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New energy source... An accident that changes everything.
Strange mine that is not exactly a mine.
Miners that turn out to be scientists.
And a victim -- not exactly random. View table of contents...


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Submitted:Apr 4, 2011    Reads: 43    Comments: 2    Likes: 2   

The time of the Apocalypse

Chapter One - The Accident
Home. Strangely familiar and cozy. Snow-white walls with delicate silver and green patterns being reflected at just the right angles. The sweet scent of flowers drifting in the air… A perfectly blue sky with three stars resembling the sun. Each of these shining a gentle light of different color… This is how it always begins. My dream… Always the same.
"Eight… nine… ten. Ready or not here I come!" reverberated the voice of a little boy, uncovering his eyes.
After a moment he ran onto the patio.
"Be careful," a softly laughing voice of a woman coming onto the patio reached the children.
Beautiful long blond hair with red ends. Azure eyes. A delicate pale complexion… Clothed in a long, white dress. On her wrist, a silver bracelet with a green gem… I would surely consider her as one of the most beautiful women in the world, had she only been of this Earth. In reality, she was something of the kind of a spirit. With anyone's touch she would become translucent. Just like her son, whose blond hair she was now rumpling tenderly.
"Safe!" suddenly cried a young girl as she touched the tree trunk, where the boy had earlier been counting.
A while later, baring her little teeth, she ran to her mother and embraced her.
"Your turn, John," she said after a moment, pushing away slightly from the woman.
"Jenny," the woman interrupted her.
"I want to speak with you. Please, sit down," she said, pointing to their seats at the table.
"You and your brother are now six years old, and it's time you began your education," she said, as she rested on her chair. "This is extremely difficult for me, but time has come for you to know your destiny. Lord Ashforth will soon come and take John to Berthmond. I realize how parting from your brother will be hard for you, Jenny, but this is the decision the council has reached and…"
"No!" the girl broke in suddenly, rising sharply from her seat. "And exactly why am I to separate from John?!"
"After all, you said that we share the same destiny!" shouted the boy with tears in his eyes.
"Darling…" the woman tried to explain, gently stretching her hand towards her son, who rose quickly from the chair, grabbed his sister's hand and ran out into the yard.
"Halt!" a deep voice sounded from behind the woman.
The boy stopped in an instant, letting his hand go of the girl running behind.
"Jenn, I can't move," he said with fear in his eyes.
An older man with a beard appeared on the patio. Clad in a long gown, he resembled a figure from antiquity. In his left hand he held a dark green crystal.
"Lord Ashforth, they're only children!" the terrified woman cried, turning towards him.
Then, in just a split second, a tornado began to form outside, and the sky turned dark navy-blue.
"According to prophecy," muttered the old man, looking at the vortex of air approaching the siblings.
"Johnnn! Jennnyy!" the woman screamed, running towards the children, who were clutching onto each other.
"I don't want us to be separated," whispered the girl with tears in her eyes, bringing her brother in closer.
All of a sudden, flames emerged in the yard, effectively walling off the mother from her children. A moment later, the siblings were sucked into the vortex.
This is where the dream ends, thought the girl lying in bed. Only darkness remains. Just then I realize that this is the end. That this girl, with her baring teeth, and her blue hair - it's all just a dream, which has nothing to do with reality.
6:08, she thought, glancing at her watch with her sleepy eyes.
Slowly she got up from bed, and then put on a silver bracelet that was lying on the table. Soon thereafter, she moved towards the bathroom.
Another wasted day in Compton, the slums of Los Angeles, she thought, turning on the light above the mirror. Yeah, I know, I should be 'more optimistic about life' as the school shrink keeps repeating. But somehow I can't bring myself to being so. I'm already seventeen years old, have no friends or even people I would call acquaintances, and my only favorite pastime consists of walking the neighbor's dog.
"General Berger, we've just lost the signal from Thereida," said a young man leaning slightly towards the microphone. "That's already the third satellite this week. Shall I inform Satellite Control Staff?"
Suddenly the door opened and in walked a tall uniformed man with dark glasses.
"That won't be necessary," he replied in a carrying voice.
"General!" saluted the team members present in the room.
"At ease! James, was there any information before we lost the signal?" asked the man, approaching the young analyst, who, a moment ago, had reported the damaged Thereida.
"Unfortunately not," answered the young man, returning to his control panel. "I'm trying to establish whether Ishthar took some photographs of Thereida, but for some reason I'm unable to get access to it. Whenever I log in, the connection is broken."
"Keep trying," ordered the general, turning to the rest of the team. "I want to have a detailed report in twenty-four hours."
A moment later he pulled out a mobile phone and turned towards the door.
"Judith, connect me with general McGirr," he said in a harsh voice, leaving the room.
"Jennifer Hartnett. Group A12. Identification carried out successfully," said a voice from the computer at the school building entrance.
The girl took her hand off the reader and went through the open gate.
Lincoln Northeast High School, thought Jennifer, passing through the school corridor. One of my most hated places.
