THE PASSAGE, A SHORT STORY, SURVIVOR GROUPS
The Passage is a story about several different groups as they experience a pole shift.
The Passage was first writen as a script, then later as a short story.
It is the short story that is being presented here, with character descriptions from the script.
The first parts of the story were presented earlier, during which we followed a young reporter, Danny, as he encountered the cover-up when he tried to get a story printed.
Danny then went camping with his girl friend Daisy as the days of rotation slowing to a stop set in.
The couple and some fellow campers take refuge at a local ranch when the pole shift hits.
Netty, the lone survivor at a resort, is pursued by the Groggin Brothers, who are dealt in vigilante style justice.
Survivors of a small plane crash share their stories, as do some local townsfolk.
Seeking help from a secret military camp, the group gets a rude awakening as the military has gone rogue.
They are leaving the ranch, on the run.
In this segment of the story, Mark and Brian split off from the group and set out to rig an air balloon to return to the East Coast.
Mark and Brian have lagged behind, Brian repeated sitting down and crying, curling up into a ball and wailing softly. Mark looks consternated, as the others are ahead of him already. He glances at the retreating line of people ahead of him, debating whether to call for help, and decides not. Mark sits down beside Brian, putting his arms around him, rubbing his back, cradling his head against his shoulder. Brian says, almost imperceptibly, "I just want to go home". Mark has a calm, thoughtful look on his face, and then pushes Brian back so he can look into his face. "Well, maybe we can do just that!".
Returning to their plane wreck,
Mark is almost surprised to find the plane wreck looking as they had left it, the plane nosed into trees at the edge of a creek, the propellers twisted and one wing bent at a right angle. Mark and Brian are walking toward the plane, hurriedly, while Mark is talking excitedly. "Remember that air balloon jet I was talking to the club? I'll bet we can rig something up! We've got the parachutes, and heck, if we can just get out of this earthquake zone ..."
The rest of the group, going toward the river, has trudged until night fall, and are making camp.
Straw beds have been made from straw gathered from a wheat field. No campfire has been lit, for safety, so they are eating cold food scraps they have brought - boiled potatoes and water from a nearby creek. Daisy is making a face after taking a swig, and Colonel Cage explains. "It's chlorine, so you don't get the runs." Clara says nervously to Martha, in a quiet voice, "Why won't they let us start a fire? I don't like the feel of this, something's wrong!" Big Tom, overhearing this, senses that he needs to calm the group. He addresses the group, saying in a loud voice so all can hear, "We're being careful not to alert anyone that we're traveling though. We don't want any trouble. Just taking precautions." Billy is helping Red spread some straw they've brought in from the nearby field, and says to his grandpa, "It's all itchy. Why did we have to move?" Red, who has been briefed by his son earlier, says, "We couldn't stay at the Ranch forever, son, running out of food and all like we were." The group eases down onto the straw as the last of the daylight fades, too exhausted to object any more.
The next day, the group is limping along with less energy than the day before. Clara, who is middle aged, is frankly dragging, and Netty comes up to her to take her sack. Clara doesn't object, doesn't even cast a smile but rather just glances at Netty with what has become a perpetual worried look. Netty says, "They're fine, I feel it in my bones.". At the front of the line, Big Tom and the Colonel are out ahead of the others. They round a bend and stop short, a look creeping over their faces as they take in the scene before them. Big Tom glances quickly at the Colonel, understanding passing between them without words, and turns on his heel quickly to stop the others from rounding the bend. Big Tom jogs up to Danny and Frank, next in line, and says. "Keep the others back, but send Netty forward." Danny nods in understanding while Frank stands stock still, pale and worried but the continuous trauma and events beyond him to cope with. He has given up, essentially. The scene before Colonel Cage is horrific, even for one with military training. Some clothing is strewn about, a child's shoe. A child's hand is at the edge of the coals of what was once a roaring fire, gripping what was a hot coal in a clawing fashion, the agony and desperation while trying to crawl out of a burning fire greater than the pain on clawing a hot coal.
The rest of the body lies in the fire, charred. Danny, Big Tom, Colonel Cage, and Netty stand next to the fire taking this scene in, their faces grim. Colonel Cage finally breaks the silence. "They were alive when they were tossed into the fire. I've heard this was going on." A toddler's charred body is next to the fire, the head cracked open and the brains eaten. The slain father has had his thighs and shoulders filleted, and his dead wife thrown face down with her dress rumpled up around her raised rear, obviously raped, while the rest of the family was eaten. The Colonel says, "We got some reports, places where they had the radio up, and they were under attack like this." Big Tom is staring at him with an alarmed look on his face, the obvious thought that they are walking into danger, danger that he hadn't been told about, on this mind. "What in blue blazes did you bring us here for! What were you thinking!" The Colonel glances at him briefly, then back at the scene. "We got other reports too, some groups were doing OK, and I figured out their general location." His face darkens as he realizes this might not be a local affair. "I hope to God my wife and kids are OK. The general didn't let any personal calls go through." Netty says, "We can't let them see this!", bringing them all back to the immediate situation. Big Tom says, "Tell them there's a washout."
