Chapter 17

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON STATE

Saturday 05h30

“What were you all THINKING?” Dolphie yelled, holding his round head in his hands.

Horace awoke at the sound, sitting upright instantly and banging his head on the small reading lamp above the armchair in which he spent the night. A good marathon run of the washer and dryer had taken care of everyone’s sopping wet clothes, and more beer had taken care of a potentially sleepless night.

Lennie and Eddie sat on the couch, hands clasped. Max was in the kitchen getting more water for the crew, and Mildred just finished picking up the last of the empty canisters of beer. She threw it into a box and it landed with a clang, hurting everyone’s aching heads.

“Look,” Mildred said, “we clearly weren’t. Sorry about that.”

“Huh?” Horace asked. He sat there without speaking for a second, regaining his bearings, when he realized that every pair of eyes in the room was trained on him. “Oh.”

Eddie leaned forward. He was nervous. “I say we burn them.”

“And let a good opportunity go to waste?” Horace said, finally fully caught up. “Guys, we can study them! A dead Creature is one more of the species to learn more about.”

“How are you even sure that they’re dead?” Asked Dolphie. “How do you know they won’t come barging through that wall and eat us all? Oh God.” Dolphie sat down and shook. Eddie looked on, still a little bewildered. This was the fearless Team Fear leader, sitting in one of his chairs and quaking like a baby.

“He’s right, guys. Well, except for the barging through the two feet of concrete wall part… Right?” Eddie gulped, looking at Len. He felt her squeeze his hand gently.

“Look — I didn’t feel any pulses,” said Len.

“What if they don’t even have pulses, hon?” Mildred said. Len cocked her head and shrugged.

“See? That’s what I mean,” Horace said. “We don’t know anything about these things. Nothing. Wouldn’t it be a massive breakthrough if we could learn something? We have scanners galore and the brains to figure stuff out. What if we could find out how to neutralize them? We’ll never know unless we try!”

“We could also die,” said Mildred. Everyone looked at her. “What? It’s true.”

“It is true,” said Eddie. “So we should get rid of them as soon as First Light hits.”

“But what if Horace is right?” Len asked. “Actually, Horace is right. We don’t know anything about the creatures. Mildred’s right too. We could die.”

Eddie broke in. “Len, we just got a place in at an fSZ. The fSZ where we work. No more commutes. In a few weeks, we’ll be safe. Safe, Len! Finally! Why would we risk that?”

“Where you guys work. Half of my work is out here, in Bunkerland. Ed, don’t you see? These people need me — they are the ones most affected by PISD.” She looked at Eddie pleadingly, and Eddie’s heart melted. But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t. If anything happened to Len, he didn’t know what he would do.

“And,” Len continued, looking at the others, “if we can crack the creature conundrum, we can all be safe. All of us, not just a few lucky lottery winners. They have ruined so many lives, and we know so little about them. I know it sounds funny, but because I can’t explain them in any way, my patients have nothing of reason to hold on to. They imagine the worst, most impossible things, like creatures flying, changing shape, infiltrating minds, passing through forcefields or punching through bunkers. These things don’t happen. We need to find out more about them to make them more real. If that make sense…” Horace nodded.

Max passed the water jug around, unusually silent.

“Well, okay,” Eddie said, yielding for just a moment. “Fine. So, we have two choices. We either study them or we get rid of them. And obviously,” he said looking at Max and Horace, “we’ll need the two of you to do any heavy lifting. But we can figure that out later.”

“Let’s vote,” suggested Mildred.

A series of beeps went off in the room. First Light. Dolphie’s head popped up. “Team Fear. I need you. We need you at the lab. Humanity needs you at the lab. I don’t care what you decide, but make sure you stay alive and you come to work.” He glanced nervously at the wall separating them from their new guests. “I’m out of here. Thank you for your hospitality.” He stood suddenly, swaying for a moment on his feet, before darting out of the room towards the bunker entrance.

“Wait,” Len shouted after him, standing up to follow. “We’ll drive you!”

“I’ll jog, thanks!” Dolphie called out from the darkness of the hallway. Eddie couldn’t picture it. But even if it were storming outside, Dolphie probably would have preferred the twenty-minute jog back to his bunker without creatures to waiting a moment more in the dryness a bunker that had three. Ed glanced towards the wall anxiously.

“So about that vote?” Mildred asked, breaking the silence. Everyone nodded. “Everyone in favor of getting rid of them, raise your hand.” She put her hand up, and Eddie did too. Mildred looked quizzically at Max, who wore an unreadable expression. She shrugged. “Look, it’s all about risk management. The potential bad consequences outweigh any consequences for good. Anyway. Moving right along. Who’s in favor of studying them?” Horace and Len raised their hands. Eddie’s heart broke a little.

She didn’t even consult him on bringing the creatures in. He didn’t have a chance. This was his home, too, and now they were in danger. Len didn’t meet his eyes.

“Max?” Mildred asked quietly. Her floppy-haired boyfriend looked up from the spot on the floor at which he had been staring. He looked around at the group.

