XXXVI. Prime Time

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The sun dipped in the sky. The coastal cities of California looked markedly different than they had one day prior.

The unearthly growth had extended out of the water, past the shore, into cities, over buildings, over cars. New structures were forming; things that looked almost like giant flowers with thick, black petals grew up on the surfaces of buildings that crumpled inward under constricting vines that looked more like flesh than wood.

Long, fleshy tubes extended from the ground in places, picking apart buildings, picking through rubble, or depositing lumpy substances that hardened and pulsed into new shapes and structures.

The dog-sized, fast, tentacle-faced crustaceans roamed, but there were differences in size and design that sprang up now and then. Everywhere, dazzling lights blinked in mesmerizing patterns that captured the attention of anyone who looked.

Especially those who had been touched by red spores, the green gelatinous projectiles, or other secretions made by the creatures that had begun to colonize where once humanity had reigned.

Less than a mile from the eastern edge of the encroaching alien ecology, Sarah, Adam, and Jason were arguing. Dave no longer had a say in things, but didn't seem to mind too badly, despite the fact that he was currently handcuffed.

"What is there even left for us to do, here?" Jason counted off on his fingers. "First, and I can't reiterate this enough, the station is gone. Second, our cameraman is under the mind whammy of the thing that just ate San Francisco. Third, we don't even have a van, so it's not like we can chase this story very far on foot."

"Okay, first," Sarah said, "KXSF isn't broadcasting anymore and Dave can't reach the emergency coordinator, that's true. But we can still livestream on satellite as long as we can punch a signal through, and even though KXSF isn't broadcasting us anymore, you know who is? Everyone else. Second, our cameraman's still got his skills, he's just got an issue he needs us to help him with. We can't take the handcuffs off him until we know the lights can't control him anymore, but you know who's got two hands that work just fine?"

Jason scoffed. "You?"

She pointed two fingers-- at him.

"Wrong, my man. You know Dave, you know the news, you know camera work. And you know that whether or not he's got that stuff in his head, Dave will kill you if you drop the camera. So he'll direct, you'll handle the camerawork. And third? My gut is telling me that is where we need to be."

She pointed to the incoming military helicopters. It wasn't just a couple of helicopters. The soldiers emerging from them were setting up some kind of perimeter with fencing. And, Jason saw... a podium?

"Hey," Adam said, pointing. "Getting out of that chopper over there. Stars on the shoulder-- is that an admiral?"

Sarah narrowed her eyes. "Rear admiral, I think," she said. "C'mon. Time to get messy. Jason, if Dave makes a run for it, you're authorized to use Aikido as long as you don't break the camera."

Shyamala climbed out of the helicopter and tried not to scowl. She could see that Army and Air Force personnel had already begun setting up a podium and... chairs? Fencing around an area like...

Was somebody going to give a speech? Here, now? Close enough to the danger to capture the devastation with the right camera angles, far enough away to be entirely safe?

She tasted blood and desperately wanted to spit it out of her mouth. Instead, she stood at attention and gave her own officers a series of confident-sounding orders.

She knew she needed to project confidence and calm. She had no idea if she would be able to do that if she had to sit through a speech here and now.

She gazed out at the horizon. Smoke rose in many places. Buildings that usually reflected the light of the setting sun were now coated in something dark. Tendrils visibly curled around buildings.

Her fighters had pulled back and now were just trying to contain the rocket drones.

She wanted to shake her head seeing the disorganization of the response to this deadly attack.

Instead, she kept her back straight and walked with purpose. If she could have a few quiet words with officials from the other branches, it might help project the confidence she didn't feel.

She nearly did a double-take seeing a familiar, if bedraggled reporter followed by a gaggle of similarly haggard-looking journalists, speaking heatedly with a soldier.

She would have expected an entire battery of media outlets covering whatever was about to happen, but it seemed this team was the only one to show up.

Had the White House even invited media outlets? If someone was planning to give a speech, why wouldn't they make sure the media was there? KXSF wasn't even broadcasting anymore, Shyamala remembered.

She glanced back at the news crew, feeling a surge of respect for them. Was one of them wearing handcuffs...?

She returned her gaze center-front and approached someone wearing a Major General's insignia.

"Major General," she said, "Rear Admiral Omar. I was given this rendezvous by the White House, but no further information. Have you received further orders?"

He shook his head fractionally, his eyes sweeping the horizon. "Major General Barnes, pleased. I'm afraid our commander-in-chief was similarly reticent with me."

His lips tightened. "Looks like somebody's going to make a speech."

She nodded, looking around. "I don't see any media around other than that unstoppable KXSF crew. But also... tactically speaking, it's an interesting time to make a speech, wouldn't you say?"

He glanced over at her without turning his head. "I would concur with that assessment, Rear Admiral. It's... incredibly interesting all around."

She nodded again, simultaneously somewhat relieved to have her viewpoint validated and increasingly frustrated with the opacity of the President's intentions.

She heard a low sound growing louder and realized it was the sound of jet engines.

She turned to one of her men who quickly informed her, "Ma'am-- it's the Air Force. It's Air Force One."