Meanwhile, Mark and Brian are on their way too, having rigged a hot air balloon from a parachute and equipment on their crashed plane.
Mark and Brian are floating through a low lying cloud. All is gray, and they both are being powdered with a fine volcanic soot which has turned the pair and their clothing light gray and streaked. Brian is hanging down below Mark, in a parachute seat, looking around with wide frightened eyes. Mark is holding the hot air jet gingerly in his arms, pointed up into a double parachute arrangement above him. He rarely puffs the jet, as the wind catches them and propels them with rapid bursts now and then. Mark is using the jet sparingly, only when the wind dies down between bursts and they begin to drift toward the ground. Below them are flooded farmlands and town, a church steeple and silo sticking up above the water, and occasional rooftops with people huddled in the center. One who waves frantically at the floating pair, hoping to be rescued. Off to the side, in the distance, is a new cliff where the land has been sheered upward by a couple hundred feet. Shreds of city housing are clinging to the top of the new cliff, as well as crumpled along the bottom, with wreckage clinging to the cliff itself. The day is continuously overcast, gray with blowing clouds almost at ground level, and drizzling continuously.
The pole shift has collapsed the bridge Big Tom had hoped to use to cross the river too.
But rescue arrives from another survivor group across the river.
The group traveling overland has arrived to find the highway bridge they hoped to use to cross the river in shambles. The middle section of the reinforced concrete bridge is completely displaced, sticking up from the river 100 feet away from where the bridge is, having moved. The day is overcast, as usual, but as the group is standing on the river bank there is a slight breeze, which all appreciate. There is no evidence of activity. No boats, no people on shore, nothing but the expanse of water and the breeze, ruffling the calm surface and the soiled and tattered clothing hanging from the tired bodies of the group as they arrive, one by one, to look. Clara raises her skirts and wades into the water up to her hips, a look of relief on her face. Seeing this, Billy looks up into his mother's face and asks, "Mom, can we go swimming?" Big Tom, looking over the torn bridge, is trying to come to grips with the forces that would have rearranged this familiar landscape. "I wouldn't do that until we learn what might be under the water, and there might be an undertow."
A sound akin to a fog horn blares softly, and the group sees a large boat being rowed from the opposite side toward them. The boat is a raft,
cobbled together from various boards, with half a dozen men rowing, three on each side. The fog horn has been to signal their approach. Martha
glances nervously at Colonel Cage, whose face is calm as they would not be announcing themselves if the approach was malicious. Big Tom's face
relaxes, and he walks over to his wife, putting an arm around her shoulder as they watch and wait. As the boat approaches they see that the men are
thin but energetic, many with bare very tan arms sticking out from their tattered shirts. They look over their shoulders as they row, for aim, as there
appears to be no leader in the group. As the boat approaches Big Tom and Danny step into the water to help guide it to shore. The men in the boat
are obviously unarmed, and dismount the boat by clinging to the sides and sticking a leg into the water. These are not boatmen, but landmen who
have learned how to cross the river. Ian, the first man to step out of the boat, approaches with a broad smile on his face, his hand extended.
"Welcome, we're the group what survived at BridgeWater, and we've set up a camp on the bluff over there. Where are you from?"
The first order of the day is to get the group safety across to the other side of the river.
The last of the group is coming across on the raft. Several crossings having taken place. Colonel Cage and Danny are among the last group to cross, staying behind to guard the rear while Big Tom went across with his wife and children, whom everyone agreed should be first. The Colonel is feeling a bit of relief, and feels he can talk to those on the boat openly, now that the women and children are not present. With a backdrop of steady sloshing as the oars dip and pull, he asks Ian, "How many groups like yours are you aware of?" "We're the only one, though for awhile there seemed to be a group in the foothills, but their fires stopped after a few weeks and we feel sure they're all dead." Colonel Cage gets right to the point, his jaw firm and face relaxed as he has been trained to look danger straight in the face without flinching. "Have you had any run ins with gangs, cannibalism?" Ian takes a moment to respond. "We've got a good position here, the river on one side and the mountains on the other. Not many can get to us unless we bring them over, like we did you. So I guess we've not been the best target, thank God."
