English VIP they were supposed to be fetching..

Things were getting complicated, fast.


Sharon & Emil Part VII

Emil shoved Sarya under the desk in the office. Putting one finger to his lips to indicate she should be quiet, he turned and quietly opened the door to the shop, peeking through the crack.

The aisles of various consumer slop kept him from directly seeing Sharon or the front of the shop.

He knew he could probably make his way back to the riverside with Sarya, but without Sharon he knew his chances, their chances, were slim. A couple of hours wait, he takes the goggles off Sharon's body and then..? Then what?

As he pondered his course, he suddenly heard something which terrified him. Slow ragged breathing. Sharon had told them about the giants on the bay. If one of them were in the store..


A mere twenty feet away, Sharon used her one good leg to push herself further from the door. Her right hand gripping tight to her left wrist to slow the bleeding, her left leg dragging behind her. She took it slow, making sure she had solid purchase with her boot at each push. She could hear the things doing their damnable chittering on the bodies of the three just outside. One squeak, one loud kick against something, and they'd be on her too.

She regretted packing so much now. Her harness was loaded down with probably twenty pounds of shit that was only serving to slow her down and possibly hang her up.

Slow breath in, lift her right leg, place the right foot down solid, exhale and push.

In. Lift. Place. Exhale & push.

Six inches. A foot every other time. Ten seconds a push. Three feet a minute, twenty feet to the office, five and a half minutes total. She hoped the things would stay distracted that long.

At least the cold was beginning to numb her leg.


Captain Ben Longmire Part IX

The Phenomenon, Day 90, NE New York

Cox, get on the radio with the Oregon, they know they're in ice, the sonar acoustics will have told them that. Tell them to adjust trim on the ballast tanks fore and aft, port and starboard, whatever they've got to do to get free.

Let them know not to submerge just yet, just rock her loose. In the meantime, we're going to go after the rest of our shore party and the VIP.

Sir, what about the XOs orders? I'm not supposed to let you get within a stones throw of danger, and charging off inland after some Brit VIP isn't exactly a low risk endeavor..?

Let me worry about the XO, you just let him know what we're doing.

Aye sir.

The room was suddenly a flurry of angry whispering and repeated slaps as one of the seaman charged with keeping watch harshly berated the other. Their Captain strode over quickly, crouching and putting a hand on a shoulder of each.

What's all this then?

The junior Seaman Apprentice responded before his colleague.

Watkins here looked out at the thing on the river.

So? That's what you're supposed to be doing.

Without the Scope sir. Naked eye'd it. He could've gotten himself killed if I hadn't pulled his silly ass back.. Sir.

This true Seaman?

The other man looked up sheepishly at his Captain.

Yeah, I guess it is.. I was just curious, Sir.

About what?

Whether or not we could see them, Sir.


Well I figured if we can't see the flying things in Infrared, but we can see the giants, maybe we can't see the giants in normal spectrum.. Sir.

Captain Longmire rocked back on his heels and stood up, looking down at the two Seaman.

Watkins, that was kind of stupid. What if there were even one of the things out there? You'd be a dried up corpse right now. You're lucky Seamans Apprentice..?

Kellogg Sir.

Seamans Apprentice Kellogg cared enough to bother saving your dumb ass.

Kellogg, do you have time in rank yet?

No sir, still have a month left.

Well I suppose circumstances being what they are we can overlook that. When we get back to the Oregon talk to laundry and see if you can rustle up all the proper accoutrements for a full Seaman.

Longmire then strode across the room, grabbing a chair, he carried it back to where his two Seaman sat on the floor by the window.

Setting it down and sitting down upon it, he looked at Watkins and began..

Now, Watkins, you're the first person to get a good look at these things in full color, so tell me, what'd you see?


Captain Ben Longmire Part X

The Phenomenon, Day 90, NE New York

Well Sir, the things are white, like ghost white, snow white, chalk white, whitest damn things I've ever seen. Like they're made of porcelain or something.

They're made of porcelain?

No sir, just white like that. Their skin is bumpy, like a crocodiles, rough, scaled, with odd nodules all over. And their proportions are all wrong. Like, their legs are thinnest just below the hip, and get wider as they go down until just below the knee, when they narrow again until their feet are just round pegs of what look like horn, or bone, emerging from the skin.

Their arms do the same, except instead of narrowing to pegs they have hands. Long thin fingers, too many joints. Like Spiders legs. The heads are wide at the bottom, domed at the top. Like a tree stump that's been weathered and worn down..

They don't seem to have noses. But they have mouths, wide, thin, lipless, like, it's just a slit running the full width of their head. The eyes though.. They're sort of.. Solid amber, or gold.. Yellow-Orange like that, and they glow. Seriously, they emit light of their own.


No Sir.

Did it look like it was wearing anything, clothing, equipment of some kind?

No Sir, nothing like that. Just lumpy flesh all the way.

Any sex organs?

Nothing I could see Sir, looked like a Ken Doll down there.

What was it doing?

Just walking Sir. It wandered back and forth on the river, around the Oregon.

What do you mean "around the Oregon"?

Ever since it walked here it's just been circling the Oregon, from the stern to the bow and back again.

The Captain leaned forward in the chair, taking hold of the IR Scope and peering through. He watched for a solid minute before leaning back and beckoning his Master At Arms over.

Cox, radio the Oregon tell them that once they're loose of the ice I want them to dive down beneath, get under the surface and let the giants freeze it over, I don't want them to be able to touch the hull, understand? They're pacing her off like they've got plans for her and I want her out of reach.


Captain Ben Longmire Part XI

The Phenomenon, Day 90, E New York

Captain Longmire, his Master at Arms, Cox, and two Seamen stood in the ruins of a frozen department store, peering over the checkout with IR Goggles, whispering back and forth.

What's wrong with them sir?

They're dead.

Well, uh, yes sir, but.. Uh.. Why are they moving like that still?

The things got'em. They're covered in 'em. When they cover a person or a vehicle they vibrate like that. You just can't see them in the Infrared.

So they're covered right now? Right now as we're looking at them..? That's frankly terrifying sir.

Good reason not to look outside without IR, huh?

Yes sir.

Cox moved over between his Captain and Seaman Watkins, fiddling with a dial on his IR Goggles. He pointed through the doorway in front of the bodies of their shipmates and the Brit, Hardy.

What's that sir? There's something on the ground in the shop there.

The Captain peered through his own Goggles, then, giving up, he took them off, squeezing his eyes closed. Putting the IR Scope up to one eye and opening it, he used its higher magnification to look deeper into the store.

There's someone in there on the floor. They're still warm, so they've still got blood in 'em, but they aren't moving.. I'm seeing exhalations.. Shit, they're still alive.

Sir, we can't go out there. The.. The things are right there.

For all we know that's the VIP. We can't just leave'em there.

So what's the play sir?

We backtrack. Find a way around with cover. Then we come in from the back.

Sir, all due respect they could be dead by then. They're laying on exposed ground in freezing weather. Even if they're just laying there to avoid making noise for the things to follow, they'll die of hypothermia if we don't get to them soon.

You're right. That's why Watkins & Kellogg are going to stay here and keep watch on the bodies of Forsythe, Hardy, & Homme, when they stop twitching, when the things lose interest, if we haven't got over there yet, they'll wait five minutes then they cross the street quick and quiet.

Sir, that's too risky, I can't let you be part of the scout around and I can't leave your side, so I'm going to have to insist Watkins & Kellogg do the scouting and you and I hold here and wait out the things.

You going to shoot me Cox?

Cox tilted his head towards the still quivering bodies across the street.

That'd kind of defeat the point a number of ways sir, but I would choke you out.

The Captain briefly noted the differences between himself, 5'10", 135lbs, and his Master At Arms, a decidedly more imposing 6'1" and 180lbs, before simply nodding his head in acceptance.


Watkins & Kellogg

The Phenomenon, Day 90, New York

Two figures moved silently through the halls of what once was an advertising company, passing room after room of drawing boards, focus group meeting rooms, and office storerooms and well stocked breakrooms.. A successful one, judging by the bodies here and there, who'd been working long into the morning hours to be caught at their labor when the Phenomenon came.

Watkins and Kellogg moved carefully, stepping high to avoid obstacles and hangups. As they approached the rear emergency exit, they took cover at one side before gently pressing on the bar to open it. It stood resolute against their efforts, disuse and the freezing cold holding it in place.

With an exasperated sigh, Watkins stood back, preparing to shove against the door with his shoulder as he pressed the bar. Kellogg silently raised his hand with three fingers turned out, one by one they fell into a fist, as the last digit fell Watkins threw himself against the door, pushing the bar as he did so.

With a crack like a shot the door flew open, both men rooted where they stood, their goggled eyes immediately flying to the sky as if to choose their doom of their own accord before they could be ensconced.. But their eyes met only the ceiling of the access hallway they'd entered.

Deep sighs of relief escaped both men as they more easily walked into the barren hall. As they took their bearings to decide which way to continue, they heard a curious and unexpected sound emanate from a set of double steel doors at the far end of the hall, knocking. Knocking, like, an invited guest or some such thing was politely waiting outside to be greeted.

This did not last long, as moments later the Sailors bizarre and confused reverie was shattered as those same doors exploded into the hall, ripped from their hinges and frames simultaneously by the violent impact of one of the giants into them.

Kellogg reacted first, in unshouldering his rifle, taking aim center mass and squeezing the trigger.. To no effect.

With horror he realized his weapon was still on safe, and without a round in the chamber to boot. He had no opportunity to correct his mistake, as moments later the giant rushed forward in a crouch, its amber eyes fading to black as it split open its freakishly wide maw revealing a swirling blood red chasm of light that became all he could conceive of.

Watkins and Kellogg stood frozen, their will and motivation gone as the light filled their vision, transfixed until the sounds of their own bodies snapping and breaking joined as a grotesque soundtrack to the light.


Captain Ben Longmire Part XII

The Phenomenon, Day 90, E New York

How long has it been?

Cox shifted his goggles to his forehead to look down at his watch.

Eight minutes sir.

You think that's a reasonable wait?

I'll leave that up to you Sir, I'm just along for the ride.

Real helpful Chief..

I aspire to be an asset sir.

Shit.. Alright, let's go. Watkins and Kellogg are late, they can meet us there after we make sure whoever that is is ok.

Aye Sir, now, uh.. How do you want to get across.

Fast is probably better than slow.. Get over there quick and quiet. Straight line, here to there.

Er... Sir? Isn't that rather, uh, blunt?

You're the one who insisted on us being the ones to sit here and wait, why the sudden apprehension?

I didn't actually think we'd be the ones jumping this particular creek sir, thought Watkins & Kellogg would've gotten around by now.

Hehehe.. I don't blame you, neither did I.. Best get it over with..

One way or the other Sir?

I was going to leave that part unsaid.

Quietly, the two stood, Cox shouldered his rifle before they both went over themselves, tightening straps, buttoning flaps, and generally making sure that nothing would dislodge on their short jaunt across the streets. A few moments later they moved forward to the edge of the storefront, moving as quietly as they could.

At the doorway they paused, staring intently through their goggles at the three bodies just across the street. When no movement could be seen, Cox switched to the scope to check on the exhalations of the person in the building across the way.

With a final nod, Cox put the scope back, secured his goggles, and they set out. Moving at a brisk pace and in a half crouch they moved in a direct line. Neither looked up. It went quickly. A mere ten seconds and they were across the street and standing over the woman whose breath they'd seen.

Jesus Christ.. Look at this.. She's been shot!

I don't think this is our VIP sir. She's armed and geared for war.. If this was the VIP she could've accompanied Hardy to the riverfront.. This has got to be a civilian.

I agree. Question is, are Hardy and them shot?

..I'll look.

Be careful, there might be-

The Captain was interrupted by the sound of a scraping footfall followed by the appearance of four dark eyes peering around the corner of a set of shelves deeper within the store.


Ben, Emil, Sarya, & Sharon

The Phenomenon, Day 90, E New York

Cox went for his weapon, but his Captain's outstretched hand stayed him.

Who's there? You there in the dark back there, come out, we won't hurt you we're not here to hurt anyone..

A voice emerged from the darkness, quiet, hesitant:

Did you kill her?

We weren't the shooters, we know them but we don't know why they shot her.. She's alive. We came looking for our comrades- they're dead outside- and we saw your friend here was alive. We came for someone specific but we're no threat to you. Can you take care of your friend?

No.. She took care of us.

You can come out and come get her. We won't hurt you.

Longmire and Cox watched carefully, still ready to draw, as a middle aged Middle Eastern man emerged, one hand clutching a worn coat closed and the other pulling behind him a young girl wearing a much better coat emblazoned with a cartoon character, mittens, and a hat.

Cox visibly relaxed. Longmire muttered a quiet curse, giving Cox a meaningful look as he did so. Emil broke the sudden silence, concern dripping from his voice.

How did she survive? She was shot some hours ago..?

Longmire crouched over the woman unconscious on the floor.

Well.. Looks like the thigh shot was a through & through. Soft tissue only, no major arteries or veins hit.. Clotted up on it's own.. The wrist.. Jesus that's lucky.. Looks like she held it until she passed out.. Long enough for the blood to freeze and keep her hand in place.

Her hand is frozen in place?

Well, the glove. She got very very lucky I think..

So she'll live?

Looks like it.. She might lose that left hand, depending on how much blood flow is getting through..

What can we do?

You? Almost nothing. I, on the other hand, can get her to a halfway decent Doctor with halfway decent supplies.

..and what of us?

Well, shit.. I don't suppose I can leave you behind and still claim to be a decent human being, can I? You'll have to come with.


Ben, Emil, Sarya, & Sharon Part II

The Phenomenon, Day 90, dusk, E New York

Cox, her blood has dropped down and frozen her to the floor in a couple of spots, could you find something to melt or pry her off?

Yes sir.

Is there somewhere in back we can put her down? A bed, or cot or something? Anything flat that can be made comfortable?

Emil looked up from Sharon to the strange man who was suddenly in charge.

Uh, er, yes, I, I think so, a couch..

Good, take your kid and go set it up, find blankets or something, she's frostbitten in the extremities and her core temp is borderline hypothermic at best.

Cox, you find anything?

Coming back from around the shelves Cox kneeled and showed two options, a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a barbecue spatula.

Stone knives and bear skins, Jesus..


Nevermind, both. Use the alcohol to melt the edges then pry her up with the spatula, then you and Emil get her to the back. Then break out a medkit and bandage her wounds, make sure that once she thaws she doesn't bleed out. Pack her wrist especially, if that starts bleeding she's done for.

Aye sir.

Once she's taken care of, get on the horn with the Oregon, let them know we're bunking down here for the night.

Aye sir.

As they went about their work Longmire searched the shop for edibles, finding plenty of frozen canned goods and bottled drinks, a few of which hadn't burst. Gathering them in a cloth bag, he took them into the back just as Cox got off the radio.

Sir, the XO is all kinds of worried. He doesn't like that we've lost Hardy, and that we've no idea who the VIP is. He's especially unhappy we're staying ashore overnight.

Emil looked up from where he sat on the arm of the couch.

VIP? What VIP?

We came here looking for someone, someone we know has survived, a Brit, someone the American and Australian governments hold to be very valuable. Problem is, we don't know who they are or where they are. The powers that be are paranoid to a fault, and so was our contact, Hardy.


Unfortunately, he's one of the three outside.

Oh, oh I'm sorry.. But, uh.. There was a bit of a hubbub here about a visiting bunch of Brits before things went badly..

Really? What kind?

I'm not sure, something about the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a new display, I don't know, it was in the paper.

When was it in the paper?

The day before the things came.

I was hoping you'd say something like that..

The Captain got up and went back out to the store, looking around, he grabbed a still-folded copy of each newspaper, still in the racks by the door, and took them back to the office.

Here, which one do you read?

The Times and the Post but the story you're looking for is in the Times.

Yeah, page two, here it is: "a British Anthropologist is here to showcase the finds of a recent dig in Northern Europe.. Alongside a number of other art experts, something about new theories about early European religious beliefs."

Shit, look at this: "Terrance Opperthorne, Professor of Anthropology, Oxford, is a proponent of a radical new theory about early European religious beliefs, putting forth that rather than the primitive animalistic deities, that they worshipped symbols of animals that possessed characteristics which allows them to survive an ancient cataclysm, depicted in cave paintings, a deadly sky accompanied by winter hunters.."

That sound familiar to anyone else? Jesus Christ no wonder we're here to get him!

Emil stared at the Captain with a look partly of horror, partly of anger.

The Museum is only a few blocks from here.


Ben, Emil, Sarya, & Sharon Part III

The Phenomenon, Day 91, N New York, Dawn

The Captain of the Oregon sat in the midst of his Master At Arms and the three civilians. After a brief breakfast of lukewarm soup and dry saltines, he spoke up.

Alright, here's the plan. We're going to call the Oregon and have them send out another shore party with a litter. They'll make their way here with a GPS and get you three civvies to the boat.

Cox and I will make our way to the museum, get Dr. Opperthorne, any materials he might need, and then we'll get back to the boat. Then we all get back down the river and to our next rendezvous.

We've had a lot more trouble and too many goddamn losses on this trip and I'm about tired of it. I want to get this done and get back under the water. Cox, get on the horn, make it happen.

As he concluded and Cox left the room, sudden movement from the figure on the couch drew everyone's attention. Emil went to the couch immediately followed by Sarya. Longmire & Cox held back, knowing a strange face wouldn't be a welcome sight to wake up to.

Sharon blinked her eyes until her vision cleared, recognizing Emil even through the haze and dim light.

Where are we? Did you get me from the store? I tried to push myself to the back but I guess I had bled too much..

Sarya spoke first, before her father could so much as catch a breath:

Daddy, the Captain-Man, and Mr. Cox scraped you off the floor with a spatula!

An alarmed and confused look came over her face before Emil jumped in to explain.

What she means is, two gentleman from the United States Navy came looking for the unfortunate fellows outside and found you, with your blood freezing you to the ground, and we, all three, worked together to gently unfreeze you and move you here before packing and bandaging your wounds.

Sharon moved her right arm to her head.

And.. How long has it been, how long have I been out?

Emil looked at his watch.

About sixteen hours. You're lucky it's gotten so cold outside. If your glove hadn't frozen in place over your wrist, you'd have died.

The important part is, you're going to get to someplace with people with actual medical training and tools.

Sharon strained to sit up but a sudden wave of dizziness and nausea convinced her it was a bad idea.

That the captain I presume?

Emil nodded.

You're very very lucky. You lost a lot of blood. Much more you'd have needed a transfusion for sure. Hell I still think you need one just to be safe, but, at least you're out of the woods.

What about the men outside? What were they doing, why'd they shoot me?

They were on the way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to pick up another survivor. We think your appearance, that you were armed and unexpected.. One of the lesser experienced of the three panicked, shot you, and drew the attention of the things in the sky.. They didn't get into the store like you did, not fast enough.

I'm sorry.

It wasn't your fault, unless you intentionally provoked them into shooting you- doubtful- then the whole thing was one fucked up accident.

I certainly didn't.. Hell my first thought when I saw them was rescue.. I was going to holster but then..

It's alright. Rescue is what you're getting, maybe a bit delayed but..

Cox came back into the room.

Sir, there's a problem with the Oregon.


Ben, Emil, Sarya, & Sharon Part IV

The Phenomenon, Day 91, E New York

What kind of a problem Mr. Cox?

When the XO surfaced the ship through the ice of the East River, she made one hell of a loud crack coming up.. The giants took notice, sir.

They hammered on the hull for a bit.. No damage they could ascertain, but.. Something they did put the XO in a coma. He was observing the giants through the periscope when suddenly he just.. Well they say he just collapsed. He's alive, just.. He's catatonic so far as they can tell.

So the XO is out of commission.. Damn. Tell me they've shelved the periscope for now.

Oh yes sir, absolutely. Lieutenant Thompson is in charge there now. He's put the crew on standing orders not to observe the outside by any means, even Infrared.

Good. Where does that leave us so far as the second shore party?

They're waiting until the giants have stopped hammering at the hull, then they're going to wait a few hours before they'll chance going outside and making their way ashore and onto here.

So we're on our own until then.. Damn. Alright then. Here's the altered plan: Cox & I are going to go on to the Museum and get the good Doctor. Emil & Sarya and Sharon, you stay here and wait for the shore party, or, failing that, our own return.

Cox shifted uneasily from one foot to the other before speaking again.

*Sir.. Splitting up hasn't exactly been a winning strategy here as of late.. And quite frankly.. These are civilians- no offense intended- and the one of them with any kind of real training is wounded and in need of a transfusion or plenty of recovery time.. I don't think it's wise- or conscionable- to leave them behind..

Longmire appraised the CPO for a long moment before speaking.

You know Chief, there are times a man in command, especially an officer, forgets for a moment how capable the men under him are, and sometimes he intends or plans something damn foolish and needs a reminder.

New plan. We'll wait here for the shore party and then we'll all head for the museum. Then we'll all head back to the Oregon-

The Captain was interrupted by a cacophony of sound, steel rending, concrete and glass shattering, a fury of noise coming from not too far away.

Cox, Emil, & Longmire rushed to the storefront, only to see that the streets were eerily empty, with nothing but a fierce chill wind blowing dust and snow equally at a gale force.

Emil looked out on frozen wastes before racing back to the office, where he tore open pocket after pocket on their bags before finding his phone. Cox and Longmire followed behind, quietly awaiting some explanation.

Emil looked up at them as he waited for the phone to power on.

I was here on 9/11. I was here a few months ago when other buildings came down as well.. I took some down myself on the orders of the government through the Emergency Broadcast System. If there's new orders I must know.

The Captain pointedly put a hand on his sidearm before responding in a chilling tone.

You didn't think to inform us that you've been going around New York demolishing buildings?

It didn't seem relevant, after the last broadcast my commitment seemed over, my duties fulfilled.

At that moment the phone finished it's litany of startup services and error messages, only to begin flashing and emitting a familiar series of tones as an Alert message came through.

A new variety of sentient life has been encountered.

It is extremely hostile and deadly.

Survivor activity on the surface of any kind is highly discouraged.

This new phenomenon is accompanied by a marked drop in ambient temperature.

Effective and orderly underground shelters should be aware that these new beings seem highly intelligent.

They seem capable of planning, adapting, and predicting the actions of others.

They have been seen to work in groups, cooperate, and utilize primitive tools.

They cannot be killed by any known means.

Do not look outside.

Do not look at the sky.

Do not make any more heat or light than is necessary for your survival.

You are not abandoned.

You are not forgotten.

Emil read the alert aloud to the assembled company, afterwords cursing and setting the phone down. He began a tirade, getting louder as his anger and panic rose with each passing second.

That tells me nothing! Why are there buildings coming down- again!? What are these things? Where did they come from? I'm sick and tired of having no answers! Of being afraid for my life and the life of my daughter..

Longmire grabbed Emil by the chin forcing him into eye contact before putting a single finger up to his lips signaling quiet, but Emil continued, although in a desperate whisper.

Captain, please, I beg you, abandon this foolish errand to find this man, take us on your submarine and let us leave this place.. Take us to safety. Buildings are coming down, giants are swarming over the city and the temperature is steadily dropping every hour.. There is no real chance we will get to this Opperthorne, much less that he will be alive.

Longmire and Cox shared a look before the Captain responded.

I appreciate your point of view, but we have our orders.


Ben, Emil, Sarya, & Sharon Part V

The Phenomenon, Day 91, New York

The Captain and the Master At Arms took point ahead of the others. Sharon hobbled along, one wrist wrapped so well her entire hand was one large ball of gauze. Her leg was similarly bandaged, but a scrap of wood functioned well as a brace to keep it stiff and help it support her weight. Still, she had an arm each draped around the shoulders of Emil & Sarya.

Progress was slow, what the Captain and Cox could've covered on their own in half an hour it took the five of them two. Each crossroads was terrifying. They got lucky at one spot, with two entrances to the Subway a few blocks apart leading them direct.

There were signs that there were still those roving the subways, but they didn't encounter anyone, sticking to the service tunnels alongside. It took the better part of the morning, but at long last, the five of them stood across the street from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Central Park.

Looks like someone took great care to button her up. Her windows are boarded, looks like chains on the doors.. Cox, do you have any ideas?

Seems this calls for the direct approach sir. We get up to the door and we knock.


Yes sir. The only one in there is supposed to be Opperthorne, right? We knock, we talk to him through the door, let him know who we are, what our intentions are, and hopefully he'll have a way to come out with his research.

Seems reasonable.

Sharon spoke up behind them.

The delivery dock.


All major museums have delivery docks for moving in large exhibits. I'm sure the Art museum is no different. Due to the nature of most exhibitions I'm sure it's covered from the sky to protect from rain. Likely underground, out of sight of the public. We find the delivery dock, that's where we get in. Inside, we just look for him, find him, and we take him and his notes with us back to the Oregon.

Cox and Longmire shared an impressed look.

Good idea Sharon. Any idea where it might be?

Sharon tilted her head to a sign barely sticking above the snow on the museum side of the street, "Deliveries taken through E 84th St. Garage Entrance".

Motherfucker. How'd I miss that. Alright, that's what, a block north?

Should be.

Alright, let's get moving.

It was nearly noon before they got around to the garage entrance, but its appearance was less than promising.

What the fuck do you suppose happened here?

They looked across the road at the large steel shutters that held the garage closed, their center a jagged hole.

Cox spoke first in response.

Sir, it could be something from the first days of the things in the sky. Or the giants.. They hammered on the Oregon.. It's easy enough to imagine they could do that. Or it could be something Hardy did at some point to ease access..

Regardless, I'm not one to believe in luck. It's an opening we can use, but I don't like the looks of it. We'll leave the civvies here and scout this alone.

No argument here sir.

Cox turned to Sharon, Emil, & Sarya.

Any issues with y'all?

Sharon raised a finger on her uninjured hand draped over Saryas shoulder.

If you guys die in there we won't have any way of knowing. You both have radios, leave one with us, that way if you don't answer in a couple hours we can make our way to the Oregon without you.

Longmire pulled his radio from his belt and handed it to Emil without argument.

No point delaying things. You three find cover, we'll be back as soon as we can with Opperthorne, hope to god he's worth it.


Ben, Emil, Sarya, & Sharon Part VI

The Phenomenon, Day 91 New York, Central Park

Sharon, Emil, & Sarya huddled under a blanket on a couch in a spacious and well adorned cabin with a roaring fireplace. Or, they would've been, had the walls, fireplace, and fire been real, rather than matte painted pieces set out to display the furniture in a pleasing setting.. As it was the temperature was hovering around ten degrees. Sarya sat between the adults getting the most of the body heat.

Emil was nearly asleep, his consciousness hovering between the waking world and.. Somewhere else.. Shadows of people long dead flitted part the edges of his awareness like motes of dust in a flashlight beam.

They cried out to him.. Seeking his help, his guidance.. Others cursed him for his faith, his tolerance.. But they all reached for him.. Their fingers made of smoke freezing as they brushed his sleeves..

Then they were gone.. Stars wheeled past as he sped through the darkness into strange regions where things slid into and out of his perception like oil down a raging river..

He wasn't alone. There was something watching, from above, beyond, there but not, elsewhere, distant.. Beyond the walls of sleep it.. Watched.. Waited.. Hungered. He felt its gaze focused on him, its attention rapt.. It shrieked at him a shrill klaxon blazed into his ear..

With a jolt Emil awoke, the Radio in his hand buzzing intermittently a low tone. He brought it to his face and keyed it breifly, ending the alert tone. Captain Longmires tinny voice came through the small speaker:

Hello? Hello? Sharon? Emil? You still with us out there?

Yes, yes! We're here. Is everything alright there?

Absolutely. There's been.. Uh.. A few complications, but we're about ready to get out of here.. We've got, uh.. We'll, we've got a ride.

A ride? What do you mean a ride?

Something it looked like Hardy was saving.. Get yourselves over here into the garage, you'll see.

Alright, yes, we'll come, of course, is Opperthorne there? What did he say?

..just get over here.

Emil looked over to Sharon, still, seems she fell to the Sandman's charms as well. He gently stood, pulling the thin display comforter off his daughter and their saviour.. Sharon's shattered wrist sat in her lap, a large bloodstain soaked through her bandage and coated her lap. Her chest was still.


Timor Part V

The sound of metal scraping on concrete was not a pleasant one, but it couldn't be helped.

Timor dragged the heavy barrel assembly through the corridor, scratching up its smooth exterior on the rough concrete floor. He was moving an emplacement piece by piece from storage in the armory into the entry area, and assembling it bit by bit according to the manual it had been packed with.

After looking through the monitors at the exterior doors, and seeing the bald yetis outside, he was going to be prepared if they came knocking again. He knew he wasn't much of a warrior, in fact if he had been he'd have been able to lift the barrel he was dragging, but he could set the gun someplace solid, sit behind it, and press the paddle triggers as well as the next man.

He felt lightheaded. He slowly let the barrel fall to the floor before sitting down beside it. He looked down at the bulging gut he'd developed, listened to his own ragged breathing- far too shallow- felt his pounding heart.. His isolation had kept him safe, but his diet of junk food and near total lack of exercise had taken their toll. He was grossly obese and completely out of shape.

He felt a wheezing deep in his chest, it hurt. He coughed. Something came up. He spit.. It was a pale green.. Infection.

He sat another few minutes until the sweat of exertion was gone, then rolled to his side and got his legs under him. Standing, he went to the supply closet with his medicines and pulled out a bottle of antibiotics, they were old, and the label was mostly faded, but he could make out the directions and uses well enough.. Plenty of fluids he could manage.. Bed rest would have to wait. He took the first dose of two pills, washed it down with a bottle of water, and then went back to the barrel assembly.

He took his seat again, once more exhausted, sweating, and out of breath. Just from the walk. Timor did a quick inventory in his head, four more trips from the armory to the entrance, taking roughly 45 minutes each, it was just past midnight.. He should definitely be done before dawn.

At Dawn, he planned on bundling up behind his weapon emplacement and going to sleep. If anything came while he slept, they could be assured of his response.

He needed to do this because he couldn't lie to himself, if something tried to break in while he slept anywhere else, he didn't have the courage to run for his weaponry, he'd hide instead. He couldn't afford to hide. For all he knew, he might be the last human being on earth.. He owed it to every man that'd ever lived to survive as best he could.


Angela Part III

The Phenomenon, Day 91, 10 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

The tall things were all over the place. Seems they liked the cold and the quiet of the woods. She'd heard them roar more than once, found evidence of their work on other survivors- or hopefully just elk- the remains were so scattered and shattered it was hard to know which.. Except when there were clothes in the mix. She hated those, especially since they weren't always just adult clothes.

The store had yielded a surprising bounty when she actually got to looking. The seasonal storage, stock they'd have tried to sell come spring, stoves, tents, snowshoes.. Not the best quality, cheap imitation junk.. But better than nothing.

She'd been moving at night, sleeping in a tent covered in branches and snow during daylight, always set up under the boughs of a tree, never in the open. The tall things didn't go walking amongst the limbs of a tree if they could help it, much like people. Kept her from getting stepped on.

The tall things didn't seem to have any sense of smell, nor the infrared sense of the flying things in the sky. She was making her way slowly but surely towards Umeå nearly 135 kilometers to the southeast. Luckily the E13 was pretty much a direct shot, and midmorning commercial traffic meant there were cars & trucks- few and far between- but enough that scavenging and her non perishables should get her there. From there she hoped to find a decent transceiver and make contact with one of the Project satellites.

She was taking detailed notes on her observations of the tall things as she went, their heights and builds seemed uniform, no scars or other injuries had been seen this far, but the patterns of nodules seemed unique per individual. No gender traits could be seen either, nor waste excretions. She had seen very little interaction between them, they seemed to lack any uniform social structure, but on the rare occasion they did interact, there was definitely some kind of hierarchy at play. Vocalizations and movements indicated deference towards some, but just who seemed to shift at each new interaction.

Their effects on the environment were pronounced, both in the obvious absorption of ambient heat energy, but also in the subtle ways the dimensions and angles of the world around them were shifted and twisted by their immediate proximity for any length of time.

No evidence of their origin or intent seemed forthcoming. She hoped that by the time she reached Umeå she might have some testable hypothesis as to their role in the ongoing cataclysm, but for now, she was still on her way, the Project needed their xenobiologist, and a snowballs chance in hell was better than no chance at all.


Jesse & Dr. Rafei Part II

The Phenomenon, Day 91, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta

What are they doing?

I can't tell Doc, they're just.. Standing around.

Yes, but what are they doing? Are they communicating with each other? Are they moving at all? Are they eating? Dancing? Have they joined hands and starting singing kumbaya??

Oh c'mon Doc don't be thata way.. I know you're frusterbated but you don't gotta be taking it out on me..

I'm sorry it's just.. I would prefer more thorough descriptives, if you don't mind.

Alright Doc, alright.. They're stand-in in a circle around my truck, six of 'em, they're about equal distance from each other, hands at their sides, but they're swaying back and forth..

Swaying? Uh.. There should be a small silver switch underneath the screen, flick it over.

Suddenly the speakers began emitting the static of a windblown microphone.. But in it, and occasionally over it, was a deep hum.. Rising and falling in a discordant thread that switched pitches in an unnatural and inhuman manner from moment to moment..

Doctor Rafei sat silent, listening to it for a few moments before speaking.

Jesse, turn the volume down for a moment.. There's another switch in this panel in front of us, I don't know where. It's a recording button. It'll record this camera and microphone to a digital file format. But before we use it, we need to find a thumb drive and put it in the USB slot so that it's recorded to something.

Aw hell Doc, I've got a thumb drive hanging off me'dang keys!

Excellent! Put it in the slot and press the record button!

No problem Doc just fine a sec to find it, I gotta find it..

You said it was on your keys.

Yeah, along with a can opener, bottle opener, swiss army knife, mini flashlight, mini marker, laser light, half a dozen little tabs with funny sayin's on 'em.. Ah! Here we go.. Alright Doc we're plugged in and.. Now we're recording.

Good, Good.. Any change in their behavior?

Not that I can tell Doc.

Turn the volume back up please.

Jesse reached forward, giving a knob a spin and turning the volume back up. The room was again filled with static and.. The hum had changed. The discordance had given way to a series of rising and falling tones, different from each creature surrounding the vehicle. Some went painfully high through the spectrum to abysmally low while others merely wobbled between two alternating tones, both at opposite ends. Some seemed to be pitched at multiple times simultaneously, as impossible as that seemed.

Suddenly the image on the screen changed, pinpricks of multihued light began emerging from the various nodules all over the bodies of the assembled contingent, the motes of light swirling gently around the circle before tightening around Jesse's truck..


Lucinda Part VI

The Phenomenon, Day 91, The Project

Dr. Lucinda Alvarez scrubbed her hands slowly and methodically under the steaming water/antimicrobial/antiseptic mix they used in the Clean Wing of the facility. The traces of blood and detritus coming off of her hands in flecks and streams.

This was the third emergency surgery she'd been part of since the emergence of the H-Type Phenomena. Of course, that classification was an intermediate one, since the initial arrival of the Phenomena what they now were calling the C-Type had simply been the Phenomena. Now that there were two distinct, and presumably connected, entities the higher ups had started brainstorming and debating what to call them in addition to what should be done.

Personally, Lucinda thought the unofficial nicknames the troops had come up with, the Shards and the Tall Ones, seemed a lot better than any official classification or terminology assigned by some self important spin doctor.

The new Tall Ones were aggressive, violent, and so far, invincible. Bullets and shrapnel just absorbed into their skin like they were sinking in quicksand. This had unfortunate consequences in that trying attracted the Shards from overhead in nearly all cases so far.

In the field, the scout groups had been suffering serious casualties in every encounter with the Tall Ones. Again, this was the third emergency surgery since they'd appeared.

She was getting very tired and fed up with the incompetent focus of the higher ups. As she mindlessly pondered and scrubbed an idea began to form. A way to redirect their priorities and redirect their focus..

She'd have to be careful, and if she was found out the consequences would be.. Limiting, to say the least.. But history would vindicate her. She was sure. She began by digging out the manuals for the various wings of the Medical Bays.


Angela Part IV

The Phenomenon, Day 91, 26 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

Angela couldn't feel her face. The wind was biting and blowing any loose snow directly into her eyes. She ignored both. The tall things were digging.

Three of them were moving in circles, each using their wide hands and spindly fingers as shovels, clawing up clods of dirt, ice, and snow. They'd been part of the larger herd marching through the woods that she'd been following until they came across this clearing. These three had detached from the larger line and begun digging in their peculiar way.

Angela was taking shelter halfway up the side of a pine tree, using its height and its uphill placement to get a better vantage point into their excavations. They'd been digging for nearly an hour and the hole was nearly as deep as they were tall, and nearly twenty feet across and getting wider. They seemed to be digging out a shallow bowl shape in the earth, making it wider as they went deeper.

She desperately wished she had a camera or a camcorder of some kind, anything to get a visual record of this activity. It would be dark soon and her eyes would be insufficient to make out significant details.. She'd have to move closer, and that was out of the question.

She couldn't stay in the tree all night either. She'd freeze to death. She began moving carefully down the tree, branch by branch, as slowly as she could, always aware of how much noise she was making and whether they'd stopped their work. Fortunately they seemed completely oblivious.

Once at the bottom she went about setting up her tent under the trees protection, same as she had the night previous at another three kilometers behind.

Once inside and with her chemical heater activated by snow, she pulled out a number of small notebooks and began sketching out the patterns of movement and recording her notes on her observations.

As she finished, she packed the notebooks into resealable plastic bags and carefully ordered them by contents and date with her other observations in her pack. Then she pulled out a can of condensed soup and let it and a cup of melted snow warm up nestled between her and the heater.

She ate, cleaned her cup out with snow, then curled up to drift to sleep, idly wondering just what the tall things were digging for..


Timor V

The cracks were growing larger. It was stupid. He should've known better. All the warnings, all the warnings had said it very specifically; "Do not make Noise".

But he'd just had to test it. He'd assembled it, checked it, rechecked it, loaded it, worked the action and the ejection system.. He knew everything would work when the time came.. So why'd he have to fire off a round?

Stupidity, plain old normal human stupidity.. Now they were hammering at the door. The big steel door they'd been mulling around since they showed up a day and a half ago.. And it was cracking. They were coming through.

Timor sat behind his makeshift fortifications, piles of crates, metal & wood both, filled with various nonessentials like spare uniforms, obsolete radio equipment, dishes, and foodstuffs long, long past their expirations. Looking out over them, the single bullet hole in the side of the watchman's shed stared back, taunting him.

