Read Infernal Sky Online

Authors: Dafydd ab Hugh

Infernal Sky (2 page)

Mulligan planted his feet firmly, put his hands on his sizable hips, and gave us his personal ultimatum. “Here's the deal,” he said. “I'm going back to the ‘hotel' to bring us a six-pack of ice-cold beer. When I return, I have every intention of sharing the wealth. That's what will happen if you make me happy. But if you want to see a really unhappy marine, then don't tell me how the two of you escaped from a forty-story building with a mob of devils after your blood when the two of you are in a sealed room, the only exit to which is one window offering you a sheer drop to certain doom.”

“You've expressed yourself with admirable clarity,”
said Arlene. She loved showing off that college education. Didn't matter to me if she ever graduated. She'd picked up plenty of annoying traits for me to forgive.

“Yeah, right!” he said.

“We'll take your suggestion under advisement.” Arlene laid it on thicker.

“Bullshit!” said Mulligan, turning his back on us and storming off down the beach.

“One, two, three, four,” I said.

“We love the Marine Corps,” he boomed back at us, still headed toward his—and maybe our—beer.

“I think we'd better tell him,” I said.

“He wants to know who the big hero is,” she replied. “So he can get an autograph.” I noted that she didn't say “his” or “her.”

“You're on,” I replied. God, it was fine to sit in the sun, soaking up rays and alcohol, watching the gentle waves rolling in to the shore, seeing an actual seagull once in a while . . . and giving a hard time to a really nice man who was a newfound friend.

Our moment of pure relaxation was interrupted, but not by anything satanic. It was an honor when the highest-ranking officer in Hawaii—and maybe in the human race, for all we knew—strolled over to talk to us while he was off duty. He wasn't our commanding officer, so that made us slightly more at ease when he insisted on it. The way Arlene blushed suggested she would have worn the top to her bikini if she'd expected a visit from the CO of New Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Vice Admiral Kimmel.

“What are you two up to?” asked Admiral Kimmel. We hadn't noticed him walking down the beach. He'd come from the direction where the sun was in our eyes.

“Sir!” came out of our mouths simultaneously and we started to get up.

“As you were, marines.” Then he smiled and repeated his pleasantry as if he expected an answer.

“We were unprepared for your surprise attack,” Arlene said to the commanding officer and got away with it. He laughed.

The admiral continued standing. Sometimes rank avoids its privileges. He took off his white straw hat and used it to fan himself in the sweltering heat. His thin legs were untouched by the least hint of tan, but there was plenty of color, courtesy of his Bermuda shorts and the tackiest Hawaiian shirt of all time. When he was off duty, he wore this uniform to announce his leisure.

“I'm glad someone of your generation knows the history of her country,” the admiral said, complimenting Arlene. “It's a strange coincidence that I have the same name as the admiral who was here when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. How much of our history will be destroyed in this Demon War, even if the human race survives? Guard what is in your head. The history books of the future may be written by you.”

Arlene sighed. “When we go back into action I don't think we'll be doing much writing, except for reports.”

“Signing off with famous last words,” I threw in helpfully. It suddenly occurred to me that I might know something about the admiral that would be news to Arlene, who was the acknowledged expert on science-fiction movies and novels. It would be nice to stump her right here and now on something important.

Before I could get a word out, though, Arlene smiled and said, “Fly, are you familiar with Admiral Kimmel's book? He's a Pearl Harbor revisionist.”

Damn! She had done it to me again, making exactly the point I was about to make. With this final proof of Arlene's telepathic ability, I decided in all future combat situations to let her go over the hill first. Especially if there happened to be a steam demon on the other side.

Admiral Kimmel chuckled. “If I hadn't been friends with the late president of the United States, I would never have written that book,” he told us, remembering pre-invasion days. The president had died when Washington was captured by the bad guys.