"N where da hell are my monies, u bitch?!" a boy shouted, waving his hands before some girl's face.
This is the main reason why I hate this place, thought Jennifer, approaching the stairs. Junkies make up more than half of our school and the rest are spoiled brats or wussies from school clubs. Unfortunately, I don't belong to any of these groups.
"Hi, Jenn," a smiling boy said suddenly, coming down the stairs.
Passing the girl, he placed his hand on her shoulder.
Michael, the only normal person in this school, she thought, blushing slightly.
After a while she entered the classroom. Seeing the students with their eyes fixed on their cells, she realized that today everyone was presenting their press review. Glancing swiftly at her watch, she took out her phone and set the appropriate TV channel.
"And now it's time for the world report. Yesterday marked the first anniversary of a mysterious explosion in the areas of the Thar Desert. Despite a series of tests conducted on the spot, the cause remains unknown. We have information, however, that it did not come from an atomic bomb. With the resulting situation and the increasing tension between the United States Government and the Government of India, the Council of the European Union has decided to appoint a special committee aimed at monitoring the work," she heard through the connected headphones.
Then, suddenly, Michael with his girlfriend came into class, followed by a teacher. Immediately, all the students hid their phones and rose.
What an asshole, as if he couldn't come late this one time more, Jennifer thought dissatisfied, rising as well.
"Hello," said the teacher, sitting down. "As mentioned in an earlier announcement, it's time for our mid-term exam. I've prepared a special set of tests in 711 mode. Power up your minitops."
Everyone booted up and started to log in with the exception of Jennifer, who was suspiciously looking under the table.
"Miss Hartnett, what is it this time?" asked the indignant electronics teacher, Shannyn Strich.
"Excuse me, but I can't connect to the server," responded the girl, rising.
"Which of you idiots did it?!" Strich said in a jittery voice, getting up from his desk. "Miss Hartnett, come forward."
At that point, smiles appeared on the faces of three boys sitting in the back of the room.
Morons, thought Jennifer, approaching the teacher's desk.
Suddenly the door opened, and two uniformed, well-built men appeared. One of them nodded to the teacher, then said with a loud voice:
"Jennifer Hartnett?"
"Yeah. Can I help you?" Jennifer asked, turning her head towards the men.
"There's been an accident in McGommery's mine. Due to the unclear circumstances of the death of the fifth level employees, you're required for body identification," said the strong voice of the other man. "Please come with us."
"Is my father… dead?" Jennifer asked in disbelief, dropping her backpack on the floor.
It was the ensuing silence, that answered her question; omnipresent silence that pierced the classroom for a few seconds.
"Please, come with us," reiterated one of the men.
"Just a moment!" Strich said, in an outraged voice. "If Miss Hartnett leaves the room now, I won't allow her to take the final exam."
Jennifer's eyes lost their glow, and the first tears began to flow down her cheeks. After a while, she became completely absent. The teacher was shouting something more, but not one of his words reached her.
My dad… No, it can't be. It just can't, thought Jennifer.
With whatever remaining strength that was left, she raised her backpack, executed two steps towards the men, and turned around to face the students. The majority of them were looking at her with amazement, and the rest with fascination, awaiting what was going to happen next. Only Michael displayed any human feelings. For one could see genuine sympathy in his eyes. And although Jennifer was not fully aware of what was going on, she unconsciously registered the reactions of all the people gathered in the classroom marked Lab12|27.
Walking for the very last time down the school hallway, Miss Hartnett was lead arm-in-arm by the two men. At some point, just before the stairs, she fainted, sinking over the shoulder of one of the soldiers.
When I awoke, thought Jennifer, lying on a couch, the first thing I saw was a muzzy image of a thin person in a white coat leaning over me. In a certain sense, I felt relief. I hoped that everything that had happened was only a bad dream… that I had fainted during one of the breaks and had been taken to hospital.
"Can we question her?" sounded a rough voice, suddenly, from behind the medic.
"I think so," replied the lean man. "Although I would give her about five minutes to regain her visual acuity. Pherathol is an extremely powerful drug and has equally strong side effects. For some time the girl may have problems keeping her balance, moving, and seeing."
Wonderful, thought Jennifer, attempting to rise from the couch. They've stuffed me with hell knows what and on top of that they want to interrogate me.
Interrogate?! she thought to herself, slowly registering more and more things around her. And indeed why interrogate? What's going on here?
Not a minute had passed, that she was able to precisely identify her surroundings. And not in the least did it resemble a hospital or clinic, as she beheld an average size tent with medical equipment.
"Where am I?" she asked, bewildered, rising into a sitting position as soon as she saw the sand on the floor of the tent.
"Silence!" barked a harsh voice belonging to a muscular man, who unexpectedly appeared in her field of vision. "I ask the questions here!"
Just then Jennifer was approached by the medic, who proceeded to examine her eyes with a small flashlight.
"Everything's OK," he said after some time, turning his back to the girl. "She can be taken away."