Another resounding impact sent a booming ring through the bunker as the things on the other side hammered again at the door, the cracks expanding further.

Timor took a moment to reflect on his life, a simple childhood in Minsk, his pursuit of Helena Mischkin throughout his teenaged years, his education in England for Astrophysics.. His time as part of Russia's ISS participation program.. Entirely too much time spent playing video games.. It didn't amount to much. He regretted never getting married, or having children, never traveling to America or the Orient.. Too late, much too late..

Another boom, the cracks covered the whole of the door now, not long..

He wondered if he was the only survivor. His earlier fantasies of going out fighting, symbolic of mankind's ancient struggles and defiance, seemed so petty now. He knew he couldn't be the last man on Earth. Some bloody group of government VIPs was probably in a bunker somewhere even more well equipped than this, totally free from worry or care, capable and in the process of going about a nearly normal life.. In fact he was sure of it. He remembered watching American programs in England, on the satellite, of American companies that built bomb shelters.. They even had dance halls, some of them..

He wasn't the last man. He was just a man.. And the door was starting to crumble.

A loud ripping sound came through the door as a large chunk fell out. Through the hole he could see an unnaturally pale face with glowing amber eyes peer through at him.. He could feel the palpable hate of its gaze.. Timor spit out his most heartfelt sentiment at that face.

Fuck you too!

Timor opened fire.


Jesse & Dr. Rafei Part III

The Phenomenon, Day 91, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta

As they watched the monitor the swirling motes of light coalesced from a loose cloud around the truck into a spinning circle of multi-hued light. The circle widened into a disc, briefly resembling a set of planetary rings before it suddenly collapsed, impacting and rocking the truck before all the lights, the monitor, and the panel went dark.

Uh.. Doc?

Why did you turn off the sound?

I didn't Doc, everything just sorta shut down on its own..


Looks like it Doc.

Well..? What did you see, don't spare any detail!

Jesse began going over what he'd seen, describing all the minutiae what the monitor had shown in the minute before everything went dark. Dr. Rafei listened intently, asking questions occasionally for clarification, before he spoke:

Jesse, is there any light, of any kind, anywhere in this room?

Not that I can see, naw.

Alright. I want you to listen very carefully to my instructions. Behind where we're sitting, on the wall, there should be a series of lockers. They're the lockers that held the various arms and gear for agents of the FBI who would've come here to protect us if this facility had been activated by some kind of plague.

Now, these lockers should be locked very securely, but the keys for them are in a desk just down the hall. I have been operating in the dark for long enough now that I feel comfortable retrieving the keys, however, once we've got them open I am far from familiar with the kinds of things inside.

I do not want to go blundering through them like a fool and set off some kind of grenade or something. I want you to feel around very carefully, very gently, and find a flare, or a glowstick, or a flashlight, or some other kind of light.

Uh, Doc?

Yes Jesse?

I already done got a glowstick and a flashlight on m'belt.

Why didn't you say so?

Well y'seemed to have yer britches in a bunch tryin' to gimme all kinds of specific instructions and I didn't wanna interrupt Doc.. My mama didn't raise me to be rude like that that's all.

Jesse, I appreciate your manners, but in a life or death situation such as the one we're faced with I think you can relax a bit and speak what's on your mind, even if it's rude.

If you say so Doc.. Well.. If that's the case I gotta couple'a questions.

Alright, ask away.

Well first, what the hell is this place? I mean, you take me through the CDC, into the lobby, and then take a special hidden elevator down to a secret subbasement that's got all the comforts of home and the very best security system government money can buy, but no labs, no scientists, nothing you'd expect from a super secret hidey home under a government building, so.. What's up with that, huh?


Lucinda Part VII

The Phenomenon, Day 91, The Project

Lucinda made her way on her hands and knees through the maintenance crawlspace, stopping occasionally to consult the blueprints she's brought along.

..Another left then two rights..

She moved as cautiously and as quietly as she could dragging the two compressed gas canisters she'd borrowed from supply while the Sergeant was preoccupied with his dinner and the buxom Lance Corporal who'd brought it.

In the absence of a civilian population and in light of the effective end of the world, a hookup culture was flourishing in the ranks, especially between officers and the Project personnel, but rates and nonrates were going at it like rabbits as well.. It was degrading, and uncivilized, but with less than a third of their number made up of women it made a cold kind of sense that so many had thrown morals, ethics, and regulations to the wind.

Lucinda herself had already had to fend off two or three blatant propositions and ignore countless other more subtle flirtations. Survival was survival, but there'd be time for that once more pressing threats were dealt with.

..A right..

Not that she wasn't flattered.. The Officers and NCOs chosen for these kinds of assignments were always in peak shape, and most of them were decently handsome as well, but they were without exception good little toy soldiers following orders. Mindless, unthinking, blind.. Nothing she'd ever been taken with.

..Last right..

Ahead she could see her goal, the supplemental oxygen routing for the hardened shelters. She dragged the canisters behind her and disconnected the lines for the ranking Officers, Project Leaders, and the VIP Medical Quarters, leaving the Medical Staff quarters, support staff, NCO, & nonrate lines alone.

She connected the canisters and turned their valves. Setting her watch she sat for half an hour, then closed the valves and put all the lines back where they belonged before starting back to the Maintenance Access hatch with the now empty canisters.

She put the canisters into the nearest disposal chute. The incinerator would eliminate any evidence she might've left behind. She then changed quickly in the nearest bathroom before calmly and quickly making her way to the Medial Staff quarters and bedding down in her dorm.

Things would be much better in the morning. In the absence of the project leadership, the Military Officers, and the VIPs, the head of Project Research was in charge.. Her.

She slept without trouble.


Angela Part V

The Phenomenon, Day 92, 26 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

Angela made her way back up the tree as she'd done the evening previous. Slowly, carefully, quietly.. As she got to her observation spot, she gently pushed the branches apart to get a view of the hole the tall things had been digging.

She gasped at what she saw.

They'd dug up a bowl roughly 70 feet wide and 30 feet deep. And at the bottom.. Jesus Christ.. Some kind of stone dome.. Ancient, hand carved.. With a rotten wooden plug at the cap, torn aside and asunder, apparently at the hands of the tall things..

There was no trace of the tall things anywhere. Angela made her way back down the tree and towards the bowl. Slowly, she scouted the area around it, finding their strange round tracks moved on to the Southeast.

Back at her camp under the tree, she pulled out all the rope and climbing gear she'd scrounged from a car ten kilometers back and set out back to the bowl. Near the edge she found a sturdy spruce and anchored her ropes there.

At the edge of the hole she looked over, it seemed to go down a further 40 or 50 feet before ending at a circular floor with four doorways leading off in the cardinal directions, three of the doors were intact, the northernmost door was smashed through.

She threw down her ropes, put on the climbing rig over her winter clothes, tightened the straps, rigged the carabiniers, and set herself up for the descent. As she held herself over the edge, she felt butterflies of fear and trepidation quiver in her gut.

With a final deep breath of the freezing air, she kicked off and swung over into the abyss. Her descent was quick, she squeezed to slow down her fall only just so much to avoid injury. At the bottom she paused just long enough to shine a flashlight around the room and at the northern passage, seeing nothing, she freed herself from the harness.

The doorways were of uniform design, each easily 5 feet wide and 8 feet tall.. Tall enough for the tall things, but obviously built by men, with their handle at waist height. She made her way north.

The passage seemed to slope down gently for about 60 feet before hitting a cross pattern in the stone, inch wide holes acted as a drain before the slope leveled off.. There the passage split into three directions, with no indication as to which direction the tall things had taken.

The passage was damp here. Unknown years had let moisture through the gaps in the stone, through the rotted timbers of the plug in the dome.. The smell of mold lay thick in the air as well as the actual mold on the walls, floor, and ceiling..

In the distance, she could barely make out the sounds of screams.


The Story of Zoe

The Phenomena, Day 92, Chicago Art Institute

Zoe paced between the kitchen and the pantry, each way carrying single items back and forth. She'd gained weight in her initial months in sanctuary, and it was her way of exercising without feeling like she was exercising.

After that, she sat down with a bowl of plain unbuttered popcorn and popped in a Mel Brooks DVD. Tonight was Young Frankenstein for maybe the 19th or 20th time since the Phenomenon began. It was one of her favorites but she bemoaned her limited film selection since all the internet had gone down. If she'd really taken all this Project bunker stuff seriously she'd have stocked more of her personal belongings- including her film collection into storage just in case. As it was she was limited to the preselected, pre-approved, sanitized, and selected films put together by some bureaucratic flunky who was probably long dead now.

But, still, at least she had all the time she could want for her own projects, her paintings, sketches, and murals. She'd run out of materials eventually, and have to make her way up to the Institute proper and be careful of the windows. She'd made two trips before, for stupid things she should've remembered to stock, both times without incident, once for her portfolio, her own works deserved no less than the others, the second time for personal hygiene products.. The bunker had been packed by men, unfortunately.

Inspiration was her biggest issue. All the films she had, the books, the catalogs of reprints and photos of all the classics.. She wondered how many had been lost to fire without man to protect them? That was, as she saw it, her real duty, Project or no, to protect the worlds artistic heritage.

But, without interaction, without drama, without other minds to stimulate her own, her works had all turned dark and morose. She couldn't help it. She was alone, surrounded by a city filled with millions of dried out corpses. Morbidity was a natural consequence of the age she lived in.

She supposed she should be worried about why she hadn't had any communiques from the outside since a week into things, but as far as she was concerned that was for the best. After all, what use was art and art history likely to be to a bunch of Military Officers and Doctors in the post-apocalypse?


Jesse & Dr. Rafei Part IV

The Phenomenon, Day 92, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta

So, lemme see if I've got this straight now that I've had a night to think it over.. You ain't part of the CDC proper, you're just on loan, well you were on loan, from NASA, but through the whole thing, both at NASA and here, you're actually part of a secret project to collate, collect, & preserve mankind's sum total knowledge on the face of the apocalypse, as well as to investigate and deal with the cause of said apocalypse whether it's plague, nuclear war, asteroid impact, solar flare, or any other such nonsense?

That would be the very, very basic summation of the critical points, yes.

And as a part of this, there's secret hidey-holes like this one in, under, or near every major Government research facility and the homes and places of work of all the relevant Project persons?

Yes.. As I said, this is the most basic summation. The Project has numerous goals and responsibilities. It was a public private partnership between half a dozen major corporations, all branches of the US military, all branches of the US Government, half a dozen major research firms, as well as a number of wealthy and connected individuals and families.. It is the last ditch effort to preserve mankind's leadership, knowledge, technology, and social order.

And what did you do?

I'm an Exobiologist, also sometimes called an Astrobiologist, I worked for NASA looking for signs or indications of life beyond Earth. My expertise is the indications of life, it's telltale traces and the ways it may show itself. My work with the Project was in case mankind was killed by some disease from outer space, did you ever see "The Andromeda Strain"?

Nah but I read the book, so I get what you're saying Doc.


What? Michael Creighton was a helluva good author. Jurassic Park, Sphere, Congo, Andromeda Strain? Country don't mean stupid Doc.

No no, it wasn't that.. I just.. I suddenly realized I'll never read again, and it.. It gave me pause, I'm sorry..

Aw Doc, don't be like that, your hands and fingers still work don't they? You can learn braille.

I suppose I could at that..

So uh.. Doc, these things, these things up in the sky.. They came from outer space, right?

Their arrival coincided with an object entering Earth's atmosphere. That's all I know. My true value, the work I can do, requires very different facilities than the CDC has or had at any rate. It's imperative that I reach the main Project Facility, they have the communication equipment I need to access NASA's satellites, as well as the laboratories and personnel I need to investigate this thing.

They should've come for me by now, long ago. I can only assume my proof of life signal was interfered with somehow, some glitch in the system that's let them incorrectly continue in the belief that I am dead, that the whole of the CDC is dead.

But Doc, the CDC is dead. We're the only ones here..

That's not.. entirely accurate..


Jesse & Dr. Rafei Part V

The Phenomenon, Day 92, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta

Well who the hell else is here!? Cause all I seen is you and me!

First, Jesse, you have to understand, the Project goes beyond survival of a bunch of VIPs, there were certain selections made, individuals gathered..

No, hold on a minute, you said there were others here, now I wanna know who they are & where they're at! I done showed you all kinds of courtesies and kindness Doc but with everything that's going on I'm getting a bit fed up with secret after secret here..

You're right! Yes, of course, Jesse.. The others, the other men and women who were here in the CDC when everything happened.. Most of them died, they were on the side of the building with floor to ceiling windows and scientists are by their very nature a curious breed.. But those that didn't.. Well.. They fell to bickering, to conflict. Research was pointless, there was no disease to control.. The people here were.. Argumentative, unstable. Something had to be done. So I took action. I put them in the isolation levels and simulated a Class 5 Breach of Upper Containment.

Uh.. Ok? What the hell does that mean.?

I locked them in the deepest subbasements, the emergency shelter in case of catastrophic incurable plague. Designed to keep them safe until such time as the remote instruments detected a safe environment for them to leave.

Alrighty Doc.. But, what's that simulated whosawhatsits you was talking about?

I sabotaged the testing apparatus they'd use to open up the locks.

So you trapped them in there.

More than trapped, sealed. With a Class 5 Breach of the Upper Containment of the testing apparatus, the system presumes that the pathogen has a caustic highly dangerous chemical makeup, it seals them in for a period of time predetermined to guarantee that any such pathogen would've broken down.

And how long is that?

Six years.

Six years!?

Yes. They're quite safe, I'm not a monster.. They have food, water, entertainment.. They just can't leave short the possibility they figure out how to drill through 6 feet of steel.

Doc.. You trapped a bunch of well meaning Doctors in an underground prison for six years for disagreeing with ya?

It was, and remains to be for the foreseeable future, for the greater good.

And we can't get'em out, no way no how?

None at all, it's completely automated.

What about the EMP, what'll that do to it?

... Jesse, we need to leave.


Lucinda Part VIII

The Phenomenon, Day 92, The Project

Dr. Lucinda Alvarez awoke refreshed and energized, eager to start her day. She was a bit surprised though, she'd expected to be awoken by MPs escorting her to take charge in the wake of the nights development, not her own alarm.

There must have been some delay in the machinery of the bureaucracy. She'd simply have to go about her business until the wheels turned and she was called upon. Morning reports and breakfast it was then.

The Medical personnel had their own quarters, support staff, recreation room, and mess hall. She made her way there. Grabbing the overnight reports from her box on the way. Normally she'd have looked over them immediately as she walked, but knowing what they'd contain she could wait til she had witnesses in the mess hall to see her reaction when she read the news.

Today was French Toast with bacon, coffee and cranberry juice. She sat alone, as was her habit. Taking a few bites of the French Toast she was disappointed.. They'd obviously used the low sugar, low calorie syrup. She might not be the fittest person here but she didn't think she needed to be on dietary restriction. She'd consult with the nutritionist tomorrow after spending the day realigning the priorities here.

Her hunger sated for the moment, she picked up the stack of reports and flipped back the cover sheet and looked at the current status of her VIP charges. But she couldn't. They were.. blurry. Something was wrong. She wiped at her eyes and blinked a few times.

Looked again.

Blurry still.

Looked up.

Room was blurry and spinning.


Two figures approaching her table.

Blue pants, khaki shirts, armbands..

Marine MPs..

Oh no..



Lucinda Part IX

The Phenomenon, Day 92, Project Safehouse

Lucinda could hear voices. They were talking about her. The fogginess and weakness was slipping away, her mind becoming clearer. She stayed still, kept her breathing slow, concentrated on staying still. She listened. could this happen, and why!? All our personnel were cleared. Nobody got in without strict safeguards. We're sitting here on top of thirty bodies, the President is on his way to the Primary Facility, wants a report on this shitstack asap and we're on the verge of wholesale transfer and no idea what the fuck happened..

It might've been an accident. Those quarters all share ductwork for their primary circulation, there are filters- best in the world besides the Primary- but it's conceivable..

No, no it's not. We've checked the whole system. Nothing tripped the sensors in the primaries, secondaries are a closed system just for the delivery of supplemental oxygen and gaseous medicines to the bedrooms in case of outbreak- which hasn't happened- the rest of the Project personnel are completely fine.

Lucinda felt the time was right to find out what was happening. Familiar with how unconscious figures awake from surgery, she began by faking a minor shiver and a deeper breath, followed by a whole body shift and a low groan.

Looks like she's coming to, get one of the nurses in here, they said there was a slight possibility of side effects and we need her healthy..

Lucinda fluttered her eyes open, kept them unfocused, looked at the ceiling. Wood paneling, one of the bureaucrats offices, they were all paneled. She was reclined in a chair. It was comfortably soft, but hot, she'd been in it awhile. Felt like leather. She turned her head.

One of the Bureaucrats, an undersecretary of the interior or some such nonsense, sat behind a desk looking at her, sitting on the desk, resting on a hip, sat a Naval Officer of some kind, she didn't know ranks.. The Sub, she'd forgotten about that damn fucking Sub.. He must've been staying in his berth on the sub rather than in the Officers Quarters in the Facility. She spoke for the first time.

What.. What happened..?

There's been an.. An incident.

What was it? A poison, something in the syrup, it didn't taste right.. Why me? Why aren't I in the medical wing?

Not that kind of incident. You weren't the target. Every other leader was. Every member of the Council, every military officer- with the exception of Lieutenant McGuire here- who was on night watch on the Nautilus last night. All the VIP patients in the medical wing too.. Were still trying to figure out exactly how, but, they're all dead or dying as of this morning.

And me, what happened to me?

We couldn't be sure that you were spared intentionally.. You're the only one in the chain of command whose housing was unaffected, I'm told you asked to be housed with the Medical Personnel rather than the Council section on your own, that probably saved your life.

We felt that a quiet extradition from the general population, making it look like a medical issue, a stroke or heart attack, would take you off the radar of whoever or whatever elements did this. So, we drugged your breakfast. Had the MPs on hand to woosh you out in a big hustle..

You faked my death to keep me safe?

Essentially, yes.

Why am I that important?

You don't know? Doctor, according to the chain of command, you and Lieutenant McGuire are now the Project heads, cooperatively. Civilian/Government and Military, working together as intended.


Angela Part VI

The Phenomenon, Day 92, 26 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

Angela made her way carefully along the center passage, still headed north. The floor was smooth, slippery with mold and slime.. Her flashlight could barely distinguish between black stone, black mold, and black darkness of the seemingly endless tunnel sloping gently downwards for as far ahead as she could see.

The screams were getting louder.

Each breath was getting more difficult, ragged, the thick air heavy and difficult to draw. She was starting to sweat. It was warmer here. That didn't make any sense. She unzipped her coat and fanned it a few quick times, the light of her flashlight splaying back and forth as she did so, illuminating motes of dust and spores and god only knew what else drifting in the beam..

The path continued down, she estimated she'd been moving steadily northward for nearly a kilometer now, possibly as much as a kilometer and a quarter, and downwards nearly a hundred meters if the slope was consistent, which she felt it was, though it was difficult to tell.

The screaming was nearly deafening now, the sound reverberating off the walls, echoing back on itself, doubling and redoubling. She couldn't tell if it was one person screaming or all the denizens of hell- easily enough to believe the latter in light of recent events. A few steps more and she could see the tunnel widening, The floor leveled off, but the walls and ceiling spread out, leaving a slick bridge through the dark to traverse without a railing of any kind.

Suspicious, she edged forward to the very last point where the wall was reachable and shined her light down into the void. There she saw.. Figures, beings.. Men and women, bound, chained, pale, hairless, and naked, secured to the walls by chains red with rust and blood. There was something wrong here. The faces.. These were people she knew!


Zoe Part II

The Phenomena, Day 92, Chicago Art Institute

She hated computers. Always had. The impersonal nature of them, the sanitary and inhuman logic of their language.. She preferred the natural feel of ink on paper, well-pens and papyrus weren't unknown to her. Oils on canvas, hell, finger paints on construction paper.. But, she was supposed to document her time in the bunker on a daily basis. A diary of sorts. So she sat down at the clunky government computer in the hard plastic chair they'd provided and started typing her brief and dreary listing of her activities.

As she finished up she exited the program and went back to the home screen. Her pointer maneuvered over the shut down icon before she noticed a little red check that hasn't been there before on the mail icon. Someone, or something, had gotten a message through. Hardly believing it she moved the pointer over and double clicked.

A new window opened to show her the same three messages she'd gotten in the first week, a listing of known resources in her area (useless since she couldn't leave), a reminder of the Project command structure (useless since she was alone) and a reminder specifically to her about her duties (which at this point she considered fulfilled). Nothing new.

Then she saw it, a small line at the bottom of the window, a progress bar, "New Mail Downloading" it stood at 3% and seemed frozen. She stared at it, wondering if it has been there before and she simply hasn't noticed. It had been long enough she knew the effects of isolation and stress could've been getting to her.


It wasn't frozen, just ridiculously slow. She didn't know anything about how the communication system worked or how the message was being delivered, quite frankly she'd zoned out during that briefing, but at least she wasn't totally cut off. She wondered what the message would be? She powered off the screen but left the machine itself on, that way it would continue to work.

The new event, the first she hasn't invented herself in months, was like a lit fuse in her mind, a bright burning spot that would lead to.. Something extraordinary. She pulled out canvas and paints. It was time to be creative.


Jesse & Dr. Rafei Part VI

The Phenomenon, Day 92, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta

Alright Doc, we've just got to get to the garage then.

But why? The things are in there, and surely the EMP has left your truck useless..?

Hehe.. Doc, I built that truck to take me through a post-atomic wasteland, with all kinds of radiation shielding and hardening.. One switch under the dash and she'll be good to go.

Jesse, I'm impressed.

Well hell Doc.. I just do what I gotta do.

Well, what are we waiting for? We need to pack, we need to get to the staircase, we need to scope out the garage, get things loaded!

Hold your horses.. I got some more questions..

Jesse, we don't have the time. If they come out, if they find us here.. They'll be very, very angry..

Yeah yeah, I know, you trapped in there for what would have been years and now they're gonna get out and they're gonna be angry and we're gonna get yelled at by a bunch of bespectacled scientists..

Oh no, no Jesse.. No.. They're liable to do far far more than yell at us. They blinded me in their attempt to get past me the first time. This time, I have no doubt in my mind they'll try to kill me and anyone helping me.

Uh.. So.. What do we do?

We get moving!

With that Jesse cracked a chemlight, grabbed a number of duffel bags from a drawer, and made his way to the storeroom where he began packing foodstuffs into them.

Dr. Rafei felt his way down the hall to his quarters. There, he searched drawer after drawer of clothing and junk until he found what he was looking for, a small revolver. Hammerless, with a rubber coated grip. He opened it, felt to ensure it was fully loaded, then closed it, placing it in his lab coat pocket.

Two subbasements down, inside the Isolation Levels, three men began the painstaking process of manually working the gears to unseal a large steel door.


Lucinda Part X

The Phenomenon, Day 92, Project Safehouse

Lucinda had a headache, either from the aftereffects of the drug or from the stress of dealing with all this bullshit. Lt. McGuire was remarkably efficient and professional, the consummate Naval Officer. Naturally this meant he was completely useless.

Lucinda looked over the desk they'd given her in the Council Chambers, with no council left it was just her, McGuire, and a horde of minor functionaries, bureaucrats, and busybodies, none of whom seemed to have anything important to do or say- yet none of them could shut up.

She flipped through the guide one of them had given her on council procedure, earlier she'd ignored it, now it was her only hope for a respite. She fell on a page that looked promising. She read over it, then tapped her microphone to get everyone's attention.

While I'm sure many of you have pressing issues that need the urgent attentions of this council, if I may, I'm going to call for an hours recess so that we can all collect our thoughts and present them in a more orderly fashion, thank you.

It.. It seemed to have worked. They were clearing out of the room. When they were all gone she looked over at the Lieutenant, sitting serenely in a high backed leather chair with his folded hands sitting on the desk in front of him.

There's a term for this kind of thing, kind of ubiquitous throughout the military.

And what's that?


She couldn't help but laugh at the aptness of the description.

I guess everyone's getting screwed but nobody's happy?

That's the long and the short of it.

Nice.. Very, very nice.. Any idea what the hell we're gonna do about this mess?

Not a clue. It all seems so, so..


Yes, exactly, you hit the nail on the head.

It is, all of it. We should set up a subcommittee to deal with it, say, the heads of all the different departments?

With a military representative and someone from accounting.

Accounting? Seriously we're keeping track of costs?

Well no, accounting is what a lot of folks have taken to calling the Supply folk, since they're the ones worried about budgets and sustainability now.

Ah... See that, that's clever I wish I'd thought of that myself.

A knock on the chamber door was shortly followed by a Naval Ensign and an Air Force First Sergeant.

Sir, madam, I'm afraid we've received some disturbing information. It appears Air Force One has gone down a few miles outside Boulder Colorado. There doesn't appear to be any sign of survivors.


Angela Part VII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, 26 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

As she looked down on the faces, so familiar, and yet without a single hair, she noticed their features shifting. Jaws lengthened and shrank, noses grew wider, or thinner.. One by one their eyes darkened to black.. These were not people. People don't shift and change like this.. Her father became her first grade teacher. Her first boyfriend became her first boss.. And they all beckoned to her, their hands pleading, even in chains..

They were lures..

She pushed herself off the wall and back to the center of the path. Once her light came off the.. Whatever they were, they stopped screaming. The silence echoed worse than the screams. She peered back over the edge, shined her light.. No one, no figures, no chains.. But where they'd been she now saw a number of skeletons. Some in rags, some in furs, some in what looked to be chainmail armor.. One looked to be.. Still leathery, and was that a Nazi uniform?

She continued on the path. The walls and ceiling of the chamber pulling away to the sides and above. Only the narrow path of uneven stone, without railings or handholds, continued forward in the dark.

After another few hundred meters she began to see a pulsing light. Blue or purple.. As she moved forward she could see that it was illuminating the floor of the chamber far below her. Ahead, the path came to a stop, a circular staircase, down the inside a tower of stone, headed down.

The stairs were steep, and slippery. Her way was slow, and cautious. The flickering light from below was occluded here, she had to rely on her flashlight. Her foot slipped on a particularly slimy patch of mold, her leg flying out ahead of her, her rear hit the stone hard, sending jolts of pain up her back.

She slid down the stairs, rolling, tumbling, gear flying every which way, stones kissing her arms, her knees, her face. One planted a particularly affectionate peck to the back of her head, and the world went black.


Zoe Part III

The Phenomena, Day 93, Chicago Art Institute

Zoe absentmindedly chased the last bit of her slice of Cheesecake around her plate as she watched the screen. She'd put off her other normal activities for the day, watching the progress bar grow incrementally over the course of the day. She was still in her pajamas even. It sat now at 97%.

She scooped up the last bite and downed it before standing and making her way to the kitchen. The plate and fork went in the dishwasher, the cheesecake itself- a no bake version made with powdered milk- went into the fridge. She pulled out a can of YooHoo and shook it back and forth, twisting her wrist one way then the other as she made her way back to the seat in front of the computer.

The bar said 98%. Frustrated, she spun around in the chair, letting her head fall back and her hair fly out due to centripetal force. When she came to a stop she faced away from the computer. She sat up, halfway popped the tab on her YooHoo and quickly sucked at the top of the can to avoid the YooHoo spray.

When she turned back to the computer it was just in time to see it change over from 99% to 100% before reloading the incoming email page, one unread. It was titled "Prof. Opperthorne's cave paintings, Subject Expert Consultation".

She clicked on it, the screen immediately filling with paragraphs and images.. She read over the first few pages intently, her curiosity gone cold with recognition and her dread driving her forward.

The summary of the Professors findings was chilling, the images irrelevant, they were pictures some ignorant had collected to try and show similarities but the examples were poor and misinterpreted.. None of the Professors findings were down in picture form, apparently they were trying to find him and his works in New York even now.

She finished reading the email and printed it. Taking the warm papers from the tray she slipped her feet into her slippers and began the long walk through the underground to the archives. She had some comparisons to make.


Jesse & Dr. Rafei Part VII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta

Are you sure ya didn't forget anything Doc?

If you got everything on the first list I made out to you then we have the important things. After that the food which I left to you and we may have some luck scrounging on the way.

Well I got everything on the list I made damn sure of that.. So long as you made the lists up right then we're about finished.

So what's the next step?

Well I've got everything packed up in cases and staged at the stairwell entrance to the garage. Next up I get in the truck, open up the back doors and latch'em open, reset'er electrical systems, then pull her around and back it up tight to the stairwell. Then I'll climb in back and into the stairwell and start loading. With even the tiniest bit of luck the things wouldn't get all over the truck until we're packed and ready, then we can put all the stuff in back in webbing, close off the cab, and go on our merry merry without too much concern.

Excellent, and you have fuel?

Yep, fuelled her up before I got here, thought there was a possibility I might be needing a quick getaway you know..

Good, good.. We'll be headed North at first, and towards the coast.

Where exactly are we headed? I've got a good GPS in the cab, and the satellites still work, I can just punch it in and we'll hit the road. I gotta warn ya though, it ain't a pretty sight, I lived in that cab for a couple of weeks, with infrequent stops.. And none of those were at a detail spot.

I can't see it anyway, so long as it doesn't smell too badly I think I'll live. But we're headed for Beaufort South Carolina. There's a facility on Harbor Island there..

Dr. Rafei was interrupted by a loud noise from down the corridor. A number of individuals were approaching, flipping tables and screaming out for Rafei.


Lucinda Part XI

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Project Safehouse

Alvarez walked into the council chamber with her coffee and briefing folder, finding Lt. McGuire already sat down in his preferred chair looking through a thick binder of printouts. As Lucinda moved around the semicircular stand to her own seat at the center she didn't waste any time.

Any news on Air Force One?

None. Infrared Satellites show that most of the fires are out but they're not picking up any indication of survivors. And the closest group that could possibly assess the site is still sixty miles away and moving slowly up mountain roads clogged with snow.

I understand.. Well Lieutenant, now that we're freed from the burden of pointless frivolities by our new subcommittee, I think it's time we had a frank discussion about the future of the Project. In fact considering we're now essentially the leaders of what remains of the human race, I'd say we had better get down to brass tacks, don't you agree?

I don't disagree on any particular point, but there is something else that we need to discuss first.


This morning I got a memo from the records department. Apparently we're supposed to use the mics and cameras in the Council chamber to record our proceedings. Yesterday we didn't do that.

Well that's no issue all those Yesmen must be good for something, right? Records can interview them.

Oh absolutely, but, it gave me the idea of having Records pull the transcripts from the last few days of the Councils meetings and the relevant files on the subjects discussed therein. That way we can see what direction they were headed in and get some idea of exactly what we should be doing.

Quite frankly I think our direction should be our own, don't you think?

Maybe, but, these transcripts.. They're considered Top Secret. They discussed, openly and without reservation, all the little side projects and directives and far flung operations associated with the project.. In fact records were loath to give up the matching files until I pulled rank.

Apparently there's a few things in here the general project membership were kept completely in the dark about. Things that we're going to need to know if we're going to run things.

Really? Well.. Call down to records and order me up my own copy of the transcripts & files. We'll go over them separately, and then meet later to discuss what we find. You look at it from the military angle, and I'll look at it from the civilian and governing angles, like we're supposed to, and then we'll hammer out our differences.

The Lieutenant smiled and smugly pulled a second binder out of the seat next to him before pushing it along the table to Lucinda.

I had a feeling you might propose something along those lines, so I had them send two copies initially.

You must've gotten up very early Lieutenant, I'll get right on this and we'll get back together, say, this afternoon?

Sounds more than fair. But I've had a little time to look through it this morning already.. I'd recommend you skip to page 12, they discuss something about tomb excavations that looks interesting. And after that page 45, Operation Monument.

Really? Nothing about Shards or Tall Ones?

Both. Just.. Just read them.

Lucinda grabbed up the binder and folded it under her arm. She didn't want to be disturbed while reading this and figured McGuire could handle any minor details that might come up in the meantime.

Once she found a nice spot in the recreational greenhouse, she started going through the council minutes and cross checking with the files.. Tomb excavations were nothing, the Tall Ones liked to dig up old ruins, satellites found them digging into places in Egypt, France, Mounds in the Midwest, Cliffs in Arizona, all along the Great Wall of China and a massive hole in downtown Beijing.. It was curious behavior but nothing indicated how to fight them.

Operation Monument was more promising, some doddering old English fart had found cave paintings of previous Shard Phenomena during the Stone Age.. And the paintings might also give clues as to how to deal with them..? And a US Sub crew was in New York right now recovering the Professor and his records.. That would definitely qualify as useful.

She kept reading, a few pointless discussions about finding other groups of survivors. Hypothesizing about conditions in Tokyo.. An operation here, a supply cache there that needed retrieval.. Then something new. She read and reread the file twice before gathering everything up and racing to the council chamber. When she burst through the door the Lieutenant looked up at her before saying:

The Schmitt discovery in the Taurus-Littrow valley?


And they didn't do anything.

We've got to get somebody to Washington.

Agreed. I've already issued orders to divert the Oregon on her return trip.


Angela Part VIII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, 26 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

Angela awoke in agony, her initial breath a gasp as she felt her body and the numerous injuries she'd sustained. Without even looking she could feel that her left arm was broken at the wrist and her right at the shoulder, possibly dislocated. She tried to open her eyes but only one could, the other was painful to try.

She was lying on a rough hewn stone floor. Surrounded by items torn from her as she fell. Canteens, her binoculars, flares, pitons, notebooks, pens..

She went to lift her head up and felt a grinding in her neck and back that nearly put her out again, but she pressed through, rolling onto her back before pulling herself to a sitting position. Her legs were battered and bruised but the heavy winter pants seemed to have protected them. Taking off the jacket, in retrospect, may have been a mistake.

As she went to stand a sharp pain in her right ankle and a rapid fall back on her ass told her that getting back up the stairs was going to be next to impossible upright.

Rolling over to her knees and crawling to the base of the stairs, she used them as leverage to stand on her left leg. Twisting, she looked around the chamber at the base of the stairs for the first time. Standing not twenty feet away was a circle of the tall things.

Six of them, standing still as statues. In the middle of them, floating above a polished silver depression in the floor, was a human figure, seemingly made of smooth glass. The light came from her. Shining from the center of her belly, blue light distorted purple as it passed through her curves and limbs as she slowly rotated in mid air.

Her features were exaggerated, grossly so, like some Polynesian Fertility figure, her breasts and buttocks easily each twice as large as her head, her belly triple. Her arms were thrown behind her, her hands meeting several feet behind her back. The legs splayed open, her knees bent, as if giving birth. Her face was turned to the sky, her face a scream carved eternal.

Around the chamber, the walls stood festooned with bodies like she'd seen earlier, skeletons in furs, armor, and decorative uniforms, mummies in uniforms more recent, Nazi, Soviet, even a few American Army doughboys.. Civilians too, here, unlike above. She recognized styles going back perhaps some three hundred years.. She imagined there must be other entrances that had been explored by others somewhere else for this many to have found their way here.

But these bodies were different. They weren't thrown haphazardly atop one another, as the ones above. These were.. Poised, posed, put on display.. Starkly upright, at attention, hands at their sides, faces forward, eyes open, where applicable.

Angela decided she'd had quite enough. Her curiosity wasn't that powerful. She'd had her limit. This was too much. She turned to head up the stairs, on one elbow and her knees if need be, but she was done.

A tall thing blocked her way. She looked up at it. It looked down at her.



Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part VII

The Phenomenon, Day 91 New York, Central Park

..just get over here.

Captain Longmire switched the radio off before turning to his Master at Arms, Cox. Looking around the loading dock they were surrounded by crates labeled for Professor Opperthorne, the large prints of the various photos he'd taken in the caves south of Norsjö Sweden, according to the labeling.

Cox, are all these going to fit in the, uh, in the vehicle?

It's designed to carry 8 in the passenger compartment sir. Somebody's got to drive, and after that we're only taking four, so it'll be a tight fit, but we should be able to haul it one trip.

Good. Have you been able to make heads or tails out of his notebook yet?

No sir, seems the late Professor was rather fond of taking his notes in French, I remember a bit from a single year in High School, but not enough to make heads or tails of this..

Alright, well, Emil, Sarya, & Sharon are going to be on their way over in a few minutes. When they get here, you and Emil get to work loading up these crates. In the meanwhile, I'm going to see if I can find where the Professor and Lieutenant Hardy holed up here in the museum, there might be more they didn't get down here to the loading Dock.

I'm not supposed to let you out of my sight sir.

Would you give it a rest Cox? Opperthorne and Hardy were here for months, I'm sure so long as I keep to the back halls and offices and don't venture into the museum proper I'll be fine. Besides, I've got my IR Goggles, even if I accidentally walk into a greenhouse or something I'll be fine.

Cox looked at his Captain, and then at the stacked crates around the Loading Dock, then back at his Captain.

These things are the reason we came?

All the way from the Pacific.

Cox looked again at the crates.

I.. I guess these things shouldn't be left alone then.

That's how I think of it. Relax, nothing's gonna happen.

Funny thing sir, I have a feeling Hardy told him the same thing.

Cox jerked his head in the direction of the Loading Dock Doors, where Professor Opperthorne's dessicated husk was curled on the floor.

Cox, I'm not a fucking civvie!

No sir! Wasn't insinuating you are, sir.. Just.. Neither was Hardy, sir. Be careful.

Waving off his concerns, Captain Longmire strode off down the storage area, past crates and shelves of art, some mundane, others priceless, now doomed to rot.

After about twenty meters or so he turned, going through a pair of double doors, and began following a wide hallway flanked by offices. Each office was opened, peered into, and seeing no signs of habitation, left open.

At the end of the hall he came to a large open workspace, ostensibly used for art restoration, it had been converted almost totally into living quarters. A refrigerator, microwave, a pair of beds made from office furniture pads and drop cloths, lamps, boxes of canned goods, likely looted during a gap.. The Captain excitedly began looking for something, anything that might not have made it to the Loading Dock.


Zoe Part IV

The Phenomena, Day 93, Chicago Art Institute

Zoe read and reread the descriptive paragraph excerpt in the email from the Professor's submitted papers. Comparing what it depicted to picture after picture of cave paintings in the archives. Twenty years ago they would've been microfiche, now it was a dedicated laptop with biometrics chained to the server. She flicked the trackpad every few seconds, occasionally giving one a little extra scrutiny or switching to another file if the set was exhausted.

