Below are the first 2 chapters of
PRELUDE TO ANNIHILATION
Copyright © Yvonne Arlott 2014
This novel is a work of fiction. All characters, events and places in this publication are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Published By Ruthern Valley Publishing.
The bright light glistened off the many small streams that cut their way through the massive, thick green forest. The sound of the clear water trickling downwards rose into the air; it was the only sound that could be heard. A strange stillness hung over everything, giving the impression it was deserted of animals but in the dark hidden depths of the foliage, the rustling of leaves gave away the presence of life.
Two men frantically pushed their way through the thorny undergrowth, sweat dripping off their red faces. The green t-shirts they both wore left their arms exposed and they were now covered in deep scratches and streaks of blood. A shaft of light, that had managed to penetrate the matted canopy, illuminated the fear in their eyes as they forced themselves relentlessly onwards, along the dimly lit trail. They looked at each other in relief as at last the trees and shrubs thinned out to reveal a cliff wall ahead. It spanned some distance to the left and right to form an impenetrable barrier. They seemed unconcerned by it as they plunged through a muddy patch of ground, exhaustion beginning to overcome them. Every so often, they nervously glanced backwards, as though expecting to see some dreaded thing behind them but there was only the still forest.
Both panting heavily, the shorter of the two men risked further exertion on speaking to his companion.
"Can you see it?”
"Just keep moving Patrick.” The other man snapped "We’ve got to get this thing out of here.” He nodded down to a fairly large and obviously heavy black box that they were dragging between them. Patrick seemed to understand and redoubled his efforts.
As the men approached the cliff face, a jagged opening in the base of it became apparent, which they now headed towards. A sudden rustle of leaves and cracking of twigs behind them caused Patrick’s face to drain from its rosy red to a colourless white, as they both abruptly stopped. The taller man let go of the box and spun round, the gun he was carrying, raised, shaking slightly in his grasp.
"Get it out of here quick.” He shouted to Patrick as his wide eyes surveyed every inch of the forest about him. "I’ll try to hold it off for as long as I can.” There was no reply. He heard the box being dragged backwards. He wasn’t sure if he could hear a dull thudding or if it was just his racing heart beating violently inside his chest. With the sound of twigs snapping his search of his surroundings grew more intense as he waited in nervous anticipation for it to loom out of the fading light. Several uneventful minutes passed and still nothing happened. Silence prevailed. He couldn’t even hear the box being dragged. He turned to see where his companion was but there was no sign of him or the box.
He gasped in surprise and fear.
"Did he make it out?” The question haunted his mind as he realised that maybe the hell they had been through was all for nothing. Dread gripped him as he felt his lonely and vulnerable situation. His only chance would be to make a run for it.
The sound again. He turned back to see a branch shaking before coming to rest. He froze. The air was still; there was no explanation as to what had disturbed the branch, except one. All looked normal but now he knew it was close to him. His hands began shaking uncontrollably as he finally made himself turn and run for the cliff face.
It was too late. He felt something make a grab at his leg and in the next moment he was violently thrown forwards onto the ground, as his leg was pulled away from under him. The gun had been jerked out of his grip as he had fallen and with despair, he saw that it now lay out of reach. He knew there was no escape but instinct took over and he began desperately struggling to get away. His fingers clawed the muddy ground before him but he was being pulled backwards by a much stronger force.
Slowly the still struggling form disappeared into the dark depths of the forest. As it vanished from sight, a deathly scream rang up into the air and over the treetops, disturbing nothing but the stillness for a second.
The darkened windows filtered out the bright sunlight’s dangerous rays while still allowing enough light through to illuminate the entire room beyond. Under the suns gentle warmth an old man sat dozing in a soft leather chair placed in the centre of the room. With a sudden start, he woke, glancing around in confusion until his eyes properly focussed on his surroundings. A slight satisfied smile touched his wrinkled face as he settled back in his chair, feeling the safety and protection that the four white walls about him offered. From his position he had a clear view out of the window at the great expanse of skyscrapers and other large buildings. Concrete as far as the eye could see, even though he was on the top floor of a mile high skyscraper.
Bright flashing signs were seated on the tops of many of the buildings, advertising various products, while large greenhouses filled with brilliantly coloured flowers had been created on others. As he watched, a mist descended over everything obscuring his view. Slowly it sank lower until it hung dense, just below the window, giving the illusion of solid ground. As the mist disappeared out of sight, the man turned his attention back to his own dull room, the only furniture being the armchair he sat in, accompanied by two sofas, all of which were white.
