Sirens wailed outside. It had been hours since the attack started, and Agatha could still hear the sounds of jet fighters passing close by. They set off car alarms every time they did.
Their cell phones once again had no signal, the internet was down, and the radio picked up nothing but static. Agatha had unplugged the TV.
She nervously checked the window. Even now, past midnight, people still streamed down the streets. That many people should have been terribly noisy, but they weren't. They all moved with the same unshakable certainty and singlemindedness.
It was too horrible to see. Too horrible to think about.
Danielle had struggled mightily at first, babbling. She'd said that it was important, that she had to go.
"Explain it to me," Agatha had said. "Tell me why you have to go, convince me it's not this stuff that got on you. You're acting weird."
Danielle had said she couldn't explain, she just knew.
After much prompting and some physical restraint, she'd gotten Danielle to settle down. Eventually, she got her mind off it.
Agatha had made her a strong drink and talked softly with her before she'd finally fallen asleep on the couch with Alan curled up next to her.
Danielle had looked exhausted, but the light in her eyes scared Agatha.
She looked down at her sleeping wife and shivered.
What had she seen in those lights?
The admiral looked up as Shyamala walked into the brig. The seaman on duty had apparently been ordered to take a break.
She strode over to stand in front of his cell, and they regarded each other for a moment in silence.
Finally, he spoke. "I'd get up, but." He gestured to his leg. He had the prosthetic off so the stump could breathe.
He smiled faintly. "Congratulations, Rear Admiral. Those stars look good on your shoulders."
She inclined her head a fraction. "Thank you, sir."
After another moment, she exhaled deeply and closed her eyes. "I take it you're not aware of what's going on."
"They don't give me many updates here in the brig."
She shook her head slowly. "Men have died under my command. Are dying. Will continue to die."
He answered quickly. "That's part of being in command, Rear Admiral."
She balled her hands up into fists and she finally let her mask of calm drop.
"Like this? Admiral, it's-- what's happening right now--" Her face twisted in rage. "They're dying and--"
He raised a hand. "Better not tell me too much, even if it's just us."
She shook her head, growling through gritted teeth. "It's the President, sir. He's doing the same thing he did with you. But worse. He's either lying to me or he's letting people die for no reason."
She took a breath. "I don't even have the option of doing what you did. There's too many of them for cruise missiles. My head scientist on ASTRAL LARK is also the only scientist on site authorized to work on ASTRAL LARK and she doesn't have a fraction of the resources she needs. How do I get through this? How do I just watch people continue to die?"
He leaned back, and his eyes focused on a point past her. "You follow the law, Rear Admiral. You follow your conscience. And when you're not sure about either of them?" He smiled sadly. "You have to have faith."
She glared. "This President does not inspire me to have faith in him, sir. It's like he wants to let people die."
He chuckled once mirthlessly and shook his head. "No, no. Not faith in the President, or faith in the system, or faith in the American government." He pointed up at her.
"You have to have faith in your people. That they're strong enough. Faith that they'll do the right thing. That they'll understand when you make the hard calls.
"I know you, Shyamala. I know you do the right thing, even when it's the hardest thing. There's nobody else I'd rather have filling my old seat right now."
She grimaced. "Everything I do, I keep wondering what you would have done."
He shook his head. "Doesn't matter what I would have done. Are you doing everything in your ability to fulfill your oath of service, Rear Admiral Omar?"
She stood a little straighter, then nodded.
"Then the rest will come out in the wash." He nodded. "You got this."
After a moment, Shyamala nodded. "I appreciate your faith in me, sir."
Her mind churned as she strode back toward the control room.
She stopped for a moment, thinking.
She hated politics.
She turned in the direction of the room with the secure line to Washington.
Howard Williams had just finished a succulent Chinese meal and was now taking to the street to smoke a cigarette.
The news station had made good on the promised money for the use of his boat, and that wasn't all. They'd let him keep the boat. And that still wasn't even the best part.
The video of his interview had gone viral, albeit after a bit of autotuning. Now, people recognized him on the street. He'd even gotten a few phone calls from other news programs and internet celebrities eager to interview him.
Him! Howard Phillips Williams! Well, it was about time, after all, he thought to himself.
He looked at his phone. The reception was blocked, again. He shook his head. He was sure it was the Chinese. After all, he'd just eaten at a Chinese establishment. It just stood to reason that they must have scanned his technology while he was there.
He made a mental note to himself not to bring his next phone into any Chinese establishments once he bought it. Or perhaps, he thought, if he wrapped it in aluminum foil first, it might prevent it from being scanned.
He nodded to himself contentedly. It would probably be a good policy to keep his phone wrapped in aluminum foil most of the time, anyway, to prevent the FBI and NSA from tracking it. He didn't know why more people weren't properly livid about the outrageous invasions of privacy Americans faced in the information age, but there were many mysteries of the human mind that were opaque to him.
"Excuse me," someone said.
He stumbled a bit as the person passed behind him, brushing past him and through his personal space. He whirled, feeling for his wallet, then smiled when he saw it was just a young woman wearing business casual attire.
