Gravity is weak. For what is considered one of the fundamental natural forces, gravity is weak sauce. And still has its own law and constant. Think about it. The more mass something has, the more gravitational force it exerts. A planet, let’s take the Earth as an example, is large by the standard of the beings eking out a living on its surface. As far as mass goes: 13,200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 lbs.
And still my puny legs can propel me upward and off the surface of the planet with ease. Sure, it’s only temporary but still. Give me electromagnetism any day. Now that’s a force. Give me a magnet and a piece of iron and that puny magnet will defy the gravitational pull of an entire planet. Sure, it’s proposed that gravity is actually a function of photons but whatever; it’s still considered its own force.
Where does the rest of the gravity go? Is it bleeding off somewhere? It’s got us zipping around the cosmos riding the swells and ridges of its wells and ripples all willy nilly at tens of thousands of miles per hour. I mean, commit to some kind of conclusion, a denouement, something!
I thought all of this when I noticed that my feet weren’t quite touching the ground. I was walking but kind of hovering about three inches from the concrete of the subway tunnel.
The eruption of zombies looked to be tailing off. Whatever had spooked the supposedly unspookable seemed to have killed the normal undead appetite. They ignored us as we carefully made our way into the cavernous metro train-spewing orifice in the middle of Farragut Square looking for whatever it was we were looking for.
I still had no idea what the hell was happening and no one wanted to tell me. Sometimes you wonder to yourself, does today have a point? Is there a goal, a task, a journey, a quest? If I had skipped today what would change? Is there a purpose? Either someone give me an answer or I’m just gonna head home and take a nap.
Gabriel was in the lead with his glowing staff of blue white fire. I followed after him trying to pretend I wasn’t on the verge of messing my pants. Lily pulled up the rear looking unfazed as always, sidearms drawn. She looked deadly. And hot in a handsome kind of way and also like if she saw me looking at her like a creep in an EDM club rave she would shoot me in the femur.
She said, “Hey, Speck. Did you get taller?”
I said, “You don’t get to call me that. You’re no angel.”
“Oh, I see. You’re not actually touching the ground. That’s not strange at all.”
“The hell you say.” I looked down and she was right, of course. I think my shadow mecha, or it’s probably more accurate that I was its meat mecha but that’s unsettling, was on high alert but not threatened enough to take over completely. I was conscious and yet manifesting whatever the heck an invisible energy symbiotic parasite manifests around its, um, host.
The subway tunnel grew darker and still. It was eerily quiet and even the air felt unnaturally motionless. Like the tunnels were holding their breath in anticipation. We picked up the pace through darkness until in the distance we saw light. We had just about reached the next stop on the line. Around the final bend I saw a sign for Foggy Bottom.
Lily said, “Hey, you’re getting taller. Gabriel, he’s getting taller.”
Sure enough I was six inches off the ground now. Gabriel turned and looked at me. He said, “Hm. You know what? You go first.”
“Why me?” I protested.
“Because your new soul leeching parasite friend has spidey sense.”
He was right. Something was wrong. I’m not sure how I knew but something was off. I became less me and more it, which was not a good sign. Then I realized it was the ground that was wrong. I could feel it through my shadow mecha’s feet or paws or whatever. The ground was moaning. The air was hesitant. The electricity running through the rails sizzled with anticipation.
“Hey, guys, can you feel that?” I said.
I said, “What’s the next stop?”
Lily thought for a second. “Rossyln. Why?”
“I think we have to go. Like, now. Right now.”
“What’s happening, Speck?” Gabriel said.
My vision was going blurry and a noise like the ocean in a seashell in my ear was making me dizzy. “All of my – all of it’s senses are telling me something big is about to happen. Something we won’t like.”
From the corner of my eye, a bright pinpoint of a flare, then a pop, and Lily was thrown back and to the ground hard with a violent grunt.
Gabriel grabbed me and pulled me down while redundantly yelling, “Get down, dumbass!”
A pock mark appeared in the concrete behind where my head had been. Shooting? Someone was shooting at us? That took some big, brassy balls. I mean, not because of me. I’m nobody. But to be underground in tunnels with stampeding zombies, an obvious super soldier, and a guy putting off more BTUs than a rocket launch and starting beef? That’s either world class stupidity or a severely inflated level of confidence and anyone with that much confidence is freaky scary in my book.
I heard a moan behind me. Lily was rolling over and bracing herself up on her hands and knees. Somehow I knew she was down but not out.
“Sonofabitch that hurt,” she said. There was a hole in her shirt and a slug in her deceptively thin and supple armor. “I’m going to severely kick somebody’s ass. What do you see, Gabriel?”
Gabriel inched his way around the slight bend in the tunnel and was met with a series of pops and one boom. I saw bullets melt when they neared his flaming staff and what little remained was a spatter of red hot melted metal on the wall next to him.
He pulled back and said, “I see three. Men. Small caliber. One fifty caliber. And one very large something that’s somehow shielded from me.”
“Oh s—,” Lily sighed.
“What?” I said growing even more anxious. “I’m already stressing. How could this get any worse? Is it about to start raining?”
“Huh? No – it’s a GKS. God Killer Squad.”
I said, “They kill gods?”
Gabriel shook his head in disbelief at my ignorance.
“They would if they could,” Lily said while she put her handguns into their respective holsters and pulled the rifle strapped to her back around, flipped the safety, and sighted through an elaborate set up.
She said, “They’re organized, highly trained, and their job is to deal with people like me and Gabriel by any means necessary. They’re mostly mercenary but they kill what can be killed and capture or banish what can’t be killed.”
As Lilly laid on her back, rifle still at her shoulder and scooted further down the tunnel another volley of shots rung out. Gabriel grabbed one of her feet and yanked her back just in time.
“Thanks,” she grunted. “Let’s try it this way.”
She stood and edged along with her back against the tunnel wall. With the rifle butt at her shoulder and with a flick the business end of the rifle turned ninety degrees to the left.
“There,” she said and pulled the trigger. “One down and three to go.”
“Did you just shoot around a corner?” I said.
She grinned and flicked her rifle straight again. Gabriel looked grim. He said, “We need to find out what’s going on and why. We need one alive.”
“Preferably two,” Lily added.
“We could just ask. Wouldn’t hurt. Besides, we can’t even move forward without getting shot to pieces,” I said.
Gabriel and Lily both turned to look at me. Gabriel said, “One of us can.”
Oh crap. I protested and posited the merits of a dignified retreat and regroup. Verily, I did, to no avail.
“Go get ‘em, tiger,” Lily said, waving and smiling as she used her substantial super soldier strength to boot me directly in the chest into the light of the metro station. The last thing I remember was my own string of expletives drowned out by the sound of gunfire and a ground shaking roar.
Previous episodes of Pillar of Fire:
Part 1 – Gathering of Angels
Part 2 – Sisterhood of the Traveling Halos
Part 3 – Lily
Part 4 – Homeless Joe
Part 5 – Infected
Part 6 – Undead Exodus