Coldheart and Iron: Part 36


“What?” Camille blinked rapidly and stared at me

“Like, we talking Power Rangers or Pacific Rim?” Lucas arched an eyebrow and looked like he was about to bolt through the door to where I’d just been.

“What’re those?” Tiffany shook her head. “Never mind. A robot? Like, a monster kind of robot or like the things people used before the Collapse?”

“The lower half is built a lot like the monsters. Same sort of amorphous body with a bunch of limbs that flow around as needed. Except they’re one hundred times bigger. Thing’s at least one hundred and fifty feet tall, if not taller.” I wiped my hands over my face and cracked my neck as I tried to guess more accurately using the remnants of the skyscrapers in the Chicago Enclave. “Probably about one hundred seventy when I saw it. It might be able to get taller though, if the lower half really works the same as the monsters do.”

After a moment of silence, Camille prompted me. “And the top?”

“Oh. Entirely humanoid. It’s got a face that looks like someone who didn’t understand Human features tried to give it a face like ours. Two arms, but they’ve got a dozen joints instead of two. Hands that seemed pretty normal, but I didn’t get a good look at them since it was wrecking buildings with them. No hair, just normal head-shaped. Maybe a little more cylindrical. Chest was probably to scale from Lucas.”

“It’s attacking the Enclave?” Lucas stopped looking toward the door and directed his attention toward me.

Camille started unslinging her rifle but then paused as if realizing she was too far to shoot it and it was unlikely to have much effect. “Shit.”

“Yeah.” I pulled myself to my feet. “What do we do?”

“Leave.” Lucas shrugged. “We have enough supplies for a couple more days and there’s a hideout to the north we can get more from. Enough to last until the rampage is over and the blizzard has passed.”

“Lucas.” Camille threw his name out like she was throwing a dagger. “We can’t just abandon them. Or Natalie!”

“What are we supposed to do against a fifteen to twenty story monster that can just smear people on the ground whenever it wants! This must have been what the army fought at the bases and they lost! There’s a reason they lost and we don’t know what it is so let’s just save ourselves and tell everyone what happened here so no dumbass with a rifle ever causes this to happen again!” Lucas was shouting by the time he stopped. Chest heaving, face flushed, he glared at us all in turn. “I just want to stay alive. That’s it. I stayed as a Wayfinder until it seemed more likely that I’d die out here than survive so I retired and now even that looks like it’s not the bastion of safety everyone assumed it was.

“So now let’s leave. We can survive and maybe even do some good with our lives if we can make it through today and tell the rest of the Enclaves about what’s hiding in the storm. Maybe they can figure out some way to stop it, then. I just know that one more old man with a gun isn’t going to make a difference so we should do what we can to help Humanity instead of just the people we see in front of us.”

Lucas was purple in the face and his jaw worked for a couple of seconds after he finished, as if he was about to say something he decided to keep to himself. He glared at us each in turn and neither Camille or Tiffany had anything to say to him. I could see the despair of the situation weighing on them all, Lucas more than the others.

I looked down at the ground for a moment and then back up at Lucas. “You’re right.”

Camille and Tiffany looked over at me, surprise clearly written on their faces. Before they had a chance to speak, I carried on. “You are correct, Lucas. Someone needs to make it through today and give this information to the other Enclaves if we fail. You’re the fastest of us, the best at surviving alone, so it should be you.”

I dropped my pack to the floor and took all of the food out of it except a few of the protein bars and the water. I offered it all to Lucas. “Take it. You’ll have a better chance of survival if you take the rations.”

“But what about you?” Lucas’ face had gone from purple to pale.

I shrugged, still holding out the food. “I won’t need it. Either we succeed or we don’t. Either way, I won’t need food for tomorrow.”

“But what if you survive and the Enclave is wrecked?”

“There’ll be plenty of food hanging around. I won’t need this.” I stood up from my crouch, walked over to Lucas, and stuck the food into his backpack. While I did so, Camille and Tiffany started unloading the food from their packs as well. I looked at their food and what Lucas had in his backpack. “You should be good for about ten days, using all this. Longer if you ration it a bit. That should be plenty.”

While I loaded him up with the food Camille and Tiffany handed off to me, Lucas looked down at his feet. When I was finished, I walked around to the front of him and stood shoulder to shoulder with Camille and Tiffany. After a moment of avoiding us, Lucas looked up. I could see tears in his eyes for a moment before he wiped them away. “Fine.” He coughed and cleared his throat. “I’ll go. But only if you promise to meet me at the Wayfinder cache just south of the Wisconsin border sign ten days after the blizzard has cleared up.”

“It’s a deal.” I held out my hand for Lucas to shake. After looking at me for a split second, he grabbed my hand, pulled me close, and hugged me. “Stay safe.” I squeezed him tightly.

“I always do.” He hugged me even more tightly for a moment before letting go. “Don’t take any stupid risks.”