the women are having their first hot tub bath in months. There is relaxed laughter from the steamy bathing hut. A stocky towns woman enters from the outside with several clean towels over her arm. Daisy is scrubbing her hair vigorously. She sinks back into the tub to rinse her hair off, going under the water totally and emerging with a ecstatic look on her face. She's home, once again, to where she can expect the pampering she assumes is her due. Martha is toweling off her daughter Tammy, who is chattering brightly about some friends she's met. Her mother is visibly relieved, a calm contented look on her face. Clara is soaking in a tub, submersed up to her chin and not moving. "I think I'll be here forever". Netty is not among them. Outside along the River Bluff, Colonel Cage and Big Tom and Netty are watching the Sun go down, with Ian. They stand quietly, watching the brilliant display, and finally Ian says, "Compliments of the volcanic dust." Netty asks, "Dust?" Breaking out of his thoughtful mood, Ian says, "Oh, I mean we wouldn't have such a sunset if it weren't for the volcanic dust. That's what I've heard. When the Philippines went up we'd have these kind of sunsets for awhile, but they're more brilliant than anything I've ever seen. Guess that's why we have such gloomy days, too - volcanic dust." The group turns their faces back to the sunset and falls silent, all in thought.
Mark and Brian, floating for days, have also arrived at what they assume to be a safe place,
home, in New York City.
The strong wind has dragging them along at a fairly rapid clip, the parachute ahead of them and filled out like a sail. Brian has pulled his legs up and appears to be pulling himself up into a fetal position, his arms around his knees, his long hair floating out in the wind. Mark is excited. "Brian, there it is, there's the city! We're home, home! I've got to start to bring this down." Mark is looking up while he positions his hands on the ropes. When he glances down, to mentally prepare his descent path, a grim look comes over this face. The Statue of Liberty is tilted at a 45 degree angle, with the remnants of a sailboat caught in and dangling from the flame, seaweed shreds up to her chin. No high rises remain standing, but the city skyline looks like a rubble instead, black in outline against the gray skies. Bridges are disconnected with most sections down. No boats are seen on the water, but a couple large ocean going vessels can be see floating, bottom up. Mark's eyes have filled with tears, and he glances upward, not wanting to look down. Finally he glances down to check on Brian, saying to himself, "At least you're not there to see all this. Time to say good-bye. Nothing left to live for." Mark points the hot air jet directly at the parachute lines, melting them one by one, and the rig begin to tip to the side, suddenly dropping into the ocean below.
Just when the group thought they might be safe, danger rears its ugly head.
Colonel Cage is fluffing the bedding he's been given, a cloth bag filled with straw. He's laid his clothing out across the end of the bed, neatly as a military man would do, and is down to his underwear, a grimly T-shirt and pair of boxer shorts. He adjusts the back of his T-shirt collar, and then leans back into the straw tick bedding, with a sigh. A puzzled look comes over his face, and he fusses with the back of the T-shirt collar again, this time getting an alarmed look on his face. He sits up abruptly, pulling the T-shirt over his face and staring at the collar now in front of his face. "Oh, my God."
Discovering that he's been bugged with a tracking device, Colonel Cage wastes no time alerting Ian.
Colonel Cage and Ian are in the Council Room. The Colonel has gotten Ian out of bed. He's holding his T-shirt in front of him, under Ian's nose, shaking with rage. "Damn them to hell, they've bugged me, they know where we are, and they'll be coming after us!" Ian looks puzzled and glances up into the Colonel's eyes, staring steadily by way of asking for an explanation. The Colonel sighs and seeing he has to fill in the pieces, struggles to calm down. "Its a wire. I didn't know I was carrying it. If its live and I've got no reason to think its not, they can trace me, trace this thing, and it'll lead them right to where we're at". A thought crosses his mind and he suddenly drops the T-shirt to the floor and grinds the shirt collar under his heel, until he hears a crunch. Ian says, "But you don't know how long its been there, or even if it works". Colonel Cage's face goes blank, as he realizes that he can't give Ian and the others all the insight that he has, an impossible education in too short a time. He finally states, after struggling with himself over the issue, "Expect the worst".
But they soon learn that the rogue unit under General Flood is not their only worry.
The cannibals are looking for their next meal.
It's morning at the River Camp, where the fog horn is blowing softly. Colonel Cage, uneasy from the night before, jerks and twitches in his sleep, his eyes suddenly opening with a start. The men's hut is a bunk for over a dozen men, all with similar primitive bedding arrangements, all out in the open. The Colonel slips into his pants and takes off toward the door, even before his pants are buttoned. Ian is standing under a tree where he is barely visible in the shadows. Colonel Cage walks up to him, his white T-shirt visible as a waving flag as he moves between the trees. "You've been seen". The sleepy Colonel quickly flattens himself behind a tree. "Too late, they've sighted you". The quiet river is gently lapping along the shore, to the opposite side where a group of men stand looking across the river. The Colonel, his jaw tight and slightly twitching with the tension, says softly, "I'll bet that's them. They've been killing and eating families, more for fun I guess than hunger. I'd like to see each of them roast over a fire, alive!" Ian glances at the Colonel, not shocked as he's suspected as much. "I'll post a watch to make sure they don't cross." The Colonel shakes his head. "That won't do it, they'll find a way. We've got to do them in before they do us in."
