THE ARRIVALS: TALES OF A NEW EARTH
Part 4 - Burning
Turning the radio on, we waited nervously while looking around the hallway. Lucas was reaching into his backpack and pulled out a Zippo and a pressurized bottle with some handy-crafted napalm we made the last time we were in Philly. We did not have a flame thrower any more, but we had learned a lot of other things could be used in a pinch. During the Spring and Fall, fire was an ally you didn't turn away. During the Summer, that was a whole different issue.
"This is Special Agent Davis..." he began as before.
"Save your battery, Agent, my name is Elwood King and we are on our way to you. But we need your secure room. And all things being equal we would prefer you meet us halfway."
"The trees have expended their supply of fire ants but if you have been there two days, they are about to be releasing a new set. I think there are other people still alive in here, but I am here for you and Madame President, nothing else."
"Mister Elwood, that works for us. We are in Gamma quadrant 326 and are on our way to you. We have less than sixty seconds of hot wax remaining."
"Move it, Agent, we are along the main vein of that corridor less than a quarter mile from your position. We have a path cleared to the exit, do we need to meet you?"
"On a good day, I would say no. The last week says, 'Hell yes.'"
"How is your battery power?" I wasn't worried about ours, we had just recharged on the Rhino.
"I would like to have more, but in light of how things are at the moment, would you be opposed to hearing our comms while we move?"
"Not at all, Agent Davis. We are on our way to you. Don't know what you should expect when you open the door, but I would suggest a quick application of hot wax before you go to far. If it seems clear, run like hell. We will be coming as quickly as we can."
"Clear. On our way."
My daughter looked at me like I was crazy. "Are we really going to go deeper?"
"No. I am going deeper. You three are going to stay here and secure our exit. No arguing."
Lucas walked over to me and handed me the Zippo and napalm. "I have another one in Sarah's bag. We will set up a fire cordon if anything starts coming toward us."
"No heroics, dad."
"Me? You know I am too old to be heroic." I hug my daughter briefly and she gently headbutts me. A private joke, from when she was a little girl who wanted to be tough like action heroes from television. In her way, she was tougher than anything old media could have imagined. They never had to contest with the likes of the Arrivals. "Same goes for you. If they get to be too much, get out of here and call for a pickup. You have a better chance of fighting your way out of here even if Tumblers are out there than you do staying in here without support. Back in a flash."
And just like that we were separated. And to be honest, I preferred it that way. This was stupid and I let my pride get me in too deep. So if something was going to happen it was better if it just happened to me.
"--Whoosh, Whoosh." I could hear the flamethrower over the radio. " We are clear of the safe room and no Arrivals are visible. Proceeding. Stay close, Madam President."
I turned the radio down to a bare whisper. I figured if they got in deep, their screams would soon be audible. I pass some skeletal remains and a few weapons but most were without straps so I was not going to be bothered unless it was something I couldn't live without. The damn fire ants carry away anything organic, even the clothing. They do not seem to care for the hardest bone material so you will see the occasional skull or hip bone lying next to a weapon. I stop to check a clip or two hoping to find some incendiary rounds or something useful, but regular 5.56, rounds, common to the M16, we are not lacking at the moment.
It was hot, and I was nervously moving as quickly as I dared down the corridor. I was sweating and the zippo was slick in my hand. Which makes my next mistake expected and completely avoidable, but I was tired and wound tight. The corridor winds around in a circle and the corridor ahead of me was partially out of line of sight. It was also poorly lit and my shoulder lamp was a poor substitute in this darkened part of the building. I heard something but my mind wasn't firing on all cylinders and by the time I realized what it was, I was too close to back away. I heard skitttering sounds and the ripping sounds of cloth being torn. As I panned my light over toward the noise I realized the area wasn't quite empty.
A group of fire ants were tearing into what looked like someone who had made the poor decision to open a door without the benefit of a flamethrower. It was a pile of still quivering flesh, alive but without the means to speak. The poor bastard's tongue was being carried away, while blood spewed from its moaning mouth. They were brutal, and terrifyingly fast. After two minutes, the person stopped twitching and they continued with their grisly task. Blind, they did not see my light. I tried to back up, slowly, carefully.
Skzzzz. "Mr. King, we are making good time, where are you?"
Damn. Forgot I left the radio on. "Busy, about to be eaten, call you back." Or not. I sprayed our home-made napalm, a mixture of gasoline and laundry detergent out in front of me as the wave began to move away from their primary meal. A tiny contingent stayed to continue their work, but the bulk of them began turning their long and frilly antenna toward me.
Like radar dishes, they waved back and forth and I knew they could see my heat and hear my heartbeat. You don't want to know how we learned this. When the napalm hit the ground, they stopped. The strong odor would give their extraordinary sense of smell a kick in the head, so I was quite liberal with it. I got a bit of distance and laid down a lighting path and as I stopped to use the Zippo, it slipped from my grip and vanished into the rubble beneath my feet.
I stooped and scrambled around trying to find it. Flicking my light from the ground to the fire ants, they had already reached the napalm and had hesitated for fifteen seconds. Then the first wave started across. They died when they touched it, their nervous systems overcome. But they kept coming using the bodies of the first ones as a bridge and they kept dying. And kept coming. This group appeared to have at least ten thousand members, plenty enough to cross that patch and have plenty to spare. They could eat me with less than five hundred.
Digging around in the pile of debris, I cut my hand on a sharp piece of debris, a deep cut, think I nicked a vein. I found the lighter but the blood stirred the fire ants to a greater effort. They were swarming over the napalm and I dropped the canister to hunt for the lighter. Striking the zippo I threw it into the napalm and ran for the remaining canister. A large number had already clear the napalm but at least half were still on the other side as the Zippo landed. It was the half on my side which were the problem.
The fire, and likely the smoke caused momentary disorientation and the swarm milled menacingly close, less than fifteen feet separated us. Much closer to dying than I was comfortable being. I grabbed the canister off the ground and arced a stream of napalm into the fire. The sound of the napalm spraying galvanized them into motion. I lit the stream of napalm and waved it like a wand of fire as the swarm began to leap toward me.
I wasn't going to make it.
I kept spraying until the can was empty. The last thousand or so, who were not on fire or about to be, reoriented and swarmed toward me. Suddenly they stopped moving. Their antenna waved randomly and they began running in all directions. The princess! Someone must have gotten her. Then the distinctive sound of a flame thrower ripped through the air near me and I turned and ran as the area I was standing in was now completely aflame.
She came walking through the fire, a demon with fiery wings behind her, in a skintight, body armor, holding a flame-thrower like she was born to it. A Chinese face, with hard eyes, an uncompromising mouth and a look of fierce determination. "Mr. King, I presume?"
"Madam President? Where are your..."
"They didn't make it. Now let's get the hell out of here." She helped me to my feet and applied a liberal doze of flamethrower behind her before she got out in front of me.
"Yes, ma'am." She lead the way.
"Keep up. This thing's empty."
© Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved [@ebonstorm]