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by on May 28, 2011

Cold knees scraped the colder floor. Darkness fell about her, broken only by dim red emergency lights high away in the ceiling. Meg pulled her laser rifle from its holster over her shoulder, and held it aloft in both hands. She took in a slow breath. Like all the Shiny Guards, she wouldn’t speak the name of the power behind the curtain; she was a little fuzzy if no one actually knew it, or if it was so sacred that speaking it would cause horrible things to happen to her. Meg wasn’t going to take a chance, regardless. Fortunately, descriptive idioms and adjectives were perfectly acceptable in her morning ritual. “Oh sacred Fire,” she began, “bless my laser rifle today. Let your divine plasma destroy your enemies in blessed explosions. Let this place always be protected with holy energy shields, and let me continue to serve you. Amen.”

Red-orange light flared on the other side of the curtain, spilling through the inch-wide gap between the curtain and the floor and lighting Meg’s knees. She rose, made a brisk salute, and stepped away. Morning ritual complete, it was time for orders.

Rain smacked into her face as she stepped outside. Meg sighed. Kithy Pul was the most advanced city in the world, and yet with all the laser rifles, energy shields, super-fast trams, and compads with more memory than a whole planet, and no one could figure out how to control the weather. So typical. She made a note to speak to one of the scientists in the Mids next time she was posted there; maybe they could look into it. Perhaps today, if- but then she reached the duty roster wall, announced her name, and the little white card popped with a cheery ding out of the usual slot. The Shallow End. Perfect. Just perfect. Meg let loose a rather impolite word before she could catch herself in time. The wall made a disapproving wheep. “Sorry,” Meg apologized quickly. The last thing she needed was a note on her file. If she lost her position, she might get sent down to the Shallow End permanently. And no one wanted that. Not one bitsy bit.

KA-FLAM. A dingy wooden bench some distance away exploded in a spray of splinters and ash, filling the perpetually dank underground air with the acrid smell of fire. Meg closed her eyes, resettled herself, and pressed the trigger pad on her laser rifle again again. This time she hit true, and the enemy figures went down. There were still a lot more though, and they kept coming. And coming. And coming.

The stories were all wrong. They were supposed to moan. She’d read ancient texts in the Kithy Pul library which indicated that these creatures were supposed to moan, and that they couldn’t climb stairs, and that a simple head-shot would kill them. None of this had proved true in the Shallow End. The Council had cut it off from the Mids and the Lofties decades before, using high-energy disintegration-ray shields, an action which had just barely saved the rest of the city from disaster. Even so, at least half of the Shiny Guards were stationed down there every day, fighting the constant battle to clear out the Shallow End. They lost some days, and some days…they didn’t lose. But they never won. The enemy just kept coming and coming…Β  Meg unleashed a round of laser blasts that pushed them back down the corridor, and made a short run forward. She gasped suddenly. Was that…that was. Patrick. Oh no. No no no.

Other than the Commander, Patrick was the only hero the beleaguered city had. He had saved the Commander’s life in the Mid Incursion of ’32. He wasn’t even Kithy Pul-born; his family hailed from another city well beyond the Shallow End, which hadn’t been heard from since the enemy’s first attack. He was the cleverest warrior Meg knew, and she knew him well, as he’d married her sister, Shel. Yet now…there he was, lying flat, clearly dead. Didn’t look recent, either. Probably last night. Why?

Meg didn’t cry, or collapse into hysterics, or do anything other than blink very hard several times. Then with a set face she advanced to him, gathered his body up, and carried him back towards her squad and the tunnel that led up into the Mids. As she carried him, Patrick’s duty card slipped out of his pocket, and she palmed it almost automatically. Then she looked closer. Patrick’s last post had been to the Shallow End alright, but he’d been sent alone. Didn’t make sense. Suicide, really. Going alone in the Shallow End, with only your laser rifle as defense against the relentless enemy? Meg scanned the card down to the nearly microscopic code at the bottom, which, for those soldiers who paid attention, told which higher-up had assigned them their post. This one came straight from the Commander. Again, didn’t make sense. Meg couldn’t process it. And what could she say to Shel?