Vigilante justice, once again, what with no phone, no police, and no court system or jails.
By mid-morning at the river camp the woman and children have being grouped in the center of the camp. Ian is calm but firm, explaining that there is a danger that the men have gone off to resolve. Netty raises her eyes skyward at this chauvinistic statement, but isn't really protesting, knowing the real danger. An older man, clearly favoring an injured leg, a fresh injury with a spot of bright red blood showing through the sock tied in a make-shift manner around it, walks slowly up to Ian. He nods at Ian when he catches his eye, an unspoken message. The danger is past, and the men are coming across. The mission succeeded, but the victors are scarcely at peace. As the danger Colonel Cage feared, being tracked by the rogue military unit he had deserted, soon arrives. Frank is vigorously chopping at a pile of green chunks, the original vegetables no longer recognizable, both hands on the chopper and heaving his shoulders into it. He is chatting away non-stop with Madge, the stocky cook, who is reaching into her herb jars. "The Death Card came up, and we all knew this was coming." Madge has a grim look on her face, her perpetual expression, and says nothing, but Frank is not put off. She hands him another handful of roots to chop. The sound of the chopper's blades are barely heard at first, beating softly over the river. A silent black chopper is coming along the river, moving toward the bluff. Frank stops, mid-chop, to listen intently.
Ian wastes no time in getting the River Camp group mustered and away.
Ian touches each camp member as they hurry past him, their personal belongings clutched in their arms. All are rushing, single file, into the woods and into a ravine, out of sight of anyone on the river or in the air. No one is hysterical or challenging Ian's decision to leave the river camp.
But not all the residents agree to move.
In the woman's hut, Danny is pleading with Cathy to come along. She seems unaware of any danger, is brushing it all off, and is treating him like a hysteric. "You don't understand, people have been killed, women raped, we just haven't told you!" "Danny, don't you see how good things are here? I've gotten my nails to grow out again, and we can bathe anytime we want to!" Danny looks dismayed, is speechless, a consternated look on his face, realizing for the first time how deep her self obsession runs. A tall couple walks in, picking through the belongings left behind, and Danny stares at them with comprehension. She won't be alone! "Well, I'm not staying here to die with you, suit yourself." And he turns away, heading out the door to catch up with the rest.
Those who have followed Ian's lead are determined to put distance between themselves and their former home, as quickly as possible.
In a clearing in the woods, Ian is taking a head count as the group silently passes by him in single file. Ian admonishes, "Stay together now, stay close together!" The stragglers at the end are coming with larger breaks between them. Ian turns to his assistant, a tall thin woman with her gray hair in a severe bun, "I didn't see the little boy and his granddad, or the last of that bunch." The woman has a clipboard in her hands and has been checking things off and the group passed, says, "That young woman and the newspaper man, they're missing too." Netty comes trudging into the clearing, trying to keep the end of the group ahead of her in sight. She sees Ian and his assistant standing there and smiles broadly, reassured that she hasn't lost them. Billy is some distance behind her on the trail, pausing to pick something up off the ground, bending over, his boyish curiosity at play. As he does this there is rustling in the bushes at the side of the path. Billy jerks upright, his mouth open and eyes wide. With a snarl, the alpha dog in a wild pack, a large boxer so lean he looks almost skeletal, rushes him, charging from the bushes.
Netty doesn't hesitate. She breaks into a strong running stride, covering ground silently with strong legs and broad hips that have been strengthened
through riding English style for many years. Ian sees her cover the clearing silently, racing toward the frozen Billy standing like a statue as the dog
pack lopes toward him. The alpha dog is crouching close to the ground, slinking in a zigzag pattern, his lips pulled back over yellowish teeth. The
dogs are a mix of former pets - shepherds, boxers, and hounds - all kinds. The smaller ones hang back and yip from the woods, excited at the
possibility of a meal ahead but not yet willing to attack humans, still recalling their former owners. Netty reaches Billy and lifts him off the ground into
her arms, just as the alpha dog lunges. He catches her buttock in his teeth as she throws her head back and yells, the others dogs in the pack
scattering back into the woods in panic. Red and Danny come running up, Red whacking at the retreating alpha dog with his jacket, and Danny
rushing up to Netty who is sinking to the ground in a faint. Billy, little man that he is, is out of her arms and turning around to try to assist. He is
chattering excitedly. "He bit her in the butt, right in the butt. Man, did she come out of nowhere!"
The weary group, with their old, young, and injured, are on the move from morning to dusk, sticking to the woods along the river bank for cover.