“I never do.” I smiled at my oldest friend and then watched him say goodbye to our other companions. Camille hugged him tightly and they each mumbled something to each other. Lucas awkwardly walked up to Tiffany after legging go of Camille and Tiffany held out her left arm. She’d attached a glove to her stump and Lucas, without a moment’s hesitation, grabbed it to shake. When it came away in his hand, his eyes bugged for a moment and then he burst out laughing. Tiffany leaned over and hugged him tightly for a moment before he pulled away, still chuckling, and disappeared through the door.

I watched the where he’d disappeared and then turned to my friends. “You could have gone with him.”

“Sure.” Camille nodded and Tiffany shrugged.

“I mean, it’s not like we’re going to be able to do anything.” I tightened the straps on my backpack and got my rifle into a comfortable position for a lengthy run.

“Well, now we can all do nothing together.” Tiffany smiled and adjusted her straps as well.

“Very true.” Camille nodded sagely. “I find it is best to be with people when you are doing nothing. It makes it much more enjoyable.”

I stopped what I was doing and looked at both of them. “Seriously. I’m going back for Natalie. If I can save people, great. If not, I’m going to do my best to grab Natalie and get out. There isn’t anything you two would add to this effort since it’s not like you can distract the robot while I do find Natalie.”

“What if we can, though?” Tiffany hoisted her machine gun and shrugged. “This shoots a lot of bullets.”

“And it’s bound to have a weak point somewhere. If it has one, I can find it and shoot it.” Camille grabbed the machine gun from Tiffany and strapped it to Tiffany’s pack. “You never know.”

I took a deep breath. “Fine. Just… Stay alive, alright? If it looks bad, just get out and go find Lucas.” I started at them until they both nodded even though I knew they were lying. I contented myself with sticking the idea in their head. Maybe that’d be enough to convince them to leave if things went as poorly as I expected them to go. I took another deep breath to fortify myself and then stepped through the door.

I jogged through the building to the stairs down and took them at the same pace. It wasn’t quick, but I had a couple of miles to cover and I needed to do them in less than an hour if I wanted there to be anything left of the Enclave by the time I got there. I ignored the urge to count the steps and landings as I went, focusing just on putting one foot in front of the other.

By the time I’d gotten outside, I could hear the booming in the distance once again. I took half a second to orient myself and then took off toward Chicago at a sprint. I heard Camille call out after me, but I didn’t stop or look back. They could take all the time they wanted. They could conserve energy in case they needed it later. They could even turn around right there and go after Lucas. I was on a mission and I wasn’t going to save anything for later.

If I didn’t get there in time, I might never see Natalie again. Even if we both survived the attack, somehow, we’re have to count on luck to bring us together again. Even if we both went to the fall-back rendezvous point I’d set up with her, Lucas, and Camille, we’d still have no idea if the others made it out alive or if they’d even be coming. We’d set it up years ago, back during the chaos of the Collapse. There’s no telling if any of them remembered it. There’s no telling if they’d be healthy enough to get to it.

So I ran. I ran toward a giant monster that stood for everything that had gone wrong in the world since I noticed it starting to fall apart. I put all of the rage I felt at the loss of my friends and family, rage I still felt about being one of the few people who saw the Collapse coming and was unable to do anything about it. All the rage I felt at idiotic people who paid for guidance from one Enclave to another and then recklessly endangered others when they felt like they weren’t getting their way. I put all that rage into each step and used it to propel myself forward. Even the little bit of rage I felt at a dumbass student so caught up in trying to impress us that he signed the death warrant of tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands. Everything was used to keep me running past the point I should have collapsed.

By the time I staggered to a halt, gasping and my vision going dark around the edges, I was only a couple of blocks away from the edge of the Enclave wall. The nearest entrance was a few blocks further south, so I still had a good half of a mile to go, but I’d crossed about two miles faster than I ever thought I could. I gave myself a sixty-count to catch my breath and then staggered onward. As my attention returned to the area around me, I finally noticed the constant gunfire and the rumbling crash of some massive weight crushing buildings. The screams that followed it were enough to get me jogging again.

Once I got in sight of the door, a new problem presented itself. The door was clogged to bursting with people trying to leave the Enclave. They were streaming out carrying everything they could hold as they ran out the door and turned south. There was another Enclave, relatively close, in Indiana. Unfortunately, it was one of the smallest and would be filled to bursting by just the people I could see right then, not to mention all the people streaming out the other doors.

I made my way to the door and then just dove into the crowd, shouting at them to get out of my way. No one gave me any space, but I was gradually able to work my way through the door and into the Enclave by staying pressed up against one wall and bodily pushing people out of my way. Getting through the fifty-feet of tunnel into the Enclave took more time than the jog from where I stopped running to the doorway here and it felt like an eternity.