“He was the one who changed my mind about Pearl Harbor,” the admiral continued, “not my Japanese wife, as many believe. I believe the evidence proves that top officials in Washington withheld important information from the commanding officers at Pearl Harbor before the Japanese attack in December of 1941. Well, we don't have to worry about that sort of nonsense in this war.”

I nodded, adding, “There's no Washington.”

As we talked, I noticed that Arlene became more relaxed. We discussed our military backgrounds in the days before the monsters came. I was glad we had a man in charge of the island who had been a division officer on a battleship, and a captain seeing action in the Gulf before that. He'd been doing a shore tour as a commander when the world capsized.

“There's a pleasant sight,” he said, pointing at the sea. There was a cloud on the horizon. A small white cloud.

He started to leave and then turned back, his face suddenly as stern as a bust of Julius Caesar. His
mouth was his strongest feature as he said, “They won't beat us. It's as if these islands have been given a second chance. There will never be a surprise attack here, not ever again. Let them come, in their thousands or their millions. We're going to teach them that we are worse monsters than they are. This is our world, and we're not giving it up. And it won't stop there. We'll take the battle to them, somewhere, somehow. . . .”

He wanted to keep talking, but he'd run out of words, so his mouth kept working in silence, like a weapon being fired on an empty chamber after the ammo is used up. We both felt the emotion from this strong old man.

Arlene stood up and put her hand on his arm. She helped him regain his composure. The gesture wasn't regulation, but who cared?

For years I'd been asked why a rabid individualist like me had chosen a military life. Some of the people who asked that question understood that I wanted a life with honor, especially after having lived with a father who didn't have a clue. They could even understand someone putting his life on the line for his fellow man. It was individualism that confused them.

I became a marine because I believe in freedom: the old American dream that had defied the nightmares of so many other countries. Every Independence Day I made a point of reading the Declaration of Independence out loud.

I loved my country enough to fight for it. Now we faced an enemy that threatened everything and everyone on the planet. Any military system that had its head stuck up its own bureaucratic ass was finished. Now was the time to adapt or die. Now was the time to really send in the marines!

2

“I
almost brought you some iced tea,” said Mulligan, “with lots of lemon.”

Arlene and I both grimaced. “He's getting mean,” she said.

“A sadist,” I agreed. We'd told the master gun plenty about our adventures, and he had fixated on the way Albert, Jill, Arlene, and I had passed ourselves off as zombies by rubbing rotten lemons and limes all over ourselves. The odor of the zombies had forever spoiled the taste of citrus for me.

“ 'Course I could let you have one of these instead,” Mulligan continued, holding out two frosty Limbaugh brews, one in each paw.

“The man's getting desperate,” I said.

“Who goes first?” asked Arlene, ready to spill the beans; and Mulligan hoped they would be tastier than the typical MRE.

The admiral had left us. He looked like an old beachcomber as he wandered down the beach. I thought about what he'd said—how he'd tied the past and future together with these precious islands as the center of his universe. Maybe they were the center of the universe for all humanity.

“Beers first,” I volunteered, holding my hand out.

Mulligan looked as happy as Jill when I let her drive the truck. He passed out the brews and settled his considerable bulk back in his beach chair.

“Once upon a time . . .” I began, but Arlene punched me so hard it made her breasts jiggle very nicely. With that kind of encouragement, I got plenty serious.

“We had to take down the energy wall so Jill could fly out of L.A. and get here,” I began. “In the Disney Tower we located a roomful of computers hooked into a collection of alien biotech—”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mulligan said impatiently. “I remember all that. Get to the window already!”

So I did.

*   *   *

We were too high. I'd never liked heights, but it seemed best to open the windows.

“We took down the energy wall, at least,” I had said over my shoulder. “Jill
must
notice it's gone and start treading air for Hawaii.”

Arlene nodded, bleak even in victory. I didn't need alien psionics to know she was thinking of Albert. “The war techies will track her as an unknown rider,” added Arlene, “and they'll scramble some jets; they should be able to make contact and talk her down.”