Fog is blowing in the very early morning along the river. Ian has just wakened his traveling group, not letting them have more than a few hours rest during the night. Now that they can see where to put one foot in front of the other, he intends to have them on their feet and moving again. The group looks bleary eyed, as though they've just wakened and could use a cup or more likely a full pot of coffee. No one is complaining, however, and when one stumbles and drops something, the one behind helps them pick it up and get adjusted with their belongings again. This group assists each other, in a non-competitive way, and there is never a need to ask for this assistance. Netty is being carried in a sling, between Danny and the fat cook Madge, who has a lot of muscle under the fat, it seems. Frank is trailing along behind her, carrying all their collective baggage like a pack horse. He's not complaining, but is nattering on about various situations in mythology or other cultures that fit the scene, by way of trying to explain why his new sweetheart is the draft horse while he's only the pack horse. The male ego has survived the pole shift intact, it seems.
Netty looks pink and puffy, feverish, and appears to be unconscious or sleeping. Frank says, "And the Cherokee even allow their women to be Chief." Ian, in the lead, stops the group behind him by raising his hand. Hidden by fog but visible when the wisps clear momentarily, is a huge dull gray dome, several stories high. The dome doesn't reach above the trees, but covers an area as large as a football field. Placed on a ridge along the river, where there are trees on all side and no ground above the ridge, the dome can't be seen unless a plane flew over. Several of Ian's assistants crowd around him, coming up behind him and staring at the dome over his shoulders. They are all are silent, staring, taking this in and trying to place it in their concepts of what goes on. Ian finally moves forward, the group straggling behind him. There is a large space in the line between Ian and those following him, his assistants, and an even larger space before the rest of the group follows. They are clearly hanging back, not so far that it would be taken to be a lack of faith in Ian, but far enough back that escape is possible. As Ian nears what looks like the entrance, a small half circle at the edge, the half circle splits and slides to the side, revealing an opening.
Several humans walk out, Jonah in the lead, extending his hand. Ian hesitates only a moment, then himself walks forward with an extended hand. The group following Ian noticeably pick up their pace, seeing a friendly welcome. Just inside the dome city entrance, the newcomers are gawking at the raised but diffusely lighted ceiling and lush vegetation growing in the center of the dome, where there is a fountain and grassy areas with children at play. The dome has housing units in a circle around the edge, several stories high, as the dome curves down into the ground as well as rising up above the ground. Tammy breaks the silence as she has been discovered by another little girl her age. Tammy is clutching her rag doll, which by now is so dirty and tattered that it almost looks like a black rag. The little girl welcoming her has a clean cloth doll, similar in size and dress, and hands this to Tammy with a smile. Tammy blinks, a hint of tears forming in her eyes at the kindness and understanding shown her, and smiles slightly. She hands the other girl her tattered doll, and they make an exchange, laugh spontaneously afterwards at the silliness of Tammy's gift, and run off together, the dome city girl in the lead. Billy is right behind Tammy, and has watched this. He raises his face to his mother, standing behind him, sharing with her an unspoken understanding that this is a good place. Ian is standing at the side, in intense conversation with Jonah. They have stepped to the side as the rest of the group is crowding the entryway as they enter the dome and react.
Madge, the fat cook, comes in and stands stock still, her perpetual frown refusing to be displaced on her face. Frank is just behind her, raising his arms up with an ecstatic look on his face. Big Tom and Danny finally bring Netty in on the sling between them, Red bringing up the rear with all the luggage that the three would normally be carrying. A man and woman rush up to them, evidently medically trained, and they motion to bring Netty off to the side, to a First Aid Station down along the level the entry way is on. In the First Aid Station, Netty is on the table while the infected bite on her rear is being inspected. Danny is remaining with her, standing at the side with a worried look on this face. Big Tom and Red, seeing that Danny has volunteered to watch over her, go back to check on the family. Netty is flushed pink and unconscious, looks puffy, and is breathing rapidly. She lies on her right side, her left buttock uncovered, an angry red with the edges of the bites swollen tightly shut with inflammation. The couple that run the first aid station are talking rapidly to each other. "Shot of penicillin, and then we've got to put her in the cooling tub and bring this fever down."
The evening meal is in process in the dome city. The roof of the top layer of residences is a general pram area where exercise and community activities take place. This night, due to the newcomers, a special dinner is laid out, buffet style. Children run along the roof and down the stairs or ramps that periodically descent to the center, chasing each other and playing games. A home-town band is playing some music, a banjo and violin and snare drum in an odd combination, along with a few singers who are remarkably good given the circumstances. Some couples are dancing along with the music, congregating in front of where the band has stationed itself. Jonah, Ian, and Colonel cage are holding and sipping from their cups and chatting. Ian and the Colonel are trying to adjust to this new measure of plenty and security.
Ian is anxiously asking about security, whether they have had any raids or intrusions. Jonah says, in a matter-of-fact manner, "We're protected."