They were organized by era and region. To save time she limited herself to only the oldest caves of Northern Europe. So far she hadn't had any success. The professor's findings appeared to be unique.

Three hours of searching and the search proved fruitless. Nothing in the oldest caves paintings in Northern Europe.. She sat defeated, slumped, staring at the screen before standing up and stretching, arching her back and throwing her arms above her head as she stood up on her toes.. A cramp shot through her left calf sending her falling back into the chair, her arms falling down and impacting the table on both sides of the laptop.

She moved her aching hands down to massage her aching calf she briefly looked back at the screen, now displaying a selection from the Kamchatka Peninsula in Eastern Russia. There were only four images, but one of them.. She clicked on it to get it at full resolution. Zoomed in, reread the paragraph from the Professor.

The signs were there, fear of the sky, in this case depicted as a sky full of speared eyes, humans huddling under cover, the sky clearing.. Humans being killed by taller humans with long fingers.. The long fingered ones surrounded by a halo, or fire.. It was hard to tell.. But this was it, this had to be it!

She got up and started a hobbled run back to her Project Computer.


Jesse & Dr. Rafei Part VIII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta

Jesse's left hand grabbed Dr. Rafei by the shoulder while his right unholstered his sidearm. He said one word before he began shoving him down the hall towards the stairwell; "Move!"

They ran, the Doctor slightly wavering left and right as Jesse's hand moved slightly back and forth with each step. Jesse turned his head over his shoulder to see if their pursuers had passed the lanterns he'd set up yet. They were already close enough to occlude them.

Jesse would give directions under his breath for the doctor as they went. "Left!", "Right!"..

Jesse pulled Rafei to a stop just before he ran headlong into the door to the stairs. Turning, he saw shadows in the candles he'd left lit along the way. He opened the site to the stairs and guided his blind charge through. He pulled a spare glow rod out of his vest and chucked it down the hall, past the stairwell, before quickly and quietly closing the door. He could hear the racket the glow stick made as it clattered down the hall, and the footsteps as their pursuers raced past the stairwell after it.

Jesse & Rafei then carefully & quietly made their way up the stairs to the hidden access to the first floor elevator lobby. From there they made their way to the western stairwell and the ground level garage access.

Once in the stairwell they could hear steps coming from below. Apparently their pursuers had found a different way out.

We have to grab the boxes! They're critical to my work!

Jesse responded in a harsh whisper as he struggled to pull his IR goggles up from around his neck and fit them over his eyes.

Doc we ain't got time to do our loading thing we was talking about, pick one and we'll haul ass with it.

Uh.. Hmm.. I can't decide!

The sounds of the footsteps were getting louder, the faint glow of candlelight could be seen coming from below.

Doc we're out of time!

The one with the papers, whichever that was..

I've got it Doc, now let's go!

With that Jesse threw the relevant box over his shoulder and opened the door to the parking garage. The sudden chill as they were confronted with the subzero temperature outside did little to stem their hurry. He grabbed Rafei by the shoulder, and ran for his truck.

Hearing the door open, the footsteps below turned into a stampede and voices arose, calling for blood.

Jesse ran around the passenger side first, opening the door and throwing the box in, then pushing Rafei towards it. Then he ran around the front end to the drivers side door to climb in himself.

Reaching under the dash, he flipped two switches before he closed the door, looking and seeing Rafei just pulling his door closed as well he turned the key to start the truck, and.. Nothing.


Lucinda Part XII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Project Safehouse

Why wasn't this disseminated the second everything went to shit?

According to the minutes they felt that widespread knowledge of the Schmitt discovery would serve no useful purpose. We can't send anyone to the moon, and as far as they were concerned at the time, Project Monument was the best chance for discovering a weakness or weapon to use against the Shards.

But we have some. Dead ones. Ones we could autopsy or scan or..

I'm on your side. Admittedly, they've done everything to it they could over the last few decades to them. X-Ray, CAT Scans, hell, according to the file DARPA developed Affinity Chromatography specifically to examine the damn things, just letting Cuatrecasas & Wilchek take the credit and take it public after their work for the Project was done.

What all does the file say they found?

Youve got your own copy..

Yes yes yes but you've read ahead, give me the highlights.*

Heh, ok. The Shards are Euhedral Amorphous Solids, composed of roughly equal parts carbon, silicon, and calcium.


And.. That's it. In thirty plus years that's all they ever managed to determine.

That's ridiculous! You're telling me they've had a couple dozen Shards to poke and prod and subject to all sorts of..

The lieutenant threw his hands up in mock surrender.

Hey, I'm just the messenger, doc.

Any ideas as to how they made the connection between the Shards and the Schmitt discovery?

Yes.. Dr. Jocobi's experiment.

I thought that was a failure? No communication had been received since they signaled they were ready.

Apparently a follow up team went and retrieved their records. Including some foam insulation that had distinct impressions from the attempt to contain one. One of the Council members was also in the know on the Schmitt discovery and brought out the records to compare. While not exact, he felt that they were close enough to bring it up for debate.

And that's the minutes we've got, when they decided against doing anything.


So what's the latest from the Oregon?


Angela Part IX

The Phenomenon, Day 93, 26 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

Angela stood transfixed, precariously balanced on one leg, blood dripping from her head, arms, and back from various cuts & scrapes. The tall thing stood not two feet from her looking down at her. It was.. Shocking.. To see one so close. She noted details she couldn't have seen from a distance.

The nodules that covered them were more like large nipples than anything else, the flesh going from an alabaster white to a sickly grey-green around the openings. Their skin wasn't smooth like she thought, but ridged, almost like corduroy. The eyes, mere amber dots of light at distance, were far more detailed. Streaks of gold shot chaotically through the ebony orbs, the light breaking from within like fire through cracked iron.

The creature had no neck to speak of, the shoulders smoothly rising like the slopes of a mountain to the rather featureless head. There were no ears or nose, merely the odd eyes and a wide slit for a mouth. A mouth which now opened, a baleful crimson light escaping as those thin lips formed words.

Why this form?

The voice that issued forth was deep, melodious, like a rolling peal of thunder.


Why this form? It is flawed.

Angela was at a loss for words. The sudden development of a conversational tall thing had momentarily shocked her right out of her wits. Flabbergasted, one might say. The tall one, however, suffered no such difficulty.

This form is flawed.. Take another.

I.. I can't..

At this the tall thing recoiled, briefly, as if struck, before splitting its maw in a cacophonous roar that vibrated in Angela's very bones.. Under the circumstances, with her injuries, it was a decidedly unpleasant sensation.

Her initial flinch gave way to a deadpan expression. The blood light filling her gaze and her being. The world faded away, her aches and pains deadened, her fatigue and worries faded and disappeared..


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part VIII

The Phenomenon, Day 91 New York, Central Park

Captain Longmire was flipping through yet another stack of useless papers, travel documents, looked like. He collapsed into the desk chair the Professor must've appropriated from one of the offices and exhaled deeply in frustration.

As he sat there, he heard footsteps echoed from the hall. He turned his head to see who it was, only to see Cox peering in. Annoyed, Captain Longmire waxed sarcastic.

Didn't I just order you to wait for Emil & Sharon at the loading dock? I could've swore I did.. Oh but then, silly me, I'm just your Captain and Superior Officer why would I have any authority?

Sir you did, it's just, Emil & Sarya came over. Emil says Sharon bled out in her sleep while waiting for us.


Son of a bitch. Are you fucking kidding me!?

I wish I was sir..

Goddammit. How many people are we gonna lose for a couple of fucking crates!?

Sir.. I don't know. But, if these crates, if these paintings and the Professors notes give us some kind of an edge..

I know I know I know.. Then we might be able to clear the skies, defeat the giants and regain control of the surface again and then it'll rain puppies and sunshine and we'll all live in peace and joy forever.. Shit.. But at what cost?

Personally sir? If it means this generations children and grandchildren live on the surface, I think my life would be a fair cost. I can't imagine Sharon, Watkins, or Kellogg felt much different. We're all military. We all knew the risks.

I don't think any of us quite anticipated the end of the world on our watch.

Maybe not. But the end of us? All of us, even? Yeah. We knew the Oregon could go down in wartime. Sharon was a Marine.. And we both know how Jarheads are..

And Emil's wife?

That wasn't our fault by any stretch sir, and you know it.

Maybe not, but if we get Emil or Sarya killed? Where's the justice there? Innocent civvies endangered by tagging along with us..

Or more so by being left to fend for themselves.

The Captain looked at his Master At Arms for a long second before speaking again.

You know being a pain in my ass isn't quite a court martial offense but I can still make life aboard the Oregon hell for you.

Oh no doubt. But one must have their hobbies sir.

Alright alright.. Let's go see to getting those crates packed.

Yes sir.. Oh! One more thing. Emil pointed out that we should heat up the APCs fuel tank and make sure her batteries charged before we get loaded.

What? Oh, yeah, the cold, diesel and batteries don't go well with cold. Good thinking. Pick out a few ugly ones and break them up.

Ugly ones sir?

Paintings, Cox, ugly paintings, preferably oils, they'll burn better to uncongeal the diesel.

Oh.. Aye sir, and the batteries?

The Captain pointed out a series of large car batteries wired up and attached to a converter that were powering the floodlights in the room.

Hardy and the Professor did us the favor of procuring what we need. Either they're spares or they'll jump the ones in the APC as it stands.


Zoe Part V

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Chicago Art Institute

Zoe hobbled her way as quickly as she could through the living quarters to the Government PC. Flopping into the chair, she swung round twice before she scooted forward and began typing up an addendum to her daily report.

When she finished, she hit send and sat back. She stared at the screen. Its plain interface not revealing where it was being sent, or if, or how fast. She hoped the upload was faster than the download had been.

After rubbing her calf a bit more she went to the fridge, got herself another slice of cheesecake and another YooHoo before heading back to the archives. Holding herself to Northern Europe had been a mistake. She was going to have to look everywhere. Southern Europe, West Asia, the Middle East..

It was going to be a long night.


Six hours later Zoe had a pile of notes made out freehand on printer paper. Suspicious commonalities between paintings from every continent, roughly around the same time.

Depictions of the sky as aflame, or as a rain of spears, or as predatory animals.. One with a sky full of plants that she was betting would turn out to be some kind of local poison. In their own unique ways, a half dozen ancient cave dwellers had expressed in their art a profound fear of the skies. Many also had pieces dedicated to strange tall hunters, beings that hunted man like men hunted deer, though these were rarer, found on two continents only.

There were also other images. Worship of icons, figures, animals and people. Always colored blue or purple or some combination of the two. The tall hunters were shown worshipping them too. Almost like, on worshipping the blue idols, the tall hunters were made allies.

Zoe had no idea what use any of this might be. Whatever idols were depicted, they were eons lost and of no use to anyone.


Jesse & Dr. Rafei Part IX

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control Garage, Atlanta

Dr. Rafei listened to the unexpected silence a moment before commenting.

I take it there's a hiccup?

Oh goddamn it.. It wasn't freezing out here when I parked. The fucking fuel must've congealed!

Well is there anything you can do?

Uh.. Er.. Not really Doc. Well, I can at least keep us safe for a bit.

How do you purpose to do that?

Like this.

Jesse pressed his palm against the center of the steering wheel. The horn of the truck sounded impossibly loud in the concrete box of a flares. Within seconds, thumps and thuds sounded out from all over the body of the truck.


You attracted the phenomena to the truck.


And this keeps us safe?

Well, yeah. The folks chasing us can't get us, can they?

Well, no..

And neither can the phenom-ila, uh, phenominyuh, er, the things. C'mon back wit'me Doc, the back of the truck is set up for travel.

Jesse, what is your plan? What are we going to do?

Well, we'll sit tight in here for a few hours, then I'll go load up the rest of the boxes, and set up a couple road flares under the tanks then climb inside real quick. When the truck starts we let her idle a bit to Make sure the battery is charged and the fuel is warmed, then we set off for Beaufort.

And the giants? What plan have you for dealing with them, since that horn trick just as surely called them?

Well I figure if we sit still and quiet, just like with the sky things, the giant things'll have no reason to be overly curious as to what's in the truck. I mean, it's not like any of'em saw us climb in.

And if they did?

Don't mean to patronize ya Doc, but.. You can't see the arsenal that is locked up in cages all over the walls of the can back there. I've got a good selection of heavy hitters.. Things that'll punch through two or maybe even three feet of wood, six inches of concrete.. No way they won't kill the giants.

The alert said they weren't vulnerable to mundane weapons.

And I'd put dollars to pesos that was just so a bunch of ill prepared scrubby survivalists with .22s wouldn't get themselves killed.

Maybe. I hope you're right.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part IX

The Phenomenon, Day 91 New York, Central Park

Captain Longmire, Cox, Emil & Sarya sat around the loading dock in silence. The weight of recent events weighing down any attempt at conversation. The crates were loaded. The APCs batteries had been tested and found adequate, and a small fire of shredded oil paintings from the 30s was smoldering under the armored fuel tanks, warming and reliquifying the diesel fuel inside. No sign indicated that the Shards had taken notice, apparently what little noise they'd made and what little heat they created weren't strong enough to exit the loading dock and alert them.

All that was left was for them to load up and make their way back to the Oregon. Captain Longmire broke the silence.

I don't think we should delay much longer. It's almost dark.

Emil raised his head, his eyes dark and resolute.

No, we shouldn't. We should get to the Oregon as soon as possible.

Cox, get out there and into the drivers seat, close and seal the hatch behind you. We'll get in the cabin and signal you when we're ready to depart.

Cox nodded before putting on his coat, hat, gloves, and IR Goggles. Scarcely a minute later they could hear the muted clank as he gently pulled the hatch closed behind him. The radio crackled briefly as he informed them there was still no trace of the phenomena in the loading dock.

The Captain, the Muslim Scholar, and the little girl then donned their own winter clothing before quickly and quietly exiting the museum for the final time, taking their position in the rear of the APC alongside half a dozen crates.

The captain clicked his radio twice, sending a signal to Cox, who turned the key of the APC to on, activating its electrical systems without starting the engine. Just enough for the Captain to press the button to activate the hydraulics and lift the armored ramp and seal the rear compartment. This was the most dangerous part. The ramp was a noise making affair, and if there was a time the phenomena would take notice before the engine were cranked, it would be now.

Seconds after the hatch sealed with a deep metallic clang and the hiss of hydraulics, the armored exterior of the vehicle responded from the impacts of countless Shards.

Without further signal, Cox pressed the ignition, the engine of the APC sputtering and coughing only twice before turning over and settling into a raucous growl. Cox eased the throttle forward as he released the brakes and the behemoth steel box began moving forward on its treads, heading directly towards the gaping hole in the rolling aluminum doors of the dock.


Lucinda Part XIII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Project Safehouse

Lost contact what do you mean lost contact?

Dr. Lucinda Alvarez stood towering over her peer and erstwhile ally Lt. McGuire, who, sitting with legs spread and arms draped over the arms of his chair, seemed singularly unperturbed at his declaration.

We've sent a packet diverting the Oregon, but we've been unable to get an acknowledgement signal from them indicating they've received their altered orders. We've lost contact.

Well what does that mean? Do we send another Op to DC? What about the Opperthorne research? What about..

Whoa whoa whoa.. Slow down.. All it means is that we've lost contact. Now, it could be a glitch in the Satellite, it could be a mechanical fault on the Oregon herself. We have thousands of different things that could muck up comms and we can only eliminate about a hundred of them with the resources we have.

It was unforgivably stupid of us to put all our eggs in one basket.. How could we be that stupid!? Shit!

Calm down Doctor, we haven't. At last report the Oregon was in the Atlantic moving south on their way to DC. Now, if it's just a glitch, then no harm done. If they're gone we'll have lost Opperthorne's work but we could still use alternate resources to retrieve the Shard. There's no real scenario where we're 100% up the creek.

Over 95% of humanity is dead, we're completely incapable of living on the surface, the planet is experiencing a supernatural winter in both hemispheres, and we've just lost contact with the couriers of the one slim hope we have of finding an acceptable end to this, how exactly are we not up the creek and paddle-less?

You haven't read through the rest of the files, have you?

No I came as soon as I read about the Schmitt discovery.

Well I, for one, am very curious about why the Tall Ones are excavating all over the world.

That doesn't give us anything we can use, it's a dead end.

You're thinking like a Doctor. That these problems are like a disease, that we need to find some agent or method of fighting them wholesale. But I'm a Submariner Doc, I fight wars in an ever changing three dimensional environment. I can't operate on one track like that. If we can determine what the goals of the Tall Ones are, what they want, it may enlighten us as to the course of action to take.

I see what you trying to say, and I get it, I do, it's just.. That course of action might reveal something to do about the Tall Ones. What about the Shards?

Are you really of the opinion they're entirely unrelated? That one is unconnected to the other and we "just happened" to end up encountering two distinctly unnatural and possibly supernatural types of life within months of each other completely coincidentally?

Of course not, that would be naive and ridiculous, that's why we've continuously operated under the presumption they're connected.

Then why suddenly worry if we lack progress in addressing one? Won't any line of research we take on either eventually converge and give us the solution for both?

Well, not any line of research, but.. I see your point. It's just.. We're responsible for the continued survival of the human race. It seems prudent to me to attack the problem from multiple angles.

We are. Opperthorne, the Schmitt discovery, our continued observation of the Tall One's excavations, your research into the exact pathology of how the Shards kill has been continued and expanded upon to include those few remains we have from Tall One attacks..

And yet our primary tactic is still avoidance.

Until we have actionable intelligence or some kind of new weapon, that's our best bet.

The door to the council Chambers opened and a young Marine poked his head inside.

"Sir, Madam, there's a Naval Ensign here that says he has an urgent matter to discuss with you."

Send him in.

"Yes Ma'am."

A few moments later the same ensign that had delivered the news about Air Force One came in with a sheaf of papers tucked under his left arm. Two Marine MPs followed, taking position by the chamber doors.

"I'm sorry for the interruption but this couldn't wait. Sir, Madam Councilor, we've completed our initial investigation into the deaths of the previous council membership."

And what's your conclusion thus far?

"I'm afraid we've completely ruled out accident or happenstance. There's a murderer in the facility targeting people of authority."

Do you have any leads as to who it might be?

"Yes Ma'am we do."

At that, the MPs stepped forward.


The Story of Viktor

The Phenomenon, Day 0, Tokyo

Viktor stepped out off the platform from the high speed train. Looking around, he saw the crowd this afternoon wasn't as thick as normal.

As he made his way away from the platform he saw many of them staring at him openly. It wasn't particularly unusual, his 6'4" frame and naturally white hair were unusual enough, but the dramatic violet contacts he wore, the silver caps on all his teeth, and the flamboyancy of his personal style- albino alligator boots with white leather pants, white silk shirt and a white cotton dress coat, all in contrast to his ebony skin- were always enough to draw an eye or two. It felt good to be noticed, to stand out.

In the Project they always told him he needed to dial it back, to try to blend in, better to insert himself wherever he would be going.. They didn't count on his assignment being as outrageous as he liked to be.

The Tokyo Fetish Underground wasn't where most people would assign a poli-sci expert, but then, they weren't as informed about the private habits of the upper ranges of the Japanese Government as the Project was. They knew where to place their agents.

Japan had been a tough nut to crack, attempts to infiltrate through normal means and the government bureaucracy had been successful, but yielded no useful information. Officially, everything looked to be on the up and up. Unofficially, government works projects for the last two decades had been running through cash and materials about 15% faster than they should have. Not much, but enough that over time it was a significant gap between what was visibly being done, and what the government was budgeted for.

Seeing as how Japan's elite had recused themselves from the Project, the leadership was rightly concerned what other steps might've been taken that could be at cross purposes. So, Viktor was on assignment, getting close to Japan's elite in order to discover, if possible, just where those resources were being used.

He was on his way to a discrete rendezvous with the Spokesperson of the LDP, Yuriko Koike. It was rare that his services were called on by a woman, but he didn't mind, he liked women as much as most men, he figured.


Angela Part X

The Phenomenon, Day 93, 26 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

The world came back slowly. Everything was in a haze, sounds echoed and reverberated unnaturally. All she could see was the pale blue purple shimmer of the otherworldly figure in the center of the giants.

There was no pain.

Her broken limbs, scrapes, and bruises seemed to have miraculously healed. She could hear a deep and bizarre hum.. The rhythm and tonal pattern couldn't seem to make up it's mind. It sounded like every form of winded instrument being played on random notes and switching from instrument to instrument with a maniacal fervency by a deaf orangutang.

It lasted only a few moments before changing into a symphony of singular tones, each just as bizarre as the whole of the last. Some were so high Angela wondered that her ears didn't hurt, others sent deep vibrations shaking through the stones under her legs and back.

She began to see other colors, lights, poking through the haze, pinpricks of silver light with shades of every other color tainting the edges.

She strained to focus her eyes, to make out greater detail, but her eyes refused to cooperate.

Don't bother, it's not going to get any better.

Angela struggled to turn her head to find the source of the voice, but her gaze remained fixed and pointed at the glowing figure in the center of the room.

Shhh! They'll hear you!

A cacophony of laughter sounded out in response. A new voice spoke up from the pack.

Oh ma Chere.. They do not hear us. They cannot hear us.

Why not!? Are they deaf!?

Yet again a different voice answered.

Zere is leetle they do nut zee ohr ere, but vee are silent to zem.

Why, why can't they hear us, why can't I turn my head, or focus my eyes, what's happening?

Oh you poor naive girl, haven't you figured it out yet? You've joined the collection.

What collection, I don't understand I don't..

When you first came here, did you not see us, standing at attention round the chamber, staring at the center, just as you are now?

Angela's scream did not echo, as her throat made no sound.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part X

The Phenomenon, Day 91 New York, East River

So how do we do this Sir?

Well I've been thinking about that. The river's frozen, so the dinghys are out, but the river's not so frozen we can take this APC down there direct.

I'm thinking we park right next to that little shop with the upstairs office Hardy used, wait a few hours til the phenomenon loses interest, then unload into the building. After that we do quick runs, shore parties from the Oregon come ashore, we unload the crates contents and take them aboard through the forward torpedo hatch.

Each shore party can escort one of us back aboard as well, Sarya first, Emil, then myself and you go last Cox, that way you lived up to your promise. Does anybody have any objections?

Emil raised his fingers off his knee.

I'd like to go first.


If there's anything wrong, if anything goes wrong.. I want it to happen to me, not Sarya.

Fair enough. Cox, you have any objections?

The radio crackled briefly before Cox's voice came through.

Only that we've got to move these crates again, sir.

Ah quit your bitching.

Well sir, we're about there.

Good. Back us up to about eight feet from the bodega entrance, then shut everything down.

Emil stared at the Captain.

Where do we go after we're aboard your submarine?

Our orders were to make for a port in South Carolina to deliver the Professor and his materials, I'm presuming that's still true but once we're underway I intend to report in, give them an update, including the information about you.

What if they tell you to leave us here? In a frozen, dead city?

Well I was going to wait til we hit the open Atlantic to report, that way it'll be a little too late to send you back ashore.

The captains smirk highlighted that he'd thought of this before Emil ever asked.


Zoe Part VI

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Chicago Art Institute

Zoe finished typing up her second addendum to her report, including all the information and image files of all the various cave paintings. As she hit send she leaned back in her chair.

She wondered what other service she could possibly perform besides keeping the archives. Probably nothing. She shut down the monitor and walked back to the bedroom. It wasn't much, a "full" size mattress and box spring on a plain metal frame. A closet, a nightstand that looked like it came surplus from a no tell motel..

She decided that she was going to start a mural for that room first thing the next morning, and next time there was a gap she'd go find some better linens. The plain government white with green wool was hideous. At her apartment, which was sadly too far to risk, she'd had numerous sets she'd kept on rotation. Astronomical views, abstract mathematical patterns, Día de Los Muertos Sugar Skulls..

As she settled under the sheets and pulled off her jewelry, she thought she heard an odd buzzing.. She ignored it, probably a scrap of paper caught in a ventilation duct somewhere. Once down and covered up. She started taking deep breaths and holding them in timed patterns, part of an exercise she'd learned years ago to get the body primed for sleep..

But something was wrong. The buzzing.. There were patterns there too.. It wasn't constant.. Bzzzzzzzz Bzzzzzzzz Bzzzzzzzzz Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz ..a long pause.. Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz Bzzzzzzzz Bzzzzzzzz Bzzzzzzzz Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz ..another pause.. Dear God that's an SOS!?

She jumped out of bed, racing towards the computer.. But it was silent. That's when she saw it, in the living room, the monitor panel for the bunker, red flashing light.

Sprinting, flying, leaping over the couch she closed on the panel as the buzzing, much louder here near the source, began again.

"Exterior Controlled Access Delivery Port" read the indicator. She had to rack her brains for a moment to remember just what that was, the loading door to the warehouse, the food, the pantry.. Where they had brought it all in.

She ran. The delivery doors were an airlock system. The outer doors could only open if the inner ones were closed, the inner doors could only open from the inside and if the outer doors were closed.

The inner doors had portholes in them so that delivery personnel could be seen and recognized before opening the door. As she approached the doors, she could see a figure, one hand on the porthole, leaned over pressing the buzzer relay in the SOS pattern.


Jesse & Dr. Rafei Part X

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control Garage, Atlanta

You think they've lost interest?

Well I can't hear them squirming no more...

Is there any way to check?

Not really Doc. Everything's blacked out so far as the windows go..

How long has it been?

..about.. 2½ hours.

That's not long enough is it?

3 hours would be a safer bet.

So after we're free, we get the crates inside the truck, we liquidate the fuel, and then we head for South Carolina?

That's the plan.

Do you have any more questions?

To be honest Doc I'm still kinda processing what you told me before. I mean.. Secret projects, hidden facilities, conspiracies of secrecy.. It's kind of heavy Doc.

Very well then.. If I may.. Could I ask you about your past?

Aw heck that ain't nothing interesting..

Isn't that for me to judge? Come now Jesse, surely you didn't simply spring into being inside this truck the day the phenomenon came..

Aw heck no.. Well.. I guess you could say I had a normal childhood. I grew up in this little town up in the Florida Panhandle called Wewahitchka, but as an adult I moved up to this place called Greenville in Alabama. That's where I built my bunker and prepared for the end of the world. World ended, I customized this truck and came here.

No no no.. I mean, what did you do? What was your job? Do you have family waiting anxiously in that bunker? Details!

Alright Doc.. Jeez.. I was into Metal Fabrication. Ever since shop in middle school. Went to a trade school for it. Worked at a little place that manufactured precision pieces for military aircraft, C-130's mostly, but occasionally we got a special order for some pieces for B-52's. I worked a machine doing the rough cuts.

I never married, but I was seeing someone when everything went down. They didn't make it past the first morning though.. But anyway, that suitable details for ya?

I'm detecting there's some sore spots there.


All right then, but just know when we get to the facility in South Carolina they'll want to fully debrief you, and they won't take kindly to lies or deflections.

Just so long as they take me to dinner and a movie first, I ain't no hussy.


Lucinda Part XIV

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Project Safehouse

Lucinda widened her eyes and let her jaw hang loose in faux surprise and indignation as one of the MPs produced a set of handcuffs and pulled her arms behind her. Lt. McGuire broke the shocked silence first.

I presume, Ensign, that you have some evidence to back this up?

Yes sir we do.

He took the sheaf of papers from under his arm and handed them to McGuire.

We have her fingerprints in several key locations, including on the supplementary oxygen feeds leading to the VIP Quarters and the VIP Medical Wing.

We have the remains of two compressed gas canisters- We don't know what kind- pulled from the incinerator the day after. We have the sworn testimony of one of the Supply Sergeants that he saw Dr. Alvarez briefly the night before- he's on report for failing to carry out General Order 11- and we've got them doing an intensive inventory now to find out just what agent was used.

Lucinda found her voice.

This is ridiculous! Why aren't I being informed of my rights!?

Ma'am, with the current situation, martial law is in place. You're a civilian, at the moment you don't have any rights. Technically speaking ma'am you're a traitor in a time of war, I'd be within my full authority to summarily execute you. We're choosing to be a bit more humane.

Lucinda thought it would be wiser not to press the issue. McGuire began looking through the papers the Ensign had brought.

Ensign.. These arrest orders aren't signed, neither are the official charges.

No sir.

And why not?

As the OIC it's you who has to sign them sir. Considering Doctor Alvarez's position we couldn't have brought this to you without legally also having to inform her, it seemed best to simply carry out the arrest as we informed you of our results.

So if I don't sign these..

You'd be considered an accessory after the fact, Lt. Hartzell would take over, and he'd sign them for both of you.

Lt. Hartzell doesn't have time in rank or service, nor is in a command track, he's an Engineer.

Nevertheless he'd be the ranking officer if you were to refuse and make yourself an accessory.


..I'll sign them. But I want five minutes alone with Doctor Alvarez first.


Call it a professional courtesy. I'd like to hear her side of things.

Yes sir.. Five minutes, and she stays cuffed.

Of course.

With that the MPs and the Ensign retreated out the council chamber doors. McGuire followed and closed the doors behind them. Turning, his face took on a dark aspect Lucinda had never seen before. Walking towards her, he unsnapped the holster of his sidearm, drew it, pulled the slide to chamber a round, and clicking it off safe aimed directly at Lucinda's head.

Give me one good reason not to.


Viktor Part II

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Buenos Aires

Viktor hobbled along the hall towards the door, the pain from the bullet wound in his right thigh making him gasp with every step. As he reached the door he pulled his pistols from his waistband, a pair of P08 9mm Lugers with 7.8" barrels. He checked to ensure they still had ammunition, he found that between them he only had 7 rounds, three in the left, four in the right.

He put the left under his right arm in order to turn the handle, gently, and slowly, until it clicked open, pushing it just far enough to remain unsecured, he returned the pistol to his hand before shoving the door open hard with his shoulder and pointing the weapons into the room, ready to fire.

The room was filled with corpses. Stacked, dry, mummified corpses, a makeshift mausoleum for the victims of the Phenomenon. Viktor exhaled sharply in relief. Then he held his breath.

Who stacked all you up so neatly, I wonder?

The light of the outside sun filtered through the thin brown paper covering the windows of the room, turning everything an eerie sort of amber. As he finally inhaled through pursed lips, he could taste the dust of stale death in the air.

He pushed his pistols back into his waistband and started down the hall to the next door, continuing his search.

The next door was locked, the numberpad and card reader next to it indicating it was of special significance. The crimson indicator showing its locked status glowed in the dark hall, its pale illumination revealing the bodies of three of Viktor's predecessors slumped against the opposite wall, rotting.

From the looks of them, their wounds were self inflicted, suicides. Viktor decided that whatever was in that room, it was best left alone.

In any case, it wasn't what he was here for. He looked down the hall, its bizarre architecture stretching forward for at least another hundred yards, and five doors left to check on this floor. The window at the end of the hall was covered in black trash bags, held in place with duct tape.

Three more makeshift mausoleums and two empty suites later, he limped up the stairs to the next floor, his shoulder grazing the raised letters of the sign declaring he was moving to the 22nd floor as he did so.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XI

The Phenomenon, Day 92 New York, Upper Bay

What's our depth?

We're running with an even keel at.. Ten meters of water above the conning tower.

How much water does that put beneath us?

Current sounding is 15 meters.

Ugh.. That's a very tight squeeze.. Cox, any news on the XO?

Cox dismissed the Seaman who was handing him a report and turned to address the Captain.

No sir, he's still comatose.

And our guests?

Emil is putting Sarya back to bed as we speak, she's having trouble, the ships too strange and the bunk too hard, she says.

Hehe.. Alright. Well seeing as how it's 0330 I think I'll follow their example. Get Thompson up here to take command while I'm down.

Captain, Lt. Thompson had been up nearly two days before you relieved him last night.. With no other Command officers aboard he refused to hand command over to an Enlisted man.

Stubborn.. Alright, Cox, you feel up to it?

To be honest sir I've been up just as long as you have and I'm just going for a quick shower and a bunk.

Make it a Hollywood shower.. But alright. Who's aboard who isn't dead on their feet but has some decent experience?


Ensign Colquitt? The navigator?

Yes sir. He's at least an officer.

How long has he been off duty?

About six hours. But before that he was only on duty three, he came on duty just before we came aboard and you sent him off as soon as we were out of the East River.

Perfect, get him up here.

As Cox disappeared astern to look for Ensign Colquitt, Longmire looked around the bridge. Assessing his crew, who performed so well in spite of such hardship.. And he felt a quiet sort of pride.

Now that we're not going to run aground, and we've got our mission materials.. Anything else anyone's failed to report, before I go sleep for a couple days straight?

A Seaman at the port trim console cleared his throat.

Yes, Seaman Gomez, what is it?

I just thought you should know Kellogg and Watkins made it back safe sir.


Zoe Part VII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Chicago Art Institute

Zoe rushed to the inner door panel. She dialed up the floodlights & peered through the porthole to get a better look at her guest. The man was wrapped head to toe in rags of every color, his eyes obscured by a heavy pair of electronic goggles. As the lights came up, they must have made an audible noise because the figure in rags stopped mashing the buzzer and straightened up, obviously with difficulty.

The figure pulled his goggles off, peering through, and saw Zoe. He tiredly gestured for her to hurry and open the door before keeling over and slumping down against the door.

Zoe reached for the door control, then hesitated. She didn't know who this person was, hell she couldn't even be sure the person wasn't dangerous, out carrying some sort of disease.. Why had they collapsed? Was it simple exhaustion like it seemed?

She pulled her hand back from the control, turned around, and began walking towards the aisles. She grabbed a tray and started picking items out as she went. After about twenty minutes she'd gathered what she thought she needed. An MRE, two rolls of gauze, a bottle of rubbing alcohol, two boxes of bandages of various sizes, two bottles of water, a set of disposable scrubs, a set of patterned nonslip socks, four Aspirin, a toiletries kit, two erasable markers, two whiteboards, and from the emergency cabinet, a .45 pistol.

Returning to the airlock, she set a marker and whiteboard aside before racking the slide on the pistol. She checked on her guest- he didn't look to have moved- before triggering the door control halfway. Holding the .45 on the ragged figure she slid the tray holding the rest of it through into the airlock before closing the door again.

Now she just had to wait. She pulled up a chair from the nearby post- had the bunker been fully manned to capacity there would've been a guard on duty near the airlock.- and sat down, get propped up on the panel. She had just been about to go to bed.. She figured she should be here when he woke up.


A number of hours later Zoe awoke to a polite series of gentle knocks against the glass. Blinking the sleep from her eyes she looked up to see a familiar face smiling at her, violet eyes, silver teeth and ebony skin holding up a whiteboard with a message.

Hello Zoe, it's nice to see you again, may I come in now?


Jesse & Dr. Rafei Part XI

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control Garage, Atlanta

Do you think it's time yet Jesse?

...Yeah. Yeah I reckon so. We ain't heard no chittering and no scratching for awhile now so..

Should I get in the front?

Yeah, go ahead. Get yourself up there and I'll secure the door, then go outside through the rear and grab up the boxes with all the supplies. Get them in the back, then I'll set up a couple of road flares under the gas tanks and get back in.


Yeah Doc?

Good luck. I wish I could see and be of some use to you.

Don't worry about it. Everything considered we humans gotta stick together, y'know?

Yes, right.. Be careful.

Jesse gently closed the reinforced door to the cab of the truck before turning and grabbing his gear. It was already freezing in the truck so all he needed to add were his body armor, balaclava, and IR Goggles.

He carefully opened the armored rear door of the truck, taking great care not to let it get slammed by the wind. He carefully hooked the door open before turning and surveying the 15 feet between the back of the truck and the stairwell door, which hung open, its entryway piled with some bizarre shape he couldn't identify through the filter of the goggles. As he approached he realized that they must be the piled and desiccated bodies of the rest of the CDC staff..

They were piled roughly waist high and the boxes he was after were strewn on the landing behind them. They'd have to be moved if he was going to get the boxes.

Jesse hesitated a moment. He didn't know these men or women. He didn't bear them any kind of ill will, and they'd been nothing less than scientists dedicated to fighting the forces of plague and malady that have tried for centuries to wipe man from the surface of the Earth. They deserved better than to be thrown aside like cordwood. And Doctor Rafei, as their tormentor and the one who wrongfully imprisoned them, should be the one to do it.

As Jesse sat pondering these thoughts and felt his resolution growing firm, his Goggles registered a differential between the bottom of the pile and the top. The bottom of the pile was warmer. Jesse reached up to adjust the sensitivity of the goggles, but as he did so there was a faint pop as some circuit within them shorted. Jesse was then plunged into darkness as he considered his next move. He could feel his way back to the truck, not even eight feet behind him, there to withdraw another set of goggles, or, he could take them off and investigate the pile with his own eyes. Within a covered garage, as long as he was careful..


A voice, not his own nor Rafei's, eliminated all confusion. He stripped the goggles off his head and, blinking furiously, beheld daylight for the first time in months. The garage, the pile, everything was coated with the fine white hallmarks of frost..

A single hand, pale and slender, inched out from beneath the dried and shriveled remains of the CDC's last casualties. Jesse knelt by the hand and took it in his own. Giving it a squeeze he began speaking in a low voice.

Shhh-shh-shhhh-shhhh... It's alright. Look, I'm not the Doc, ok? I just found him, alone and blinded wandering the halls.. He didn't tell me anything about any of y'all until this morning. Now, I'm gonna get you out of there, and we're gonna take you with us, but you've got to stay quiet, and you've got to stay calm, 'cause any kind of undue ruckus is gonna bring them things back and then we'll all look just like your friends here, understand?

A small voice, wavering with the cold, answered.

I understand, please hurry..


Lucinda Part XV

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Project Safehouse

I can only tell you what I know.

Don't play games with me!

Fine fine fine... Look, we both know that the majority of the Council's time was spent wringing their hands and sending out parties to secure their relatives, and bullshit art pieces and..


..they wasted time, resources, and-

I said enough!

Lives! Do you know how many men were lost in their bids to preserve their petty and selfish interests? 42! We lost 42 men. And if it weren't for me working in the trauma room after getting here it would've been more!

Lt. McGuire slowly lowered his sidearm so that rather than her head it was centered on her solar plexus.

And so..

Do you need to hear me say it!


So.. I.. Removed the barriers to progress.

A shot sounded out, echoing off the linoleum and concrete.