“Great. Got a hot plan to talk
us
down?” I asked my buddy.

Arlene shook her head. I had a crazy wish that before Albert was blinded, and before Arlene and I found ourselves in this cul-de-sac, I'd played Dutch uncle to the two lovebirds, complete with blessings and unwanted advice.

Somehow this did not seem the ideal moment to suggest that Arlene seriously study the Mormon faith,
or some related religion, if she really loved good old Albert. The sermon went into my favorite mental file, the one marked Later.

She shook her head. “There's no way,” she began, “unless . . .”

“Yes?” I asked, trying not to let the sound of slavering monsters outside the door add panic to the atmosphere.

Arlene stared at the door, at the console, then out the window. She went over to the window as if she had all the time in the world and looked straight down. Then up. For some reason, she looked up.

She faced me again, wearing a big, crafty Arlene Sanders smile. “You are not going to believe this, Fly Taggart, but I think—I think I have it. I know how to get us down
and
get us to Hawaii.”

I smiled, convinced she'd finally cracked. “Great idea, Arlene. We could use a vacation from all this pressure.”

“You don't believe me.”

“You're right. I don't believe you.”

Arlene smiled slyly. She was using the early-bird-that-got-the-worm-smile. “Flynn Taggart, bring me some duct tape from the toolbox, an armload of computer-switch wiring, and the biggest goddam boot you can find!”

The boot was the hard part.

The screaming, grunting, scraping, mewling, hissing, roaring, gurgling, ripping, and crackling sound effects from beyond the door inspired me to speed up the scavenger hunt. Hurrying back to the window with the items, I saw Arlene leaning out and craning her neck to look up.

“Do you see it?” she asked as I joined her. Clear as
day, there was a window washer's scaffold hanging above us like a gateway to paradise. When the invasion put a stop to mundane activities, all sorts of jobs had been left uncompleted. In this case, it meant quantities of Manila hemp rope dangling like the tentacles of an octopus. A few lengths of chain, with inch-long links, were even more promising than the rope. The chain looked rusted, but I was certain that it would support our weight.

The tentacles started above us and extended well below the fortieth floor—not all the way to the ground, but a lot farther away from the demons in the hallway working so hard to make our acquaintance.

Arlene used the duct tape and the wiring to create a spaghetti ladder that didn't look as if it would hold her weight very long, never mind my extra kilos. But we needed an extra leg up to get over to the ropes.

“Great,” I said. “This looks like a job for Fly Taggart.”

Before I could clamber out the window, however, her hand was on my arm. “Hold on a minute,” she said. “My idea, my mission.”

The locked door was rattling like a son of a bitch, and the thought of our entrails decorating the office made me a trifle impatient. That was one kind of spaghetti I could pass over.

“Arlene,” I said, as calmly as possible under the circumstances, “I have absolute confidence in you, but this is no time to hose the mission. Let's face it, I have more upper body strength and a greater reach than you do, so I should go first.” While I explained the situation, we both worked feverishly to finish our makeshift rope. Then I tied it around my waist.

Naturally I gave her no opportunity to argue. I was
at that window so fast she probably feared for my life. A good way to keep her from staying pissed. I took one mighty leap, making sure she held the other end of the lifeline, and I climbed up and over, where I grabbed hold of the nearest rope and started lowering myself, groaning a bit at the strain and reminding myself that I had all this great upper body strength. I only wished I had more of it to spare.

Once I was on the ropes, I swung myself over to where Arlene could reach them more easily. She clambered out the window over my head and followed my lead.

The annoying voice in the back of my head chose that precise moment to start an argument. Damned voice had a lousy sense of timing.

Getting tired, are you? Feeling a bit middle-aged around the chest area? Old heart hanging in there? The arms are strong from all those push-ups and pull-ups, but how's the grip? Your hands are weaker than they used to be, aren't they? You know, you haven't had these injuries looked at. . . .

“Nothing a blue sphere couldn't fix up,” I muttered.

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