At that moment, the muscular figure jerked Jennifer by the arm, lifting her up with unnatural ease.
"Let's go!" he shouted, pulling her towards the exit.
The few seconds it took for the two to reach the door of the tent was enough time for Jennifer to realize that she was not being accompanied by a mere civilian. Although the man was dressed in plain jeans and a green button-down t-shirt, his mid-section came equipped with a leather belt complete with a side-arm. His build and overall stature seemed to confirm her assessment.
In a moment, they were outside.
It was hard to describe what this place actually was, thought Jennifer, as she looked about. Besides the few tents pitched right next to each other, there was nothing here… Or at least, that's how it seemed to me.
It was only when the both had reached the sandy embankment that separated the tent area from the rest, that she realized how much she had erred. Her eyes took in the sight of a massive valley filled with rocks of different sizes. Within, one could see equipment resembling that used for deep oil drilling.
Though I wondered what exactly this place was, soon I realized, thought Jennifer, trying hard to keep her footing while walking down the sandy hill, that the more important question for the time being was: what am 'I' doing here?
As she passed the first set of workers, whose hard labor was evidenced by the accumulated sweat on their brows, she felt somewhat unsettled. She got the feeling that something was not right. Passing by the next set of tired and dejected men helped solidify her conviction.
Assuming that my father worked here, why wouldn't they just let me identify the body? she wondered, looking around with an air of suspicion.
Her thoughts were promptly interrupted by her companion, who announced that they had reached their destination. The area where they now stood resembled a terrain that had sustained an onslaught of explosives detonations. The whole place was riddled with pieces of broken machinery, clothing, and occasionally remnants of severed body parts. In the midst of the chaos a handful of individuals dressed in white coats were carefully analyzing the territory.
Eventually, one of the white-coat analysts came up to Jennifer and her muscular companion. The analyst turned out to be a tall lady in her early thirties, wearing her black hair tied neatly into a bun on the back of her head. And although her facial expression suggested a personality of firmness and ruthlessness, in contradiction to the well-built man the woman showed some good manners, introducing herself right at the beginning.
"Doctor Haunshtof," she remarked, taking off her glove and stretching out her hand in Jennifer's direction.
"Jennifer Hartnett," replied the girl, squeezing the cold hand of the lady, who momentarily turned towards the man, nodding her head.
"This way," informed Haunshtof, putting her glove back on.
"Mr. Hartnett's body is one of the better preserved ones. However, we still need verification," she continued, walking with a brisk step straight ahead.
Finally she stopped and moved to the side.
"Here's the body," she said to Jennifer, pointing towards a charred corpse with severed legs.
Nausea immediately overcame the girl. Yet, despite this she managed to summon her strength to glance over the dismembered body. The whole right side of the cadaver was covered with melted skin. Only the left side of the face, arm and sternum were intact and partially clothed, enabling the proper identification of the body.
"Did she receive any anxiolytics?" asked doctor Haunshtof suddenly, observing Jennifer.
"Five hundred milligrams of Pherathol," answered the man, letting go of Jennifer's arm.
"Good. In that case, let's get to the task at hand," said the lady, turning towards the girl.
"Did your father have any identifying features on his face? Any fractures? Anything that would ensure an unmistakable identification of the body?"
"No, nothing I'm aware of," mumbled Jennifer hesitantly, forcing herself to look at the corpse once again.
"Well, you'd better jog your memory! Your father managed to destroy a very important sector with equipment worth millions of dollars!" yelled the man, as he grasped the girl firmly by the hand and tossed her in the direction of the body.
Jennifer fell barely two feet from the charred remains of the man. Getting a look from up close, she froze, motionless. Her face got pale, pupils dilated, and heart rate jumped. A cold sweat covering her entire body quickly followed.
Only a few seconds later, as if broken from a trance, Jennifer snapped back to reality, distancing herself quickly from the corpse.
"That's not my father," she exclaimed in a frightened voice. "My dad had his entire right shoulder reset. It was most obvious on his right clavicle, which was markedly depressed compared to the left side."
"Is this possible?" asked the man in disbelief, glancing over at the lady.
"If true, I should have this information in the employee's medical records," answered Haunshtof. "Unfortunately, all such records were destroyed. Recovering them from central might take a few days."
There was a moment of awkward silence.
"Can you try to identify Mr. Harnett from amongst the remainder of corpses?" asked the lady.
"I can try," answered Jennifer with a faltering voice, slowly getting to her feet.
"The sector contained seventy-six workers. We've managed to locate forty-two, out of which only half are identifiable. This way," said doctor Haunshtof, pointing the way.
At first I didn't think I could handle another session of looking at corpses, thought Jennifer, walking in the direction of the tents, accompanied by the muscular man. All in all I think I saw nineteen corpses, or rather pieces of corpses. None of them belonged to my father; of this I was sure. In my own way I'd hope that my father was still alive and that all of this was some sort of bad dream from which I'd wake any moment. At this time I hadn't yet realized that this was all just the beginning of what was to come.


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