Lucinda looked down at her chest, seeing her blouse turn dark from her blood as it began soaking through the material. It felt like a sledgehammer had impacted her. She couldn't breathe. She didn't feel any pain. Not at first. Then it hit her, but her legs were failing her. No breath. No feeling. She saw McGuire's finger turn dark, no longer squeezing the trigger. The world tilted. She saw the ceiling, the lights were dimming.. Why were they dimming?

McGuire looked down at Dr. Alvarez' body, the legs still twitching, the putrid smell of her death void filling his nose.

Right decision, wrong time.

The Naval Ensign and the MPs entered the room in a rush, their weapons drawn, fanning out on a standard room clear for the first few impressive seconds before they realized what had happened and went about putting their weapons back in their holsters.

The Ensign stepped forward, halting just to the left and rear of the Lt.

Lieutenant? Did she..?

She didn't go for my weapon. I offered her a quick way out, without the shame or drama of a trial, without hours of torture and interrogation. She accepted.

..I understand. But how will we know her reasons?

Do you really think they matter?


Viktor Part III

The Phenomenon, Day 0, Tokyo

Viktor straightened the collar of his shirt as Mrs. Koike emerged from the bathroom after her shower. One hand clutched the wall for support as the other clutched her towel. Her knees still weak and her voice quivering, she asked if she was still his favorite.

Of course.. You know that nobody else gets such prompt and personal attention..

..a common lie in his profession. He specializes in making them feel special, wanted, needed.. To that end he dropped his hands to his sides and gazed at her, his eyes half closed and his jaw slacked. When she noticed him she was halfway into her blouse. She froze, asking what he was staring at.

It's just.. You're so beautiful.. And I'm so lucky to be at your service..

She blushed and turned away to hide her face and the smile that forced its way there. They dressed the rest of the way sneaking flirtatious glances at each other. Even in the wake of the act the Japanese attitudes towards intimacy made themselves fully known.

A knock at the door came mere moments before Koike would've opened it to depart. It was her driver, after a quick and urgently whispered conversation she turned to Viktor.

You must come with me.

But I normally leave an hour after you, in case the press..

That is no longer a concern, we must go, now.


Viktor marveled at the engineering displayed before him. The elevator whisked through the tunnel at a steep angle, carrying himself, Koike, a half dozen other government VIPs, their aides or wives or husbands, and a full platoon of a military Japan wasn't really supposed to have. These weren't JSDF regulars. These men were far, far more dangerous and better equipped. Viktor would've tried to memorize the symbols on their uniforms, their weapons, their nametapes.. But they were all custom made. No markings on anything, and the weapons were unlike anything he'd ever seen.

He felt the platform slow, and ahead he could see a light. When things came to a halt he saw they were to be received by another dozen of them.

Koike had indicated early that he wasn't to speak unless spoken to, and to give no details of his profession, merely that he was her option, whatever that meant.

They were divided. The politicians were herded through one door, civilians through another, escorted by the soldiers.

The room ahead held showers, individual, with curtains and lockers. They were instructed to undress and place all their affects in the lockers and to close their eyes as the chemical solution contained a delousing agent.

What came out wasn't fluid, and with his first breath he felt the vertigo wash over him and his legs grow weak. The floor tiles were like ice.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

Coffee sir?

Yes, please, thank you Seaman. Ah! Thompson! Good, I was hoping you'd join me.

The young Lt. stood awkwardly in the door of the officers mess, barely moving aside as the Seaman who'd delivered the three officers meals left.

Captain, it's, er.. It's good to have you back.

Good to be back. It's damn cold out there. Heard you had a time of it.. You don't like long duty shifts?

That.. Was a bit more than a duty shift..

Admittedly! Well come in come in, sit down.. I've been looking forward to a civilized breakfast somewhere warm.. And to be briefed on just what turn of events led Watkins and Kellogg to disobey my direct orders..

Lt. Thompson sat down, peering under the tray lid of the two unclaimed meals, he pushed Colquitt's Omelette aside in favor of his own eggs and toast.

Ah.. That.

Yes, that.

Well.. According to them, they ran into an impassable barrier.

Of what kind, exactly?

Debris and rubble. Some kind of purposeful demolition they said. A number of buildings on a specific city block were blown outwards, like it was made to block off all the streets around it.

Were their reports recorded, transcribed, anything like that?

Not initially, but I had them each write up their reports separately to make sure they weren't slacking off or came back because of cowardice, but their stories matched up, except a few minor discrepancies.

Any explanation of why they didn't report via radio?

Yes, when they got back to the boat they only had the one radio, and it had a fault in the transceiver, it could receive but not transmit.

So, unable to move forward and no way to signal for further instructions.. Why didn't they try to get back to Cox and I?

That was the most difficult part to get out of them, they got lost.


Yes.. They hated to admit it, but they couldn't find where you'd been waiting. So they went over their options and eventually settled on quietly making their way East to the river, then they'd go up and down the bank until they found the Oregon. They lucked out and hit the river within sight of us.

Heh.. Alright.. Well get me their reports as soon as we're done with breakfast, then we'll head topside and report in.

Aye sir.


Zoe Part VIII

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

Holy Crap!! Viktor!? How'd you get here? What are you doing? Why are you dressed like that?

On the other side of the reinforced glass Viktor took his whiteboard down, erased it, wrote on it, and held it up, displaying two question marks.

Oh damn, right, you can't hear me..

Zoe leaned forward and looked over the control panel, her fingers wriggling and waving in the air as she searched. As she spotted the proper control she dramatically extended one finger and arced it overhead and into the button.

The sound of hissing hydraulics accompanied the raucous sound of Viktor's baritone laughter. Zoe hurled herself to her feet where she danced as she put her arms in the air and ran towards Viktor, throwing herself around him in a sincere bear hug of overwhelming and sincere joy.. Before recoiling in horror and disgust.


You stink Viktor!

Oh! Hehe! No doubt! Not a lot of places to shower out there you know..

Yeah but you smell like you've been bathing in urine and good knows what else..

Well sometimes you've got to take shelter in less than ideal places.

Like what a port-o-potty!?

Well not to be blunt, but, yeah..

Oh.. Oh Jesus I'm sorry.. C'mon, this way I'll show you where you can shower.

I'd be much obliged.. I don't suppose you'd happen to have anything more fashionable than this improvised number, would you?

I'll see if I can scrounge something up.

That's how I got in this mess!

As they walked through the warehouse towards the residential compartment, Viktor unwound the various bits of torn and filthy clothing from his body, leaving only his grungy boxers and a tank top by the time they got to the unit. When Zoe turned around to direct Viktor down the proper hall to the showers he stood there, nude except for a pile of filthy and stinking rags in his left arm. Zoe immediately averted her eyes before speaking, a tremor in her voice.

Oh! Um.. Showers are.. Uh, down the hall and to the left. Soap and.. Uh-hm.. Everything you might need are in a closet just inside there.

Thanks, I think I can find my way from here.

Viktor ended his sentence with a wink before walking past Zoe, who immediately uncovered her eyes and shook her head before sneaking a peek at his retreating form. He paused briefly, holding out the pile of rags.

What should I do with these?

There should be a buns- I mean a bin- inside there too.



Jesse & Dr. Rafei Part XII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control Garage, Atlanta

Jesse patted the hand from beneath the pile of corpses reassuringly.

Now, I'm gonna move all these folk off of ya, and its gonna take a minute, and when we're done you're going to have to keep your eyes shut, y'understand?


Alright then. Just hold on a tick.

As Jesse got to work carefully pulling the bodies apart and moving them aside, he stayed wary of how much noise he was making. His breath, the dry crackling of desiccated flesh, and dry tendons creaking all seemed to boom out like gunshots, and echo in the frozen garage, carried perfectly by the still and freezing air. Every loud scrape, every dull thud, set him on edge, poised to dive for the truck. He didn't know how fast the things were, but he could pray.

The job was difficult, as the bodies had settled and interlocked together as their flesh shrank and dried. As he got near to the middle of his task, he heard an odd rustling sound, like a piece of paper being gently crumpled and uncrumpled again and again. He paused, listening. It seemed to be coming from the pile. He crouched down and whispered into the dark space beneath those left.

What the hell are you doin' under there!?

I'm not doing anything, I'm waiting until I can get up.

Well what's that crunching noise?

I thought that was you.

Nah it's definitely coming from the pile.

Well it's not me.

Anybody else survived in there?

No, no.. I wish but no.

Well what the heck is it then..?

Oh god..


What if one of the things got trapped?

What'cha mean?

What if one of the things is stuck in between one of the bodies?

Like, got caught between 'em as they fell?


Then we gotta problem..


Viktor Part IV

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Buenos Aires

A howling hot wind rushed through the hall like the fetid breath of a nauseous giant. The orange light of sunset was streaming through a wide gash in the trash bag on the window at the end of the hall. The whipping of the plastic making a constant racket that echoed through.

Viktor leaned against the doorframe from the stairs, his chest heaving from the agony of having to keep putting weight on his wounded leg. Sweat poured down his face and soaked the remains of his blouse. He slowly eased up to his full height, balancing on his good leg and stretching his spine.

He spotted a stack of pallets near the entrance to the first room. He hobbled over to it and pulled at the various slats until he found a loose one. Pulling it from the rest of the frame he pinched and pushed the nails out until he had a single plank of wood. This he switched to his right hand and used it as a cane. He moved to the door and pulled out one of his Lugers with his free hand.

He paused a moment, caught his breath, slowed his heart, then pushed at the door with his shoulder and put the Luger out and scanned the room. It was filled with lab equipment, computers, and large screens. Most of them were powered off, others seemed to be in standby mode. One at the far end of the room was fully active, the screen above it showing an orbital view of the Earth.


He moved over to the equipment and sat down in the chair, briefly sighing in relief as the weight came off his frame. He scooted forward and began accessing the program displayed. It was orbital control of a communication satellite. Exactly what he was here for.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a worn notebook, flipping a few pages in, he found the precise changes he was to make, scanning the program and looking back and forth he found the right windows with the right key words that indicated they were controlling the satellites orbit. He clicked through and placed the cursor on the box to alter its inclination..


The unmistakable sound of a pump action shotgun being worked came from behind him. He froze.

I suppose you're here to try and use my satellite for your own purposes?

Viktor raised his hands and put them on his head before moving to turn around..

Don't. You stay there where you are, don't move a muscle.

Footsteps grew louder as the unknown man approached. Viktor felt a cold barrel pressed up against the back of his neck.

Now, spin the chair slowly and face me.

Viktor followed the directions, the barrel scraping around his neck until it impacted his arm, there it turned down and followed his shoulder and scraped under his armpit, pointing at his core before coming up his chest and taking its place at his neck one again.

Viktor looked at his captor, a young Asian man, short, probably only 5'5", maybe 120-125lbs, straight black hair shoulder length, untrimmed goatee, and bent glasses, wearing sweat stained hospital green scrubs and holding a sawed off shotgun.

They sent you didn't they? This is the first time they've sent someone who wasn't Japanese. Are you a mercenary?

... No. I'm a gigolo.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XIII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

Officer on the deck!

The Master at Arms went to parade rest as Captain Longmire passed him after walking onto the bridge, the ring of the ships bell announcing to the rest of the boat his arrival.

After relieving Ensign Colquitt and sending him to his rack Longmire strode over to the navigators table, pulled out one of the chairs, and sat down. Leaning in he propped his head up on one elbow as he looked over the chart. Tracing their path with one finger he idly wondered if their cargo was worth all the trouble, the distance, the lives. It wasn't the first time he'd thought this way and it wouldn't be the last.

He pulled a notepad and pen over in front of him and began drafting his report to send in. The bustle and hum of the submarine and its crew around him fading into a dull noise in the back of his mind as he attempted to boil down the experiences of the previous four days into a succinct report capable of being understood by the civilian leadership of the Project.

His concentration was broken by the boat suddenly heaving forward and slightly aport. Coffee mugs flew from tables, men lost their feet, and the Captain was thrown onto his side, since he was sitting facing starboard.

Moments later alarms started ringing, different alarms meaning different things. The collision alarm, the sonar, flooding alarm, fire alarm, & the depth warning intermixed as a warbling cacophony no Captain ever wants to hear.

Using the table to pull himself to his feet he shouted over the din;

Shut that shit down!

The crew scrambled to get back to their seats and posts. As Longmire righted and stood, he noticed a very slight list in the deck to starboard.

Helmsman! What's our depth and speed?

Just passed 150 meters and going down! Screws turning at ten knots sir!!

All planes full rise, increase speed to flank, and blow the tanks, emergency ascent now!

Aye sir!

Get every bulkhead sealed and the bilge pumps started, people, move!

The helmsman pulled back on the control column with his left hand even as his right pushed forward the throttle sending directions back to the engineering compartment before flipping banks of switches. Other members of the crew hurried to carry out their predesignated tasks.

CO! Goddamnit motherfucker I forgot he's in a coma.. Cox!

Yes sir!

Get on the horn with all compartments starting at the bow and working your way aft, get me damage and casualty reports!

Aye sir!

The helmsman turned and called to the Captain.


Yes helmsman what is it?

We've leveled out but we're not rising very fast sir!

Are we at full rise with the planes and tanks?

I'm not getting much positive trim sir! We seem to barely be rising even with the tanks blown dry..

Shit, just keep pulling for rise.. Cox!

Aye sir!?

Where's those reports!?

Spotty sir, very spotty.. Everything aft is reporting shaken but solid, got one injury in the galley.. Forward Torpedo is reported flooding before we sealed bulkheads, now nothing. Forward berthing compartment isn't answering, that's where the flooding alarm is..

Sonar! Anything in the water? Was this a Torpedo?

The redheaded sonarmen popped out of his cubby, one earpiece in place and the other dangling by a wire.

Er.. No sir, absolutely not!

You're sure?

Absolutely nothing on passive sir! But we're not getting any signal at all from the Sail Array, I think whatever hit us took it out sir!

Damn, go active! It's not like we're worried about hiding from anyone anymore.

Aye sir!

The distinguished sound of an active sonar pulse rolled through the boat from the forward Sonar Sphere encased in the bow dome.

Sir! Sonar contacts bearing one seven zero, range three miles!


Zoe Part IX

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

Zoe rearranged herself for the fourth time. The living area of the bunker has a slightly sunken living room area where she watched her movies, and it had a loveseat directly facing the entrance. Knowing Viktor would be coming through that door she had placed herself in the loveseat to be the first thing he saw.. But she couldn't decide on what position he should see her in.

Legs crossed, uncrossed, slightly leaned over with her feet on the seat, ankles crossed, fully reclined with her feet propped up..? She thought her legs were her best feature, she should put them on display..

She heard soft footfalls coming down the hall, she hurriedly decided, reclined, legs up and crossed.

Viktor came into view, barefoot, he wore the rather loose white linen pants and shirt she'd pulled from the warehouse for him while he showered. They were cinched tight by a drawstring at the waist but otherwise floated and followed over his body like robes on some kind of jungle monk. When he saw her, his eyes briefly and rapidly flitted from her eyes to her legs to her breasts and back to her face before he spoke first.

Thank you Zoe, you have no idea how good it feels to be clean after so long being filthy.

I'll bet. So are you going to tell me how you got here? Last time I saw you was.. What, like a month and a half before things went screwy.. Right? You stopped by the Institute and told me you were headed for Japan for awhile on assignment I think?

Well you're not wrong. I did go to Japan, and, I was there when the shit hit the fan.. Survived with the assistance of one of my contacts in the government..

They knew Zoe. They knew this was coming. They didn't know when, but somehow.. They knew. They knew and they were prepared.

How did they..?

Zoe I didn't come here to catch up. Sad to say I didn't even come here for you. I came here for that.

He turned and nodded his head in the general direction of the bunker computer, the very same one that Zoe had used the day previous to send in her report on her findings from the archive.

You came here for my computer?

For its link to the project leadership.

Didn't you have a satellite phone?

Everything I had, even the clothes on my back, were taken from me in the initial 24 hours of the situation. I haven't had any contact since before things went bad.

They probably presumed you didn't make it.

I'm sure they did. But I'm alive, and I know some things that they critically need to know. They've been led to believe Japan is a total loss. That is far, far from the truth.


The Story of Jesse, Linda, & Dr. Rafei

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control Garage, Atlanta

So.. What do we do?

Hold on a minute. I'm gonna go ask Dr. Rafei for a hand.

No! Please.. You don't know him. You don't know what he's done..

Now, he's told me plenty, you ain't got nothing to fear from him he's blind and damn near helpless. But he can help me get the rest of these off of you all at once, maybe leave whatever's in there in there y'know?

Don't trust him. For the love of God don't trust him..

Lady this is the only way, now do you want to get out of there or not?

Just, just give me a minute..

Lady the longer I'm out here the greater the chances are one of them things is gonna spot me or come looking for their lost little one in there with ya and then you'll be up the creek with only the blind Doc to help ya..

Ok ok ok.. I have an idea. You said you'd get Rafei to help you lift all these off me at once, right?


Well, can't you just lift them a little bit, pull them up enough that I could maybe arc upwards and then crawl out?

You know that just might work..

Could we try that please?

You got it.. But uh.. Hold on just a minute, let me set something up.

Jesse walked quietly back to the rear door of the truck before gently unlatching the door so that if needed he could close it in a hurry. Then he went back to the pile of corpses under which the woman was trapped.

Wait, just a moment.. What's your name?

Jesse ma'am.

Linda.. My name's Linda.. I just thought.. If things don't go well.. If this doesn't work.. We should at least have been properly introduced.

You're right. Now, you ready?

One moment, I have to.. Yes. I'm ready.

Ok, count of three. One.. Two.. Three!

Jesse heaved at the shoulders of the bottommost body, throwing his shoulders back and keeping his spine straight as he pushed upwards with his legs. For a moment nothing happened, then with uncomfortably loud crack the body separated from the frozen ground and the space between the bottom of the pile and the ground began widening. It was only a few moments before hands and a head of dark hair emerged and scrambled out.

Jesse wasted no time on pleasantries as he grabbed her under the shoulders, hauled her to her feet and pushed her forward into the back of the truck, grabbing and slamming the door closed behind him after throwing himself in.

Moments later the truck reverberated with the sounds of dozens, then hundreds of impacts as the vehicle was once more cocooned by the Phenomenon.

Linda rubbed at her shoulder where she'd landed on the textured metal floor of the truck before sitting up and diving onto Jesse in a sincere embrace.

Thank you so much.. You know you saved my life, don't you?

Aw hell it wasn't nothing. Anybody would have.

A voice came from the door to the cab, where Dr. Rafei suddenly stood, a pistol in his hand pointed at the floor.

I wouldn't have.


Viktor Part V

The Phenomenon, Day 1, Tokyo

Viktor regained consciousness in waves. Emerging from the darkness a little more each time before receding back to the somnambulant place where time passes without passing. Each time he'd have new pieces of the puzzle, new understanding.. But at each flirtation with consciousness they faded from memory, stolen, destroyed by the harsh solidity of conscious thought.

The wave crested and he emerged to something resembling a wakeful state, the taste of stale plastic in his mouth. His eyelids seemed heavy, his senses dulled.. Whatever drug they'd given him was still in his system, still affecting him.

He managed to open one eye enough to see he was in some sort of hospital ward, rows of cots, each contained within a clear plastic sheet, all occupied, a nurse going from person to person drawing blood before using an eye dropper to deposit some kind of fluid from one of those ubiquitous olive green canteens every military in the world seems to use. After each patient she'd throw the eye dropper and needle into a bin before pulling a fresh one of each from boxes atop her cart. least they're being sterile.. he thought.

He tried to lift his arm to his face to rub at his eyes but found he was restrained at the wrist. With tortuous effort he raised his head to look, a cloth strap was secured around his arm with Velcro.

Nurse! The black one is awake!

He turned his head to see one of the soldiers he saw earlier standing guard at the door peering at him.

The nurse hurried over to him, readying a syringe.

This is the sixth time since he was brought in, he's metabolizing things much more quickly than his size would indicate.

Just jab him, if he breaches containment or infects others there'll be hell to pay.

This one's healthy as a horse, it's the others infecting him that's the greater worry.

Viktor attempted to sit up, to struggle, to fight, but his muscles felt like jello, his bonds, weak as they were, more than enough in his weakened state.

..six times.. ..I can't remember six times.. ..How long have I been here..? ..what infection..? ..what are they doing to me..?

He felt the brief sting of the needle in his thigh before the darkness at the edges of his vision grew..

Shadows of shadows faded and swirled through a crimson mist, the denizens within moving like behemoths in the deep, briefly emerging, partially exposed, their forms impossible and the cold intelligence of their too-many eyes all the more menacing for it..


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XIV

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

Are they surface or subsurface?

Seems.. Both sir.. I'm getting mixed echoes.. Wave impacts on metal hulls and surface chop.. But there's definitely something subsurface sir.. Unless one of those things has a draft down to two hundred feet..

Any indications of life? Reactor noises, screws?

Still nothing on passive.. but at three miles I might not be that good sir..


We're gaining ascent speed, now at one-three-zero and rising sir..

Thank heaven for small favors.. Cox!

The Master at Arms put his hand over the handset before responding.

Yes sir?

Head forward to the aft bulkhead of the berthing compartment and hammer against it. See if there's anyone left in there.

Aye sir.

Helmsman, depth?

Seven-six meters sir.

Sonar, any activity from our neighbors to the south?

No sir, profile is unchanged.

At that moment Emil emerged hesitantly from the aft passageway.

Emil I'm rather busy at the moment..

Of that I've no doubt Captain. I'm simply wondering if I might be of service in some way.

Do you have any medical training?

First aid..?

Get back to the galley and see if you can be of some assistance to Doc Holmes she's shorthanded her nurse got off at Oz.

Of course Captain.

Oh and Emil, is Sarya alright?

Yes, she's just scared.

Well tell her we're not sinking.

That's good news for all of us I think.

With a nod Emil disappeared back the way he'd come. The Captain turned back to his helmsman, peering over at the display board he saw that they were just 14 meters from surfacing. The boat was still on a mostly even keel.. Everything he knew told him they should be at a significant angle, with the bow raised due to the weight of the ships reactor dragging down the stern. The only explanation for an even keel was that they were carrying a greater amount of weight forward them they were supposed to.. Like a flooded forward berthing compartment.

Sonar, any changes?


What do you mean possibly?

I don't know sir, I'm hearing.. Creaking, almost like pressure effects on the hull of a diving sub but there's nothing diving.. And I'm hearing splashes..

Depth charges? At this range?

The helmsman broke in.

We're surfaced sir.

Thank you helmsman, trim us out and get us steady.

Aye sir.

Continue sonar.

Well, no sir, not big enough to be depth charges, or surface launched torpedoes.. More like.. Debris..

How do you mean?

Remember when we did that live fire exercise off of Oahu last year, and we torpedoed that old decommissioned Perry Class to make that artificial reef? When the torpedo hit it snapped her spine in half and bits and pieces went flying everywhere, when they splashed down.. It's a similar noise sir, like pieces are falling off the ships into the water.

You said they were clustered, how close are they to one another?

They're right on top of each other sir, I couldn't say how many there are.. But unless someone had the really bad idea to get together two or three aircraft carriers there's definitely quite a few ships.

And they're unpowered?

No engine or screws whatsoever sir.

Hmmm.. Sonar, you ever been to the Sargasso Sea or the Northern Pacific Vortex?

A look of dawning understanding came across the Seamans face as he realized the import of the question.

Yes sir.. Saw the Pacific Vortex on a flight from Juneau to Pearl when I was a kid.


Zoe Part X

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

What do you mean Viktor?

Japan knew this was coming.

Define "this"?

This. All of this. The Shards, the Tall Ones, the cold, the dreams, all of it.

Viktor, I'm not sure where to begin. What are you taking about "shards, tall ones the cold and dreams"?

..You've been isolated here, haven't you?

Oh no I have tons of visitors, we did a classic film festival in here last week.. Of Course I've been isolated. You're the first person I've seen outside a mirror in months.

Why don't you tell me what you are aware of then?

A little more than three months ago I was working late putting together a piece for the Institute illustrating the early origins and notable figures of postmodernism.. I was finishing up the Warhol panel when all hell broke loose. My phone went off with the Project Alert first, then the Emergency Broadcast System message a few minutes later. By the time it was finished with the first alert and was doing its first repetition I was in the Subbasement keying my access to this bunker. Once I was in here that was it, just the official Project all points communiques until the day before yesterday.

And what happened the day before yesterday?

Zoe turned her head slightly to the side, narrowed her eyes, and twisted her mouth into a frown.

I'm not entirely sure how much I'm allowed to tell you. I mean, isn't there supposed to be some sort of official orders, written and signed by the Council heads involved in any kind of debrief?

We're both Project Members, both been through the orientation courses, both been cleared to the same levels.. Anything I can know you'd be allowed to access and vice versa, don't you think?

I'm not sure..

Look, Zoe, I didn't trek nearly a hundred miles through the frozen wastes of the Midwest just to get you in trouble. But before I can tell you what I know I have to know what page to start on.

I'm just not sure. I don't feel comfortable with this.

Alright, how's this: I'll log into my own Project Access through your computer. I haven't been able to check it since before this whole thing began. If there's anything in there you don't know, I'll consider it an information exchange for anything you know that I don't.

It's not like either of us can accomplish anything from here anyway.

Deal, but I get to sit right there over your shoulder and watch you go through it.

Agreed.. Tell me, do you have anything to drink? I'm parched..

Yeah the fridge is right over there.

Viktor strode up into the kitchen as Zoe went to start up her computer. Viktor fumbled through the cabinets until he found a glass, giving a quick inspection he nodded to himself before going to the fridge and opening it. There he paused and called over his shoulder:

Anything in here you're particularly attached to you'd rather I not take the last of?

No, feel free, help yourself, plenty more of everything in the warehouse.

Viktor pushed aside containers of leftovers and pitchers of juices from concentrate before pulling out a single-serve can of V8 Vegetable Juice. He popped the top and poured the contents into the glass before throwing the can into the wastebasket at the end of the counter. He made his way down to the computer where the login screen was just coming up and Zoe was getting out of the chair.

Viktor took a long swig of the thick red drink before setting the glass down to the side and sitting himself down in the chair. He typed in his full name, then his password before hitting enter. The screen froze for a moment before going black and amber text scrolled from the bottom to the top of the screen too fast to read for a few seconds. Then went back to black before the words "Priority Access Granted" flashed in the center before returning to the log in screen. Viktor repeated his previous steps.

The screen went black one last time before going to a similar menu as the one Zoe was used to.. But with far more options. He hit the Mail icon immediately, and as the page filled with correspondence Zoe couldn't help but notice the download bar, which had taken hours for her, seemed to fill multiple times per second for Viktor, who already had more mail backdated to the first week than Zoe had received in her entire hermitage.

I think I'll be getting the most benefit from our little deal..

Viktor sat rooted to the chair, the glass of V8 suspended midway between the table and his mouth, wide-eyed at the still increasing volume of correspondence filling the screen.

I think you're probably right..


Jesse, Linda, & Dr. Rafei Part II

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control Garage, Atlanta

Now Doc, this lady ain't done nothing to ya, and I sure as hell ain't neither.. So why don't you just do us all a favor and put the gun down, ok?

Jesse you've been of great help to me these past few weeks, but anybody who was down in those isolation levels either did me harm or intended to. The peaceful and reasonable ones took their chances and left. Those of them who didn't were dangerous, they threatened me and the Project. I can't allow that threat to continue.

Doc for Christ's sakes she's half froze to death & unarmed,, you're armed, and I'm armed, I can cuff her-

Do it.


Now, Jesse, or I'll start pointing this anywhere I hear movement or breathing and pull the trigger!

Calm Down Doc! I'm gonna cuff her but you've got to let me know I'm not gonna get shot when I unsnap the holster.

I'm not unreasonable.

Well to be fair you ain't exactly broadcasting the picture of sanity right this second either.

Get her cuffed Jesse!

Alright alright.. Keep ya lab coat on..

Jesse reached behind him and unsnapped the leather holster for his handcuffs, bringing them out he looked to Linda before raising a single finger to his lips. He then placed one handcuff against his own wrist and snapped it closed, then he put the other cuff against the same wrist and did the same.

Ok Doc, she's cuffed.

Do you think I'm an idiot?

Uh, what?

They blinded me last time I tried to contain them Jesse, do you really think I'd believe she'd willingly submit without struggle or complaint? Cuff her Jesse, for real this time.

Linda let slip a sob as she put out her hands in front of her to be cuffed.

Jesse heaved a sigh as he reached into his pocket for his keys, then searched them until he found the handcuff key, then unlocked them from his wrist before handcuffing Linda.

Now Jesse, remove the handcuff key from your keys and give it to me.

Doc you'd be able to hear if I was gonna-

Dr. Rafei pointed the revolver in Jesse's direction.

I'm not brooking any argument on this point! Take the key off and give it to me now Jesse!

Alright Doc.. You win.

Jesse removed the handcuff key from his keys and held it out to the Doctor.

Here, take it.

Dr. Rafei put a hand out, as Jesse placed the handcuff key in his palm Dr. Rafei reached forward and grabbed Jesse's sleeve before pulling Jesse closer and jamming the revolver against his chest.

Do you really think I'm that stupid!?

You've got spares even if you really did cuff her this time!

Don't you understand the importance of my work!? Of what I can do to save Humanity!? Do you understand what they did to me!? What they took!?

Doc calm the fuck down! Ain't nobody here trying to hurt you!

No, I'm just surrounded by Judases who don't understand the depth of their betrayal! But I only need one of you to drive the truck!

With that Dr. Rafei pulled the trigger on the pistol. Once, twice, three times.. The report of the revolver firing into Jesse's chest at point blank range was deafening in the confines of the trucks rear.

As such, as Dr. Rafei released Jesse, who immediately fell to the side, he did not hear Linda as she picked up one of the ammunition boxes from its slot in the floor. Her first strike was aimed directly at his hand, knocking the pistol from his shattered fingers, the second blow was equally as accurate as it crushed his temple like wet cardboard hit by a bowling ball.


Viktor Part VI

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Buenos Aires

A Gigalo.


Are you fucking kidding me?

I realize that's probably not the answer you expected or hoped for..


..but I'm betting it's not the answer you feared either..

Not really. I'm hoping that there exists a chance for a more casual conversation..


..perhaps even something, uh, sans shotgun..?

The barrel briefly pressed harder into his throat.

Not likely.

O-O-Ok.. Now.. Uh.. I see I'm gonna have to make the first trusting move..

What are you proposing?

I stand up, you can pull my pistols out of my waistband. They're the only weapons I have. After that, you can take a step or two back where the barrel isn't pressing so pointedly and directly against my throat.

That sounds like a good idea..

Good idea?

..yeah a good idea.

Ok. stand up.

Right! Right.. Ok.

Slowly, Viktor leaned forward, ever concious of the pressure of the scattergun at his Adams Apple. As he put pressure on the balls of his feet to stand, he felt the eyes of the man briefly flick down to his feet.

He let the opportunity pass and continued his slow rise to standing. As he reached his full height the smaller man had to shuffle a half step closer and raise the shotgun to maintain the pressure on his neck.

He shifted his grip slightly on the stock before releasing the pump handle to reach forward and grab the Lugers from Viktor's waistband one at a time, throwing them both on the floor behind him.

Viktor remained standing with his hands on his head, calm and unreadable as sweat poured from the smaller man in buckets.

Ok.. So.. Now what?

I think the next step was you take that pump action a more comfortable distance from my neck.

Hmm.. I don't think so.

That's not exactly confidence building.

I imagine not.. But now I've got all the advantages.

Right. So what do you say is next?

I think you're going to sit back down and tell me why you're here.

Viktor eased himself back down into the office chair just as slowly as he'd stood.

And if my answers continue to be unexpected and nonthreatening?

Then you die quick and merciful.

..And I'll bet if they're exactly what you expect or threatening I die slow, is that it?

You seem to grasp the concept.

Not much incentive to cooperate then if I die either way.

You avoid a lot of pain and suffering.

Only if I'm not what you expect, not threatening, and honest at that.


You're going to be disappointed.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XV

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

Helmsman, cut engines back to one quarter, rudder to one seven five.

Aye sir.


Yes sir?

Get a team topside, stay in the sail. Use IR Goggles to do a purely visual inspection of the foredeck. But before you go up there, send another team to the forward torpedo room get me an updated report on that flooding.

Aye sir.


Yes sir?

Distance to surface contacts?

Two point seven five miles sir.


Yes sir?

What's our current position?

We are.. Five nine miles south southwest of Long Island..

At that point Seaman Watkins emerged from the forward hatch in wet coveralls.


Yes Watkins?

Report from the forward torpedo room, we've got flooding coming in through the overhead from the forward berthing compartment, pumps are keeping up for now but if it gets much worse we'll be in trouble.

Get back forward and monitor those pumps then, if they start falling behind you report it immediately.

The flashing light and repetitive tone of the intraship telephone system alerted Captain Longmire to an incoming call, according to the readout next to the receiver cradle it was coming from the sail. Longmire waved off the navigator who went to answer it and picked it up himself.

Bridge, Captain speaking.

Sir this is Cox.

Tell me something good Cox.

Sir the foredeck is all tore to shreds, missed the ballast tanks.. No idea how.. The forward berthing compartment looks to have been vented.. I'm watching the Atlantic surge in and out with wave action and the motion of the boat.. I'm not seeing any survivors in the water.

Damn. Alright what else?

The sail itself was hit sir. It looks like the sail mounted sonar array is wrecked, the Antennae Cluster housing is all kinds of bashed up too.

And we traded in the towed array for those extra torpedo countermeasures back at Pearl.. Shit. We're incommunicado. Get back down here Cox.

Uh.. Sir?

Is there more?

We're in visual range of those surface contacts sir.

Ok, well what are they?

Magic and Globe sir, can't make out the others.

Say again Cox I must've misheard you.

A cruise ship and a container ship sir, Disney Magic and the CSCL Globe, big bastards, both of 'em. Looks like they've smashed together with two or three smaller ships too.. Maybe yachts.. I'm seeing one bow nearly vertical on the other side of 'em must be a ship found equilibrium instead of sinking somehow.. Can't tell what is yet.


Zoe Part XI

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

Viktor couldn't help but let out a low whistle as the screen finally settled, 251 unread messages.

Zoe's eyes were locked on the screen as well.

So.. You want to maybe illuminate why it is that you get emails from the Project multiple times a day while I get, like, four?

I'm not sure.


I'm serious Zoe. I've been on assignment for the duration. This is my first chance to get into contact with the Project.

Well let's check out what they've been sending you.

Uh.. Looks like.. Mostly.. General updates. Like, a daily newsletter from the North Carolina Facility. Shit I think most of this is Spam!

The world ends, most of humanity dies, and Spam lives on. What an appropriate legacy for mankind.

Yeah yeah yeah.. There's still actual communiques in the mix.

Well let's see them.

Do you think it might be just a tad easier if I just go through them and sum up? I'll let you keep access so you can confirm but I don't think sitting over my shoulder is going to be very conducive to this, especially if you're going to ask questions every thirty seconds.

Why would you think I'd ask questions like that?

Hehehe.. Because we went through the Project Orientation together. I remember you interrupting with questions every other sentence.

Oh.. Yeah.. I forgot about that..

So if you don't mind?

Oh.. Yes, of course.

~2 hours later~


Zoe grunted from the couch, her attention riveted to her sketchpad.


Oh. Uh.. Yeah, you finished?

Indeed I am.

Zoe set aside her sketchpad and sashayed up the steps from the sunken living area to the computer cubby where Viktor sat reclined, his long legs crossed at the ankles and his arms crossed over his chest.


You first, how much do you know about what's going on in the outside world.

Just what the project emails and the Emergency Alert System tells me.

So you know about the things in the sky?

Don't look at them, don't attract their attention with heat, light, or movement, they cocoon vehicles and structures they know contain survivors, they can't be seen in Infrared or Ultraviolet and they get bored and leave after 3 or 4 hours without stimulation.

Textbook. Now, what about the other things, the ones on the ground?

Uh.. Tall, about 7 feet, long limbed, intelligent, aggressive, tool using, coordinated, hostile.. They also somehow absorb heat from their environment, leading to unnaturally low temperatures everywhere they go.

Good. That's about.. Well that's.. That's what the public knows.

But the Project knows more?

Oh yeah.. I mean, not a lot more. And not as much as the Japanese, at least I don't think, but more than the Public, what remains of them.

So fill me in.


The Story of Linda

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control Garage, Atlanta

Linda stood shocked at herself. She dropped the ammo can and covered her mouth to stifle the sudden onslaught of fear, rage, relief, and sadness that threatened to pour out.

The ringing echoes of the gunshots and the ammo can impacting the floor of the truck had barely stopped when the rat-a-tat of impacts all over the truck awoke Linda's most pressing fear and instincts. She scrambled to stand on top of the askew ammo can and crouch away from the ceiling and walls. The ammo can, however, couldn't stay stable at the angle it was and shortly fell over, throwing her atop Jesse's prone form.


The High pitched squeal of the last of his air being squeezed out sounded like the dying hiss of some bizarre tropical lizard. Jesse's hands twitched and shook as he urgently motioned for her to get off of him. Once Linda had rolled off Jesse began gasping in lungfuls of air, replacing the volume that had been pushed out of him first by the Doctors .38 and then by Linda's weight.

Linda looked on in confusion and amazement as Jesse unbuckled his vest and pulled it off, two smashed rounds dislodging from its weave. Jesse then reached inside his shirt and pulled out a small .38 of his own from an interior pocket, the wooden grip splintered and useless from the third slug embedded there. Placing it in his lap, he continued to strip, removing shirts until he was barechested, his left breast marred by a softball sized bruise roughly shaped like the state of Florida.

He moved back, leaning up against the wheel hump and the freezing metal of the lockers mounted above it. His chest still heaved as he then took his bearings. He motioned to Linda to pick up the Doctor's .38 and hand it over. Once she'd retreived it he unloaded his own, reloaded the Doctor's and threw his old one aside.

Linda, right?


Check the Doc, would'ya?


Linda tentatively reached over and pressed her fingers against Rafei's neck, holding them there for several seconds.

He's got a pulse. It's weak, but steady. He's still alive.

What kind of Doctor are ya?

Excuse me?

Are ya a surgeon, or a pediatrist, or what, what's your specialty?

I'm a Virologist.

Bug Doctor.

In a way.. Little bugs, virus, like HIV.

Yeah.. I get it.