This brings a frown to Ian's forehead. Have they walked into the enemy camp, by mistake? After hesitating for a minute, he blurts out, "Protected
by who?" Colonel Cage has been watching the conversation, his eyes flicking from one to the other, growing calmer as something momentous is
about to emerge, his military background coming to the fore. Jonah says, "We're not alone, haven't been, but now they can come forward
more." Ian has a blank, uncomprehending, look on his face. "You know, the space people, they're here, and they helped build this. Oh, you
won't see much of them if at all, but they're always around, and we've got some special children to prove it." Ian's eyes widen, staring at
Jonah's face. What next? "Come on, I'll show you".
In the First Aid station, Netty is coming around.
Netty is floating in the cooling tub in the First Aid room, coming conscious now that her fever is dropping. Her formerly pink and flushed face is pale now, and her eyes open a slit. She comprehends that she is nude in the water, and that Danny is holding her head so that she doesn't get water in her mouth. Danny is unaware that she is conscious. The couple that tend the First Aid Station are moving about, preparing to move her to a cot. "She'll be all right, I've seen this before, She's as sound as they come, and she'll pull through." The man dips his hands in the water and tips Netty's hips to check the swelling. "It's coming down. Another 15 minutes." He glances quickly at Danny and says, "Watch her while we make arrangements." And with that, the couple leaves the First Aid Station. Seeing that they are alone, Netty speaks. Danny, who had no idea she was coming conscious, reacts to this by widening his eyes. "So how many days has it been?" "Just 3, but you were out of it pretty quickly. Sure some brave thing you did there. Saved Billy's life, that's for sure." Netty wants the details, "How is .. " but Danny is ahead of her, knowing that she'd ask, and interrupts "Oh, he's fine, not a scratch, you took all of it, you .. " and overcome, recalling the incident, he stops. Just then the couple comes back into the room and smile at Netty, seeing her awake. "We've got your room ready if you're ready to come out of your bath."
Jonah has taken Ian and Colonel Cage to the gardens in the center of the dome city, where the children play. Jonah is sitting on one of the benches there, speaking warmly and quietly to some children standing in front of him, as though he frequently does this, is familiar to them, and has a good rapport with them. They have large frontal lobes and delicate chins, larger than normal eyes, and listen more than they speak. They seem to anticipate each other's movements, stepping back in sync with a step forward by another and the like. The din of children's voices can be heard in the background. The child in the center responds to something other than what Jonah has been saying. "They'll adjust quickly because they've been living like us already. You'll see, there won't be any adjustment at all." Colonel Cage says, "How do you know?" and the child looks calmly at him and says, "You're right to be worried, they need you. They don't know how to find you, don't know where you are." There is a silence, but finally Colonel cage says, with an obvious knot in his throat, "They're in trouble? The Army had facilities! They said .. they told us that ... that .. "
Having been told by the highly telepathic hybrid children that his family is in trouble, Colonel Cage is distraught, and sets out to find them.
Outside the dome city entrance, Colonel Cage is taking his leave, saying good-by to Jonah. "I've got to try, even if I die trying. I have no idea if these maps are any good anymore, it's 200 miles away as the crow flies, and God knows if I'll make it or what I'll find." The Colonel is traveling light, holding a black cloth satchel that he slings over his shoulder as he turns and walks into the wood. As he disappears a tall gray Zeta appears next to Jonah. Jonah says, still watching the Colonel disappearing into the woods, "He's going to need help." Then glancing up into the Zeta's face, he says, "He qualifies, he's doing this for others, at risk to himself." The Zeta puts his hand momentarily on Jonah's shoulder, then heads off after Colonel Cage.
Colonel Cage is walking along the outskirts of what used to be a mid-sized city. He is traveling at night, for safety, his body standing out briefly in profile against a flaming pile of trash that someone has pulled together and lit. Broken boards stick up now and then, hazards, and tumbled down cement blocks litter the streets as he picks his way though the rubble. There are shouts in the distance, and what sound like hysterical laughter now and then. Past the city now, and traveling by day, Colonel Cage is standing at the edge of a rip in the earth. Foot hills leading down into a river valley have been torn apart, bare earth exposed in stark contrast to the trees or fields on either side. He stands gazing over the scene, a slight frown on this face, and then reaches into his back pocket for a map, which he flips through, looking increasingly puzzled. He finally shakes his head and mutters under his breath, "If that's the river, then I made 150 miles in one day!" He returns the map to his back pocket, leans down for his satchel, and strides off down along the edge of the rip, toward the river.
By night time, rain is pouring steadily, drenching everything. Peering through the dark, Colonel Cage must squint for several minutes to see an occasional outlined in the dark. Progress has been slow, along the last leg of his journey, but he is recognizing landmarks, so very near home at last. He is still, staring into the broken windows of what used to be his house. Nothing moves, and there are no lights or sounds. A young boy's voice behind him says, "Dad?" Colonel Cage turns so rapidly he is almost a blur, as he sweeps the boy into his arms. After a long silent bear hug, during which the two of them seem unable to let go of each other, the Colonel sets the boy down and says, his voice husky, "Where's your mother and John?" "They're all right, come on" With excitement and eagerness in his voice, he takes his dad by the hand. They stumble off into the dark, Colonel Cage stumbling after his young son, both walking too fast for the circumstances, but too eager to get where they're going to care. The next day, the four are walking cautiously along a tree bank. All are dressed in dull clothing that blends in with the soggy dark green and mustard yellow of the vegetation, and when out in the open crouch down and scuttle across the open space, so as not to attract attention from anyone who might be looking.