"Ah," he said, "Yes, as a matter of fact I am--"
"No, sorry, I was just trying to get past," she said. She looked at him with a look of otherworldly excitement in her eyes.
"I have to go," she said. "Have you seen the lights? I have to go see them. God is in them."
His eyebrows rose as she spoke, and tried to climb off his face at the last part.
"Ah, hm," he said, "I don't... believe I have, no."
Was she on drugs? Was this some kind of trap? He looked around worriedly to see if there was some thug waiting with a blackjack behind him.
But instead, all he saw were dozens of people moving purposefully in the same direction.
"You should see," she said over her shoulder. "Everyone should see. It's so pretty."
He began following her slowly, eying the other people on the street. They all had the same light in their eyes.
Was this some kind of flash mob? Some left wing demonstration put on by college students?
"Ma'am," he called after her, "Can you perhaps..."
He followed her around a corner and trailed off.
There was a line of emergency vehicles attempting to enforce a barricade across the street.
"What-- what is all this? Why are they... is this--"
He saw the things crawling up the street. He saw people throwing themselves into them, being consumed one after another by multiple un-mouth-like mouths all over the creatures.
He turned and ran.
It was happening again. Like the attack on the bridge and the North Beach. Demons, the President had said.
"I knew it," he puffed to himself as he ran downhill toward his boat's dock. "This city's iniquities have finally... caught up to it."
He clambered into his boat and rustled around in it for a moment. He pulled up a revolver and a Bible, then looked up at one of the creatures on the shore.
"I'll show you," he said, stomping off the dock. "I'll show you things how a real American deals with demons. HEY!"
If it heard him, it didn't make any indication.
As he stomped along the shore, he noticed something glittering. He looked down to see something that looked like a jellyfish tentacle, long and transparent, glimmering up at him in patterns like he had never seen in nature.
He walked closer to the water, growling. "None of that, you hear me? This is AMERICA!"
He stomped on the tentacle, and something else rose up out of the water beside it.
It was also translucent and jellylike, but it was shaped almost like a human hand.
It closed around his ankle.
He screamed in pain. It had slipped right up his pant leg, and he could feel it burning his flesh like ice.
He tried to pull away, but the thing was stronger than it looked. Panting, he emptied the revolver into the thing, or rather, he emptied the revolver mostly around the thing.
More of the tentacles extended from the water, wrapping themselves around his limbs as he struggled.
Then, seconds later, the pain stopped. He felt a lovely, floating warmth. It was as peaceful as it was seductive.
"Won't... not gonna..." He scowled down at the things restraining him, then he noticed the lights.
They blinked up and spoke directly to him.
Tears filled his eyes. "It's... you're... you're beautiful," he said, and he began crawling toward the lights.
He pushed his body down, into the water, into the mat of jellyfish-like substance, and it rose to cling to his face. He could feel it in his eyes, in his nose, pushing its way into his mouth and down his throat.
He started struggling again a few moments later, then the tendrils found their way into his brain.
His body was pulled into the water just before several more people stumbled onto the beach, pointing at the lights blinking beneath the surface.
Agatha judged Danielle to be sleeping soundly enough that she could run to the bathroom. She looked at herself in the mirror and scowled.
How could she protect Danielle from this? What could she do in the face of something so unknowable and overwhelming?
She resisted the urge to punch the mirror and scrubbed at her face instead.
"Come on. Keep it together."
She opened the bathroom door to find Alan plaintively meowing.
She looked up at the couch.
She almost tripped in her rush to the couch.
It was empty.
She whirled to see that the door was standing slightly ajar.
"DANIELLE!" She screamed and sprinted for the door, barely pulling it closed after herself.
She looked back and forth wildly, but it was only a moment before she saw the direction the glassy-eyed people were walking.
She ran down the steps in her bare feet, hissing and trying to watch for broken glass without slowing down. She screamed out into the disastrous noise of the night again.
"DANIELLE!" She moved as fast as he could, pouring on every bit of speed she had, saving nothing as adrenaline flooded her system and sharpened her senses.
She winced as something hit the ground a few dozen feet away. She gritted her teeth and resolved to keep an eye out for anything falling out of the sky.
Every time she saw someone wearing Danielle's favorite color or with a similar haircut, her heart leapt for a moment before sinking again.
The people on the street were already moving quickly and purposefully, but she blew past them, shoving people aside without any regard.
She had to be-- she couldn't be--
She saw the line of emergency vehicles, just past a news van. There were dozens of people struggling with emergency workers wearing protective gear.
Danielle was one of them.
"HEY! Danielle! WAIT!" She screamed.
Danielle turned and they locked eyes for a moment. She mouthed something.
Somebody punched the emergency worker holding Danielle back and she slipped under his arm, running for the slowly crawling thing oozing its way slowly toward them.
Agatha ran into the same emergency worker, shouting to be heard over the other people shouting and arguing and moaning.
"That's my wife! She's sick! She's-- DANIELLE!"
Then it had her in its grip and Agatha felt the world end.
It lifted Danielle to its glowing face and pushed her entire body into itself.
Thank you for reading!
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