How about you? What do you do?

I'm a metal worker.

Linda looked blankly at Jesse, her mouth agape.. She glanced at the body armor, the weapons, the gear in the wire cages lining the walls of the truck..

A metal worker..?


Viktor Part VII

The Phenomenon, Day 5, Tokyo

More Jell-O. Or, whatever Jell-O like substance the Japanese preferred. Today's flavor seemed to be.. Green Tea and.. Kiwi perhaps? Honeydew maybe..? It was hard to tell. He wondered sometimes if maybe the taste buds of the Japanese were different. His reverie was interrupted by his doctors daily visit, his third since waking up in this room rather than the big room with the patrolling guards and nurses.

Good morning Viktor. Still feeling very well today, yes?

Just like yesterday and the day before. How much longer am I to be kept here?

I couldn't tell you until today, but just one more day. You see, all optional companions brought in must undergo a thorough delousing and a battery of tests before we can let you rejoin your advocate. As of this morning the primary cultures were ready and you and those others who aren't carriers of a specific list of unacceptable diseases will be allowed out into the facility.

If I'm free of them why the days delay now?

We're very careful here, we have a backup panel we took the second day after you arrived. It's extremely unlikely, but there is a statistical chance the first panel missed something, with the primary passed, the secondary is mostly just a formality, but I'm confident you'll be reunited with your advocate tomorrow.

And then what?

Then, Viktor, then you survive.

Was that in doubt?

More than you'd think. We see the current situation as an opportunity. You see, if nobody with a disease carries it through this event, then that disease will be effectively wiped out. If we can eradicate it ourselves we will, but then there's the danger of a Typhoid Mary, an immune carrier that will infect others on the other side.. That's too great a danger. But you seem fit as a fiddle, and the medical records provided by Madam Koike seem quite in order.

Nobody's told me just what the hell is going on.. What are we hiding from? What is this event? War? Solar flare?

Oh no, nothing like that, but.. Well let's just leave that for tomorrow after that second panel, yes?

Doc, just, answer me this one question, who are these soldiers that are everywhere? They're not JSDF, the uniforms, the weapons.. They're completely different.

Yes.. Tomorrow, after the panel, don't worry, all your questions will be answered. Just, bear with us, yes?

Viktor relaxed back into the bed in silent assent, his Doctor smiling and giving one of those little half bows before turning and walking out the door. Viktor contemplated going back to sleep but decided he'd had enough for one day.

Viktor had been having periodic visits from nurses checking his vitals every few hours since he'd awoke here, but they had no monitors on him, just the handcuffs attached to his ankle and the bed railing. He reached for the remote, knowing as before that the TV would display only static on 99 of its channels and a test pattern on the last.

But this time he wasn't going for the TV functions, or the bed controls. He decided to try something new, he hit the call button. It was barely three seconds before a scratchy but obviously feminine voice answered.

Yes Mr. Viktor? Is something the matter?

I'm thirsty, would it be at all possible to get a cup of coffee or something?

We do not have a coffee machine on this floor, however I can brew you a cup of tea if you like.

Do you have anything other than Green Tea?

I think we may have a few other kinds in the break room, would you like me to check?

Please. If it's no trouble.

Not at all, I'll be in in a few minutes.

Thank you.

As the remote clicked off Viktor pushed down his blankets and sheets to the foot of the bed, exposing his muscular calves. He pulled his gown down tighter around his body, exposing it's outline more prominently. Then, he waited, like a spider awaiting its prey.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XVI

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic


Aye sir?

Distance to target?

One point three miles sir.

Helmsman, full stop, don't reverse us to, just shut'em down and let us drift to a stop.

Aye sir.

Longmire moved from where he was leaned up against the port bulkhead and went to the center console. Looking over the board at the noted damaged sections and the most recent figures on the pumping out of the forward berthing compartment, he sat down and pulled out a notebook and pocket calculator.

Cox entered the bridge from the aft passageway, still wearing the all weather coat he'd worn while in the Sail.


Oh, good, Cox, sit down here a second, get that coat off. I need you to check my math here.


Yeah, just go over these numbers real quick make sure I got'em right.

Aye sir.

Meanwhile did you see anything unusual about the Globe and the Magic up there?

You mean more unusual than that they're parked alongside each other like they're meant to be that way?

Yeah did you see any signs of life aboard.

Details are hard to make out at a distance in Infrared sir.

I know I know but did anything stand out to you? Any exhaust from the stacks or anything? Any unusual heat sources?

Uh.. Your numbers are good sir. But, uh, no, both of 'em are still, quiet, and cold so far as I can tell.

The redheaded sonarman once more stuck his head out of his cubby, one headphone still pressed in place, the other dangling.

Now that we're closer I'm getting some noise out of them sir.

What kind of noise?

Hard to tell, but this isn't wave action on the hull or pressure creaks.. Sounds like shipboard activity.. But there's no engine noises running through and over it all like I'm used to.. Footsteps on decks, muted and distorted voices, objects being scraped on tables, that sort of thing. It's all getting channeled through their hull and put out in the water.. It's just real, real faint sir.

Can you tell which ship it's coming from?

No sir they're way too close, and touching like they are they're echoing each other vibrations going back and forth like nobodies business.

Alright. Cox, here's the plan, Magic would've had a helluva lot more people aboard her, so if there's people I'm betting they're there. I want you to go ahead and get together a boarding party and get over there and find them. Take as many extra IR Goggles as we can spare. Let them know that there are survivors elsewhere.

Cox looked genuinely confused as he responded:

Sir there's no way we can take survivors aboard, we don't have the room and we're already in dire straits because of whatever hit us!

Cox, settle down. We're not taking survivors aboard.

Then what're we doing sir?

Salvage. That ship was in good shape you said?

Yes sir but..

Then they, unlike us, have an undamaged communications suite over there we can use to report in. Furthermore if we can get her detached from the Globe and whatever ships on the other side of the Globe we can give them enough IR Goggles to pilot the ship themselves, get her engines started, get her moving, she can follow us down to North Carolina, get those civilians somewhere safe.

And what if they can't sir? What if she's out of fuel and her batteries are dead and she's a useless hulk, what then?

Then we try the Globe. Either way there's likely to be useful salvage we can take from the Globe, who knows what she was shipping, might even be foodstuffs we can haul back to the Project.

And survivors?

You're right, we can't take 'em aboard. But one ship or the other we might get them under power and ashore.

And the other case?

What other case?

What if it's not people over there, but those Giants?


Zoe Part XII

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

So fill me in.

Viktor indicated a stool near the kitchen island, which Zoe immediately retrieved and seated herself on. Viktor leaned forward and began.

Ok, from the beginning of everything or from the beginning of this ordeal?

From the beginning.

Well.. Alright. But I've only got the barest understandings of some of it, and some sounds like more legend than history.

That's ok.

A long time ago in Japan there was a war. One of those old wars over territory and honor and some such thing.. One Samurai of one side, after the barest victory, wounded, took refuge from the weather in a cave on the slopes of Mount Unebi. There he was discovered by a hermit, the last in a long and once-noble line stretching back before the dawn of history.

This hermit was childless, and so he showed the Samurai a secret entrance deep in the back of a cave to a series of underground tunnels running through the mountain. The passages led miles down into the dark.

After passing many fantastic sights, traps of the mind, temptations and horrors, at the bottom, the hermit showed the Samurai his secret. An army of stone beings standing at attention in passages surrounding a central chamber. In the chamber was a glowing figure made of crystal.

The hermit told the Samurai that his line had guarded the cave for generations beyond count. Passing from father to son and when necessary father to daughter to mother to son, the secret of their existence, they were sleeping, awaiting the conditions under which they could awake. According to the.. Well whatever it is, myth, legend, history.. The army would awaken only when the skies are about to turn hostile.


Anyway.. The Samurai honored the hermits request and took guardianship of the cave. His children did as well. And over time the successes of his family multiplied and their fortunes grew.. Culminating in their supplanting of the previous Imperial family, and taking control of Japan in the sixth Century BC. This was done by the Samurais descendant, who became known as Emperor Jimmu, the progenitor of the modern Imperial line.


This is what they told me, ok, I might've left out some details, honorifics and whatnot.. But this is what they believe. And I've got reason to think they're right about a goodly portion of it. If I might continue?

Yeah sure, go on.

That secret, the secret of Mount Unebi, has been passed down through the Imperial line ever since. After WWII, Emperor Shōwa, Hirohito, y'know.. He decided it would be.. Prudent.. To establish a series of subterranean shelters, unbeknownst to the Japanese people or the west, in case of Nuclear War, to shelter himself, his family, and those Japanese who were loyal to the Imperial Family only and not to the occupied interim government..

Most governments did around that time. The atom bomb was a game changer.

True, but these were different. At first they were just for the Imperial Family and their loyal entourage. Construction was begun amidst the rebuilding period immediately after the surrender. After their new Constitution came about in '47 and the Emperor became a figurehead and Japan was deprived of anything but a paltry and ineffective defensive force, the idea expanded to include specific loyal members of the new Government, their families, and an elite guard, a military force trained and equipped to carry out covert operations for the good of Japan

They've been essentially dormant for decades, the occasional intelligence foray against China, but nothing major until four months ago.

What happened four months ago?

The army in Mount Unebi woke up.


Jesse & Linda Part I

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control Garage, Atlanta

Seriously? A metal worker.

Well.. Yeah.

And you survived the apocalypse?

I'm not sure we should call this "the apocalypse" per se.. I mean, just cuz most'a mankind's gone the way the dodo don't mean the world stops spinning.

Semantics aside how did a Metal Worker- no offense- how did a metal worker survive a cataclysm like this?

Well I was prepared for it that's how.

Prepared, how were you prepared for something nobody in their right mind could've seen coming?

Well I wasn't prepared specifically for this scenario no, but a sort of general "end of the modern first world" situation.. Yeah. Canned goods, guns and ammo, heavy duty vehicle, couple'a thousand gallons of fuel stashed away.. Weren't nothin' special about what I did, hell I was just fortunate to be at home and able to jump into m'bunker when the emergency alert system went off.

So.. So you were one of those doomsday prepper type folks..?

I don't think considering the current state of things anyone would say such preparations were unwise, would you?

No.. No I suppose not.. It's just surprising, that's all..

Survival of the fittest Doc.

I certainly can't disagree at this point.. Speaking of survival, what are we going to do with Doctor Rafei?

I don't know. I mean, part of me thinks he wasn't joking about how important it was to get his materials to them Project folks- er.. He did tell y'all about that, right?

Yes, he did.

Ok, just making sure we're on the same page here. As I was sayin' part of me wants to get him and his notes there, just let them deal with him. I mean, looking at that head wound I don't think there'll be much chance he'll tattle on us-


-but at the same time carting a half dead blind man all the way to North Carolina don't seem to make much sense-


-on the other hand, the folks at the Project ain't gonna be stupid, they'll examine us and interrogate us, hell they might even drug us! There ain't no telling.. But they might just find out we was involved with the good Doctor getting the way he is and they might not be too hap-

Jesse was interrupted by sudden movement from Rafei, who rolled over onto his back, flailing his arms ahead of him at the roof of the truck as if swatting away a cloud of gnats.. He's voice uncharacteristically heavy and slow as he cried out:

Gods! Formless Gods! They're not meant for us! It's too soon! They must be recalled! We're not ready! The way is closed to us and the bridge must stay unbuilt!

His flailing arms fell to the sides, one hitting the door to the cab of the truck, the other falling across Jesse's ankle as Rafei seemed to slip once more into unconsciousness.

Jesse broke the shocked silence first.

Oh no he definitely ain't-

Rafei's hand suddenly grasped Jesse's ankle with a deceptive strength as his bandaged head rolled over and seemed to peer up at him where he sat before once more speaking:

They're wrong Jesse! They've made the wrong assumptions, dismissed the wrong possibilities! If you don't save them from themselves they'll end any chance you have.. Oh.. Oh they're coming..

Linda looked on in alarm as Rafei seemed to momentarily stiffen before relaxing, his hand falling off Jesse's leg as his last breath escaped him.

Well that solves that issue I guess..

Yeah.. But maybe it raises another.

What do you mean?

You ever dream Doc?


Viktor Part VIII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Buenos Aires

Viktor's captor looked on with an incredulous expression. Still looking down the shotgun

You're not exactly putting forth much effort to save your life here.

What can I say? You're the one with the shotgun. Got the drop on me fair and square.. Not much point in offering resistance or lying..

So why are you here?

I was sent on behalf of the Japanese government to change the inclination of a satellite.

Yeah? That's it?

That's it.

You weren't sent to kill me?

I was led to believe the building would be abandoned, an empty shell without power.. They presumed that previous expeditions had encountered difficulties with some of the new survival hazards troubling the world.. No thought at all of survivors, much less hostile ones.

Then why the guns? And how'd you get wounded?

Do you really think you're the only survivor in Buenos Aires?

No I know I'm not. I hear them sometimes. Exploring, looking for food. I imagine this room shines a little through the windows at night and if they're willing to brave looking it'd get seen.

Right. They're getting desperate down there. A lot of the city is built with narrow streets, easily sheltered from the sky.. There's more survivors down there than you'd think. Only thing is after three months food is getting scarce.. Someone like me comes along, laden down with equipment and food, even armed I made a promising target.

Uh-huh.. So why do they need the inclination of the satellite to change?

Why do you need it to stay the same?

The small man racked the shotgun as he responded.

That's none of your bus-

Viktor grabbed the shotgun and slammed it up into the man's chin as he pushed up with his good leg. Following his momentum forward he struck again, using the shotgun like a battering ram against the smaller man's chest, driving him further and further back, finally striking him upside the jaw again. As he fell back Viktor let himself fall down onto his bottom, letting go of the shotgun he grabbed up one of his Lugers where they'd been thrown and pointed at the man.

Now.. Er... What's your name?

..does it matter?

Well I can't just call you "small annoyingly stupid man" now can I?

..Yuri. How'd you know?

That the shotgun wasn't loaded?


You racked it to get my attention when you came in the room. Then again just now. If it had been loaded then a shell would've come out the second time. You shouldn't ever bluff someone with a shotgun. Chances are you'll eventually run across someone who knows how they work.

I hope I get the chance to put your advice to use.

You might.. Why is it so important for you to keep the satellite where it is?

It's the only way to keep track of where and when there will be openings in the movement of the Shards.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XVII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

Cox looked expectantly at his Captain as he considered the possibility his question raised.

Tell you what. Since the Giants don't kill on sight, if we see one, we'll high tail it back to the Oregon and make best speed for North Carolina. It's one thing if there's people we can help, but according to the EAS broadcasts we don't have a chance in hell of fighting them, so, if we run into them we won't even try.

"We" sir? Don't tell me you're planning on coming along? Just a second ago it was me and a boarding party.

Sorry, you're right.. Habit. I should stay here. But I want you on the radio constantly. Step by step reports. "I have arrived at the ship, I am boarding the ship, I have boarded the ship" stupid-simple level of blunt and comprehensive reporting, got it?

Yes sir. Any recommendations as to who I should take with me?

Watkins and Kellogg have experience ashore in the current tactical situation, and they may be some kind of good luck charm, they found their way back once, it might help. Them and three others, leave two near wherever you board to make sure your means back is secure.

Aye sir, anything else?

Yeah, when you get on deck keep quiet as you can but look around. I'd hate to think whatever hit us is lining up another shot.

Aye sir

Dismissed. Sonar!

The sonarman, Colquitt, poked his fiery head out of his cubby once more.

Yes Sir?

Any further info you can give me? Any more contacts? Clearer sounds coming from those ships?

No sir, nothing new making noise in the water.

Well at least that's some good news, I hope.

The handheld radio sitting in its charging cradle screwed to the bulkhead cracked to life. Longmire strode the three steps to it and clicked the volume up.

Can you hear me Sir?

Well enough Cox, go ahead.

Sir I've got the party assembled by the ventral hatch, we're about to go abovedeck.

Very well, proceed.

Opening hatch.. Watkins is ascending the ladder. He reports no unusual activity.. I'm following..

Take your time, I don't want you getting sloppy.

Aye sir.. The deck is clear, waters a bit choppy.. There's probably a four knot wind coming out of the South Southwest.. Sir....?

Yes, what is it?

I think I know what hit us sir. About a half mile astern there's a serious gathering of birds.


Yessir. Birds feeding on what looks to be a whale carcass sir.

Say again, did you say a whale carcass?

Yes sir. It's too distant for me to see what kind, maybe a small Right Whale or a large Humpback sir..

Oh for gods sakes, seriously?

Yes sir.

Well at least we won't be hearing from the PETA folks on this one.. Carry on Cox, get the Zodiac inflated and boarded.

Aye sir.


Zoe Part XII

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

What happened four months ago?

The army in Mount Unebi woke up.

And then what?

It was an unmitigated disaster. Due to the depth of the Army within the mountain, the pair of Imperial servants sent to monitor them were done in week long shifts. When a pair went down to relieve the last and none came back up, a squad of the Emperors elite were sent down to investigate. 12 men down after four, one came back. They sealed Mount Unebi immediately after. However, the Imperial Family and the larger Japanese government were only aware of one enclave further abroad, which they'd believe they preempted, and only just in the nick of time, in Beijing.

Tell me about Beijing later, what about the Army in Unebi?

The lone survivor reported the fates of the other 15, as well as one very important and heretofore unknown fact, the Giants absorb heat from the surrounding environment with remarkable efficiency. Using that, Satellite thermal scans identified six other sites that were the geographical center of sudden marked temperature drops across the globe.


One each in Australia, India, Russia, Germany, Libya, and America.

Where here in America?



Yeah, anyway, Japanese "Mineralogists" had discovered another set of catacombs in Beijing during the Japanese occupation during the second Sino-Japanese War that was a part of World War Two. The Imperial Family has been monitoring it ever since through a private shell company that's owned and maintained the entrance site. When the Unebi site went active they were ordered to destroy the tunnels leading into it and evacuate. They did so, and it was reported in the local news as an unexplained subsurface vibration as monitored by seismograph.

So the army in Beijing is..

Buried beneath 400 meters of rock.

Do we know who built these tunnels and catacombs? Or these armies?

Carbon Dating puts the tunnels and catacombs at nearly 40,000 years old.

How could tunnels that old survive?

They were extraordinarily well constructed. Stones were fitted together with a form of mortar rivaling modern industrial recipes, and layered. The tunnel walls were layers of these fitted stones 5 deep, each some being roughly the size of one's head. The mortar mixture was tested, it's antifungal, water repellant, airtight.. The stones themselves are of uniform density and makeup, mostly granite with impurities of mica and marble.. Which is astounding.

Umm.. Why?

Granite and Marble are two different kinds of rock. They don't form together in nature. Whoever or whatever made these tunnels used primitive methods, but incredibly advanced materials that we can't replicate.

So who-

-or what.

-or what built them?

We don't know. The Army, the Giants, the Tall Ones.. According to the EAS Alerts and the Project Emails they've been observed using simple tools, levers, clubs and the like, but no more advanced technology. Certainly nothing on the order to manufacture bizarre stone and advanced mortar. It's almost like they expected to be discovered and wanted to be mistaken for less advanced than they are.

Is that good or bad?

Neither. It carries no moral weight to it. It's the purpose behind the action which gives it a moral value, and that purpose is unknown.


Jesse & Linda Part II

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control Garage, Atlanta

Linda looked at the ever more confusing Jesse with a look of pure bewilderment.

Well of course, doesn't everybody?

I mean lately, have you dreamt lately?

More like nightmares.

Heh-heh.. That's right they would be.. Can't blame ya.. But what kind?

Does it matter?

It might. Doc Rafei there.. He said something that sounded a bit crazy there at the end-

Well he did have a traumatic brain injury..

-I get that, I do, but.. That bit about "formless gods" struck me as familiar. 'Cause y'see lately I've been having these dreams.

..dreams about alien beings without distinct shape..

..impossible forms, voices echoing in a void, beckoning, entreating..

..a heavy sense of threat and impending horrific doom?

Yeah.. Yeah!


..wait a minute..

This is incredibly surreal..

That's one way to put it.

Normally I don't remember my dreams at all but lately these have been..

..vivid. Like you can't forget'em.

Yeah.. Wait.. Do you think this means something?

Well hell yes I think it means something!

Well I mean I'm certain there's a reasonable explanation for it.

What do you mean?

Well I mean human psychology is a science.. Science depends on repeatable results. Statistics.. Maybe there's something about this situation, the psychology of the apocalypse, of desperation and isolation, something that works to cause similar patterns of dreams..

Ain't that overlooking the obvious?

What? Something supernatural?

Well we're sitting in a truck cocooned in flying death that's invisible in infrared or ultraviolet, half froze because of some wicked magical giants that sing EMPs into existence.. Supernatural ain't exactly far fetched no more.


..what giants?


Viktor Part IX

The Phenomenon, Day 5, Tokyo

There was a slight knock at the door before a slim young nurse came in carrying a tray with a steaming pot of water, two cups, and an assortment of tea bags.

Mr. Rittmeyer?

Viktor ignored the sharp mispronunciation of his last name and slightly bowed his head to acknowledge her before indicating she pull over a chair and one of the small tables that could be positioned over his bed.

Her eyes smiled at his face as it bowed before rapidly glancing down to his chest, then forearms, crotch, and legs on their way quickly down to the tray.

As she went about getting things set Viktor made no effort to hide his own examination of her form in her scrubs, which only served to hide some features while accentuating others.

So, Mr. Rittmeyer, I hope your processing hasn't been too uncomfortable..?

Oh it has truly been an ordeal. I've been gassed, poked, prodded, interrogated as to my personal habits and history.. And the meals have been entirely unsatisfactory.. Your hospital food does very little to satisfy a man's.. Appetites..

Her eyes grew wide.


Viktor adjusted the pillow back beneath his head as nurse Oren slipped her feet back into her flats, picked up the tray, and with a slight wobble to her step went to the table and gathered up the cold pot of water and the cups- only half finished- back onto her tray before walking out without meeting Viktor's gaze.

Just moments after the door closed Viktor pulled the hairpin from where he'd hidden it under his tongue. Reaching down he pushed the sheets aside and went to work on the handcuffs keeping him attached to the bed. In less than twenty seconds his leg was free and he was rubbing the place the cuff had been furiously, the indented skin evidence of its ill fit on his generous frame.

As soon as he was sated (again) he replaced the cuff, though not as tight this time, and hid the hairpin in his armpit before settling in to take a nap until dinner.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XVIII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

Cox raised the radio to his face and clicked the mike.

She's the Lyubov Orlova Sir.

Back on the Oregon, sitting at the navigators table, Captain Benjamin Longmire picked up his radio and did the same.

What is?

The ship on the far side with her bow facing sky sir.

..should I know that name?

She's a Russian passenger liner sir.

You know her?

Yes sir, before I transferred to COMSUBPAC & shipped with the Oregon I was with COMSUBLANT, spotted her once before while earning my dolphins aboard the Missouri in 2014 out of Groton. She was actually a little bit of an oddity. She was undertow after being decommissioned and broke free in international waters. The cost of finding and recovering her would've been more than the proceeds of her scrap so she was left to drift, unmanned and unguided.

So she's a derelict?

Has been for years, now she's bow to sky with.. Looks like her port anchor caught on one of the Globe's amidships cargo cranes.

So she's already stripped of any useful gear?

Guaranteed Captain.

Then ignore her. Find your way aboard the Disney Magic.

There was a boarding hatch on her Port Bow we saw on her first way round, looked like it had a recessed access handle.. We'll make it around that way.

Good. Get back to me with any further observations..

I have one already sir.

Go ahead then.

The Starboard Bow Cargo access on the Globe is hanging open, ramp extended down into the water. If needs be we could board her no problem.

How many radios do you have with you?

Six, one for each of us.

Alright, well, first priority is still the Magic, continue headed around and board her, her survivors and communications suite are the only reason we've bothered stopping.

Aye sir.


Sir we're coming around the bow of the Globe to the stern of the Magic now.. I'm seeing a couple of lifeboat davits extended from the port side of the Magic.. Sir! The port side amidships loading ramp of the Globe is extended directly onto the Magic through some windows on the.. Looks like the third or fourth deck.

Is that how they've gotten stuck together?

No sir.. I'm also seeing two, no, three of the Globe's cargo cranes hooked onto the Magic at different points.


Looks that way sir.

Interesting.. Anything else?

No sir.

Very well, proceed to that entry hatch you spotted.


Zoe Part XIII

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

Zoe sat silently considering what she'd heard a moment before responding.

So.. What does this mean for us, for the Project I mean?

That's not for you or I to decide. But I do know that the Project is dedicated to ensuring the survival of the human race on the best terms possible. What the Japanese are doing may cause them to butt heads once this whole ordeal is over with.

Is that likely to happen? I mean, is this going to end?

All things do, it's just a matter of time.

But that time could be years, decades, or even centuries. Mankind couldn't survive underground that long, no matter how well prepared.

In the past that may have been true, but now? With our technology and a bit of centralized planning and authority?

Zoe slowly shook her head.

Absolutely impossible. Technology breaks down. Even if you have a hundred people trained to fix it you've got a limited supply of spare parts and materials to create spare parts. Diseases will evolve, social bonds and barriers will break.. Over any significant length of time no amount of preparedness or planning will be up to the task.

That sounds like simple pessimism.

Oh no, normally I'm very optimistic, but on this all you have to do is look at history. Lost colonies, exploratory parties, settlers travelling across continents, there's numerous examples of isolated groups in dangerous situations ending up devolving into desperation & anarchy no matter how well prepared or led they were.

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."


Yeats. But just as fatalistic as Shakespeare.

Realistically I think.. I wonder.. I'm the Projects answer to preserving the Art of the old world. Do you think there's another bunker out there with someone dedicated to preserving the literature?

I know there is, I met him, shared a flight with him, he's an associate professor in California, has a very similar cushy bunker somewhere in the Sierra Nevada's loaded down with essentially the entire Library of Congress backed up three times, just in case.

How'd you meet?

Doctor Rodriguez introduced us before we went to our assignments. Then he happened be flying on the same plane I was headed for the West Coast, of course for me it was just the first leg.

Huh.. So anyway.. What exactly are the Japanese doing?


Viktor leaned forward to answer but was interrupted by a buzzer coming from the control panel set into the wall of the living room. Someone, or something, was asking for access through the secondary airlock, just as Viktor himself had the day before.


Jesse & Linda Part III

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Center for Disease Control Garage, Atlanta

Linda's already perplexed expression darkened.

..what giants?

Aw.. Shit. I done forgot you been locked up and isolated this whole damn time.. It ain't just the sky things that we've got to worry about.

There's giants?


Like.. Fee Fie Fo Fum? Beanstalks? Golden Eggs?

Oh lord no Doc, hell.. These things are about 7 or 8 feet tall, pale as death, freaky shaped arms and legs, all kinds of funky little bumps all over'em, with no noses, glowing eyes..

They sound horrifying.

They are! And like I said they get together and sing, and they make this swirling thing made up of lights and then it collapses and shuts down everything.

And you've seen them? Dealt with them?

What'cha mean?

Linda looked and gestured pointedly at the various rifles in their cages along the walls.

Oh, oh no, we watched'em on the CCTV inside before they mucked everything up. Never run up against em myself. And I don't want to.

Oh.. Ok. So.. How do we deal with them?

I dunno. The EBS said they're about invincible. I ain't exactly looking forward to the opportunity to test that.

So.. Any idea where they come from? How they connect with the sky things?

Strictly speaking we don't know they do.

Well what are we doing then?

We're waiting until the things outside lose interest, them I'm gonna go load up Rafei's notes, set up a flare or two under the gas tanks, then make our way to that place in North Carolina, that place where there's survivors.

Oh.. Right. Wait why would we light a road flare under the gas tank!?

The cold's made the diesel fuel gel. We've gotta warm the fuel, make it liquid again, then we can drive on. I already reset the electrical systems, so that's all we're waiting on.

Oh.. Well.. Ok. So we've just got to be quiet and still for a bit?


Ok then. I suppose we can always talk on the road.

Sure can.

Ok. Well then.. I'm going to just wrap up then and try to get a nap.

Hold on a sec.

Jesse turned and unlatched a hatch to the rear of the drivers side wheel well. Inside were a stack of plastic wrapped silver survival blankets. He pulled out two and handed them over to Linda.

These should help.

Thank you.

You're welcome.. And goodnight.


Viktor & Yuri Part I

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Buenos Aires

You're talking about the gaps? The narrow and oh so fleeting breaks in when and where the Shards are overhead?

Yeah. That's kind of important to know don't you think?

That's.. That's very important to know.

Why'd you call them "Shards"? Is that their name, have we made contact?

Contact? No all information indicates they're more.. More of an instinct driven swarm. No guiding intelligence, much less an advanced one. We call them Shards because of imprints of their shape they've left in materials.

Oh..What if I told you differently? About their intelligence I mean?

How so?

I've been watching these things ever since they arrived. The satellite orbits every 4½ hours. I have contact with it for 45 minutes to download its data. These " Shards" don't move fast enough over the surface to cover significant distances in the time between passes so I've been able to map their patterns and paths.

Get to the point.

There are definite patterns in their movement. Beyond simple swarm mechanics. In the density of their flows, directional changes, you name it.

And you think this denotes intelligence?

I'm not very good with analysis of this sort of thing, but I think so. Now, you change what my satellite is looking at, narrow my view.. We might very well miss something.

You already have a gap in coverage you said so yourself..

But my coverage is nearly global. I figured out very early on they mostly avoid the polar regions and tend to thicken up between the tropics.

Right now, the satellite is set on a nearly equatorial orbit. If you change the inclination were going to see wider variances in coverage in the northern and southern hemisphere.

So.. If I change the satellite, the reason would be to get better coverage.. Where?

You'd get better resolution in the northern or southern climes but wider gaps as well. It's a balancing act.

Why doesn't anyone else know of these patterns you're talking about?

I'm sure someone does. This satellite was originally a weather sat for the UN, nearly every country in the world has access to her data.

But control was kept here?

This is the backup. The primary was set up in India. They went dark just a week into things.


Night shift was on duty when everything went down. Nobody there had brought anything to eat more than lunch. They had water, but no food. They starved.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XIX

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

Cox grabbed onto the handle with both hands and heaved, his feet set in the bow of the Zodiac forcing it forward and squashing the inflatable side against the hull of the Magic. The handle remained flat in its place within the recessed hatchway. Placing one booted foot against the frame and trying again with greater leverage, he was rewarded with a high pitched creak before the rubber seal around the door parted and allowed the atmosphere to equalize on both sides with a hiss. Then the handle moved more easily to withdraw the latch from the frame and the door began to open in earnest, swinging inside the ship.

As Cox pushed the hatch Watkins and Kellogg moved forward, their sidearms out and pointed at sky before they moved past Cox and into the Magic their initial sweep ensuring the small entryway beyond held no surprises.




Cox secured the hatch with a chain and hook inside before reaching back for the radio on his belt.


Go Cox.

Sir, according to the signs posted here we're in the forward tender lobby. I can see on the forward bulkhead a line of four elevators. There are signs directing along a forward passageway to a health center.. Probably some kind of gym.. And aft to passenger cabins and the amidships elevator lobby..

Any signs of habitation so far?

Not really, no sir.. Everything's dark. She seems to be without power. There's detritus in the halls.. Trash, papers, brochures and maps looks like.

Grab one, we don't know the layout of the ship.

Sir I've got one in my hand already.. It looks like they're just maps of the public areas of the ship.

Damn. Any idea where the bridge is? What about the galley? If there's survivors I'd bet they're there.

The bridge is.. Deck 8.. Galley is.. Best bet deck 3, that seems like where most of the restaurants are.

Say again, did you say the Bridge is on Deck 8?

Yes sir. Apparently the decks here go from the keel up rather than from the superstructure down.

So what deck are you on now?

Looks like Deck 1 sir.

They don't count the decks below the waterline?

Apparently not sir, not according to this map anyway. Probably to avoid confusing the passengers.

Great. Well, make your way to deck 3, keep away from any windows, don't take your goggles off and see if you can locate a more accurate map in one of the crew only areas.

Yes sir.


Zoe Part XIV

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

Viktor turned his head and gazed down at the sunken living room area.

What's that?

Zoe's shoulders slumped.

The doorbell.


It's the buzzer from the secondary airlock. Same place you came in.

So somebody's here?

Two new visitors in as many days after months of nothing.

You must be excited.

Concerned actually. I'm wondering what I did to get so popular..

The buzzing once more rang out from the panel across the way.

You should probably go answer that.

Yeah probab- Wait, what? Me? What about us? Won't you go with me?

I'd like to but I don't think it's wise.

Why not!?

I have more information. If the people or person at that door is hostile, if they appear innocuous and then become a danger, then my information will be lost before I can make a full report.

Oh so I'm expendable but you're too precious to risk answering a door!?

I didn't say that.

But that's what you meant!

Not at all I just-

The insistent buzzing interrupted them yet again.

Whatever, you.. You just do whatever you've got to do. I'm going to go see who it is.

With that Zoe rose and marched from the room. Her bare feet scraping against the concrete into the distance never faltering or slowing.

Viktor considered for a moment following, but quickly decided against it. Pulling a thumb drive from his armpit he took his momentary solitude as a blessing and inserted it into the USB on the front of the Computer. Attaching its contents to an email he sent it to the Project server. After that he formatted the USB drive before copying over Zoe's reports and emails.


Zoe kicked aside yet another piece of Viktor's makeshift outfit as she stalked through the aisles of the warehouse on her way to the airlock. The entire warehouse was beginning to reek of their foul miasma. She made a mental note to go through with a pair of tongs and a garbage bag later and dispose of them.

Coming around the final corner her pace faltered as she saw what awaited her in the airlock.

Eight men in military uniform, each with IR Goggles, a rifle, and balaclava under their helmets.


Jesse & Linda Part IV

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Atlanta

Linda awoke to an unfamiliar vibration running through her entire body. It made her teeth chatter, her insides quiver, and set off every aching joint she had.

The freezing cold and the unearthly sounds that accompanied the vibration seemed to penetrate to her very bones, and the pulsing red light broke through her eyelids like an angry dawn. In an odd sort of way it was.. Peaceful.. It felt like giving up, like sinking into death.

An abrupt and decidedly unpleasant bump that broke her reverie assured her that was not the case. Her eyes snapped open and she realized the interior of the truck was bathed in red light bleeding in from the taillights.

Suddenly she recognized the vibrations and sounds that had plagued her as the sounds of the truck running and on the road. After months without being in a vehicle the once familiar sensations had felt alien to her.

She looked around the cargo area of the truck and realized she was alone. Jesse would surely be in the cab, but Rafei's corpse was nowhere to be found. Even the small drops of blood that had fallen to the deck after she'd killed him seemed to have been wiped up.

Raising herself up off her back into a sitting position was agonizing as every muscle and joint screamed in resistance, but she pushed through the pain and got herself there.

With another minute of effort, some stretching, and some challenges to her balance from the road and suspension, she got herself standing and facing the hatch leading to the cab.

Considering how long she'd known Jesse, she considered knocking, but in the end she dismissed that as misplaced sentiment and simply unlatched and pushed open the door.

On the other side, with all the windows blanked out, Jesse sat in the driver's seat, facing a pair of small flat monitors, both displaying the road ahead, their odd glow and that of the dashboard the only light. One display showed the road in Infrared, the other in ultraviolet. Linda stooped over and sat herself in the passenger seat, a light cloud of dust erupting from the seat as she did so.

Uh.. Sorry about that.. I didn't think to dust while you was sleepin'. T'be honest I didn't really think I'd need to. I mean..

It's ok. Just being in a moving vehicle again is..

Sorta almost makes ya feel like the world ain't so far gone?

Yes! Yes that's it exactly.

Yeah.. Don't get too comfy though, we're gonna have'ta make a stop to refuel before we get to North Carolina.

What will that involve?

We'll find a fuel Depot or a trucking company lot, something with aboveground diesel tanks or enough trucks with diesel we can siphon. Warm'em up, suck'em dry and keep rolling.

Oh. Charming.

Nah it ain't, but you gotta do what'cha gotta do.

They rode in silence for a few minutes before Linda simply couldn't stand it anymore. She turned to Jesse and asked the question that had been on her mind ever since sitting down.

Jesse.. What did you do with Rafei's body?

I put him back in the CDC. Back where we met actually. I loaded up his notes and stuff though.

Oh.. Ok. What about.. What about my colleagues?

I put them in the stairwell. I didn't know where they worked and we was kind of pressed for time so.. I figured they deserved a little better than the garage at least..

I understand.. Thank you.


Viktor Part X

The Phenomenon, Day 6, Tokyo

The Doctor and a younger man walked in just past 10 in the morning, if Viktor had timed the nurses correctly. The younger man had every hallmark of a military man, though he didn't wear a uniform. The close cropped hair, the quick brisk manner of movement, the way his eyes darted around the room and over Viktor.. All indicated a man secure in his ability to handle himself.

Viktor put aside the mug of green tea he'd been nursing since breakfast and leaned back in the bed in order to give the doctor and his guest his full attention. The Doctor began.

Good morning Mr. Reitmeyer. I'd like to introduce Mr. Itoh. I have personally examined your secondary panels, and approved you. Mr. Itoh here is a representative of the Emperor.

The Emperor?

Yes. The Emperor of Japan.

What exactly is going on here?

Mr. Reitmeyer.. This will come as a shock, and there's no way to break this gently, and I won't patronize you. Within 24 hours of your entrance to this facility the world was devastated by an event which has killed, at this point, more than 80% of the world's population.

Viktor sat silent in shock. Trying to absorb what he'd heard. He had no family, no close friends, no one to mourn.. And for the first time, he felt the sadness of that. He should have people to mourn. People he cared about.

He shut that down quickly. His talent, his greatest tool was in reading people and giving them what they want. Looking at Mr. Itoh he saw immediately that he was watching him very carefully, gauging his reaction. He realized Mr. Itoh's purpose.

Viktor rolled to his side and crossed his arms before responding, the classic body language of emotional distress.

So.. It's very likely everyone I know.. With the exception of Yuriko.. Is dead?


How, may I ask? Was it.. Was it us? Did we do it? I mean.. Did it finally happen? A nuclear holocaust?

Thankfully, no. This was an external event. Something mankind didn't do, and without certain precautions, couldn't have survived.

What was it? Asteroid? Solar flare?

Nothing so.. Mundane. I'll let Mr. Itoh explain further.