Evening came slow and beautiful in Kithy Pul. The rays of the setting sun glanced across the black walls of the barrier fortifications, danced among the leaves of the trees that lined the Mid-streets, and colored the shining glass of the Lofties with gold. Meg stood before one of the Mid-houses, her hand hovering hesitantly above the signal panel. She knew probably an officer had already been by to give Shel the official word. Meg couldn’t think why Shel hadn’t told her already. Could be her sister was too torn up. Happened a lot in Kithy Pul. Finally, Meg tapped the panel. “Our apologies,” came a pleasant voice from an invisible speaker beside the door. “No one is presently at home. Please call again later.”

Meg considered using the emergency override code that she and her fellow Shinies were issued, but decided against. Shel wouldn’t want to be burst in on. ‘Sides, she never activated the door-apology mode unless she was real and true not there. So where was she?

Shoulders slumped in weariness that wasn’t all phyiscal, Meg caught the next tram back to the temple. Once she clocked out, she planned to do nothing more than go home and sleep. Tomorrow would mean more duty, more patrols, but hopefully in the Mids. Meg didn’t want to see the Shallow End for a long time.

Then, as the tram flew upwards towards the temple (which was in the Lofties, of course, on the highest peak where it could look out over all Kithy Pul), Meg glanced out the window and saw the Commander’s station flash past. Almost without thinking her hand slammed the emergency pause control. The tram jerked to a stop. Meg looked harder, pressing a button below the window that sent a swift command pulsing to the cameras outside. The window zoomed in on the Commander’s balcony. Meg’s mouth dropped open. Shel. The Commander. Shel and the Commander. Things clicked into place real fast.

She clocked out just as she planned, but she didn’t go home. Meg marched instead to the Commander’s palatial quarters. His guards were somewhat confused as to why a Shiny would need to see the Commander at such a late hour, but Meg somehow managed to double-talk her way past. The Commander, jet eyes snapping with the exuberance so familiar to her from a thousand posters, rose politely as she entered the balcony. Shel was nowhere to be seen now. “Meg!” he exclaimed warmly, making a bow. “It’s been ages since-”

Meg hadn’t planned what she was going to say. She didn’t need to. Fire blazed from her eyes, not in the metaphorical way but quite terribly literally. The Commander gasped and took several quick steps backward. Words hammered through Meg’s brain, and she said them without thinking, the syllables striking the Commander like laser blasts. She could never remember afterwards just what had been spoken through her. All Meg knew was that the Commander folded in on himself, remorse stark on his face. She departed quickly, leaving him alone.

She never spoke to Shel again after that. Tales filtered down through the ranks. Shel had given birth. The baby hadn’t made it. There was some sort of trouble in the Commander’s family. Then, a year later, as she was climbing battle-sore out of yet another skirmish in the Shallow End, she ran into Jared, one of the Commander’s kids. She knew him only by reputation. That, and he was also on a lot of posters, though his were more movie-star-ish than Shiny Guard recruitment like his father’s. When Jared mentioned casually that he was thinking of a change of leadership, Meg didn’t blink once. “Yeah. I’m in.” She shouldered her laser rifle and followed Jared away, into the winding alleys of the Mids.

This post was written for Prompt Twenty-one of the Chrysalis Experiment. And yes, I might possibly have kinda-sorta borrowed the plot from the David and Bathsheba story in the Bible. Except that one didn’t have laser rifles and zombies, I’m pretty sure. Obviously it should have. πŸ˜›

  1. Heh, well it’s all news to me since I haven’t read the Bible. LOL. I loved it! Feels like a beginning – could be the start of a novel!

    • Well, theological stuff aside, there’s a lot of great story material, esp. in the Old Testament. Ehud the left-handed assassin who stabs the super-fat guy, Elisha the summoner of bears…:P and I just might use this idea for a novel later. I have been planning to do Nanowrimo in June this year….hmmmmm….

  2. Borrowed plot or not, this one rocked!

    • Sometimes borrowed plots are the best ones to use. My novel from NaNo ’09, the first year I ever did that, was basically the plot of Samson and Delilah in a modern-day superhero setting. πŸ˜›

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