When I finally popped out the other side, tired in more ways than I knew how, I glanced over my shoulder. I caught sight of Camille, her face towering about everyone trying to escape, and waved. She waved back and shooed me onward. After nodding, I turned to face the city and the robot inside it. Even having seen the robot from far away, I was still caught off guard by the immensity of it as it towered over the Enclave. It stole my attention so completely, I didn’t look away until I stumbled over the first corpse. That brought me back to the task at hand and I kept my eyes down as I moved deeper into the Enclave, looking for Natalie.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 6 (11/06)

Well, day five was pretty much typical of how I expected a standard National Novel Writing Month day to go, despite staying at work a couple extra hours to prepare for a meeting I’m supposed to run today (and am running as this blog post goes up. Yay technology!) I’ve gotten over three thousand words written before working on this blog post and it should put me over four thousand. After this goes up, if I still have some energy, I’m going to do a little romance novel work or write another two hundred and fifty works in “What You Know You Need” so I’ll only be about three hundred thirty-three words behind, which is about the average amount of “extra” words I write in a standard day.

That being said, I’m still super wiped out from not sleeping enough over the weekend and still pretty emotionally distraught about what’s going on in my life. I may have had a busy enough day to avoid thinking about anything too deeply, but it’s still there, just beneath the surface, waiting for the right moment to rise up and make me want to cry again. I usually manage to keep my face pretty much neutral, which is important at work. It’s hard to run a meeting about the process you’re trying to implement as a part of your software coup if you look like you’re about to cry.

My German coworkers are in town (which is why we’re doing all this stuff now instead of waiting a bit longer) and it’s frustrating to need to be putting on a social face when all I really want to do is keep my head down and work alone. Coincidentally, they were also in town the week after I broke up with my ex and I had to do the same thing then. If I were a more superstitious man, I’d find it entirely plausible that their visits to the US are harbingers of pain and sadness in my life. I’ll have to watch out for it in future just, you know, to make sure. Honestly, I’d kind of like a bit of quiet in my life, next year, so I’m hoping that this year was the only year were we have my German coworkers are harbingers of doom. I need to work with those guys. I can’t do that if my every interaction with them brings doom and loss upon my life. I’m got pretty good emotional fortitude, but even I don’t think I could manage that amount of tribulation.

Anyway, writing is going well. I’m making good progress despite my emotional state. I’ve passed the twenty thousand word mark and I’m rapidly approaching the twenty-five thousand word mark. I still suck at writing romance novels, but I think I’m figuring it out. I’ve already read two of them this month, so I’ll figure it out eventually, I’m sure. I even managed to wrap up a draft of a Coldheart and Iron post for tomorrow! I’m still waiting on review, but it should be up at some point! Two updates in ONE DAY! That’s a first. The only other thing of note going on is the ongoing war with my computer chair. It refuses to stay at its maximum height so I need to continuously adjust it and it also makes this incredibly creepy, animalistic squeak if I lean on the left arm just right. Which I do. Constantly. Because I forget it’s there. And then my heart-rate skyrockets and my lifespan decreases.

I’m rambling. I’m going to go sleepy-write some words for my other projects until I actually fall asleep at my computer. I hope day six goes well for you and I hope you’re making progress on your goals. Good luck!


Daily Prompt

Despite the fact that Humans are incredibly complex individuals, our first reactions to surprises or big news tend to fall into a bit of a pattern. I tend to give placebo responses immediately and then either give a genuine response after catching myself being non-specific or give a genuine response after taking the time to examine my feelings about it. One of my roommates tends to respond logically first, entirely devoid of emotion, which he adds later on as needed. My other roommate tends to respond emotionally first but then fills in reason and shows you the logic behind his responses upon request. How does your protagonist respond to something unexpected or portentous?


Sharing Inspiration

Sometimes, I really just want some good music to stick in the background with an upbeat tempo, a fun sound, and a great rhythm. On those days, I always turn to Matt and Kim. Their music, which I’m pretty sure is “electric pop,” focuses on a delightful mix of keyboard synth and drums for some great dance music to listen to in your own home. Their early albums have a great deal of similarity to their songs, but that words really well for when I want to shut down the busy parts of my mind so I can focus on my writing. Their more recent stuff has a greater variety to it and it’s really good for jamming along to and signing when I don’t need to focus as intensely.


Helpful Tips

If you’re struggling to come up with what to write and taking a fifteen minute break isn’t helping, I suggest going for a walk. The soothing back-and-forth motion of a steady walking pace coupled with the movement of both sides of your body stimulates both sides of your brain. While you’re walking, try to think about stuff other than the story you’re working on or the frustration you’re feeling at not being able to figure out what comes next. Focus on the trees or houses around you. Do you best to be present in the moment and watch the world spin its way through the universe by observing it all around you. You may not find the answer to how to continue your story, but it’s a lot like unclogging the drain in your mind. Once things start to flow again, eventually the right idea will show up. Stagnation is the enemy and the best counter to it is a simple walk around the neighborhood. Seems too good to be true, right? That is where you’d be wrong. There’s actual science behind this that supports the reasons why the therapy I use for my OCD and PTSD is effective. Stimulation of alternating sides of the brain is linked to processing thoughts and feelings and emotions that feel stuck in your head. Clear whatever’s stuck on your mind up and you should be good to write again.