"Computer. Run programme CountryRoom4.” His voice echoed round the bare room shortly followed by another voice that though clear had an unmistakable monotone to it.
"CountryRoom4 programme is now running.” As the voice spoke "now” the room was transformed. The bare white carpet and walls turned into a rich cream. Opposite the man a large fireplace had taken form, flames flickering upwards into the blackness of a new chimney. Pictures of rural countryside hung on the walls, while thick oak beams spanned across the ceiling. Holographic projections had advanced considerably over the last few years. Though it had taken him a while to get used to all the new technology, he now loved it. The one drawback was the computerised voice, which he found incessantly irritating and he still had trouble getting the computer to do what he wanted.
"A special news report is just starting” he cringed at the sound but his eyes had suddenly widened with interest as he sat forward.
"Show the report” the man said urgently. Nothing happened. He groaned, as he remembered it wouldn’t respond unless he said "computer” first. A mistake he had made many times before.
"Computer show report.”
"Showing report now.” He breathed a sigh of relief as he settled back slightly in the chair, listening to the voice that had begun speaking.
"This is a special news report brought to you by the IGNC (Interactive Global News Corporation). The company created to bring you the latest news at any …” he ignored the rest of the introduction. His attention was absorbed with his room, which had again transformed. Now he was surrounded by large skyscrapers, above which a gigantic disc floated. Using his hand controller, he zoomed in towards the black circular object, studying its dimensions and at last coming to the conclusion that it was some 800 metres in diameter.
"One week ago, an alien spaceship arrived in orbit around the Earth and sent radio messages to the government, demanding that they hand over the "device” within a week or the whole of the human race would be destroyed. Government officials have since said that they have no idea what the "device” the aliens were referring to is and though they would like to, are unable to comply with the demands made.
There has been much talk that everyone should seek refuge in one of the many underground shelters that were built back in the 1960’s in case of nuclear war. So far the government has assured us that the aliens pose no threat, despite their warnings. Several miscellaneous reports are circulating, which state that the government did not build large enough shelters to accommodate everyone, in an effort to save money. When questioned, the government spokesman replied that there was absolutely no truth in the allegations and they would evacuate the entire population to the shelters immediately if they thought there was any real danger.
We are now going live to the alien ship.” The scenery about the man changed. Though the giant ship remained motionless above his head in mid-air, vast numbers of people had gathered in every available space, staring upwards at the unbelievable sight. They had been told to stay at home but the chance to experience a once in a lifetime event had driven them here.
A new voice started speaking. "This huge alien craft has been drifting slowly across the skies of Earth for the last week, until yesterday when it came to a stop here in New York; one of the most heavily populated areas on the Earth’s surface and has remained motionless since.
We have spoken to the government in the last 10 minutes and they have confirmed that they will inform the aliens that they cannot hand over the "device”. Also the government stated that should the aliens try to attack, they will fight back with whatever force is necessary.
The countdown to the deadline from a minute is beginning. As you can see everyone has fallen into a trance at this magnificent, incredible sight. History is about to be made here today and they will all be part of it.” The old man looked round at the people all standing with their eyes transfixed upwards at the ship. Silence was all he could hear. Even the voice of the reporter had stopped, as a large red counter, appeared in front of him. 10 seconds. Earth stood still as they slowly ticked downwards. His thoughts raced. If only he could stop the relentless progression of time. With dread he knew the inevitable zero would come and perhaps with it the destruction of mankind.
No one had paid any real attention to the threat, they were all too happy with the realisation that they were not alone in the universe. That’s what all the talk shows had focussed on; the thrilling sensation of meeting other life forms and what they might look like. The mention of the aliens destroying the human race had been quietly overlooked, everyone preferring to believe the government’s reassurances. But now with an overwhelming fear, reality hit him. He realised the images he saw before him might be the last he would ever see. If only his son could survive it all he would be happy. Thankfully he was over in England, miles away from the ship. He had made the right decision telling his son to stay put at the University.
"This is it.” His eyes focussed harder on the counter, willing it to stop. An instance and it had hit zero.