“I’ve been working at Archives for fifteen years. Do you know what percentage of files exist under the rubric of creatures? Twenty. And of these twenty percent, there is only one record that doesn’t talk about creatures in the context of the Wars, or new defense systems, or weaponry, or PISD and EPISD. Only one focuses on the creatures themselves, and that’s a dry observation chronicling the pattern of reported creature sightings around the villages and suburbs whose populations disappeared just before the First Creature War. A record from 2048.”

Eddie’s head pounded. Len closed her eyes for a second and opened them. She must have been more exhausted than he was, and between the lack of sleep, the hangover and the circus of the night before, he already felt like he’d gotten the shit beat out of him. Ed put an arm around Len and drew her close, letting Max’s words sink in.

“Guys, this is the National Archives of the United States of America we’re talking about, not just some municipal outfit,” Max said, voice rising. “We don’t know shit about creatures. We know that they eat people. But we don’t know where they live, what happens to their bodies when they die, and the bodies of their victims after they’ve taken them. Creatures come in, kill the people we love then just disappear. And even when our PG’s shoot the shit out of them, there are no bodies. Don’t you think it’s ludicrous that we — a purportedly rational and knowledge-loving human race whose very survival today depends on science — don’t know anything about our worst enemy? More than three decades after they’ve appeared.”

“Max… They eat us,” Mildred said.

Max laughed in spite of himself. “Yes, Mil, that they do. Sorry for all the speechifying — I guess all that just means to say that I’m with Horace and Len on this one. We have a chance to make a difference. I’m sorry, guys.” He looked at Mildred and Eddie.

Mildred shrugged. “So the ‘study thems’ win it.” She turned to Eddie. “Are you okay with this? I know it’s your Bunker and all, but you don’t have to be involved. You can stay at my Uncle’s.”

Eddie shook his head. “No. I… I’m in.” He felt Lennie pull him closer and lay her head on his shoulder. His heart eased. No, if Lennie wasn’t afraid, then he wasn’t either.

“You can study their brains, I can study their physiology,” Len said. “If we’re armed with knowledge greater than zero about the other side, we can beat them.”

“And I’ll chronicle the whole thing,” Max said, beaming.

“But I can’t live with letting us stay here, Len,” Eddie said.

“You both can stay with us, or Uncle,” Mildred offered. Max nodded.

“Thanks, guys,” said Len. “But you’re on the other side of the U. Ed, if we can gather some stuff, we can stay at my clinic for a while.” It was just a five minute drive away. There was a small but comfortable living area set up in the corner of the bunker.

“So we’re all in this together?” Horace asked after taking another long swig of water. He looked far worse than Eddie felt. Ed wished he had some painkillers to offer, but all meds were dispensed at the office.

“Yeah,” Eddie said. He was wondering whether the old ’75 portable brain scanner stashed in storage would fit around the creatures’ heads. Mildred, won over, echoed his yes, then made her way across the room towards Max. They were all starting to think of the possibilities. “But let’s get out of here first and figure stuff out,” Eddie said. “My skin’s crawling.”

Horace laughed.

Mildred hugged Max’s waist and smiled. “Well, how about you guys get your stuff together, then we all go to ours to figure out a plan? We’re fully stocked on food and sundries, so all you need are clothes. Uncle can give us all something for this hangover, too.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Len, getting up to throw some clothes into a duffel bag. Eddie ignored the niggling feeling sparked by invisible forces emanating from the neighboring room and followed Len into their bedroom. He pulled her to a stop, turned her around and looked directly into her eyes. They were the same height, and it was easy to give her a quick kiss.

“I’m sorry, Eddie. I just… Things were moving so fast that…”

“Shh. It’s alright. I’m all the way with you on this one.”

That smile that he loved so much crept onto Len’s face. He pulled her into his arms and they stood there for a moment. She squeezed him tightly.

“Ready?” She asked.

“You bet I am, honeybuns.”

In five minutes, after double-checking that the lock to the spare room was fully in place, the five of them were topside under a gray, overcast sky, breathing in the smell of pines and loading up the truck. Max dumped the box of empty contraband into the back and squeezed into the back seat next to Mildred. Eddie would drive today; he held the other back door open for Len.

She stopped in mid-stride. “Hang on a sec, I forgot something.”

“I’ll come with you,” Eddie said, moving to help Len with the bunker lid. She stopped him.

“Don’t worry, I’ll only be a minute. The Creatures are locked shut anyway.” She yanked the lid open and disappeared down the bunker hole. Eddie stood nervously.

“She’ll be fine, man,” said Horace. He looked like he was badly in need of Uncle’s magic elixir.

After what seemed like an eternity to Eddie, Len reappeared at the bunker lid and slammed it shut. “All set,” she said, climbing into the back seat holding a small cloth pouch.

Eddie shut and secured the garage door, piled himself in and started the engine. They rode off in somber silence, five people with three very big things on their minds.

It was true and scientifically proven that they were all insane. But they were going to march on in the name of scientific discovery.

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