So these things, they just came out of nowhere from space?

Essentially, yes. We've calculated their trajectory and it showed them coming in from outside the solar system.

But then how would the Army in Mt. Unebi.. You know what, never mind, I know what you'll say: "We don't know."

You see our conundrum.

Putting aside their violent reaction inside Unebi, you don't know whether the Army is an enemy or an ally.

Not only that, but the damage done by the extraterrestrial phenomena to the planets population is already considerable. If this is a temporary event, the survivors will be unable to maintain the agricultural and technological bases of a modern first world economy. We estimate that the best and most efficient society we could hope for would be one akin to the Western Colonial period, albeit with modern arms and communications.

I see what you're getting at.. During that period of history Japan was severely isolationist. It put them at a disadvantage during later eras. You don't intend to make the same mistake this time around.

The Emperor is wise, he intends Japan to rise from the ashes and become the dominant power around the world.

There will be other survivors.

Of course. But they will more than likely be concentrating on agriculture to begin with. Food supplies will be low, fields will have lain fallow.. Most survivors of government will have to relocate to places where they can live and grow food locally.. They will not interfere with our plans for several decades, by which time it will be too late.

And you've stored up enough food to make you the exception?

No, Japan has always been reliant on the seas for the bulk of our nourishment. In the aftermath of this event, that will remain true. But unlike farming or animal husbandry, fishing requires no large investment in time or manpower, especially when the fishing boats of Japan will be the only ones fishing the Pacific.

We estimate that in the first year, with no competition, no overfishing, that nearly every species of fish will bounce back to their pre-man levels. Our hauls will be overfull while their populations will be minimally effected. And best of all, Japan's shores are replete with thousands of fully equipped ships ready to go. We just have to go and get them once the skies are clear.

Doesn't all this rest on the presumption that this will end, and shortly? What if this lasts years, or never ends?

We have an alternative plan if that becomes the case.


Viktor & Yuri Part II

The Phenomenon, Day 93, Buenos Aires

Viktor took a deep breath.

If I told you what adjustments I was sent to make.. could you tell me where the coverage would be greatest?

You don't know?

Could you or couldn't you?

Ha! You don't! You're just a poor little errand boy sent to do someone's dirty work..

Viktor visibly clenched his jaw and the grip of the Luger.

Here's the difference between an errand boy and me. An errand boy doesn't get rewarded as handsomely as I will be. You will struggle on in your little tower surrounded by the desperate and the dying, until they come for you or you starve.

I, on the other hand, will get picked up, taken back to Japan, and live the rest of my life in comfort and security with plenty to eat, a smoking hot wife, and the eternal thanks of the most powerful people on the planet. Now, can you show me what the changes will do, or can't you?

Yuri swallowed audibly before replying.

I can.

Good. Now. You're going to lie down on your stomach with your hands at your sides.

What? Why?

So that your getting up to come at me will take longer than me shooting you.

Yuri nodded before turning and rolling onto his front, placing his hands at his sides as directed.

Viktor put his Luger on safe, retreived the other and put it on safe, and placed both of them on a nearby desk before using that same desk to leverage himself into a standing position. Grabbing one of the nearby desk chairs he settled into it, making sure it rolled freely before grabbing his pistols once more. Pointing them back at Yuri he directed him to get up and get to the console.

Yuri did as he was told, sitting in the chair Viktor had gotten up from before turning the tables. Rolling to the console he placed his hands at the keyboard and mouse before looking over his shoulder at Viktor.

Before I do this, what makes you so sure they'll pick you up? Y'know, after?

Viktor held up the Lugers.

See these?


These are almost 80 years old. They're originals. First production run. They're antiques, and before I brought them along here, they'd never been fired.

He pulled the second one out and unloaded it before handing it to Yuri.

Take a look at the grips.

Yuri looked at it a second before recoiling as if struck.

Is this..?

A Nazi Swastika, in gold, inlaid in the wood grips. The wood, by the way, from Germany's Black Forest. These were a gift from the Third Reich to the Imperial Family of Japan. They're unique, and priceless.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XX

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

Cox leveraged the door open from the emergency stairs to the third deck of the Disney Magic. Looking around through his IR Goggles he could see a large staircase leading to the 4th Deck, a gift shop called "Sea Treasures" and a bank of windows on the Port side.

Retreating back into the stairwell he pulled his radio from his belt and keyed it on.

Sir, we've gotten to the third deck. We're visible to sky from the Port side sir. According to the map I've got we're quite a bit forward of the galley. We'll be rather exposed for a bit if we move aft from here sir.

It was a few moments before the radio crackled and Capt. Longmire responded.

What are you thinking?

Deck 2 has full coverage sir, we could go down a deck and make our way to the aft elevator lobby without danger, then we just come back up and we'll be right by the galley.. Of course, that'll mean we'll have to double back to search forward and aft of the lobby, rather than coming from forward and making one clean sweep. Then make our way forward once on deck 8 for the bridge.

Cox, you're afield, I expect you to report to me and follow my orders, but you're there, you've got the map and the men of your party. You're in charge of deciding how best to follow my orders and protect their lives.

Aye sir. We'll make our way to deck 2 then.


Sir the Galley is clear and clean.

What do you mean clean?

It's.. Clean sir. The rest of this ship has obviously gone a bit without cleaning. Dust, debris, things fallen over, trash scattered.. The galley is pristine sir. Every pot in place, every spoon polished.. Like she's never been used sir.

No survivors I take it?

None apparent. Also, no food.


The freezers are as clean as the rest. It's like the ship sailed with no intention of feeding anyone.

Cox, I don't like this, get to the bridge as fast as you can.

What about the survivors sir?

We'll worry about them later. You get to the bridge, see about the communications, and get back home.

Aye sir.


Emil came forward out of the aft passage, his dark hair a mess and damp with sweat.

Captain, can I have a moment of your time?

Sure Emil, what's up?

Well it's just that Sarya and I are somewhat out of the loop back there.. Have we been attacked? Why aren't we moving?

You're right, I've been remiss. Hold on.

Longmire reached up for the mic to the ship PA.

This is the captain. As some of you may or may not be aware, we have, in the proud and long tradition of the Navy, accidentally struck and killed what appears to be a North Atlantic Right Whale-

Oh god are you fucking serious?

-which damaged and disabled our sail sonar array, our communications array, and vented the forward berthing compartment to sea. We do have some minor flooding in the forward compartments but our pumps are keeping up. Also, in the course of our investigation we've run across three ships adrift. The Disney Magic Cruise Liner, the Globe Cargo ship, and the Lyubov Orlova, a defunct Cruise Liner that was a derelict before any of this which is already bow to sky and half sunk.

We have heard through our sonar that either the Globe or the Magic seems to have survivors. Now, our Master at Arms and a boarding party are aboard the Magic making their way to the bridge to try and use the Magics communications suite to send our reports in and update the remaining government on our status.

After that, we intend to find the survivors, and if they're few in number, we take them with. If they're too many, well see about getting either the Globe or the Magic underway and have them follow us to a safe harbor.

Now, as it stands, I do not believe we will be able to submerge the boat. So for the duration we will be operating on the surface. This will present certain changes in how we operate. Noise ordinances are temporarily rescinded, we will be cycling in outside air, and our speed will be reduced. This will not stop us from accomplishing our mission. That is all.

The captain hung the mic back up and turned back to Emil.

Captain, I appreciate your taking the time to do that, but, I have a rather more pressing specific concern about Sarya.


Zoe Part XV

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

Zoe stared at the men in the airlock. The men in the airlock stared at Zoe. The man at the front, nearest the glass reached up and switched his goggles off before raising them on the helmet mount. Then the chin strap was unbuttoned, the helmet pulled off and the balaclava was lifted off.

The man's short cropped light brown hair glistened with sweat. His brown eyes took in Zoe, the warehouse behind her, and then flicked back inside the airlock to the rest of his party before coming to rest somewhere on the floor of the airlock.

Bending, he picked up the whiteboard and marker Viktor had left behind. He wrote on it for nearly a minute then turned it around for Zoe to see. His newest crisp handwriting was small but very orderly and easy to read.

"Hello, Ms. Zoe Wilson I presume? My name is Lt. McGuire, I'm from the Project, and I apologize for our unannounced visit. We received your report the other day and came post-haste when our records showed you here alone. No one should be left behind and alone. We're here to start packing you and your archives up for transfer to the secondary Facility in NC."

Zoe remembered her briefings on the primary and secondary facilities, one in the Rockies, one on the coast of North Carolina. She'd never met this Lieutenant McGuire before but he didn't seem to be showing any signs of deception. Instead his awkward smile and easy stance said he was unused to being in charge.

Zoe walked forward the few paces to the control console where she'd sat and waited for Viktor to come around and picked up her own whiteboard, which had gone unused. She quickly wrote out her response and held it up for his inspection.

"Why now?"

His smile faltered for an almost imperceptible moment and he blinked before erasing his board with a sleeve then writing.

"I'm afraid you slipped through the cracks. Some reports had you alive, but the overall summary the leadership relied on listed you as MIA.. This would be much easier verbally."

Zoe thought for a moment before hitting the switch to open the airlock then quickly cancelling the action. The door cracked open a scant half inch, the pressure differential whistling as air was sucked from the warehouse to the airlock before equalizing.

Can you hear me?

McGuire stepped up to the crack before he answered.

Yes, barely. What's got you so skittish?

You're a strange man I've never met who offers no proof but shows up armed at my doorstep demanding entrance.

Fair point. I did know your name though.

So? I have no idea how important or unimportant I was to the Project. You could've found my name and location in some unlocked drawer in Washington DC for all I know.

True, but then I wouldn't have known about your recent report.



Could've been a shot in the dark.

Really? Ms. Wilson?

Yeah.. You're right. That's a bit farfetched. Ok, I'll let you in, but, I want you and your men to leave your guns here, just inside the airlock. You don't come armed into my home.



Jesse & Linda Part V

The Phenomenon, Day 94, South Carolina

Jesse looked over at Linda. Sitting in the passenger seat, without so much as a view out of a window to distract her, she'd fallen asleep again.

He figured he'd let her sleep until they got to Charlotte. The first refuel had gone well just out of Atlanta, a Ryder maintenance shop had had all the fuel they needed, some of it even in underground tanks, which apparently were actually warmer than the surface tanks since they had still been fluid.

Jesse's belly started growling at him. He'd lost weight by force of circumstance in the last few months, but his old appetite was still an ever present reminder of his old habits and ways.

He decided a stop for lunch wasn't unwarranted. He had all kinds of MREs packed in the back and the water to heat them. He was thinking Jambalaya. Hopefully it came with that Jalapeño Cheese.

Looking at the monitors, he saw the distinct shape of a Shell Station sign. In Infrared & Ultraviolet he couldn't see much better than shapes, so things with writing were pretty much illegible unless he got within spitting distance, and even then only in the Ultraviolet. If there was a Shell Station, there may be a convenience store, which may present an opportunity for topping up the tanks and perhaps scrounging extra necessities.

He saw where the road dipped to join with the slight off ramp to the station, so he slowed and pulled the wheel slightly to the right to pull in. He could make out the shape of a car sitting at the pumps. Pulling up beside the store he shifted the truck to neutral and applied the parking brake to let the truck idle and keep the heat on.

Careful not to wake Linda, he unbuckled his seat belt and got up and made his way into the back. There, he pulled out two MREs and three bottles of water. He set each main meal and a few other chosen sundries into the heating pouches and poured half a bottle of water into each.

It wasn't long before the chemical stink of the heating packs started to make it unpleasant to breathe, so, very carefully, Jesse slid aside the panels closing off the exterior vents, allowing a sudden chilly draft of fresh air in from outside while still not allowing any views out.

With a few minutes to kill, Jesse began opening and closing cabinets and drawers. Rustling through things until he found what he was looking for, a set of metal cutlery. Grabbing up the contents of the heating packs as well as the rest of the MRE contents he slid open the door to the cab and got into the drivers seat. Reaching over he gently shook Linda's shoulder.

Hey.. Hey..! I got ya some lunch.

Linda stirred, inhaling deeply as she approached consciousness.

Hmm.. What..?

I hope ya like Tortellini.

I don't think I've ever had it..

It ain't too bad. I prefer it over the Spaghetti anyway. I've got Chili Mac with Jalapeño Cheese. Apologies in advance if it makes the ride unpleasant.

Jesse chuckled at his own joke as he pinched and pulled open the various packets of their meals, passing Linda hers first before getting to his.

Jesse reached forward and turned the key back, shutting down the engine. Suddenly, the sound of the Shards all over the exterior of the vehicle, their scratching and scraping at the metal and glass surfaces, could clearly be heard.

Linda visibly shuddered at the sudden reminder of their circumstances.

Do you think they'll ever go away?

I don't know. I hope so. But, if they don't, I'm sure some government facility, somewhere, has underground farming. I'm about dying for a cigarette.

Ha! I somehow doubt they'll grow tobacco, but at least you're staying optimistic.

Hey if they don't they're sincerely stupid.

You think so?

I doubt our government will be the only one to survive, and we'll need to have trade goods to deal with after everything. In my bunker down in 'Bama, I've got pallets of snuff, a humidor filled with Cubans I imported after the Embargo ended, and all kinds of other stuff just for trade, water pumps, solar panels.. You name it. I highly doubt the Government was so shortsighted to ignore the economics of the post-apocalypse.

You really gave this a lot of thought, didn't you?

And it's all turned out to be well worth the time and effort too.

Linda finished eating in silence, wondering just what sort of person Jesse would've ended up if the world hadn't ended.


Viktor Part XI

The Phenomenon, Day 6, Tokyo

What sort of "alternative plan"?

I'm afraid that's above my authority. I don't know. I've just been reassured one exists. And so, I pass that reassurance along.

Oh that's bullshit.

I'm sorry you feel that way.

So is that it? I mean, the world ends and simply by virtue of being cared for by someone who is important I survive while billions don't?

Fate rarely indulges our sense of equanimity.

Fate-shmate. It's damn unfair.

I'm sorry you feel that way.

So what happens now?

Now that you've been medically cleared we'll have to find you something to do. No-one may be apart of Japan's new Empire without earning their keep somehow.

So what do you do? Past this, I mean. Once all the prospective persons like me are evaluated, what's your role? Do you become superfluous?

Actually this is a break from my normal duties. Once this initial phase is over with, I'll return to them.

So, more specifically, what happens to me now, today?

You'll be discharged from the Medical Wing and escorted to the quarters you'll share with Ms. Koike. Tomorrow you'll begin a battery of skills and aptitude testing alongside the other Companions who've been medically cleared.

Viktor's deadpan expression and tone expressed his lack of enthusiasm for the prospect.

What fun.

So, do you have anymore questions?

Not offhand, not regarding what you're here for anyway.


Mr. Itoh and the Doctor stood and offered their hands. Viktor shook both of them before falling back into the bed. As they turned to leave Viktor called back the Doctor for a moment.

Doc, if I might ask, how soon will I be getting out of here, and will I be under guard or free?

Well you've just passed the test that decided if you'd be under guard, so you don't have to worry about that. But as to the timetable, I'd say just as soon as we can get someone with a key up here to undo your cuffs you'll be free to go.

How long does that normally take though?

Usually no more than about twenty minutes.

Alright. And then to my quarters.


Will I have the opportunity to thank the nursing staff for their attentiveness during my stay?

I suppose, when you're on your way out, you'll pass by the nurses station. Most of them are on duty today, lots of discharges.

Thank you.

The doctor gave a perfunctory nod before turning and leaving. Moments later Mr. Itoh returned with a clipboard.

I'm sorry for the further interruption Mr. Reitmeyer but I neglected to take care of one important detail.

How can I help you?

All nonessential personnel are entered into a lottery system for certain things, miscellaneous work details, a weekly monetary award for morale, things like that. But you need to sign into it with your information to be registered.

Viktor's suspicions were immediately roused.

What kinds of "miscellaneous work details"?

Oh nothing too bad, polishing signs, washing vehicles, stupid things like that that the regular maintenance people may not have the manpower to take care of, that's all.

Uh-huh.. I suppose I'm free to read this over and fill it out at my leisure?

Uh.. No, actually. It needs to be done before we can release you, that's why I came back. I'd hate to delay your release.

Alright, give it to me, I'll fill it out and leave it with the nurses station on the way out.

Excellent, thank you.


Viktor & Yuri Part III

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Buenos Aires

Viktor woke with a groan, the pain in his leg a throbbing ache that never seemed to go away entirely no matter how many painkillers he had in his system. Looking over, he saw his erstwhile captor, Yuri, now captured himself, bound with lengths of various computer cables to a desk chair with two broken wheels, his mouth stuffed with paper towels and sealed with masking tape.

Yuri was already awake, and by the look of the vein popping out on his forehead, highly agitated.

Viktor reached up under the makeshift pillow of crumpled paper in a plastic bag he'd made and retrieved his Lugers.

Checking them to ensure they were good to go, he put them in his waistband before getting up and hobbling over to Yuri before speaking again.

My apologies if this hurts too much.

Viktor then stripped the tape off Yuri's mouth before lifting up the back end of the chair and pushing him over to the working computer station.

He then pulled out a Luger and unbound Yuri's hands.

Alright, go ahead and finish the simulation, show me what the new orbit would look like.


It's done.

Viktor looked up from the paperback he'd found, something on eastern philosophy, to Yuri.

He pushed his chair closer, the Luger in his lap transferring to his left hand before he got within arms length of his prisoner.

Show me.

Yuri clicked the mouse and suddenly the screen above showed a model of the Earth, surrounded by satellites, with an odd layer of red dots shifting and moving over it. The satellites winked out one by one in rapid succession until only one remained, its projected orbit a white line circling the Globe near the equator. Then that line started shifting, one arc going up towards the North Pole, the other headed towards the South.

When the line stopped its journey the red dots moving over the Earth shifted as well, the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere brightened while the entirety of the southern hemisphere went dark.

See? It's like I said, with this orbit we'd get better coverage of the northern hemisphere but the satellite would be in the wrong orientation to scan during its time over the Southern Hemisphere. And if you look here-

Yuri pointed at a small block of numbers in the bottom right corner of the screen.

-you see this number, TTL? That's "Transmission Time Latency" the time before it's had a complete pass and come in-range again to update us here. Currently that's 4½ hours. Due to the nature of this orbit it's going to skip us every so often, making it 4½ hours for a day or so then a break of a full day before the Earth's rotation and its orbit align for contact again.

That's for contact here, right? In Buenos Aires?


Is there anywhere else where contact would be more consistent?

Only if there was another satellite in a similar orbit but with a different orientation in order to retransmit its data.

Is there one?

I can check, but if it's anything but a public sat I won't have access.


Yuri played his hands across the keyboard and mouse, navigating from the predictive program to the satellite registry, searching by orbital info.

As soon as all the terms were entered the results box came up clear Yuri turned back to Viktor.

See? Either there's nothing there or if there is, it's a proprietary sat, military or corporate, with no public access.

Is there any way to see if there's anything there?

I.. I could reorient the dish to scan that area and see if we detect anything. But if there is something they'd have to be transmitting. This is a passive system, if they're not sending anything we can't detect it. Also..


Reorienting the satellite isn't done from here. It's something done either from an office on the third floor-

I've been to the third floor, there's nothing there.

-exactly. Or, at the dish itself, on the roof.


No, no it's not. I didn't cover anything on any floor above this one. All the windows are clear, the floors are open. It's a death trap.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XXI

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

Longmire looked at Emil for a second before responding.

What's the matter with Sarya?

She's been having dreams.. Nightmares.

This whole situation is a nightmare. I'm not surprised a little girl is having bad dreams because of it.

No Captain, you misunderstand, she's having nightmares, had been for weeks now, but.. I only recently, here, in the security on the Oregon, bothered to ask her what her nightmares are about.


So.. Her nightmares are the same as mine. And taking an informal poll of your crew, quite a few others, two dozen and counting, have all had very similar nightmares.

Are you saying they're related?

I'm asking if you've had nightmares lately, Captain, and if so what are they?

Well.. I suppose I've had some nightmares, now and then, sure.

Captain, have they featured voices? Or a red mist? Titanic creatures? Titanic beings?

I think we should take this conversation off the bridge-

I agree.

-after my boarding party has made it safely back. I doubt our dreams are going to do us much harm anytime soon.

The captain turned away from his passenger and checked over the gauges at the helm. Emil followed the Captain, stepping forward from the passageway into the bridge proper.

Captain, this sort of thing is.. Unprecedented. We can't just brush this aside!

The Captain continued forward feigning interest in the port trim display.

Not only can I, Mister Emil, pending the safe return of my sailors that is exactly what I intend to do.


Enough Emil. Later.

At that the radio crackled.


Longmire took a deep breath before returning to the navigation table and picking up the radio.

Go ahead Cox, have you made it to the bridge yet?

Er.. No sir. But I think we've found something you might be interested in Sir.

The survivors?

No Sir, the opposite, we've found that deck seven is littered with bodies.. And something else. We're not sure what to say they are.

The giants?

No Sir. These aren't exactly beings. More like things. Small black spiky.. Things. They're littered about the deck on and amidst the shriveled corpses of the crew.


Zoe Part XVI

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

The men inside the airlock stripped themselves of their weapons and body armor as Zoe watched through the bulletproof glass.

When they were sufficiently disarmed, Zoe leaned forward and pressed the door control, allowing it to open the rest of the way.

Thank you Ms. Wilson.

It's no problem. Could you tell me just how you got here? Last I heard overland travel was rather difficult.

We came by air. Helicopter, with a refueling stop at Nashville International.

How's that possible?

You fly by Infrared or Ultraviolet. Black out the windows, wait for the Shards to lose interest after you land. We actually landed on your doorstep four hours ago.

Do you expect to transport all my stores and the archives in one helicopter?

Not at all. There's a backup option, copies and transfers all data from the archives to the central database of the primary and secondary facilities via satellite. It's just that you need Administrator access to the system.. And I brought those codes with, to initiate the backup.

And my stores?

This is only the initial expedition, once the backup is initiated and you're safely with the remaining Project personnel in North Carolina, we'll send a number of flights here with the sole purpose of collecting and transferring the bulk of your stores.

All this for little old me?

Humanity mustn't lose out on its artistic heritage.

The officer gestured to his men to stay at the entrance.

If you'd be so kind as to show me the way to the Archive retrieval station and your communications hub, I'll start the backup process so you can get to packing your personal belongings.

And your men?

They're really just here to watch over me. There's been some unexpected complications and we've had to take some rather unfortunate precautions.

Complications, precautions, backups.. Squads of soldiers.. You make it sound like we're at war..

Old habits.. No, we're not at war, at least we don't think so. The difficulties we've encountered have purely been the results of human foibles and people unable to handle the stress of the situations we find ourselves in.

Such as?

Dangerous mental breaks, delusional beliefs and behavior, even violent psychopathy I'm afraid.

And yet you trust me?

To be frank Ms. Wilson, I don't think you could take me.

The subtle humor and smile he affected seemed meant to show her he intended the remark in reassurance, but nevertheless Zoe felt something cold behind his words, saw the briefest flicker of danger pass behind his eyes..

Zoe realized she may have made a terrible mistake in allowing this young Naval Lieutenant into her sanctuary.

They made their way in silence to the Archive terminal, where the Lieutenant retrieved a small notebook from his inner breast pocket before using a keyboard command and typing a short series of directives into the resulting window. He replaced the notebook and stood back up straight before he spoke:

Alright, the system is ready to send the backup, I just need to authorize the connection at your personal terminal in your quarters.

As they began the slow walk to that destination Zoe wondered what Viktor had to hide, where he had hidden, and what he'd do if they evacuated her to North Carolina as they indicated their desire to do. She didn't voice any of these concerns, however.

What will become of the originals in storage here and above in the Institute?

There are plans, once the skies are clear and we can operate freely once again, to recover most Project resources and protected archives to Washington DC. The Smithsonian Institutions there have all the resources for preservation and storage we may need, plus there's still an operating government, even though we're in a state of Martial Law.

We are?

Of course. In fact, I wasn't going to mention this, but due to a series of unforseen events, I'm technically the Commander in Chief at the moment.

Zoe stopped in her tracks.

You're the President?

Oh, no, no election, no Executive Authority, but the Project has operational control of the Military for the duration, the actual line of succession is in tatters, and I'm the head of the Project at the moment.

What happened with the President?

Lost in the initial day, same with the Vice President. The Speaker was President for awhile but then Air Force One crashed and nobody in line after that can be located.

Viktor stepped forward into the light, his baritone voice revealing no trace of emotion as he addressed the surprised Lieutenant.

I suppose that means you're the man to talk to then, doesn't it?


Jesse & Linda Part VI

The Phenomenon, Day 94, South Carolina

Linda crossed her third X, filling the board.

Cats game.


You wanna go again or do you wanna switch to something else? We ain't broke open the deck a'cards, we could play some Rummy?

I'm about gamed out honestly. How in the world did you figure on bringing so many travel games?

It wasn't my first thought. But on that first ride, after I got'er squared away? That first stop for gas? Hours and hours waitin' for it to be safe to get out? I grabbed hold'a a couple books. Then, later, when I figured on company a stack of these here travel games.

Well I'm glad you thought ahead. It's certainly made the wait more bearable.

Yeah.. But I think the wait's about over. You hear anything?


..No. Why?

I don't hear nothing either.


So that means them things ain't all over us no more and we can get out if we play it quiet.

Oh! Well alright then! Where are we, what are we doing?

Just a little gas & go, convenience store kind of thing. Figured we could grab up some more bottled water, some canned fruit.. Things we ain't got. Hell I'm dying for a smoke.

I could use a drink!

Well let's get going then, but remember, you wanna keep your eyes on the ground til we get inside, be quiet as possible, and if you see one of them Giants-

If I see one of the Giants.. What?

-Uh.. I don't really know. I'm not sure there's anything you can do.. So if you see one, just lemme know, ok?

Will do.

Alright, let's go.

Jesse flipped down his IR Goggles and switched them on before gently pulling the latch to open his door. He slowly slid out of his seat, pushing the door "to" but not closed as he landed.

Then he made his way around the front of the truck to the passenger side. Opening Linda's door he reached up and took her waist in his hands, guiding her down to the ground before leading her to the door of the shop. Once inside he made a beeline for the counter where the cigarettes were. Stopping short at the entrance to the counter area, he flipped up his IR Goggles then blinked away the odd coloration they lent the world and looked down.

Two of the stores former employees lay behind the counter, their dried bodies still wearing the brightly colored uniforms of Shell Oil. Jesse looked over at Linda, who was perusing the coolers, before he leaned over and grabbed three cartons of his preferred brand, tucking them under his arm before grabbing a zippo and two bottles of lighter fluid.

Across the store, Linda hopped up and down before opening the cooler case and grabbing at a 12-pack of fruity Daiquiri-like drinks. It was only a moment before the smell of rot, mold, and mildew washed over her, causing her to gag. She hurried to close the airtight cooler door.

Jesse walked over to her, his goggles still perched on his forehead.

What's wron- Oh holy God what is that stench?

I don't know, something in these cases must be rotten but I don't know what..

Jesse followed the cases as they moved down the side of the store, going from alcohol to sodas to the culprit.

Ah here we go, this explains it.

Jesse waved over Linda, as she approached she saw that the far end of the cooler was covered in the exploded remains of sandwiches. Prepackaged sandwiches which had rotted, the gasses expanding their packages until they'd burst, spraying muck all over the inside of the case.

Jesse indicated the shelves of bottled water in pallets behind them in the aisle and the stacks of canned sodas in 12 pack boxes the aisle over.

We should definitely take a few pallets of water. And if you've got any preferences for sodas I'd grab as many as you can. In a few years there won't be no more sodas, so get while the gettin's good, y'know'what'I'mean?

Hard to imagine. No more Barqs, no more Fanta, or Mello Yellow, or Pibb, or Sprite.. Ooh! They have Fresca!

I've always been a fan of Cherry Coke m'self.

I'll make sure to grab some. How are we going to carry all this out to the truck?

Very carefully, one load at a time. We can't overburden ourselves on any one trip, cause if we drop something we'll have to get inside either the store or the truck right quick. Best to just not drop nothin', y'know?


Viktor Part XII

The Phenomenon, Day 12, Tokyo

Viktor pulled out a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his brow. The already sweat soaked rag did little but move around the sheen of fluid that coated his face and dripped from his hair.

He replaced the cloth and looked over the working party he'd found himself assigned to.

Julia, a Brit, companion to one of the scientists, met at Oxford and married, who was just as confused as you would expect by this whole turn of events.. Hibiki, who didn't have a single original thought in his head. Osamu, who never complained or questioned, always did just as he was told. Minoru, who couldn't tell a lie to save his life (or the rest of them work)..

They weren't bad people, or bad workers, still, he felt he shouldn't get too attached. He was grateful to them, they provided just enough banter and distraction to cover his observations.

The facilities of the Emperors chosen hadn't been properly prepared when the world went to shit. Tunnels needed cleaning, walls needed painting, and unfortunately, the compact Nuclear Reactor they'd bought from the Russians intended to power the facility wasn't yet active, so the generators needed constant tending. They were, after all, nearly half a century old.

Pipes leaked and needed to be patched, the ventilation clogged and needed to be blown out, fuel needed topping off.. These were daily chores, and each day a new working party was needed to see to them. Today was his party's day.

He'd realized how things worked here. Supposedly, the Companions of the chosen and the chosen were equal, and only the Emperor was of greater value and importance. However, he'd noticed that the companions were often, too often to be random, grouped together and given the shitty assignments.

Still, dirty hard work meant he was assigned places and tasks which gave him a better picture of their activities than he'd have otherwise. His original assignment, to investigate the Japanese Government and determine their intent with all their diverted resources, had been successful, though not in the way he'd ever expected.

They were very very concerned with the Reactor of course. Some of the engineers were starting to think Russia had sold them one that was already worn out. Other groups were concerned with the food stores, water reclamation.. But the most personnel were scientists of every persuasion. Physicists, Biologists, Meteorologists, Chemists..

And they all were heavily engaged each and every day in some kind of conclave. Each day they'd assemble in the rotunda, each group would update the rest on their findings, and then they'd seperate and go back to their own research facilities up near the surface.

Julia had mentioned her husband, one of the Meteorologists, was deeply concerned with the radar results they'd been getting over the Bering Straight. She'd mentioned it was almost like there was a Typhoon there, but.. Not.

Viktor made a mental note to approach Yuriko on the subject.


Viktor & Yuri Part IV

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Buenos Aires

Viktor and Yuri stared at the light streaming into the stairwell from the top floor of the building. Viktor cleared his throat before he spoke.

So how do you want to do this?

Uh.. What?

Look, you know this building better than I do. You know the layout, how things are arranged, I don't.

Yeah, and like I told you, the stairwell reached this floor, then there's the roof access from a pillar in the center, the outer layer is executive offices from the company that leases the floor, the ring between the outer offices and the center column is secretarial and project manager officers, and then the center column is the bathrooms, electrical closet, and roof access.

Right, and everything's open. Glass walls leave straight views from floor to ceiling, right?

Very nearly. There was one office where the glass was smoky.. Like.. I don't know, it's hard to describe. It wasn't clear, like it was fogged up, like glass that goes from hot outside to cold inside gets?

Right. See? This is why we're going to do it together. You know the layout. You're the guide. I'm coming along to make sure the Satellite gets reoriented to the proper inclination.


Don't look at it like that. Look at it like job security for your life. Life security you might say.

Trying to make it through a maze of office furniture and glass walls without looking up because looking up will kill me doesn't exactly ring like Life Security to me.

I never said it was a perfect metaphor. Let's get going.

At that Viktor pushed the door open to the floor of the office, pushing Yuri ahead of himself, both their eyes cast down at the floor.

Yuri stretched his arms ahead of him, feeling for and finding the first sheet of glass. They continued forward, one of Viktor's hands on Yuri's shoulder, his other hand gripping one of his Lugers pointed into the small of Yuri's back.

Yuri fumbling ahead for each progressive sheet of glass or secretarial desk. Operating from memory, it took them nearly ten minutes before he saw the base of the solid walls indicating they'd reached the center column of the building.

I think we're here.

As they looked up, they could see their shadows on the wall, the off white of the paint turned orange in the light of the setting sun. Suddenly, concurrent with a muted thump from the exterior windows behind them, a blotch of darkness blossomed on the wall above their shadows.

Then another. And another. They started coming like rain as Yuri and Viktor watched the diffused shadows join and grow darker.

Mr. Yuri, I'd recommend you start moving us towards someplace we can close up, and quickly!

Yuri began rapidly shuffling to the left, Viktor following step by step as the impacts and the shadows grew darker and more urgent.

A sudden sharp crack sounded out and both men froze in fear, cold sweat breaking out all over their bodies. Just as they began moving again they heard the unmistakeable sounds of glass shattering.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XXII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

They're littered about the deck on and amidst the shriveled corpses of the crew.

Any idea what they are?

No sir, not at all. They kind of remind me of Sea Urchins, but they look to be made of glass.. Black glass. Maybe Volcanic Glass.. Except the tips of the spikes. There they become slightly translucent, like tinted glass, gray-black.. Gotta be honest sir I don't like this. Of all the times in the world to run across something unknown.. This isn't exactly comforting.

Well that's understandable. You said you're on Deck 7?

Yes sir, but we've got to go up one more deck and then forward to get to the bridge.

Well get to it. The sooner you get that communications suite and reestablish contact the sooner we can get you back aboard and then get us underway.

Looking forward to it sir. Been dreaming of a proper meal.

Speaking of which, Emil says Sarya and a few members of the crew have been having "odd dreams". Anybody over there reporting any "odd dreams"?*

Heh.. No sir.. Well.. Actually, hold on, yes sir. Yes. I have had odd dreams.. The rest of the party says they have as well sir.

What kinds of dreams?

Hold on sir let us compare notes over here.

Alright, don't take too long about it.



Go ahead.

Seems we've all been dreaming the same dreams. Damn spooky sir.

Er.. Alright. Add odd dreams and sleep disturbances to the report you send in then.

Aye Sir.

Alright Cox, I don't want to keep you. Get going, just remember-


-not.. What, what is it Cox?

They're moving sir.. The little Urchin things.. They're sort of wobbling. They're not coordinated, some are wobbling left, some right.. One.. One of them seems to be bubbling or some-


..Cox? Cox are you there? Cox!? Cox answer me! Hello!?


Zoe Part XVII

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

I suppose that means you're the man to talk to then, doesn't it?

Lieutenant McGuire registered the barest hint of surprise before quickly regaining his composure. Zoe stood still, caught like a deer in the headlights. Unsure of just what to do. Turning to Viktor, McGuire responded.

I am. And you are?

Viktor Reitmeyer. I'm a part of the Project as well.

..riiight... That's right.. I remember now. The investigator. The one of the twenty six without an academic background. You were supposed to be in Japan, weren't you? Seeing about some kind of budgetary discrepancy?

That's right.

The Project counts you as dead Mr. Reitmeyer.

I'm quite pleased to prove the Project wrong in this instance then.

I'm sure there'll be quite a few people who are glad you're still kicking. And I shouldn't have to tell you that you'll be fully debriefed when we get you to the Facility.

Zoe finally shook herself out of her reverie and spoke up.

That'll be true for both of us, won't it?

Oh yes.. I expect there'll be quite a few questions for everyone involved on both sides.

McGuire continued:

Most especially about how you managed to get from Tokyo to Chicago in the midst of all.. This.

Ah.. Yes.. That.

Zoe spoke again:

Yeah Viktor you never did explain that part..

It's.. Complicated.

Would you care to? Like, to both of us at once maybe?

McGuire let the point hang in the air for a few heartbeats before he spoke again.

So Mr. Reitmeyer.. How did you get from Tokyo to Chicago.. In this situation?

Would you believe I flew Commercial?


It's true. If we're going to get to the basics, I flew here on a 727 with a big "Japan Transoceanic Air" on the side.

And..? Just how did you end up on a JTA 727?

I think it's best that wait until my debriefing.. Sir.

And I frankly don't give a shit what you think.

Well alright then. I'm here for Zoe. Or rather I was sent for Zoe. Her and her information. The archives.


Japan isn't dead as they've led the world to believe. They're just dormant. Intending to rebuild, regrow, expand. After this all passes. Like a seed through the winter. They want the archives and Zoe's data in order to facilitate their activities afterwards.

And just what plans are those?

The same as yours, as ours, I imagine.

And why you'd help them?

..whoever said I was?


Jesse & Linda Part VII

The Phenomenon, Day 94, South Carolina

Jesse set down the second set of water bottle pallets on the deck of the truck, careful to make as little noise as possible as he did so.

The plastic wrapping around the bottles and the bottles themselves were already very noisy on their own. Rough treatment would only make them deafeningly loud.

Linda watched from inside the store, a 12-pack box of Soda balanced on each of her hips. When Jesse started back she'd go out for her third trip, four boxes already sat beside the water inside the truck.

Jesse pushed his water a few inches back into the truck so that they sat within the truck proper and in a hurry the door could close. Sure of his work he turned from the truck and started his slow, measured walk back to the store, where Linda was already making her way to the truck, her head down, following the tracks they'd made in the frost in their previous trips.

As they passed each other Jesse took the opportunity to whisper.

Next trip I'm'a grab some bags of chips, y'want anything in particular?

Yeah, make sure to get some Salt & Vinegar!

Jesse got back under the cover of the stores awning and quickened his pace, grabbing a basket from the stack near the door before going to the snacks and chips aisle.

He lifted his IR Goggles before he started loading up the basket with Jerky, chips, and crackers. Glancing occasionally back outside at Linda and his truck.

He reached the end of the aisle near the coolers and was debating with himself if the individually packaged pickles in their little sleeves with the pickle juice would be safe at this point when he glanced back at the truck again.

Something in the corner of his eye caught his attention and he did a double take looking out at the road beyond his truck. A giant stood there, staring at them with glowing golden eyes.

Jesse didn't move for two heartbeats. Then he slowly began stepping sideways to go back to the entrance, keeping his eyes locked on the giant. It stood there, slightly swaying, its arms moving from its sides first on one side then the other.

As Jesse reached the threshold of the store he risked a glance towards the truck, where Linda appeared to be taking a quick inventory of what they'd loaded so far. He could still see the upper half of the Giant over the hood of the truck, easily 5½ feet off the ground. He decided to risk warning her. None of the warnings had mentioned anything about whether or not the Giants hearing was any good.