He was still alive. He looked up at the spaceship still motionless, as was everything about it. Suddenly a deafening noise tore through his brain, making him grab at his ears in an attempt to block it out. He watched, terrified, as the people about him jumped with fright and then turned to face the same direction. He turned also, unable to believe the sight of an enormous skyscraper toppling downwards into a pile of rubble, crushing those people that stood around its base. A giant dust cloud rose up into the sky, blanketing the entire city, and obstructing his view. As the noise began to subside, more explosions rang out, bringing the sound to a continuous unbearable level. Ignoring it as best he could, he squinted through the thick cloud, able to just see the forms of buildings crumbling and people running in all directions. Those nearest the ship seemed to vanish. He adjusted his view trying to get a clearer image of the people. With horror he watched those close to the ship stop, their faces contorted with pain and their eyes searching as if for help. Without warning, their bodies exploded and he turned his view away, unable to bear the sight.
"This is terrible” the news reporter broke in "we never expected this. It looks like the military have taken action, since we can see hundreds of our missiles closing in on the ship.” A pause ensued as the man sat forwards eagerly, trying to reposition his viewing point to focus on the rockets. With difficulty he at last succeeded and could just make out the black outlines through the wall of dust. The reporter began speaking again. "We’ve just had a report from the government that states that they have also authorised a fleet of our latest military aircraft, the G9 Hawks, to attack the spaceship and so they see no reason for panic.” The man was hardly aware of the voice as he watched the outlines of the rockets growing larger. The distance between them and the ship rapidly disappeared and he gripped his hands together in anticipation of the impact. He heard fresh blasts of sound before they had reached their target and the outlines seemed to disintegrate. More dark objects became visible on the horizon, flying in formation at speed towards the ship.
"It can’t be!” he whispered to himself, beginning to realise what had happened. "Those rockets were state of the art …”
The dark objects became clearer and he could make out the forms of the G9 Hawks closing in on the ship. He watched aghast, as the aircraft exploded, unable now to hear the noise due to the continual eruptions of sound as buildings crumbled earthwards. Metal fragments that had once formed the skin of the high tech aircraft, spiralled downwards into what was left of the crowd. "They didn’t stand a chance, no one did.” He thought as he watched the radius of death and destruction from the alien ship steadily increase.
At last the reporter began talking again, his voice sounding distant and full of despair. "We’ve just had a report in from our scientists who at this stage believe that the aliens are using … sound! … to destroy everything. Somehow they have sent out sound waves in all directions that cause objects to explode due to resonance. As yet the scientists haven’t worked out how they have managed to do this.”
"Sound?” the old man repeated in amazement.
Suddenly the scene was disturbed by a door bursting open and a tall man in his early 30’s entered the room. The Stetson he always wore had slipped and now sat at a rakish angle giving his face a somewhat comic appearance whilst partly hiding his features.
"Dad we’ve got to get out of here now.” His British accent was tinged with fear, as he looked around desperately before finally spotting the old man amongst the holographic backdrop.
"No!” The old man looked like he had seen a ghost, "you should be in England away from all this.”
"I couldn’t stay there I had to come here to make sure you were ok.”
"You knew I was, I told you.”
"Quick hurry up.” He shouted as he grabbed his father’s arm and almost dragged him out of the room.
"Josh calm down, I’m coming as fast as I can and luckily that ship is miles away.” As if in protest the holographic ship lurched forward becoming a blur as it sped from the ruined city and across the skyline before coming to a stop within seconds over the White House in Washington.
"And getting closer by the second.” With effort Josh dragged his attention away from the holographic projections. "Maybe Pittsburgh is next on its hit list and we need to get into an underground shelter before it arrives here. The streets are packed with people, crammed so tightly together, that it was almost impossible to get through and that was before the attack. I dread to think what it is like now.” The White House crumbled in a pile of dust.
"Ok I’m coming. Stop pulling me.” The old man tried to yank his arm free but failed.
"Dad if you don’t hurry up we’ll both be killed and before you say anything, you know I won’t leave you.”
The building was already deserted and they were able to quickly make their way to the elevator, situated on the side of the building. As it descended its glass walls gave them a clear view of the pandemonium down in the streets below. Order had completely broken down and people ran screaming in all directions.
"I’ll never understand why you chose to retire here.” Josh said as he watched the scene below. "It’s just a jungle of concrete.” The old man was about to answer when one of the G9 Hawk fighter planes roared past, so close that they could clearly see its underside as it banked. The noise it made was deafening and its movement caused the whole skyscraper to shake in the same way as it did in very strong winds. The swaying was a necessary evil in the design, since a ridged structure would have broken and the engineers still hadn’t found a solution. Josh felt his stomach churn as the resonating downward motion of the lift continued, until at last it met with the ground and he could once more feel solid concrete beneath his feet.