Working under Dave's insistent direction, Jason got the camera on and linked up to the satellite stream and pointed upward in time to capture Air Force One's arrival.

This version of the Air Force One design was capable of vertical takeoff and landing, and it did so now, creating a deafening roar and blowing dust and detritus around wildly as it sank through the air directly behind the empty podium.

Dave shouted directly into Jason's ear, prompting him to zoom and adjust focus.

After it came to a stop and the engines cut off, in the roaring silence that followed, Jason panned the camera around. High-ranking military personnel had taken seats in three rows of seats facing a podium now marked with the Seal of the President of the United States of America.

Long minutes after the majestic, futuristic airplane had landed, the door on its side opened slowly, lowering to become a staircase.

Men wearing strange black military uniforms marched out of it. The new uniforms appeared to have black hoods attached to them. Each member of this new force wore a cross around his neck.

They filed out, taking places in two columns that formed a path from Air Force One to the podium.

The President emerged into the light of the setting sun, and he looked West with a gleam in his eye. He held something long, thin, and black in his left hand.

He walked at a dignified pace to the podium, not looking left or right at the men who stood at attention flanking his path to the podium.

Sarah could see Secret Service agents, but they appeared to be standing farther away from the President than these strange new soldiers.

Sarah quickly checked the stream and verified they were streaming live. She didn't look at the numbers, but her heart felt a little funny when she thought about how many people must be watching and how many television stations would be rebroadcasting this footage. She felt a little silly that part of herself still cared about views with the devastation clearly visible on the skyline, but-- she'd become a journalist to record truth and bear witness to others, and here they were doing just that. There was nobody else there, and somebody had to do it.

Well, that wasn't entirely true. There were a few men holding cameras near the podium.

The other cameras might have been closer, but they didn't have the best angle. The KXSF camera lined up the shot perfectly, framing the podium with the haphazard barriers that had been thrown up, the high-tech airplane, the devastated buildings of the skyline, and the bizarrely small number of military personnel present as his audience.

Calmly and carefully, the President balanced the long, thin, black thing on the podium, and looked up into the cameras his people were pointing at him.

My fellow Americans. Once again, our nation is under assault by the forces of evil. The cowardly foes of God have attacked this great nation again.

I am heartbroken and enraged that these agents of darkness have committed these atrocities, claiming untold numbers of American lives.

The iniquities of these demons know no bounds. Today we have seen American cities devastated by the armies of Satan. Hell has opened its gates and the vile filth that pours forth believes it has a place here in America. This invader believes it can take away from us this land that our fathers fought and bled and died for!

It is the domain of Satan to bewilder and seduce. The Prince of Lies has called to those whose hearts he has claimed, and they have answered. Do you see them, on the streets? Do you see them, on the television broadcasts? This evil has come to roost within the soul of America. It believes it can incubate its evil within our borders! These monsters think they can take everything from us. And look at those who willingly give their lives to Satan! They march to their bloody deaths. They march to Hell!

This is not the will of God. This is not what our Savior teaches us. God is love, but see how these foul things spread hatred and chaos!

Obedience to God and God's appointed ones shall bring you to the next world. Disobedience brings death and eternity in the fiery pit.

God has spoken his will to me. That is why I am announcing today the formation of a new Chaplain Corps of the Air Force. These distinctive American soldiers of God will lead the charge against the enemy within. But first, God's love has given me the sword I will use to drive back this manifestation of evil from our shores.

Remember, America. This world is not all there is. There is another world beyond this one.

Follow me and I will save you from damnation.

Then he picked up the scabbard and unsheathed the sword. As he did, it alit with roaring blue flame. The special Air Force chaplains stepped aside to give him room.

"What's he doing?" Adam whispered to Sarah.

She opened her mouth then closed it again.

Shyamala looked at the man in disbelief.

An actual flaming sword? What kind of--

Dave continued muttering in Jason's ear. Jason clenched his jaw, trying not to shake with nerves, and pushed the camera view in. The President walked away from the assembled people, holding the flaming sword aloft.

Tentacles were visibly reaching over the barrier the President walked toward, but there were still hundreds of feet between him and them.

The man lifted the sword high into the air.


He swung the flaming sword in a wide arc that would have been laughable.

It would have been laughable if the tentacles didn't immediately shrivel after the sword made its stroke through the air.

"No," Sarah said, her jaw dropping.


Shyamala gaped.

Lashawna picked up her monitor and held it over her head so that her laptop dangled from it.


All across San Francisco, the alien overgrowth shriveled and formed white spots that began bleeding clear and white fluids.

Crab-dog things shrieked-- or they made transmissions that would have been picked up on FM radios as shrieks-- and died, their bodies liquefying in seconds.

The jelly mat that had formed in the water began to disintegrate.

Giant flowers with black petals dissolved.

The giant slugs limped back to the water where they could, but most of them simply erupted into sludge.

The President didn't look back. He just turned and got back into Air Force One. He tossed the sword prop aside as soon as he was out of view of the cameras.

It was just past seven o'clock Eastern time, and he had a big election tomorrow.

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