🌼 Hello, bloggers! I’m in a good mood today, probably because it’s almost Friday and tomorrow is the beginning of June! Summer is a gorgeous part of every year, and I’m super excited about how many flowers are blooming outside of my house. Considering how cold this spring has been, I am pretty darn proud of them. Anyway, I just wanted to send a sunny welcome to all my readers, and wishes that you have clear skies and warm weather soon. Now, time for our randomly-scheduled posting party! 🌼 -Kimberly
“Rowan. We have something.”
I don’t glance in his direction. Almost every week, Jerrad will claim the Monitor’s sensor is picking something up. A foreign spaceship, probably loaded with aliens this day; in another few, it’ll be a distant planet just barely visible with our strongest telescope’s highest power lens. It’s always something, and it’s always a false alarm. I don’t usually bother to ask what it is anymore.
My eyes leave the fluorescent screen of data spreadsheets on my laptop. Jerrad never repeats my name twice; by this time, he normally has figured out his mistake and never mentions it again.
“I said, we have something.”
I stand up, but am still unconvinced. “Are you sure the Monitor isn’t just acting up again?” The old hunk of metal is primitive by most technology standards. It picks up stray particles of dust in our laboratory but misses asteroids hurtling by outside our exosphere.
“I’m positive. See for yourself.” Jerrad shifts sideways to clear a path for me.
Sure enough, the blinking red activity button has lit up.
I cross my arms over my chest and say, “This happens weekly. At the very most, it’s probably one of our own space stations.”
“Can’t be,” Jerrad replies. He points to a slowly circuiting dot on the Monitor’s LED display. “That, right there, is R13.” Our nearest station.
“The others don’t show up here,” Jerrad continued. “Which means that”— he motions towards a highlighted portion of screen— “cannot be explained. We most definitely did not make that. I ran a few tests before calling you over, and it’s not any documented synthetic substance.”
“Let me see.” I elbow past him to inspect the Monitor. Jerrad’s examinations look right, but I check them anyway, repeating each test. Every result passes through, just as he said. “They all came out negative.”
“As I said before,” Jerrad says acidly.
“My apologies.” I frown down at the Monitor. Other than the occasional fluke, it doesn’t cooperate half the time. It’s colossally expensive to operate, more so than the newer models, and we should really just buy another one. But what if, by some miracle, it actually is telling the truth? That something on such a grand scale really is happening?
“Do you think that—” I start to say, when suddenly the highlighted area explodes.
I flinch, my hands reflexively shielding my face. Jerrad cringes and turns his cheek away from the display. But nothing more happens. Like a bolt of lightning, the colored area has vanished, leaving no trace of its existence.
Slowly, I let my hands drop to my sides.
“Well, that was a bit anticlimactic,” Jerrad says. “Maybe there’s some radioactivity problem that’s messing with its sensors—”
“Yes, you go figure that out,” I say irritably. “In the meantime, I’m going to continue sorting those spreadsheets. Without any more interruptions, I might add.”
“I could have sworn it was something for real this time. . .” Jerrad protests, his voice trailing off. I ignore this statement and reboot my computer. It shut down from lack of use while Jerrad was busy wasting both of our time.
I finish typing in my eleven-numeral passcode, and wait for admittance from our server. It is then, with my unfocused stare fixed on the glare of the screen, that I notice a slight trembling in the overhead lighting.
Jerrad sees my shoulders tense up. His eyes dart towards the bulbs, now visibly flickering, before coming back to me. Both of our mouths open. His, probably to say something smug; mine to tell him to shut up before a syllable can pass his lips. I can’t remember much, just the expression on Jerrad’s face— and then a strange feeling. Something most people don’t encounter in this safe, advanced world where technology has pinpointed everything to a precise science.
It is a foreboding feeling of complete and utter uncontrol. A sensation lowly ground animals probably once felt, when humanity operated its own vehicles and regularly squashed smaller creatures. Just before the front tires crush your body. Not serenity, but paralyzing stillness.
The lapse between this feeling and the surge of panic-driven adrenaline that follows is indiscernible. They meld together with dizzying suddenness. I clutch my desk’s sharp corner, the cold metal distantly biting my hand, but I’m near collapsing and do not notice.