Jesse kept his eyes flicking back and forth from the Giant to Linda and back again.

Psst! Hey! Hey Linda!

Linda finally seemed to hear something, her head turned up to the interior of the truck and cocked to the side.

Unfortunately, so had the Giant. The behemoth began taking slow and easy strides towards the front end of the truck.


Viktor Part XIII

The Phenomenon, Day 40, Tokyo

Viktor retrieved his undershirt from where it had fallen next to the bed, used it to wipe clean and dry his face. Julia had rolled over on her side in the fetal position, legs clamped tightly together and shaking.

Viktor chuckled as she let out a little whimper from the aftershocks. She lashed out trying to seem mad but her own laughter ruined the effect.

It's not funny Viktor!

Hehe.. Yes it is.

Is not! Goddamn!

Viktor stood and picked up his underwear with the toes of his left foot, flipping them up into the air and catching them before bending over and stepping into them.

..yes it is..


Viktor shimmied through the pipe, the caustic smell of petroleum burning his eyes and nose as he disturbed the layers of oil sludge on the sides and floor.

As he approached the next junction he started searching the tunnel for the bolts of the hatch. A few feet further on he found them, immediately knowing something was wrong since they were already loose. He had two heartbeats to consider his next move, but before he could act at all the hatch was lifted off and three men with rifles looked down at him, loudly barking orders in Japanese.


The bailiff checked Viktor's wrist and ankle cuffs for the third time as the other guards watched, weapons drawn. Having already escaped, twice, they were talking no chances this time.

A tone from the intercom signaled that the sentencing commission was ready for him.

With slow and methodical precision, two guards unstrapped Viktor from the chair and lifted him to his feet before slow-stepping him through the door into the next room.

There, Viktor was set down in another chair facing a single man, the Emperor's Representative, who would decide his fate.

Mr. Reitmeyer, I am very sorry our meeting had to be under these circumstances. A man as skilled and resourceful as yourself should have come to my attention in a very different way.

Unfortunately your unwillingness to abide by our Emperors will have all but eliminated any room I may have had for mercy. You have one opportunity to save your life, Mr. Reitmeyer, but I must insist on total compliance, if you so much as breath a whisper that could be construed as disobedience, you will be abandoned to whatever fate destiny affords you. Do you understand?

I do.

Very Well. For the crimes of Conspiracy to Adultery, Accomplice to Adultery, Disturbing Societal Harmony, Resisting Arrest, Assault on an Imperial Agent, two counts of Escape from Lawful Confinement, and Espionage, I hereby sentence you to death.

By his Majesties grace and mercy, on the condition of your compliance with tasks to be assigned, I hereby commute your sentence from Death, to Exiled Service.


Viktor & Yuri Part V

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Buenos Aires

The stuffy air was starting to get to him. Couldn't be helped. The supply closet was nearly airtight. Small too. He just barely had room to stand, no possibility of sitting. That wasn't the worst part though. Just outside, barely even six inches away from the tip of his nose the things were all over the outside.

He kept flashing back to his eyes. A scant few seconds. The crash, the push towards the column, the hurried grasp for the handle, putting himself in and then pulling at the door, the last desperate inch pulling against him pulling at the door from the outside, his face pressed to the opening, his eyes wide and desperate.. Then the way his body shook with the impacts and they way he went slack, the life draining from his eyes as his pull relaxed and the door closed..

He'd only known him a few days but he was starting to respect him in spite of their oppositional relationship. He's overcome quite a bit to make it this long.

He settled back into the shelves, feeling boxes and binders press sharply into his back. He looked up at the ceiling tiles and pondered if he might be able to climb up and then make his way through the ceiling to the bathrooms or.. He dismissed the thought. Even if the shelves held his weight the ceiling wouldn't. He knew the action movies were lying about that one.

It was getting unbearably stuffy and hot, his own exhalations must be building up in here. He looked down past his body to the crack between the door and the floor, seeing only slivers of light penetrating through. The outside must be absolutely covered in the things.

Yuri shivered in spite of the heat.

He didn't know just what he'd do once he got out. Viktor had seemed fairly urgent in his need to reposition the satellite. But then, what if his purpose was malevolent in nature? What if changing the satellite wasn't the right thing?

But then, the opposite could just as easily be true. Keeping the satellite where it was could be doing harm, keeping the Japanese from accomplishing some noble goal, maybe even from ending this dreadful catastrophe.. What if they had a way to fight these things?

He shifted his weight onto his other foot. It'd be hours of stillness and silence before he could act either way.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XXIII

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

..Cox? Cox are you there? Cox!? Cox answer me! Hello!?

Emils voice came from behind, suffused with concern and a rising note of panic.

Captain, I may be speaking out of turn here but I'd highly recommend we submerge and start for South Carolina..

We can't submerge the boat, not with this much damage, too risky. And we're not going anywhere until Cox and the others get back.

Captain Longmire, I hate to be the one to state the obvious but.. Cox and the others are very likely to be dead. With these.. Things.. I don't think a rescue would be possible, much less likely to succeed. We should leave, and the sooner the better.

I am not going to abandon half a dozen members of my crew on a derelict! End of discussion!

Emil opened his mouth to speak again but a sharp look from the Captain made him reconsider, and he closed his jaw with an audible click.

Does anybody else have any objections to us making absolutely sure we can save as many lives as possible!?

The silence on the bridge was heavy. Nobody seemed intent to breath much less speak.

The redheaded sonarman slowly leaned out of his cubby and raised his hand.

Oh you want to abandon then too, eh Colquitt?

Uh, no sir, unrelated? I'm hearing a lot of splashes and clangs and groans out in the water sir. Hell if I know what it is though..

Understood. Well, good.. At least the Navy is consistent in its value for lives.

A buzzing tone came from the intercom panel, a small green light indicated the call was coming from the Sail. Longmire reached up and picked up the microphone before putting it to his mouth and responding.

Bridge, Captain Longmire, go ahead.

Sir this is Seaman Causey up in the Sail.

Go ahead Causey what is it?

Well Sir I'm not quite sure how to describe it. It looks like the Magic is.. Uh.. It looks like it's.. Popping.. Sir.

What the hell does that mean?

Parts of her are flying off. Like as if she were filled with popcorn and it was popping and putting pressure on the inside and she's bursting from it.

What about her superstructure? The Antennae and radar, anything happening to them?

The bridge was the first part to start popping sir, all that's popped off and flown all over her decks and the Atlantic sir.

Well.. Great. Just.. Fucking great.

If there's anything else that can go wrong somebody tell me please?

Longmire leaned over the navigation table, the microphone making a solid think as it hit the plastic surface.

Emil stepped forward slowly, planting a hand on the Captains shoulder.


The Captain reacted quickly, turning and throwing his full weight behind a right handed uppercut that sent Emil flying one way and several of his teeth another.

I'll be good and god damned before I'll let a civilian tell me how to run things on my own fucking boat! You say one more word and I swear I'll have you put in irons!

Colquitt stood and went to Emil, helping him to his feet.

I'll take him below sir, back to his berth, and let the guys on B Deck know he's not allowed up here anymore.

Stay at your post! I'm sure Emil can behave himself in the future, can't you Emil?

As Colquitt released him and went back to the Sonar console, Emil looked on the verge of speaking but then resignedly shook his head.


Zoe Part XVIII

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

..whoever said I was?


So.. Let me get this straight.


You're working for the Project.


And the Japanese think you're working for them.


But the Japanese also know you're working for the Project.


So you actively chose an assignment that would seemingly work against the Project.


Because you believe that actually accomplishing the assignment will convince the Japanese you've abandoned the Project in favor of them?

No, I'm quite sure it won't.

Then why do you actually want me to let you copy the database and turn it over to them?

I can't tell you that.

Can't or won't?

Both, bizarrely enough.

I don't like half answers, I don't like wise-asses, and I expect cooperation.

This goes above your paygrade.

Mr. Reitmeyer.. I'm the current head of the Project. The President you know died in the initial event, so did the Vice President. The Speaker of the House was sworn in and he died when Air Force One bought it. After that there's nobody in the Chain of Command above me. In this situation, I am the highest paygrade, so talk.

All due respect, but operational control isn't the same as actually being or having the authority you'd need.


Lt. McGuire whistled three short notes and two of his men materialized from the shadows behind them, fully armed once more.


Zoe found her voice once more to protest.

Hold on, you said..!

Quiet! Gentlemen I want Mr. Reitmeyer bound, gagged, and strapped into the Chopper as soon as possible. We'll continue this debriefing at the Facility.

You agreed to disarm while here!

..And I did. You can get mad at the men if you'd like.

Zoe opened her mouth to complain further but a glance at the armed men now roughly manhandling Viktor into a set of plastic zip cuffs.


Jesse & Linda Part VIII

The Phenomenon, Day 94, South Carolina

Jesse watched, horrified, as the giant slowly strode towards the front of the truck, it's peg like feet seeming to find no trouble finding purchase on the frosted concrete.

The quiet click-crunch of its step finally reached Linda's ears. A confused look passed over her face and she started to lean over and look under the door and down the side of the truck before she thought better.

She squatted down on her heels, looking through the undercarriage of the truck. She saw the peg feet of the giant, and her confused look changed to pure bewilderment.

Jesse watched this unfold with one thought running through his head; "She's never seen the giants before, she doesn't know what she's looking at.. I hope she's smart enough to think anything strange is dangerous.."

Linda stared at the giants feet for nearly a five count before she stood and climbed into the back of the truck. The slight bounce of the truck on its suspension gave the giant pause, it stopped and reached out to the hood, opening it's fist and extending it's fingers in a splayed hand. It placed it's hands down on the hood and pressed it down, then released it, watching it bounce back up.

It pushed down again, harder, and released. The truck bounced higher. It presses harder still, and the truck bottomed out it's suspension before it released. This time it bounced hard enough the front wheels came off the ground slightly.

A muffled collection of thuds and clangs came from the back of the truck as various bits of gear were dislodged from racks and settings by the motion of the vehicle. Jesse acted quickly to duck down on his hands and knees between the aisles of the store. A second later he heard the back door of the truck slam closed as Linda took action herself.

Jesse listened intently for the sound he knew was coming and dreaded. He wasn't disappointed. The thuds, thunks, and thumps rang out as the truck was covered. He started crawling deeper into the store, careful not to make any noise of his own.

He could hear the infernal noises they made as they shifted and jostled and rubbed against each other. And then another noise, the distinctive click-crunch of the giant's footsteps.


Viktor Part XIV

The Phenomenon, Day 68, Tokyo

Viktor looked up from his rack, the thin mattress flexing and the springs of the rack singing as his weight shifted. The face in the small porthole in the cell door looked at him with barely disguised disgust. Viktor smiled and flashed him the peace sign before turning his hand around, withdrawing the index finger, and winking.

The face in the window flushed with anger before disappearing.

Day 69

Viktor stood as still as he could while the machine did it's work. The low hum of electricity thrumming through the equipment putting a deep rattle in his bones. He could feel the static discharge in the air as every hair on his naked body was raised. The lights abruptly dimmed as the power throughout the facility coursed to the chamber in which he stood.

He felt a burning sensation in his nose, like they'd warned him about. He felt a drop of something, maybe mucus, maybe blood, drip from his nose as the burning intensified and a wave of pain and nausea overtook him. The lights flared, his head pounded, his bones felt like they were splitting. He screamed, feeling the arcs of energy popping from his capped teeth. Then he felt intense pain as he was ripped apart.

Day 1

..and he's in the ward right now?

Yes, heavily sedated. But ever since this one arrived he seems restless, keeps metabolizing everything and waking up anyway.

That's bizarre, you think there's a connection?

Might be. We'll do a CAT Scan and an MRI while he's out, as well as a full panel of blood work on both of them.

Ah shit.. He looks like he's waking up. Nurse, Nurse!

Day 12

Is he any better today?

Mental confusion is lesser, he's starting to get fine motor skills back, still no speech yet but the brain needs time to reorient itself after this kind of ordeal.

Any idea why he's here?

That's what I called you about. He's writing, finally, says there's two objectives needed to be taken care of simultaneously, and he's the only one with the skill sets for them. Something about some Project the Americans have as well.

Are they..!?

No! No, thank goodness, clueless on Quantum state regression. This is more a preservation initiative that they're working on.

Day 46

He's escaped.

Yep. Wait two hours then have a team waiting at the second inspection hatch west of the old oil-fired heaters on the detention level. When the team hears someone messing with the bolts, pull us out.

Through the heating system?


That's got to be disgusting..

It was, er, is.

Day 90

Any last bits of advice?

Yeah, don't die.

Got it, don't tell anyone about the process, get the archives, get back, don't die.

Exactly. You die, then the other you in Buenos Aires right now won't exist, and then we've got a paradox. And those are what?

Paradox are bad, I get it.


Yuri Part I

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Buenos Aires

Yuri arched his back as much as he could in the confined space. The air was thick, close. Every breath seemed a greater effort than the last. Glancing down he looked at the dim blue light coming from beneath the door, the brilliant glare of the sunset having slowly faded over the first hour. The sounds of the things outside had dissipated over the last half hour, the last half of almost his fourth hour in the closet.

He'd decided he wasn't going to reposition the satellite. The trip to the roof access was closer, but the roof was more exposed. The longer trip to the stairwell would be nerve wracking, especially without the smoked glass to give him some semblance of concealment, but once in the stairwell he'd be covered all the way back down to his floor of the building.

Despite all of Viktor's ruminations on the importance of its movement, whatever the Japanese had cooking.. Well.. It simply wasn't worth his life. Not to him, anyway. If he could get to his floor he could last awhile longer before having to descend into the city. Long enough maybe for the harsher elements to burn themselves out, kill each other off. It wasn't the most courageous plan, or the most humane, but it was his best chance for survival.

But first, he had to make it to the stairwell.

He placed his hand on the doorknob, and slowly turned it, feeling the gradual clicks and pops as its mechanism worked, each tiny sound seeming to him like a gunshot as his blood rushed in his ears. Finally he felt the door loosed from the latch, and he began slowly easing it outwards.

As the crack between the door and the frame widened he kept his eyes at near a 45° angle, towards the ground, the moonlight revealing the thin, ugly, industrial blue grey carpet. After a few interminable seconds which felt like all the millennia of mankind, finally it was wide enough for him to move through.

Yuri made a beeline along the angle he figured the stairwell must lie. He saw carpet give way to layers of shattered glass. The corners of desks, the wheels of office chairs, and various bits of debris and detritus knocked from desks when the windows blew in and the things flew about the room.

At the edges of his vision, just obscured by the fringes of his hair, he saw the bottom of the stairwell door. He quickened the last three steps to it, extending his hands to hit the bar to open it.. It didn't budge.

He looked up and through the window into the stairwell, seeing a familiar slat of wood jammed against a pile of office furniture at one end and the handle of the door at the other end.

His mental litany of curses would've impressed a rageaholic sailor with tourettes.

He pushed the bar once again. Gently, softly, but with all his weight and strength and anger and hope.. And it did not yield. Yuri bit his tongue, restraining the urge to cry out and scream in his frustration. He stood there with his head resting on the door, beads of sweat breaking out in spite of the cooler night air.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XXIV

The Phenomenon, Day 93, North Atlantic

As Emil walked off the bridge Captain Longmire turned to his men.

Gentlemen, I apologize for that display. We're in a combat situation. Whatever it is that's out there, the things that've taken over the sky, the giants.. They are our enemy. They have taken, and I'm not exaggerating, billions of lives over the past few months.

Whatever has happened to Cox and our boarding party, we're not going to leave them behind. We've lost enough good men to this. If we can bring back even one of them, we will not only have saved a member of this crew, but one of the last survivors of humanity.

In the wake of all this, whether it ends by the hands of men or never ends, every last man, woman, & child will be of utmost value. I spoke harshly and without thinking in ordering Mr. Cox to give up on finding survivors on the Magic & the Globe.

I need another boarding party to go over and search the Globe for survivors. Mr. Cox already searched half the Magic and didn't find anyone, but from the looks of things the Globe was tethered to the Magic with intent from aboard the Tanker, so that's now our best bet for survivors.

From what I understand, the Starboard forward loading ramp of the Globe is extended and in the water. The next party is to get over to the Magic, pick up what crewman Cox left at the Zodiac, and then continue around and board the Globe. After the Globe has either been cleared keel to above decks or its survivors found, you'll board the Magic and find the rest of Mr. Cox's boarding party.

You will bring them, or their remains, back to the Oregon. We will assist the survivors in any way we can, food, medical supplies.. If they're few in number we may even have bunks for them here.

Are there any volunteers?

Before anyone could respond, the boat was filled with a cacophony of noise, like an endless stream of ball bearings being poured across a piece of corrugated tin roofing.

Men clutched their ears in pain and the screams of the crew could be heard just above the din. The Sonarman Colquitt collapsed to the deck, trickles of blood coming from both his ears.

Captain Longmire fell into the navigators chair, his balance gone, his head screaming. Just before his vision went black, he heard the noise stop as quickly as it had come.


Zoe Part XIX

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

Zoe stood silent as Viktor was dragged away. Lieutenant McGuire looked at Zoe with an expression of cautious curiosity.

I don't suppose you'd like to explain why you didn't mention that you had company here?

I wasn't sure your intentions here. I'm still not. But, he acted as if he was being pursued, so I didn't want to put him in danger.

And it didn't occur to you that his intentions might not be on the level?

I know him from the Project. I don't know you.

Don't pretend you were trying to do the right thing here. You're lucky I'm not ordering you bound alongside him. I'm hoping you'll have more sense here.

The one who isn't using their sense here is you. The world is on the raggedy edge and you're stomping around like a bully on a playground.

Lieutenant McGuire seemed for just a moment to be on the edge of striking her before the old serene stoicism of military bearing descended once more.

Zoe.. You're not fully aware of certain things, so I can let an awful lot slide on that basis alone. But, don't mistake my placidity for apathy. Your little contribution to this Project is appreciated, but, it isn't license to passively disregard my authority, or, to actively work against me. You're a very minor cog in a very big machine.

Uh-huh.. And is that what you tell yourself makes you different? That you're a big cog? I understand you've got "authority", but what does that matter if the fucking world is ending around us? We're all just human beings trying to survive.

Survival requires that order must be kept..

Whose order!? Yours? The United States? Look around! There isn't a " United States" anymore! Just a bunch of people hiding in bunkers!

Lieutenant McGuires face turned to an almost sadistic smile.

Not for very much longer.

What do you mean- what are you talking about!?

Viktor's given me my next course of action, he just doesn't realize it yet.


Jesse & Linda Part IX

The Phenomenon, Day 94, South Carolina

Linda sat sprawled on the various boxes of sodas and pallets of water she'd leapt atop of when she piled in. Their hard edges and corners pressing into her and making her uncomfortable. Numerous tools and pieces of gear she could only guess at lined the walls around her.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath of relief. The sudden violent bounce of the truck underneath her and their supplies shocked her but she stifled her instinct to cry out.

Another bounce, more energetic, slammed her elbow into the corner of the wheel well. Stars of pain danced in her eyes as she looked around at their groceries scattered around her.

Another bounce, this time enough to throw her into the air and flip her over. She suddenly had a vision in her head of a spiraling flock of darkness twisting from sky to ground and pouring through the back of the truck. She scrambled to get to her feet, and grabbed at the strap affixed to the inside of the door. Squeezing her eyes shut lest she catch a glance of sky, she threw her weight back, dragging the door round on its hinges and slamming it closed.

She pulled in a deep breath of relief, feeling it freeze in her throat as she broke out in a cold sweat at the sound of hundreds of thuds, thunks, and screeching scratches as the truck was enveloped.

She felt the rising bile of a panic attack clawing at the back of her throat as she realized Jesse was likely dead, and her soon to follow.


Jesse was very surprised he wasn't dead. Whether from the things currently flying through the store or the foul air of the rotted food in the cooler area he'd sought refuge in. Which, as he'd discovered, also contained another desiccated body, this one looked like a customer. There were nearly a dozen single serving cups of wine and two bottles of antihistamines by the body. It was pretty easy to see they'd chosen the easy way out. Didn't look nearly like they'd been dead long, maybe two days.

Jesse wondered who they were, how they'd gotten here. The store hadn't shown any signs of habitation. They must've just come here to die. Odd choice, but Jesse didn't have the particular presence of mind to think too deeply on it. He had other concerns.

He was effectively blinded, for one. High windows, a skylight, and enough gaps in the shelving to provide views of the store meant he either had to keep his eyes on the ground, or closed. He didn't have his goggles. He'd set them on the back end of the truck his first trip.

He was also unarmed. The sidearm he'd worn before was in pieces in the back of the truck, he'd started cleaning it while they waited to leave the CDC but his attention has wandered and he'd never reassembled it or brought it with him.

At least he wouldn't starve. There were boxes of chips, candy, sodas.. Of course there were also hordes of bugs, roaches mostly, a few beetles, ants too, forming neat and orderly lines from where they gained entrance by the service door to the bottom of the cooler racks and suicide Stu.


Linda watched a line of frost move down the passenger side of the truck, the condensation on the interior freezing solid before her eyes, moving from the cab to the rear of the truck.

A high pitched squeal began emanating from the center of the line, a series of cracks began forming in the ice behind the front as it moved, a series of pops and clinks like a glass toast began coming as something scratched and pressed in the metal on the outside, the things covering the outside being peeled and pryed from the truck by its passing. As it reached a seam in the skin the joint popped and a bolt flew from the panels, bounced around the interior twice before embedding in the cardboard of a 12-pack of Cherry Coke.

A thin, bone-white spike poked through the gap made by the popped seam for a second before quickly withdrawing. A shaft of sunlight stabbed through in its place before being replaced by a strange black pool with golden cracks emanating from its center, it twisted to and fro, the golden cracks shifting, twisting, swirling, and reforming with different courses with each rapid reorientation until it finally settled on Linda's face.


Yuri Part II

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Buenos Aires

Sweat dripped down stinging his eyes. The cool air of night chilled his forehead. His muscles ached from the effort of trying to brute force the door open, but it had yet to budge so much as a millimeter.

The iron taste of terror was strong on his tongue. He was well aware that he was exposed and vulnerable. But, he didn't relish the journey to safety. And it would just be temporary anyway, he'd eventually have to try again. Wiser to just do his best to get to permanent shelter now.

He was momentarily shocked into absolute terror by the sound of tinking glass behind him. He slowly twisted his head round and angled his body to look at the floor of the office behind him.

It was a bird. Just a stupid bird. In the dark it was difficult to make out its exact plumage, dark grey or maybe black, but definitely some white, about a foot tall.. Cape Petrel, maybe. It had a pebble in its beak. It was looking at him. Yuri stared back. It cocked its head, Yuri raised an eyebrow.

It ruffled its wings before dropping the pebble and moving towards the opening left by the broken windows. Yuri didn't watch it go. He turned back to the door.

Looking through the tiny window into the stairwell the wooden slat Viktor had been using as a makeshift cane mocked him, resolutely jammed against the door and a chip in the concrete floor. He looked down at the floor and his breath caught. There was a gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. It looked like whatever was supposed to be set into the boundary between the carpet of the office and the stairs had come up and gone missing.

He was suddenly struck by inspiration. He began to think. There had to be something thin enough, long enough, to be pushed under the door and used to knock the end of the slat out of the chip in the floor.. But how could he find it without inadvertently looking out the windows?

He mentally went over his initial and hurried exploration of this floor months ago. Offices, computers, desks, file cabinets, chairs.. Nothing remotely thin enough except maybe papers and folders, and even those wouldn't have the strength needed to communicate his push at one end into the base of the slat. If only there was a yardstick or something..

Yuri couldn't think of anything. The frustration was like a pounding weight in his head and weighing down on his shoulders. He knew there was a bathroom on the floor, and the stationary closet, and a janitors closet.

The janitors closet might have a broom or a mop or something, but the crack looked to be only maybe a half inch in height.. No way any kind of handle would fit through. Unless they're those cheap aluminum handles, he could press one of those down, squash it flat.. Worth a try.

Yuri closed his eyes and turned, leaning against the door, steeling himself for yet another trip across the floor of the building. The still, chill night air was starting to stir, hints of a breeze made his hair tickle the nape of his neck. His breathing slowed. He listened to his heartbeat, using biofeedback to consciously slow its rhythmic hammering to a more docile pace.

He stepped off towards the center of the floor.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XXIV

The Phenomenon

Ben Longmire woke up drenched in sweat, his mouth dry and his head throbbing. He cracked open one eye. All he could see was a shock of short orange-red hair.

His body felt strange, stiff, and he could tell he was positioned oddly, his feet were kicked up on top of something, his left arm under something else. He was hot. The air was sweltering. It was difficult to breath, there was something pressing down on his chest.

He could hear.. Something. He couldn't quite make it out. Some sort of tapping, each tap followed by a short, high-pitched hiss. There were also slow footsteps, like someone was slowly walking down a metal deck in combat boots.

He raised his head to see if he could make out just what was weighing him down. It was a leg clad in service khakis. Following the leg up to its owner he could just make out the profile of his XO. The head next to his own belonged to his Sonarman, and the tap-hiss was a set of pipes on the wall of the chamber they were in, one hot below, one with a minor leak above. A drop would fall from the one above and boil away nearly instantly on the pipe below.

There was a dim crimson light emanating from the hatch to the next chamber. Longmire raised himself up, shoving his crewman aside and off of him, pulling his arm out from under another. Each felt warm and pliable to the touch, it didn't appear any were dead.

Standing, he was struck by a wave of nausea that nearly took him back down again, as it was he stumbled and had to throw a hand down on Colquitt for balance. He groaned from the sudden impact. The sound came through hollow, as if from far away.

Shaking his head Longmire felt a stabbing pain and another wave of disorientation and nausea. Inner ear damage, seemed like. Looking around he could see that all his officers and warrant officers were here, none of the enlisted. It appeared the crew had been sorted.

Taking his first shaky step over his XO to a space between him and his Engineer, Longmire again felt off, wrong. He wobbled, but steadied himself. Nearly a decade at sea meant he had some skill with balance even without the normal apparatus to do it by instinct, awareness of his body, it's position, and the distribution of his weight, all combined for him to remain upright when every part of his inner sense told him to throw himself in the wrong directions.

He took another step, and he was humbled when his skills proved insufficient and he found himself yet again on the deck, next to the pile of his men.

He heard the heavy footsteps once more, turning his head to the hatch and fighting back the vomit threatening to rise in his throat, he saw a shadow form in the ruby light.

A figure formed from the shadow, tall, pale, it ducked down, bending at the middle, its head and shoulders coming into view where it's chest filled the top of the hatch before. A long fingered hand with too many knuckles grasped the hatch border, golden pupils set in black pools scanned the room until they found Longmire.

A lipless slit of a mouth parted, a baleful light hypnotizing him.

Come. It said.

And then it turned and was gone.


Zoe Part XX

The Phenomenon, Day 94, Chicago Art Institute

Lieutenant McGuire paced back and forth from the kitchen to the sunken living room. His steps sharp clipped impacts on the bare concrete. He nervously puffed on a cigarette, a habit he'd long disdained but decided perhaps held some merit as a superficial stress reliever.

Are we connected yet?

The young soldier wiped his brow and continued clicking through the settings on the computer.

Sir I don't think we'll be able to.

And just why not? What did they do?

I don't think they've done anything here sir, everything on this end is squared away. But we're not getting any real return from the Facility.

Could the satellite be the problem?

No sir, this system isn't satellite based.

What do you mean? I thought everything was routed through the satellites?

Most of it. There's still a few minor facilities that weren't yet upgraded to the uplink, Chicago here was one of them still on landlines.

Could it be a downed line between here and there then?

No sir, we're getting a ping, they're there, but other than acknowledging the connection, which is automatic, they're not responding.

Could it be some other kind of mechanical fault?

Unlikely sir.

Oh-kay... So what do you think is happening.

Well sir there's three things, in our current situation that is, that stands out as possible causes.

One, purely mechanical fault on their end, something crapped out and we happen to be trying to connect while the systems down. Not likely, million to one.

Two, they're receiving but intentionally not answering. Some breakdown in C&C, orders got mixed up, they're responding as if it wasn't us but an unscheduled attempt from an unknown outside source. Possible, but unlikely, I'd say a couple thousand to one.

And the third?

Sir, the world's gone to hell. We've lost thirty surviving groups in three months. Some to isolation and starvation, some to exposure, and some just went quiet. I have to think the Secondary Facility could have suffered a similar fate.


Zoe sat uncomfortably on the concrete floor of the Airlock, still in her pajamas. The chill from outside was bleeding through the steel doors. She looked around at the men who had invaded what she'd begun to think of as her bunker.

They were all stone faced and grim, men who'd seen combat and watched friends die, men who'd watched the world die. They didn't speak much, and when they did it was short and clipped orders. No manners whatsoever. She looked at Viktor. He was bound, gagged, and blindfolded on the floor opposite her, laying on his side.

One of the mens watches beeped. He looked at it briefly then looked at the others.

It's been enough time, Chopper should be clear. Let's get these two aboard.


Jesse & Linda Part X

The Phenomenon, Day 94, South Carolina

The golden lightning swirled and retraced itself across the ebony orb as the iris narrowed and focused in on her face. It withdrew, a momentary shaft of sunlight streaming through the hole before four sharp bone white spikes entered, extending into the gap and the joints bending, two splaying in each direction forward and back. They began pulling, separating, the gap forcibly widening moment to moment, the screech of metal a horrifying din within the small enclosed space. She screamed.


Jesse could hear the giant tearing into his truck outside, and then a muted scream rang out, the cinder block walls rendering it brief and dull. He jumped to his feet from the ground, a few stray insects that had found their way to him flying off in every which way by his sudden movement. Jesse reached for the door to the store but he froze scant inches from the handle, fear and realization striking him to his core.

He was defeated, he thought.

..I can't get to her, I can't save her, I can't fight that thing, or the things flying around in the store.. I'm completely impotent in this here situation..

Jesse moved back from the door. Sitting down on a pallet of Coca-Cola, he put his head in his hands and tried to block out the world. The smell of his refuge-prison kept him from success. The scream echoing in his mind and blending with the sounds of his truck being ripped apart.


Linda watched the gap widen inches at a time. The sunlight and the strange profile of the creature filling the opening. She realized her mistake. Quickly and tightly closing her eyes, she rolled over onto her hands and knees, turning towards the cab of the truck she frantically pawed at the sliding door to the cab. Finding and grasping the handle she heaved her weight against it, sliding the door open and jumping into the cab.

A quick reorientation by touch, and she went to grab and close the door. She miscalculated, her momentum carrying her face first into the side of the door, the hard edge slamming into her left cheekbone and forehead. She recoiled, the pain causing stars to whirl in her head.

Momentarily senseless, Linda's eyes snapped open. In a short second, she saw the giant, its upper torso leaning into the hole it had torn in the side of the truck. Over its shoulder she could see sky.. Blue sky! Clear blue sky!

And then she realized, and she shut her eyes tightly once again. Grabbing the door, she slammed it closed. It was a brief reprieve. Only moments later a series of ivory spikes pierced the door, then bent from invisible joints, grasping the door and pulling it from its track.


Yuri Part III

The Phenomenon, Day 95, Buenos Aires

Yuri stared. There was simply no explanation for this turn of events. In the doorway was something new, something that hadn't been there before.

He'd made his way back to the core column of the building, following his own shuffled footprints in the debris, back to where the roof access, the bathrooms, and the supply closet were. And chancing a look up at the column itself he found himself looking at some kind of creature sitting, legs crossed, on the threshold of the roof access doorway.

It was an ivory white being, with intricate ridges all over its skin, like fingerprints only larger and thicker, swirling and curling around every nodule and bump. It had black eyes flecked with streaks of gold glowing bright, and its impossibly long arms ended in hands of exquisite narrowness, with 4 joints on its thumbs and 5 to its fingers.

It seemed as still as a statue until the ebony orbs whirled pointedly at Yuri. The slit across the lower portion of it's head cracked open, a crimson flood of light pouring forth, freezing Yuri in place.

It stood. And in two strides covered the ten feet between them. One hand extended out and grasped Yuri about the torso, lifting him from the ground. It strode to the edge of the building, where the glass once was, and turned Yuri to the sky.

Yuri's unblinking eyes made out the few wisps of clouds moving across the stars, lit from above by a nearly full moon. The stars, unimpeded by the light pollution of civilization, stood out brilliantly against the black velvet curtain of space. Even the pale streak of the milky way was brilliantly visible wheeling overhead.

Yuri was momentarily awed by the beauty of a sky he'd always taken for granted. Then he realized what was missing.

The creature which held him in its grip turned with him, carrying him to the stairwell door which had defeated him. With its free hand it bashed the door in, the offensive plank shattering to splinters like so many toothpicks, the deformed door slamming into the opposite wall. It set Yuri down in the doorway, and closed its mouth before turning it's head slightly askew and looking at Yuri expectantly.

Thank you!! I've got to go see the rest of it!

Yuri began dashing down the stairs two at a time, hoping against hope that he'd interpreted the creatures actions correctly.

Out of Yuris sight above, the giant raised a hand and forlornly waved goodbye before turning and starting for the core column.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XXVI

The Phenomenon

Longmire stood fixed, confused and uncertain. The creature of nightmare he was quite sure had spoken, and yet, he was equally sure it didn't. He found himself questioning his wakefulness. He considered for a moment that he may in fact be dead. A footfall from behind broke him from such thoughts.

He twisted in place, noticing for the first time the hatch behind him and the heap of his men. Sarya stood there, another creature like the one who'd spoken to him bent in the doorway, holding her hand in its own. It would've been absurd if it wasn't terrifying.

Mr. Captain man, are you OK?

Yes Sarya.. I'm just fine.

But you've got blood on you.

Oh honey it's OK.. I just had a little bump on the head, but I'm alright now.. Why don't you come here?

Longmire crouched down to one knee, extending his arms in welcome.

Sarya looked up at the creature holding her hand.

I'm gonna go with the Captain now. Bye..

The creature looked down at Sarya a moment before turning its gaze on Longmire, a short roar was accompanied by a flash of the baleful light from its mouth which froze both Sarya and Longmire in place. At the conclusion Sarya withdrew her hand and calmly walked around the heap of officers on the deck.

Longmire gathered her in his arms and stood, the creatures gaze following him until he was fully vertical with Sarya perched on his hip, one arm locked around and underneath her. Then it turned and began making its way down the passageway. Longmire immediately turned to the girl in his arms.

Sarya honey are you ok? What happened?

I'm ok.. There was a bunch of noise, and it woke me up, and then everyone fell down, and then the big white men came and gathered us all up and walked everyone across the ice outside the boat to another boat but because I wasn't asleep they let me walk myself so long as I promised to hold their hands.

Longmire was taken aback by the brevity and detail of the girls descriptions, it certainly answered his question well enough. Still, he had others.

Did you see what they did with the rest of the crew?

Yeah.. They put most of them in a couple big rooms and a few here too.. Daddy and I got a special room all to ourselves though, he's on a bed taking a nap but he looks like he fell really hard cause his mouth's hurt.

Ok.. Did they do anything to anyone? Did they say anything?

One just said I should follow that other one and hold their hand.. They don't talk much elsewise.

Ok Sarya, is there anything else you can think of, anything you saw or heard? Even if it's really small it could be important, ok?

I dunno.. Can we go wake up Daddy now?

I don't know sweety, I think I'm supposed to go on through that hatch over there.

That's ok, Daddy needs a nap anyway, he's been grumpy. I'll just go with you then.

I don't think that's a good idea Sarya..

The creature once more appeared within the hatchway, bent and peering at Longmire and Sarya. It raised a hand, beckoning them forward.

Come. It repeated, and then turned and disappeared once more.

Longmire looked down at his men, and then at Sarya, then, hitching her higher on his hip, he moved towards the hatch.


Zoe Part XXI

The Phenomenon, Day 95, Chicago Art Institute

Zoe and Viktor were pushed roughly out the door, blindfolded and guided only by the whispered orders of the soldiers, they walked slowly, not knowing the direction they were headed in. The freezing wind bit at every inch of exposed skin on them, especially badly on Zoe, who, not only barefoot, but still only wore her ill fitting pajamas.

Suddenly the hands at their shoulders relaxed, the whispered orders silenced. A moment passed, two breaths, three, then Zoe cautiously whispered.

What's going on?

A set of gentle fingers pinched her blindfold and pulled it upwards, her eyes cautiously opened towards the ground, where she saw only a pair of off white pegs resting upright on the ground. Following them up she saw the pegs become yellowish before terminating at a juncture with alabaster skin covered in ridges and swirls. The skin of each extension grew together and became the body of something, her eyes creeping up it's form to its neckless head, and the slightly open slit through which a sanguine light shined.

It closed its mouth and several of the soldiers immediately raised their weapons, one fired.

The bullets impacted the creature like marbles thrown at a stretched sheet, it's flesh briefly deforming before rebounding the slugs to the ground. The creature, no worse for wear, roared, it's light shining out and stopping the soldiers in their tracks. The one soldier firing ceased as his finger froze holding the trigger down, the semi automatic nature of his rifle requiring him to release and squeeze again for it to continue to cycle and fire properly.

The giant creature struck out with both hands, sending soldiers flying half a dozen yards with each brief impact, until only Zoe and Viktor remained. It reached out and grasped both of them around their torsos, lifting them up like dolls before it began moving.

The airlock to the bunker exited to the Monroe Harbor shoreline, and it was a small walk up a hill to Grant Park, where the Buckingham Fountain, and the helicopter, lay waiting.

As they crested the hill the Chicago skyline came into focus, illuminated by cold starlight, as the city's power grid was long since dormant. In the open space surrounding the fountain stood nearly a dozen other human beings, and half a dozen other giants.

The people were bundled in blankets and winter clothing of all kinds, standing together in small groups of two or three, taking comfort in proximity, but not speaking. All were looking at the stars wheeling overhead, and the Moon, shining brightly in the cloudless, empty sky.

The giant deposited Viktor and Zoe amongst the others, who wordlessly provided them with blankets. One brought them a crumpled sheet of paper, written on with lipstick.

"They discourage us from speaking."

The seventh giant that had brought them joined the other six, and they formed a crude circle. As they began to sway, the air was filled with a low hum that began incrementally getting louder.


Jesse & Linda Part XI

The Phenomenon, Day 94, South Carolina

Linda's eyes snapped open as the rear part of the truck was split open, a jagged tear from the passenger side wall to the roof continued down the drivers side, splitting off fully half of the rear portion of the truck and allowing it to fall off to the ground. The giant stood in the midst of the gear and foodstuffs on the back of the truck, the suspension fully compressed by its weight as it stood peering down at Linda, the partition door still crumpled in its hand.