Colonel Cage is visibly nervous, but is not sharing with his family the reasons for his fear. They hear voices, and he signals all to drop to the ground and not make a sound. The Colonel's face is pale and he is trembling, unable to control his extreme fear that his family will be tortured and killed, as he has seen done to others. He has his youngest beside him, and has his hand over his mouth, is signaling his wife and oldest boy with his eyes as to the seriousness of the situation. A group of men is passing, talking and arguing among themselves. A voice rings out almost on top of where the family is crouched, joining in the conversation without missing a beat. The terrified family hears a zipper zip and then hear the sound of a fly being re-zipped a moment later. The one who just relieved himself walks right past the youngest boy as though not seeing him, rejoining the others. The other looks his way also, and seems not to see the family, plastered against the ground right between them, holding their breath.
As they walk on they are watched by a tall Zeta standing next to a tree, his arms folded across his chest. The family remains still until no voices can
be heard. Colonel Cage lifts his head slightly and casts his eyes all around, and seeing nothing says in a whisper, "Follow me, but be as quiet as
you can." He moves slowly so as not to snap a twig, picking up speed only when they get to a grassy area along a creek where the sound of running
water covers the swishing of their legs against the grass. When he can look in all directions and see the coast is clear, he breaths a sigh of relieve and
says, "I don't know why they didn't see us, they were right on top of us, the oddest thing". Shaking his head, a slight frown on his face, a
realization is dawning on him as he puts together the fast trip he's had and this incident. He says to himself, "It's them." His oldest son is looking at
him with a puzzled look, but gets no explanation.
Returning to the Dome City,
Colonel Cage and his wife and sons are walking in through the entry of the dome city, wet and looking tired but obviously deeply happy. Danny, having a morning cup of coffee with Red, splashes hot coffee on himself by jerking his cup at seeing the family, trying to raise his hand up to point while still holding the cup. He's choking on his coffee as he says, through coughs, "Its them! They made it! Damn if they didn't make it." Red's craggy face is wrinkled with happiness, but he just sits and takes it all in, not moving or speaking. Big Tom's voice is booming in the background, and combined with Billy's chirping voice, is noise enough. Everyone is greeting the new family. Inside the dome city, at night, the iridescent glow of the dome ceiling has been dimmed to simulate night. All is quiet except for the occasional splashing of the fountain. A chipmunk nibbles on a piece of cracker. Some ducks next to the fountain in the center of the dome are tucking their heads under their wings. A small monkey drops out of the trees and lopes across the grass. There are wildlife pets here in the biodome, living naturally in the open space. The ceiling is lit from a laser in the center of the fountain, the light rising from the center of the fountain, setting of a glow in the soft material sprayed on the ceiling. The wildlife, as do the human residents, accepts this night and day as their world, without distress, so natural as to slip from notice after a day or two.
Suddenly a Zeta materializes in the center of the grassy area, startling the chipmunk who scampers away. He is joined by two others, and the three
stride toward the ramp/stairway. They simply levitate up to the top tier of residences, rather than take the stairs. This levitation is done mid-stride,
without missing a beat, as though a natural occurrence and something all three understood they would do, simultaneously, without a word spoken.
They land on the continuous patio area that circles in front of all the residences on a level, shared by all on the level. The three Zetas stride along the
patio for a few steps, then stop in front of a closed door. Though they haven't knocked nor made noise, the door opens, a sleepy Jonah emerging in
his pajama bottoms. They all stare at each other for a moment, and then Jonah says, "How close are they?" One of the Zetas moves his hand
slightly, and then Jonah says, with some alarm in his voice, "Then we've got to do something! They'll blow us away! I know how these guys
operate, they kill anything they can't rule!" A Zeta puts his hand up slightly, palm down in a dampening gesture, and Jonah says, "I can't calm
down, all these people .. " but the Zeta changes his gesture to run his fingers in a half circle in front of him, and Jonah says, "Oh, oh, OK, I know
I've asked you to help, and if you say that'll work, OK, OK, but, ahm, but, Christ, if it doesn't, we're dead."
Jonah is clearly nervous about whatever has been discussed. Outside the dome city, the dull gray dome can barely be seen in the moonlight. Insects are thrumming in the humid summer night, which is enshrouded in mist. Emerging from the woods, we see General Flood and his sidekick, the diminutive and ever compliant Sergeant Hammond. They are surveying the scene silently, and then the General says, quietly, "We can put a hole in it easy, and then its ours."