Jerrad rises abruptly from his chair, stepping towards me with a worried expression. I want him to know that I’m fine, but then comes a chilling release that radiates up through the floor and travels past my desk, into my hands. It is something giving away, the splintering of solid beams and the shattering of metal.
Our eyes meet for a fragmented moment.
His eyes reflect the fear in mine.
And then, a sickening sound. Something that could kill me, if I am forced to hear it again; something too horrible to necessitate a word for it.
All at once, this sound crushes together the collapsing of tiles, abruptly concave beneath my shoes; the slow falling of filing cabinets and shelves; the snaps of hidden structures within the walls that cannot suffer the strain.
Beneath it all, the endless screams.
The room is airless, scalding my throat as I inhale.
Something is acrid, burning.
My bloodied hand seeks my desk, to discover it smashed into rubble by the upper floor’s ceiling.
My thoughts run thick. But I know that I am suffocating. A film of dust clots my lungs, spearing my heart, graying my blood, killing me.
I reach for something else.
And find, the place where he stood, empty.
My kneecaps drive into the gritty soil of powdered glass coating the floor. Only when one shard lodges itself within the bone do I notice the urgent sting.
I cannot speak. My eyelids have swollen, limiting my sight. But I can see enough to find a missing chunk of floor.
The tiles surrounding the hole are caved inwards. The floor below ours is exposed, a pile of broken plaster and cracked tiles heaped below.
Ignoring the threat of an excruciating fall, I stumble forwards. My hands tightly grip the jagged edges of the hole, as my neck strains to glimpse the chaos below. My wrists begin to shake. I am unsure of their dependability.
Please, I pray. Let me see something there.
For a moment, the dust clears beneath me.
No body is visible.
I long to collapse, right where I am.
Jerrad can’t be dead, I try to convince myself. Just seconds ago, I had seen him. He had not disappeared into the haze. Somewhere below my feet, he lay in that jumbled pile.
He might still be dead, a small part of me whispers. He could be crushed under bricks and tiles.
My mind is hazy. Thoughts jostle for attention, only to vanish when I reach to bring them into focus.
Finally, I discern one. It claims to know my priorities, saying I should abandon the building and Jerrad completely, and heed my needs alone. I want desperately to dismiss this notion, but it sticks.
Selfish, I hiss to myself as I begin crawling towards the door. My knee hooks onto something: the underside of a doorknob. The door itself once lead into Jerrad and my lab. Now it has been blown off its hinges.
I continue making my way, the ugly thought latched onto me, consuming my mind. Later, I am sure, this choice will eat me alive, riddle me with guilt. For now, it means personal survival.
This hideous decision has become a lifesaver thrown towards me, bobbing in the stormy sea.
After an eternity of wriggling towards the staircase, I find myself kneeling atop the uppermost step. Carefully, I sit down, then shift my feet onto the next step, moving the rest of my body behind. One step, then another, followed by one more. The rest of the staircase goes surprisingly quickly. My palm grazes a fragment of glass, and I am reminded of how another one pierced my knee. This, of course, brings thoughts of Jerrad.
And then I am frozen on the staircase with realization.
I have passed through multiple levels already. My lab was two floors above, leaving me equidistant between Jerrad’s floor, one above me, and escape, one below.
My chest is torn, split in two different directions.
It now that I notice the flames blossoming on the ceiling above. Charring the doors. Blazing through each laboratory.
I can feel myself convulsing. Spasms shoot through me, blackening my vision. My mind, along with my heart, is ripped in half. The pain . . .
I am about to make a decision— to silence one part of me, either the one longing upwards or the traitorous part straining down— when somebody emerges from the smoke and dust.
Their presence seems to repel the fire.
The stranger reaches me, arms enveloping, in a few short paces. They step with graceful ease around the rubble piles. Cool material skims my face, warding off the foul smoke. I am lifted from the staircase and brought downstairs, swaying in the stranger’s hold.
I am too tired to resist. My mind and lungs are thick with ashes.
I cannot warn my rescuer that a boy is trapped on the burning floor above.
But it is now that I realize what my decision would have been.
If you liked this post, please comment below and I will try to post the rest!! (It’s a work in progress, so the remainder might take a bit.)