As they exited the building they were hardly able to believe their eyes. The whole of the horizon was carpeted in a dust cloud, through which a tiny black dot was slowly travelling. A deep rumbling noise was so loud that they could feel the ground vibrating. All around them was a mass of people pushing and shoving, each seeming to want to head in a different direction. The weaker individuals were trampled in the mad stampede, their screams unheard, as they sank beneath the sea of bodies.
"Have we got to go through that crowd Josh? Isn’t there another way into the shelter?”
"You know there is only one way in or out of each shelter and we haven’t got time to get to another one, besides which there’s bound to be as much trouble at all of them. Just stay close to me. Ok?” The old man gave a timid nod. Josh looked down the wide road, trying to work out exactly where the shelter was. At last he saw the familiar large yellow sign, about 100 yards down the road, indicating the entrance. They had been lucky to have a shelter so close. He sighed deeply and then smiled back at his dad.
"Let’s go then” Josh said as both men crashed headlong into the mass of bodies. As soon as they entered the crowd they could feel the weight of the people crushing them. They seemed to fight endlessly, trying to push their way through towards the sign. The force of the people fleeing in panic soon separated them and in a short while the old man was exhausted. A final shove sent him flying to the ground. He struggled weakly, feeling pain curse through his body, as ceaseless numbers of feet stamped down on him. His senses began to fail as a numbness passed over him. "I have to get up” the words repeated in his mind as he slipped into unconsciousness forever more.
Through the crowd, Josh could make out the shape of his father disappearing from sight.
"No …” he couldn’t even hear his own voice as he fought desperately to get to his father but the weight of people pushing on him proved too much and he was swept along. He was already close to the sign and he could see the people pouring into the door. Struggling he somehow managed to remain on his feet and in a matter of minutes he passed from daylight down a very long steep escalator, encased in a dark tunnel that seemed to extend downwards forever, and into a large cave beyond. He was now free of the crowds as they spread out. He turned and tried to force his way back out but more people were still tumbling into the cave. It was hopeless.
The dull roar had become even louder and the ground had begun to shake violently. Suddenly red lights on the rocky ceiling started flashing madly. At the same time, the thick metal door at the cave entrance automatically began to shut. Slowly it swung to, disregarding the people who were still trying to enter. Nothing could stop it, and it snapped into place, crushing anyone in its path and condemning those left outside to certain death.
His head pounded and he covered his ears, trying to keep his balance on the shaking ground. He found it difficult to work out what was going on, everything seemed a blur as though nothing was real. At last the noise began to subside and his senses returned. He looked about to see 3 or 4 thousand people standing silently in an enormous cave cut out of brownish, red rock. Off to one side a large concrete platform had been built, which a short, balding man was now making his way onto.
The relief of silence was more than he could take and Josh leaned back against the nearby rocky wall. He couldn’t believe what had happened, it had all seemed so unreal like he was just a spectator in a dream watching events unfold and the strangest part was now he didn’t feel anything. Somewhere deep down though he knew it was real and that his father was actually dead.
Quietly he stood and listened to all the commotion about him, lost in his thoughts. Not even six months had passed since they had celebrated his father’s retirement from the GP practice that had taken him more than 50 years to build up. He had invested his life in helping others and had been looking forward to finally relaxing and enjoying life but that dream had now been cruelly snatched away from him, as it had been from Josh’s mother some years before. Josh played through the events of the past hour in his mind, struggling to suppress the nagging doubt that he could have done something more.
Outside, above the chaos and devastation, the alien ship briefly hovered for an instance, as though it were scanning the ground in search of something. There was nothing left though but a broken city where not even the song of a bird rang out to break the deathly silence that had begun to envelop it. Satisfied the giant ship moved on in its systematic annihilation of every trace of human life.
The dust still hadn’t settled as the sun dropped down behind the crumbling skyscrapers of the once grand city, the orange glow it threw out fading into night. Between the remnants of the buildings, the pavements lay shattered in fragments, while great cracks ripped their way through the tarmac roads. Scraps of metal lay shattered everywhere, torn from the numerous vehicles that had lined the streets, as smoke rose up from the smouldering ruins, shrouding the city in a black choking fog.
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