Daybreak outside the dome city is brilliant, caused by the thick volcanic dust reflecting sunlight. A bird clinging to a reed along the river is welcoming the dawn with his song. A boot lands in the river bank mud, pulling out with a sucking sound. A column of soldiers is moving toward the dome city. The entry way of the dome city has been opened but no one is coming or going. A helicopter come into view, and a booming voice is heard. "This is your military speaking. Allow our inspection teams to enter or suffer the consequences. Send your leaders out with a white flag to indicate that you understand these orders." The helicopter goes into a slow circle, well outside the perimeter of the dome. There is no response from inside the dome city at first, but then Jonah emerges, along with Colonel Cage, Big Tom, and the 3 soldiers who went AWOL with the Colonel. They are subtly antagonizing the General by showing themselves, as he brooks no insubordination. Inside the helicopter, General Flood is red faced with rage. He mutters to himself and the pilot, "He's going to die and die slowly". Then speaking through the intercom, to his men on the ground, "Move the missile into place, let them see it". A slender wheeled missile emerges from the woods, pushed by half a dozen soldiers.
Several other soldiers emerge from the trees too, lining up along the edge of the woods. They are not dressed in uniform. Some have bandannas tied around their heads, some have long hair tied behind their heads in a pony tail, some have painted their faces, some carry long machete knives, but all wear fatigue pants and army boots. This is clearly no longer a formal military troop. Something invisible is moving through the grass, as though a sliding wall were being moved into place. The grass flattens and separates, weeds push aside and then kept aside as though an invisible wall had been put into place. This line moves swiftly, with the sound of chopper blades throbbing overhead. "Cage, I'll have your liver for supper for this, and pickle your eyes!" Inside the helicopter, General Flood speaks to his men through the intercom again. "Bring out the hostage now, and shoot him." Len is pushed forward, hands bound in front of him and one eye swollen shut, poked out during a fit of the General's rage during an interrogation session. He is stumbling with exhaustion and staggering, but is pushed forward until midway between the dome city representatives and the military troop. Inside the dome city, Clara is standing just inside the entry way, viewing the scene. Her eyes fill with tears and her hand flutters to her mouth, but she says nothing, holding her breath and knowing she can't influence the outcome.
Netty puts her arm come around Clara's shoulder, gripping it. A shot rings out, and Clara drops in a faint, as several other arms move forward to grip her too, trying to break her fall. Inside the helicopter, General Flood says arrogantly into the bullhorn, "The rest of you have five seconds to raise your hands and let my inspection team come forward, or we'll blow your little nest and all the little birdies inside sky high! Five seconds! Five, four, three, two, one." General Flood pauses, his face muscles working in rage, his face florid with rage at having been defied. "All right men, let 'em have it!" The group standing in front of the dome city remains unmoved, unflinching. They had expected that both the men held by the General had been killed, so this is no surprise, and they are aware of the shield and whether they trust it to hold or not, have no alternative in their minds. Death, for them and their families, is better than being overtaken by this group. This is why the entry door has been left open, so that if the shield fails, all will die suddenly, as a group. Big Tom speaks softly to his comrades, "Better this way than living under tyranny, eh, boys?"
The missile makes a humming sound, and then with a flash at the jet end, moves forward so suddenly that the eye cannot follow it. Just as suddenly it hits an invisible shield and the explosion sprays backward over the men and the trees, a fireball fanning out, frying all within range. There is a shriek or two, but death is quick. As the flames quickly die down over the metal shards from the shattered missile, the chopper blades can still be heard overhead. General Flood puts a leg out onto the chopper landing bar, and lean forward out the open door as far as his restraining seatbelt will allow, raises his loudspeaker again and bellows, "Back it down, I say! This is the government speaking, damit! Back it down now!" The General snaps at the pilot, "Take it down and land on top of them!" The pilot glances nervously at the General's face, and seeing that no argument will do, moves the joy stick to aim the chopper down. The chopper descends, hits the invisible barrier, and explodes into a flaming wreck. The group standing in front of the dome city allows themselves to breath again. The citizens of the dome city are coming forward, tentatively at first. They look to the right and left, agape at the wreckage. Martha is rushing forward to embrace her husband, followed by the oldest boy of Colonel Cage, who throws his arms around his dad from the back, essentially hugging his butt. Ian has a look of relief on his face. He quickly turns to the side and vomits, allowing himself to feel his fear now that the danger is past.
In the last segment of the story the young reporter, Danny, and his new girlfriend Netty, are introduced to life on other planets, many of whom are frequent visitors to the Dome City.
Their guide is Billy, the boy from the ranch, long a contactee and familiar with the routine.
The residents of the Dome City soon discover they have new neighbors, also in a Dome City, who are not entirely human!