The Heart of the Matter

You’re not going to believe this. But we have reached a milestone for the story. As crazy as it might seem with this section we have come to the conclusion of the first novelette.

Questions are answered but new ones arise.

And of course, to the question that you might also be asking… there will be more to this story. After this piece we will be seeing a dramatic change in the nature of the world the heroes live in.

We may not return to this world right away. But it will come back shortly (basically this is a moment to relax into a few other stories for a brief interlude as the next section begins to form).

And as always…

This section of story is part of a series. Don’t worry you can still catch up with what is going on by using the links below.
Catch up or reacquaint by following the links…

Section 1

Section 2

Section 3

Section 4

Section 5

The Finale?

The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

“That should buy us some time,” Jack said. All eyes had focused on the table and the blackened hunk of bloody metal.

“What the hell was that?” Eric said.

Stan screamed and clutched at his head. Memories flooded through his mind, memories of the lost days and the pain he experienced at the hands of his captors. In a matter of moments he relived the entire ordeal.

Jack grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. “We have to move,” he said. “Suck it up and get your shit together.”

Tears flowed freely down Stan’s cheeks. “I’ve lost Charlotte, haven’t I.”

Eric and Autumn stood at his side and wrapped their arms around his shoulders. No words spoken, just their presence, a show of strength and compassion.

“We’ll lose even more if we don’t get out of here now.”

Streena bolted into the room. “There’s a group of five down the tunnels coming toward us.” She slammed the door and slid the dead bolt in place, and then added a bar across the middle of the door.

“We can still get out of this,” Jack said. He led them to the door on the opposite wall. “Through here,” he said. “Take them to the surface. I’ll slow them up.”

She nodded and motioned for the others to follow. As they passed into the tunnel Jack set to work in the room.

Lichen shone on their path, guiding them through the tunnels, they bypassed the various rooms to the sides. Streena didn’t deviate, instead she pushed them, drove them hard toward their destination. By the time they had made it to a new section of tunnel and a service ladder that would take them into the world above, an explosion echoed through the walls.

Jack had caught up with them in the landing at the top of the ladder. The room had a stairwell that led up at the far end, the opposite side from where they had climbed up.

“Catch your breath quick,” Jack said. “We can’t stay here for long.”

As the words left his lips Streena jumped to her feet. The door on the far side of the room burst open and she rushed to meet the intruder. The first one through the doorway fell to the slash of her nails across his throat. Another was right behind and prepared for the attack.

Health and Comfort enforcers rushed through the doorway in riot armor and shields. The lines of their khaki uniforms had been broken by the black vests and black helmets. The two of them dropped beside the door and placed their shields between themselves and Streena. A third inspector, an inquisitor, dressed all in black stepped through the door and stood between the enforcers.

“I have expected you,” he said. His voice, chill and deep, grated the air between them.

Jack had pulled his knife and advanced toward Streena. “We’re getting out of here,” he said.

The man in black smiled and motioned toward them. The enforcers advanced in unison. Black batons beat against their shields as they approached.

Stan searched the room. The only way out was now through the inspector and his goons. They couldn’t go back the way they had come. He and Eric exchanged a quick glance but neither of them offered solutions. Autumn hadn’t waited, she moved around a stack of boxes and began pushing at the middle.

Streena launched herself at one of the enforcers and crushed his shield arm into his chest. Her entire weight knocked him back and to a knee, as her claws reached around the shield to dig at his arms and face.

Jack circled with the other, neither moving close enough to connect. As the enforcer rushed forward, he led with his shield to bash at Jack before he followed up with his baton. At that same moment Autumn had knocked the stack of boxes loose and they tumbled down in the path of the enforcer. The man stumbled and fell forward in front of Jack. He sliced out with his knife across the back of the man’s neck.

With a squeal of bloodlust, Streena had ripped into the other enforcer’s face with her claws and then finished him as she ripped the flesh from his throat with her teeth. She pulled away as he fell to the ground, already in a crouch to attack again.

The inquisitor was gone, had slipped out when their attack began. They missed his departure in the heat of the moment. But the enforcers, dead at their feet weren’t going anywhere.

Jack circled around the one he had killed and nudged it with his toe. “This,” he said. “This is the thing that hunts you.”

Stan and Eric joined him at the body. The cut in its neck had gone deep, a slice that severed the spinal column and traveled deep through neck tissue. Even with the deep cut the floor under it remained dry. Nothing had spilled from the man’s neck. The wound itself had been solid flesh except for the bone of the spinal column.

“They don’t bleed,” Jack said. “You knew this already didn’t you? They aren’t flesh and blood like we are.”

Stan kneeled beside the body for a closer look. The meat of the neck and at the base of the skull, though solid, appeared fibrous, like the stalk of a rhubarb. A milk like substance coagulated on each half of the open wound.

“What… What the hell are they?” he said.

Jack reached down with the knife and sliced clean through the rest of its neck. “Don’t know,” he said.

The creature’s skin had a distinct green tint to it. After Jack had removed its head the milk like substance absorbed back into the creature.

“Need to burn em,” Jack said. “it’s the only way to keep them from healing from all this.” He picked up a box that had knocked the enforcer to the ground. After he ripped it open he dumped its contents on the ground. He then ripped it into sections and made a pile near the body.

When the cardboard caught fire and began to burn, it spread quickly. From pile to pile and then to the body lying in front of him. More cardboard kept the fire fed at least for a short while as it consumed and fed on enough to sustain itself without guidance. They rushed out of the warehouse and out onto the street.

“They’re going to come for that,” Jack said. “If the inquisitor doesn’t get to ‘em first, they are still going to come. We need to get out of here.”

Stan glanced around and then turned his attention to the growing fire. “What the hell are they?”


the heart of the matter

flickr creative commons via Jan Bommes

Another warehouse, a later time. “We haven’t been able to figure out what exactly happened here,” Jack said. “The few who have been able to bring memories from before the inspectors haven’t been able to say for sure what happened. But I do have a few memories.”

He cleared his throat to be heard over the whispers of the gathered group. “The day they took my daughter, I can still remember it. The inspectors did it right in front of me. And I had forgotten, just like all of you. I had returned to life and neither my wife nor I had any memories of her at all. Like she hadn’t even existed. When I found her again, she wasn’t the same. But how did I know, how do any of us know? There was that moment where everything split. I woke up. Only to find the nightmare wasn’t in my sleep, the nightmare was the world around me.

Looking back now, I remember the day they first arrived. Like ash from the heavens they had blown into the world. Where ever the ash had landed, the lives that it touched changed. But this was the part we never really understood at the time. The changes didn’t happen over night. They came in slow and steady. The part that hurt, most didn’t see it happen. They had taken our technology and improved it with their own. And they built an army.”

They had gathered around him. A small group, the few who had been able to break free of the invader’s grip. Many of the people in the room had a small scar at the base of their neck. The place where their marker had been, the marker that had identified them to their oppressors.

Their numbers were growing.


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