Linda quickly realized that the sky behind the creature was clear. That nothing flocked or flew, much less spelled death from observation. The thing stood silent once Linda ceased her scurried escape, peering down at her with its features twisted in.. Amusement..? Possibly?

She grasped the frame of the passage and pulled herself to her feet in front of it. It dropped the door over the side of the truck and gently picked her up in one spindly hand.


Jesse listened as the sounds from outside died away to nothingness. He bit his lip to keep silent as his fear, regret, and anger boiled up and threatened to give away his location.

Suddenly, over the sound of his blood rushing in his ears, he could hear a voice.

Jesse, if you're still alive in there you should come see this.

He didn't believe it, couldn't believe it. It had to be a trick. Yeah.. It was a trick. He'd heard these things sing and hum all kinds of ways before.. They must just know how to fake a human voice.. Yeah that's it. It's a trap.

Jesse it's OK, really, it's me, you found me in a pile of bodies? We stopped because we wanted a few last sodas before they all go bad? You introduced me to Tortellini?

Well shit. Jesse couldn't figure how they could've gotten that kind of info.. Unless they was psychic.. But hell that's nonsense..

I'm in this here storage room Linda..! What's going on out there?

Clear Skies Jesse!

What!? The hell you say?

Jesse stood and ran to the door, catching himself a bare inch from the handle and questioning whether he should really go outside.

"Aw.. Fuck it." He thought, and he opened the door and walked through the store to the entrance, where he saw Linda bouncing with excitement, her hands clasped.

Behind her, still standing in the wrecked remains of his truck, stood the ivory giant, watching.

Jesse shielded his eyes against the sunlight, looking up at the sky with not a little trepidation.

All he could see was clear blue sky, a brilliant shade of robins egg blue.

The giant hopped off the truck, it's sudden movement off and the tension in the springs of the suspension making the truck jump off the ground fully four feet, and making gear and food fly every which way up into the air, to quickly rain down on the concrete, the frosted grass, and the roof of the gas station.


Yuri Part IV

The Phenomenon, Day 95, Buenos Aires

Yuri hit the floor with his refuge on it at a dead run from the moment he came out of the stairwell, his hair flying back, sweat streaming from his every pore. He skidded around the corner and grabbed the doorframe to his room. Coming face to face with a man he'd never seen before.

The strange man and Yuri locked eyes for the briefest of moments. Then the man yelled a gutteral cry as he reared back and slashed at Yuri's throat with a bloodied and rusty machete.

Yuri threw himself back just in time, feeling the wind of the blades passing just beneath his chin. He found himself off balance, falling backwards into the opposite wall. His attacker pursued, Yuri rolled along the wall, trying to catch his balance, flailing as he thought only of escape.

The man gave chase, swinging the blade wildly first left, then right, the tip carving gashes in the wallpaper and drywall of the narrow hallway. Yuri felt the blade bite scratches into his back as he barely escaped lethal blow after lethal blow.

He looked back over his shoulder through the doorway, catching a glance of the large overhead screen, his mistake. The image shocked him so, he stood fully upright and stared in elation. His assailant took advantage, swinging direct and successfully.

Yuri didn't, couldn't speak, his vocal cords were shredded. His lifeblood poured down his chest as his mouth flapped like a suffocating fish. He fell to the floor, his muscles spasming in death.

His vision grew dark and his muscles weak, the desperate and disturbed marauders who'd finally made their way into the tower from the chaotic city below laughed and began searching his body.

They pilfered his pockets, ignorant of the radar images behind them showing the bizarre red masses of objects had ceased covering the planet, and assembled into a thin ring circling the globe, outside the atmosphere.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XXVII

The Phenomenon

Longmire walked through the hatch, finding himself in a long passageway with only one exit, a hatchway at the other end, through which there came a shimmering blue light. He noticed a label on the bulkhead next to the hatch that read "AMDSHPS BY 3". Reaching the hatch, he looked in, seeing a large room, it's walls lined with bodies.

He pulled Saryas head down into his shoulder, and told her to cover her eyes. A step further and he saw the origin of the blue light. In the middle of what was obviously a large cargo bay aboard the Globe was a shimmering figure that looked to be cut from a large quartz crystal flecked with impurities from some blue mineral. The figure was easily eight feet from base to tip and seemed to be an homage to every bladed weapon known to man.

Razor thin sheets of crystal stabbed out at every angle and juncture, some continuing for several feet, others scant inches. The edges of the sheets, rather than being of uniform line, took on hard geometrics replicating curves and cutting edges. The entire structure was suspended some two and a half feet above the ground and slowly rotating with no visible means of support.

All around the chamber there were bodies of every sort. Some looked ancient. Samurai, resplendent in their ornate armor, peasants in rags, Japanese sailors in ragged uniforms from time periods ranging from the 17th Century to World War II, American Airmen in old timey leather bomber jackets.. It was like a collection of military personnel from the Western Pacific since time began.

One of the giants stood waiting. It beckoned.

Longmire steeled himself and walked forward. Even paces, confident paces, the paces of an American Fast Attack Submarine Captain without fear. Inside his heart hammered at his ribs like a rabbit in a cage surrounded by wolves. His face was dripping with sweat. His shoes fairly squished with each step. He told himself it was the unexpected heat, and not the intense terror that threatened to clench his insides into a knot.

He stopped ten feet from the titanic creature, breathing heavily. Sarya stirred on his shoulder, whispering.

Captain.. You're all sweaty.. Can I get down now?

Only if you close your eyes and keep them closed.

Sarya nodded her head and Longmire slowly eased her down to the deck, keeping hold of one of her tiny hands. The other Sarya placed over her eyes to stifle temptation.

The creature watched passively, only moving when a hatch on the far side of the bay opened. In the doorway was another of the giants, or perhaps the same one who delivered Sarya, Longmire had difficulties telling them apart. Alongside the new arrival were two men, humans. Members of Longmires own crew. Though at the distance it was impossible for him to make out anything but that they were enlisted.

Longmire spoke up.

I suppose I should be diplomatic about this, I know my superiors would want me to be, but quite frankly I don't have the patience. Are you going to tell me just what the hell is going on here?

The giant appraised Longmire with what could possibly be interpreted, if it were human, with amusement.

By this point the figures approaching from the far side of the bay could be made out. The Seaman Watkins & Kellogg seemed strangely at ease.


Zoe Part XXII

The Phenomenon, Day 95, Chicago's Grant Park

The assembled group, 21 women, 3 men, and 4 children (all boys) watched as tiny motes of silver light with colored auras began drifting from the small nodules all over the giants. The lights slowly circled the group, gradually shifting in color individually, seemingly following no set pattern. Shades of blue, pink, green, yellow, and red all made their appearances as the deep intonations continued. They began changing, going off key and atonal, discordant and grating to the human ear. The smallest of the children covered their ears.

The sparks if multihued light increased their pace, becoming a whirlwind of brilliance.

The discordant tones of the giants grew louder by the moment, their swaying became frenetic, their shoulders very nearly touching even though their rough circle meant they stood easily six feet apart from each other.

The very stones beneath the feet of the observers vibrated and trembled, the sky above them grew dark with clouds, and azure lightning began sparking between them. The air they sucked in grew thick and carried a subtle taste of copper. Sensation and perception grew strange. The ancient and nearly forgotten instincts of man, the predilection to run from the strange and new, to shy from the unknown, was awoken in the observers. Fingers intertwined grew tighter, teeth were set. Children looked to adults for reassurance and found none.

Zoe looked to Viktor, his mouth hung open with unmindful awe.. Small blue sparks were flashing from his capped teeth, his flesh fairly trembled as if a hive of angry ants roiled beneath it.. And then he glowed briefly of silver threads weaving his flesh, and was gone.

Zoe could scarcely even feel a moment's surprise before she felt a twisting in her gut, as if the world had lurched suddenly three directions at once.

She found herself floating in a familiar dreamscape of crimson mists shadowing beings of bizarre form and proportion.

For the first time, she knew that she wasn't dreaming, as one of the beings ceased to be there and came to be here next to her, above her, through her. It's terrible consciousness pressed in at all sides of her mind, memories more ancient than man flooded her vision, thoughts of things ghastly beyond description and emotions unlike anything she'd ever imagined wracked her brain.

She knew that she was less then an insect to this being, and yet, like a man cultivates a bee hive for honey, she sensed that this being too cultivated man, all of mankind in fact, for some minor task..

And that task was at hand.


Jesse & Linda Part XII

The Phenomenon, Day 94, South Carolina

Jesse gestured up to the giant that stood behind Linda now, fully 5 to 6 feet taller then her meager frame.

So what's your story, eh?

The giant gazed at Jesse with ebony pools filled with golden lighting, and said nothing. It instead rose one great arm and extended a finger down the road in the direction of their intended travel.

You telling us to get a move on? Hell we'd have done that regardless of you hadn't'a interfered. We'd have packed up supplies and done been on our way by now.

The giant dropped its arm to its side and turned towards the road, taking long slow steps in the direction of Beaufort.

What? Ya ain't gonna so much as apologize?

Jesse it showed us the sky's clear, I think he did us a favor..

A favor? Look at my goddamned truck! You call that a favor!?

It's just a truck Jesse..

Just a..! Woman you have no idea the blood sweat and tears I put into that thing!

And with a world filled with vehicles just waiting for someone to come by and claim them I'm sure you'll get a replacement soon enough. Now help me gather up some more supplies. We may be here awhile..

What'cha mean?

Do you have any idea how long it'll take other survivors to realize the skies are clear? Much less how long until somebody just happens to come by this particular stretch of the middle of nowhere?

Jesse grabbed Linda by the arm and headed for the cab of the truck.

C'mon, let's go.

In that thing? Are you kidding!? That things a wreck!

Jesse shoved her through the passenger seat..

The box on the back ain't critical, the engine, transmission, and the cab should all be fine, now let's go see what that things goddamn hurry is.

He pulled himself up into the drivers seat and reached for the switches to his rigged cameras before pausing, and instead reaching over and rolling the window down instead.

He cranked the truck and put her in gear, his head hanging outside the window, eyes obscured by dark sunglasses, teeth bared in a smile as wild and free as any schoolboys has ever been. He immediately set off after the giant, which due to length of stride was already receding into the distance down the road.

They took no notice of the small spiky balls of grey glass that covered the roof of the gas station.


Angela Part XI

Post Phenomenon, Day 1, 26 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

The din of constant conversation would've been annoying had it not been her only real sensory input. Her view, without context, could have been considered to have an eerie beauty to it. But with context.. She allowed herself the luxury of zoning out to her thoughts as frequently as possible.

Everyvun, look!

The German, Fritz, interrupted everyone's train of thought. Reluctantly, Angela swam back to her blurry vision of the chamber. There were giants standing around the figure in the center. They appeared to be swaying along as if some unheard tune haunted the chamber. Small pinpricks of light would occasionally spurt out of the nodules that were scattered around their necks and shoulders. They would fly chaotically about the gathered assembly then just as rapidly seek out some spot on the crystalline figure in the center.

Each spot struck seemed to ring out with its own baleful purple light before fading to black, like the iridescent blue crystal were being molded into black volcanic glass.

Bit by bit the figure and it's light were extinguished, until a glossy onyx facsimile flecked with red and pinpricks of white stood in its place.

The voice of Ernheim, the British Anthropologist (or so he claimed) interrupted into Angela's consciousness, as always interrogating the French socialite, his constant student and yet mental superior.

My word.. Estelle, what do you think this is now, hm?

I woold sey.. Dey are changing the makeoop uv de object d'art to some new purrpose. Just wat I woold not hazzard a gess.

Oh there you go again, thinking everything's about art..

Ernheim, darrling.. It uhlways ez..

Everyone's voices faded into silence as the creatures in the chamber ceased their singing and swaying. One by one they turned, until the full circle stood looking at the collection. As the last became still a subtle steam began rising off of the transformed figure in their midst.

At the same time the assembled collection lost whatever connection they had to the walls of the chamber keeping them upright and Angela saw the floor rush up at her.

Dreamy, weary, foggy, hungry, torture, panic, pleasure, whimsy.. Emotions and sensations unbidden flooded Angela's mind and body. Memories of time now past and dreams of things not now to be flashed through her mind in a surge of chaos.

Her vision came back. Next to her on the floor was a young woman, her ruddy young flesh only barely covered by her long rotted scarlet dress.

She tasted the moldy air once more.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XXVIII

The Phenomenon

Watkins, Kellogg. Are you ok?

Watkins looked to Kellogg and the giant that escorted them in before replying.

Better than ok Sir.

How do you mean?

Kellogg decided to speak up then.

Well Sir, uhh.. That's rather complicated.

Is it something you'd prefer to keep, uh, in-house?


Something you'd rather keep away from prying, uh..

Longmire noticed the giants lacked anything resembling a terrestrial ear.


Looks of dawning understanding came through on Kellogg and Watkins faces, and Watkins answered.

Oh no Sir! They're.. They're our friends! Allies!

Just how the fuck did you come that conclusion?

That's a long story Sir.

I think we have the time for a condensed version.

Sir it's complicated..

Spill it Sailor!

Watkins and Kellogg frowned simultaneously. Kellogg responded.

Well Sir, they brought us back.

You mean they guided you back to the Oregon, back in New York? That you didn't stumble on us by pure luck?

No, Sir, that's not what I meant.

Then what do you mean!?

Well you see, one of them, well, kind of one of them but not really, anyway, something like them killed us.


..Watkins what the fuck is he talking about?

Watkins shifted his weight from one foot to the other before he spoke.

It's true Sir. A giant, like them, kind of.. well it ripped us apart. I know it hurt, I remember knowing it hurt, but, I can't quite seem to remember the pain of it. Nor the feeling of being dead.. 'cept I just knew I was dead.. Sir.

..and then, because of them, now you're not, is that what you're telling me?

Yes Sir.

Ok. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that you're 100% correct. How in the hell do you expect me not to see you as compromised? As biased?

We knew you'd think that, but, we had to tell you, they're not all alike.

Are some more talkative?

No Sir, what we're saying is, just because they look alike, are the same sorts of beings, don't mean they're all on the same side Sir.


Zoe Part XXIII

The Phenomenon

Zoe felt, or rather remembered, herself slipping away. The feeling of one's own consciousness being chipped away and absorbed by a greater one is quite distinctive. The thoughts of the being which surrounded and subsumed her pounded through her. They weren't words, exactly, more like.. feelings, impressions.. determination, anticipation, some feelings with no human analog.. and above all, a cold, silent fury, but at what or whom she couldn't conceive.

The being wasn't entirely present. Parts of itself existed here, with her, but far more existed in places she knew she couldn't perceive. Like a bacterium in the gut, the entire being she was aware of was only a tiny fraction of its true self.

The memories that pressed in on her were not her own, and they showed her this creature enjoyed an existence completely alien to her own. It had witnessed the birth of the solar system, already heavy with the knowledge of the eventual presence of life. It had borne witness to the expansion of the Sun into a Red Giant, though that was eons away. It had seen this day, and was prepared.

She couldn't tell if she'd been there hours or seconds, when suddenly she felt the terrible presence torn from her. She felt the weightlessness and warmth of the void replaced by the heavy chill of winters air. Her vision returned and she could make out the ivory glow of the moon above. A moon oddly bisected by a thin dark line that stretched across the sky.

She tasted the zing of copper. Recognized it for blood. Felt the ground beneath her flow with some kind of liquid. She sat up. Around her she could make out the prone forms of numerous people. Everyone was covered in the same dark fluid now running off and forming puddles around them. She looked down at her hands, she was covered as well. The fluid writhed over her flesh, droplets leaping from the tips of her outstretched fingers.

One drop began flowing it's way up her neck and into her hairline. Another stretched itself into a tiny stream encircling her wrist. She saw two droplets on her thigh form together into some kind of twisted point.. which then stabbed down into her. She could feel it begin moving inside.

She screamed.


Jesse & Linda Part XIII

Post Phenomenon, Day 1, South Carolina

Having caught up to the Giant, Jesse slowed the truck down to match its pace. The long strides of the creature made it look like it was simply taking an easy jog, but the speedometer of the truck tattled on its true speed, nearly 30 miles per hour.

The creature didn't look at the truck, but simply kept its pace going down the road. Signs flashed past indicating an intersection with State Highway 17 just a mile ahead. The Giant continued apace. The offramp came up, and the Giant headed off I-95 with a leap over what was left of Jesse's truck.

Jesse nearly tipped over the truck in his attempt to turn to follow. Linda rolled out of her seat down into the floorboards. A Best Western, McDonalds, and a Wendy's flashed by after they got off the frontage road. Derelict vehicles started appearing here and there, forcing Jesse to swerve around them. The Giant walked over them, or in some cases knocked them out of the way with a backhanded slap from its enormous hands.

Linda pulled herself back into her seat and pulled the seatbelt across herself, clicking it into place. They followed the Giant as it ran through Sheldon, and nearly overturned the truck again when it turned onto State Highway 21 and headed south towards Seabrook. The turn in Burton onto Parris Island Gateway and then Robert Smalls Parkway were much easier- the creatures gait was slowing down, almost as if it were trying to avoid making noise.

As they approached the Edward Burton Rogers Bridge, it's pace slowed to a veritable walk. Once on the bridge it stopped. Jesse put the truck in neutral and leaned further out the window.

Well now that you've had yourself a merry little jog care to reveal exactly what we came all this way fer?

The creature turned to Jesse before raising its arm, indicating a South-South-Easterly direction down the Harbor River.

Jesse put the parking brake on the truck and got out, followed by Linda. They walked between the concrete barriers in the center of the bridge and to the opposite side in order to look downriver.

On the northern shore of Daws Island, dozens of giants were systematically disposing of the bodies of hundreds of people, picking them up, crushing the ribcages, and then throwing them into the eastern flow of the river.


Angela Part XII

Post Phenomenon, Day 1, 26 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

Angela blinked rapidly, her eyes were quickly moistened but the initial dryness caused lingering discomfort. Cries of surprise and alarm filled the chamber as long dormant throats found purpose once again.

One of the number, a stranger, bolted. She didn't recognize his clothing. Rotted animal hides and rusted chainmail indicated he was one of the older residents, the Saxon maybe. Taking off like an Olympic runner he threw himself in a mad dash for escape.

He crossed the center of the chamber on a long curve, giving the giants a wide berth before heading directly for the stairs. As soon as he crossed the perimeter of the circle, however, a kind of hazy red smoke began billowing from him as his steps faltered. He fell forward, his body striking the same stones Angela had landed on at the base of the stairs. There was the distinct sound of shattered bones as he fell still. The sanguine smoke seemed to curl and waft in the air a moment, neither dissipating nor condensing, before it formed a miraculous beeline for the center of the chamber, where it coalesced into a small floating piece of blue-silver glass pulsing with a tiny inner light.

The assembled crowd was silent, most tried to use the dusty and rotten remains of their clothing to cover themselves- except for Estelle- who chose instead to cast off her deteriorated dress and stretch languidly- and not without a little lewd pride in how many of the men gawked.

An older man in a spoiled suit tried to adjust his tie but it crumbled in his hands. Shaking the remains off his hands, he cleared his throat.

Ahgem.. I suppose most of you will recognize me as August Ernheim, I'm quite certain my voice sounds different then it did in our telepathic roundtables, but I hope Not too different.

Now, I would propose that we get to business.

He walked briskly up to the nearest giant and stood there quite unafraid, head high, hands at his sides looking the giant very pointedly in the eye before he began speaking.

Might I inquire, by what right have you detained us here these long years?

Angela stood and stretched, her clothing hardly dusty, but decidedly stiff with the dried blood from her condition previous. She watched the exchange with a curious eye. The questioned giant made no move or signal, issued no sound, but simply stared back at the erstwhile Anthropologist.

Then, as one, all the giants turned to the stairs and began walking towards them.

Excuse me! After so long, I feel, and I'm sure all the rest as well, that we're owed answers!

The last giant, the one whom the steely scientist had chosen to address, paused. It turned back, the ebon orbs in its head whirling and fixing its golden pinpricks on the diminutive figure in decayed finery.

In a voice both louder and gentler than seemed possible, it spoke.

You are owed. Yes. And you will be repaid.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XXIX

The Phenomenon

Longmire took a deep breath. The smells of mold, mildew, oil, and a strange pungent wood scent filled his nose. He closed his eyes and listened to the world around him. The drips of some far off leak, the low slow breathing of Sarya at his side, the even deep breathing of his crewmen across the way.. No sound came from the Giants.

Longmire opened his eyes and looked at his crewmen, or, the men who claimed to be his crewmen. He couldn't take any chances.

Boys, I appreciate, at the least, the attempt to put yourselves forth as advocates for an immediate peace. It's admirable, really. But I can't take you at your word given what you've told me. That being said, I am willing to listen to whatever you have to say, just don't expect me to swallow it hook, line, and sinker. So my first question is, I guess, just what are the intentions of these giants, and what are the intentions of the others?

Watkins nodded before he spoke.

That's fair, Sir. We didn't expect you'd take us at our word. We thought, and by "we" I refer to the Giants, Kellogg, and I, that you might need some convincing. These giants refer to themselves as The Freed. As in, from service- slavery, actually. They're refugees, escaped from control. There's... Well the closest thing we could call them are Gods. Things outside our understanding of time or space, and they created the Giants, and the things that took the skies.

And these "Freed", what are their intentions?

Just to exist Sir. They don't want to be controlled anymore. They don't share the goals of their Gods, and so they've sought refuge here.

By here you mean Earth?

By here they mean our reality. What we see, what we perceive, is just the shadow of what they truly are, the parts that can exist here. Like dipping your finger in a fish tank, the fish can only perceive of the part in their world, and the part outside is the larger part.

And the other Giants?

They're still in service of their Gods, still carrying out the tasks they were made for.

And what are those?

Might as well ask a hammer what it's building. Their purpose is so far beyond them they don't know. But they're aware that it involves the reducing the Earth to a planet without sentient beings.

They've very nearly succeeded. Those things in the sky..

Aren't for the same purpose, at least, not explicitly. The relationship with the Shards is kind of like hammer to a baseball bat. A bat can hammer, but that ain't what it's for, and any hammering it does accomplish is incidental.

This is raising more questions than it's answering and I'm starting to get a little pissed off here.

Please, Sir.. It might be easier to just, sit back and watch.


Zoe Part XXIV

The Phenomenon

Zoe slapped and clawed at her thigh trying to crush the thing that was now inside her, she felt it digging through her flesh, pushing, stabbing through muscle and fat as it moved up towards her groin.

The pain was like a drizzle of red hot liquid metal was worming it's way through her flesh. Suddenly she felt the liquid still crawling over her outsides firm up, resisting her movements, gripping her all over, like she was suddenly covered in a layer of shrink wrap.

The sticky, thick fluid began expanding, joining the various streams together as they flowed over her body, some ran down her forehead and up her neck, working to cover her face as she struggled to dig through her skin to get at the sizzling thread wriggling around her hip.

The fluid was forming a second skin under her clothing, covering every inch of her. It's strength overpowered her own and locked her arms out away from her body. The fluid flowed down and covered her face, closing over her eyes and ears, it pushed into her nostrils, forced its way under her eyelids, and then moved to her mouth, it's thick coppery taste nauseating. The sharp pain of the trickle moved up her side and around the swell of her right breast before coiling at base of her throat.

Her nose and throat filled with the bizarre liquid, she couldn't breathe, and actively resisted the urge to do so, lest she pull more of the concoction into her. The pain at the base of her neck cooled, becoming a solid weight hanging there. The residual pain from its path through her body deadened as well, becoming a dull awareness, a shadow of its former intensity.

She felt her body twisting, bones snapping, muscles tearing.. There was no pain. She felt the memories of sharing her mind with the being blossoming, expanding.. There was a moment of panic as she realized she couldn't remember her own name, and then everything went white.

In Grant Park in Chicago, near the fountain, an albino giant with black eyes stood for the first time, shaking off shreds of what were once some rather fetching pajamas.

It looked around at the other giants surrounding it, some standing, most still laying down, before looking up at the line of darkness bisecting the moon.


Jesse & Linda Part XIV

Post Phenomenon, Day 1, South Carolina

Jesse turned to the giant, a befuddled look on his face.

Whad'ja bring us here for? To show us your buddies down there throwing people away like trash? What's the point of that?

Linda reached over to Jesse, placing her hand on his shoulder she pulled him back to look again. In the waters a hundred feet downstream from where the giants tossed the bodies of their victims, lights flashed in the deep.

Blues, whites, reds, and yellows flashed camera bulbs as the waters roiled and bubbled. A coastal breeze brought a strange scent. Jesse turned back to the giant.

What? Are y'all welding down there or something? Smells like hot metal, like the smell ya get when ya rub your hands on a bunch of copper or iron..

The waters above the lights exploded into the air before the droplets stopped, suspended in the air before being violently sucked back down to the water. The current upstream accelerated towards the lights, the current downstream slowed, stopped, and then began running backwards.

The wind quickened to a scream as the waters pitched down, unable to keep up with the roaring demand under the water, a curved black sphere interspersed with starlight emerged, the waves crashing through its surface.

The giant grunted, gaining Jesse and Linda's attention. It raised an arm as long as Jesse was tall, indicating the way they'd come.

Go. Now.

Hold on just'a minute..

Go! They come!

Jesse and Linda raced to the truck, as Linda climbed in, Jesse turned, looking back to the bizarre occurrences in the Harbor River one last time. As he watched, a stream of multicolored light shot into the sky, but before it made it too high the lights dimmed and began coalescing into an obsidian form of angles and hard edges, glistening in the setting sun.

The form arced through the air before crashing down, it's length still being formed by the flow shooting upwards from the river. The point came down into the concrete and asphalt of the far end of the Edward Burton Rogers Bridge. Debris flew every which way as the supports underneath began giving away.


Angela Part XIII

Post Phenomenon, Day 1, 26 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

Angela watched the giant turn back and continue towards the stairwell. One of the assembled number picked themselves up and walked after it, slowing, and then stopping as they raised their arm, seeing their fingers begin to turn dark and wither as a subtle red smoke began wafting around their form and making its way back to the form in the center of the chamber. They reversed their steps, coming back within the circle, and the smoke reversed as well, moving back to their fingers. As the smoke touched them, the skin grew from a withered and blackened leather back to a healthy and plump flesh toned digit once more.

The assembled crowd grew silent watching the events unfold. The realization that their ordeal wasn't nearly over, that their freedom was in fact limited to the circle they found themselves arranged in, was not a pleasant one. Most, in their long existence as bone in people jerky, had come to the conclusion that their condition was permanent, and so this brief respite from their plight was just that, a respite, not a rescue. Still, more than a few had dared hope.

Angela had a sudden thought. She reached down and pulled free one of her boots. Hefting its weight in her hands, she judged the distance, aimed, and hurled the footwear at the retreating giant. It sailed through the air as gracefully as a boot can before solidly "thunk"ing into the back of the giants massive head.

The creatures gait slowed, then stopped. It turned around, noticeably puzzled. Angela shouted after it.

What are we owed!?

The figure started, its obsidian orbs fired with shining streaks of ragged sunlight.

You are owed. To the creator. You are the medium through which their passage is charted.

Just what in the hell does that mean!?

You make the passage possible.

Yeah, you said that, but how? And whose passage? Why would we matter?

You do not. They do.

The tingle of paroxism felt eerie after every word uttered by the giant. Like the ruby glow from its gullet carried with it the essence of the pins and needles feeling one gets from lack of bloodflow in the extremities.

Why, do they matter and why don't we?

The giant ignored her, turning back to its course, it strode to the base of the stairs. Another boot sailed through the air, this time missing completely and hitting the wall ahead of it with an echoing crack.

You owe us answers! I may have only just arrived but others have been here decades, maybe even centuries! You took their lives from them! Stole them from their futures! They had families, friends, people cared about them, who never found out what happened to them! Don't walk away from me you apathetic albino asshole!

The giant paused, one foot on the bottom step.


Ben, Emil, & Sarya Part XXX

The Phenomenon

Longmire shifted Sarya from one hip to the other and rubbed the sweat from his eyes.

Fine, show me.

Watkins & Kellogg turned to the giant behind them expectantly, it narrowed it's eyes and stepped back as half a dozen other giants emerged from the shadows, forming a rough semi-circle aground the chamber.

As they came to a halt miniscule sparks of white light began emerging from the nodules which covered them, each spark leaving a trail in the vision of the human observers, a trail which shifted in a rainbow. The lights swirled, circling the group. The giants began chanting. The noise was disconcerting, like nails on a chalkboard or a child hammering on an off time piano with the fervency of a cocaine fuelled manic episode.

The motes raced faster and faster around them, becoming a blur of brilliant hues.

The chaotic notes of the giants grew to the volume of a gunshot, then a jet engine, and then yet higher.

The metal deck plates picked up the vibration, the walls rattled with it, pipes tore loose from their mountings. Breathing grew difficult, the air thick. Time seemed to move in jumps, or slow to a crawl..

The world twisted, and Longmire felt Sarya torn from his grasp. He reached out in the direction she'd gone, only to experience the bizarre sensation of his arm not being there to reach with. Looking down, he expected to see a bloody and torn stump, for pain to flood his consciousness.. But his arm simply ended six inches below his shoulder.

Past that, he saw the universe unfold beneath him. He whizzed by planets, watched stars streak past, whole galaxies blurred by, if only for a few seconds. Then he found himself in some kind of iridescent cloud of orange with striations of brown and green. He saw something there, moving in the ether.. something literally astronomical in size was emerging.

He felt it in his mind. It was probing, feeling out his mood, his intentions and desires. Longmire concentrated, imagining a wall of thought, a wall impervious to any breach, a wall with no cracks or edges or borders completely encapsulating his mind.. and the probing ceased.

The details of the behemoth before him grew sharper, and just as he started to form a picture of what its shape must be, everything went black.


Jesse & Linda Part XV

Post Phenomenon, Day 1, South Carolina

Jesse hung onto the door of the truck, its steel hinges creaking under his weight. The bridge lurched, its whole surface suddenly gaining something nearing a ten degree slant. Linda screamed from the other side of the truck as she climbed in, a wordless, shrill expression of terror.

The giant took two steps- one over the concrete barriers in the middle of the bridge- and reached out, grasping Jesse around the waist with one hand and the hood of the truck with the other. He pushed Jesse up and around the door, depositing him in the cab before pushing the truck around, its tires leaving black streaks across the asphalt. Jesse reached out to the door, grabbing it and slamming it closed as his other hand frantically pulled the seatbelt across himself. He looked briefly at Linda in the passenger seat, nodding to himself, assured of her safety, then, he threw the truck into first gear and slammed the gas.

The bridge shook and it's angle worsened to near fifteen degrees. The truck lurched forward for just a moment before the singing of the engine prompted Jesse to shift into second. Twenty degrees and the concrete dividers started sliding back towards where the ebon spike was driving the bridge down. Another lurch of speed and a shift to third and they were off the bridge. Jesse peeked back through the shattered rear of the truck, just a glimpse, but he could see small nodules swelling out the sides of the bizarre column, each pulsing with an inner light reminiscent of a blacklight.

Jesse turned back to the road, just in time to swerve and avoid a derelict car, the desiccated bodies of a family still inside. The giant, jogging along next to the truck, simply leapt over it. The road curved to the left, giving them a reprieve from the view of the arch and it's distended pollops. Jesse shouted through the passenger window at the giant.

You know, we might coulda used a bit of a warning that some humongous black pillar o'evil was gonna shoot outta the river and try to drag us and the goddamn bridge down into the river!

The giant peered over with one softball-sized eye without speaking. Linda slapped Jesse's shoulder and chided him.

Don't antagonize him!

Well he coulda!

The giant slowed its pace, coming to a walk before stopping. Jesse downshifted quickly, braking and turning the truck around to rendezvous with their erstwhile escort. In the distance, beyond the curve in the road and the forest that obscured them, they could see a beam of multi-hued light streaking up into the sky. They watched as it streamed upwards, a long, gradual curve, until the light intersected the line that crossed the sky. There, the light was extinguished and the circle ignited, taking on a deep orange glow.

Jesse put the parking brake on and got out of the truck, astounded and amazed at the display in the skies above.

Linda.. did you notice that.. that uh.. that line.. there before..?

No.. I didn't Jesse.

Jesse, never taking his eyes away from the sky, waved his right hand in the direction of the giant.

I don't suppose.. uh.. that maybe y'all had something to do with that one?

The giant momentarily glanced down at Jesse, and shrugged.


Lieutenant McGuire

Post Phenomenon, Day 1, Chicago

McGuire watched the bunker door open with no small amount of surprise. He'd given orders for the artist and the spy to be loaded in the chopper. His men should've then waited in the chopper for him to come out. There was no reason anyone from outside should be coming in, and yet, the access lights on the console had lit up in the proper order and the door was now slowly opening. He narrowed his eyes, there was something.. odd.. about things. He looked to the corners of the door. Each square corner should've been 90 degrees but.. they weren't. At the same time, he noticed a distinct chill in the air. It took a second for him to put the pieces together, and then, he started running.

Moments later the doors parted like tissue paper as a giant tore through them. Bits of debris and shrapnel exploded through the warehouse as it barreled through the flimsy airlock as if it was made of balsa wood held together with spider web. Instantly the temperature in the warehouse dropped precipitously. Frost spread out from the giant like waves off the bow of a ship, the hard edges of the shelves and the floor of the warehouse itself distorted like they were made of runny wax exposed to a hurricane wind.

McGuire ran.

Only twenty feet behind the giant seemed to pace itself, intentionally avoiding overtaking him, allowing the fear and panic to set in. The giant made no noise, no roars, no shouts came from its lipless mouth. Instead, as it pursued him, it threw out its arms, knocking shelves over left and right, it would strike at the ones bolted to the concrete sending them flying, frozen food and various tools and detritus flew through the air like confetti in its wake.

McGuire made his way to the arms locker, a room untouched by Zoe in her stay, but unlocked and inventoried by his men hours earlier. The giant stayed at his heels occasionally catching a small something out of the air and pitching it at him. Toying with him. He fumbled with the keys to the locker, sure that at any moment the giant would snatch him up. But it didn't. He turned, it wasn't there. Even as bits of paper and Styrofoam packing peanuts floated down from the last shelf it had thrown aside, it simply wasn't there.

McGuire finally jammed the correct key in the door and threw it open, grabbing an M16A2 he slammed home a magazine and turned back, his thumb flicking the weapon to three rounds burst. It still wasn't there. And then, it was. As if emerging from behind a curtain the giant reappeared, coming arms first from whatever otherworldly void it had gone to. McGuire opened fire, pumping the trigger and fighting to keep the barrel pointed center mass as the weapon jumped and bucked in his hands. Few Naval Officers put in much time beyond the minimum with rifles, and he'd certainly never experimented with the three rounds burst setting. Still, he didn't do half bad. At least one round from each barrage found its mark. The giant stood unharmed, but with each burst some small part of its flesh had deformed before sending the rounds bouncing off in a slow ricochet. The floor in front of it was littered with the small bronze mushrooms of impacted rounds.

McGuire kept squeezing at the trigger even after the magazine was emptied, watching in horror as his efforts were wasted. The giant scratched at its chest, plucking out an errant round that had gotten caught between the ridges of its skin. McGuire dropped the rifle and went to grab something else from the locker, but the giant opened its mouth. The crimson glare filled McGuires mind, his purpose, his will, instantly drained. The giant moved forward, reaching out with one hand, it grasped him by the torso, lifting him into the air before closing its mouth. The cold washed over McGuire like he'd been dunked into a tub of liquid hydrogen, he felt his skin freeze, the pain of it driving him to twist and scream briefly before the cold penetrated deeper, choking the air from his lungs. He felt his muscles seizing as they froze, felt his core go cold. His eyes froze over and his mouth iced over from within.

The giant tossed him aside, the body shattering into a dozen pieces as it impacted the floor.


Angela Part XIV

Post Phenomenon, Day 1, 26 kilometers SE of Lycksele Sweden

The giant turned back to face Angela. It seemed to sigh, a noiseless raising and lowering of the shoulders, almost imperceptible, had the entire room not been so focused on its every move. It took a few slow steps back to her, stopping only when it stood directly over her, towering, such that she had to look up at it.

You.. Are not ready.. Time is supposed to ripen you.. Wisen you.. Help you to understand and be prepared.. But you are still raw. Unseasoned.. Perhaps.. Next time.

Hold on.. what do you mean time? I've been here for far too long as it is and..

No. You have not. None of you. For some the process takes longer than others, and then there are always those who spoil when they regain motion. You, I think, have spoiled the whole of your companions. There is still time.. Your kind is very resilient. You have survived two cycles. A third may yet come. Time between them will teach you.

What the hell are you talking about?

You will see.

Angela opened her mouth to reply but the giant stretched its mouth open, the paralysis taking hold of everyone in the room as the light shone forth from the impossible chasm within. The giant approached the tiny misshapen lump of glowing blue crystal in the center of the chamber. Reaching up to one of its shoulders, it pinched the sickly green growth there, a small mote of silvery light emerging onto one of its long fingers. It put the hand forth, pushing the light into the crystal. Immediately, Angela was hit by a wave of nausea and pain. She fell to the ground. She could hear the others falling suit, body after body thudded to the floor. Her vision grew blurry, but not before she could make out the subtle red smoke rising from her hand, then all was black.

In a chamber made of impossible stone half a mile beneath the frozen forests surrounding Lycksele Sweden, a solitary giant watched as the last wisps of crimson ether coalesced into a glowing crystal rendition of an exaggerated womanly figure with impossibly oversized feminine features. Turning, it saw the mummified remains of the chambers residents, in their various poses they took as they collapsed. It hesitated just a moment, then, it began picking each up and placing them against the walls of the chamber, ignorant of the cacophony of screams they emitted.

After the task was done, it went around collecting the various bits and pieces that had fallen off of them in their brief flirtation with animation. A scrap of khaki cloth here, a red sash there, two boots.. The chamber set back in order, it released its fragile grip on its presence in that time and place, showing itself to pull back to its true home, awakening to its true self. There, it came fully aware with all its myriad senses and portions, spread as they were. The servile portions, it's manipulators, stood by in the thousands, each distinct and conscious in only the barest sense, each more sentient then the raw materials they harvested.