by Stephen H. Garrity
|This excellent short story was inspired by the Hawkwind track of the same name
They had been warned not to.
I was in the coffee shop with Janlyn engaged in meaningless small talk. My co-worker from the power
plant often spent lunch with me, but there was nothing more to us than that. It was almost time to return
to our shift when the coffee cups started to vibrate on the glass table. At first, there were just concentric
rings riding along on the surface of the coffee. Then came the rattle of the porcelain mugs as they rode
wildly on the table until they toppled over the side, smashing on the floor.
Janlyn's hazel eyes locked into mine. We had seen the propaganda videos a hundred times, if not more,
and the Nine Warning Signs had been embellished into our minds like a brand.
I suddenly felt the vibration form in my diaphragm and heard a distant hissing in my ears. Those were the
second and third warning signs.
Neither of us could form the dreaded word on our mouths. That would alert others and we would lose our
advantage. Janlyn and I both hurried over the spilled coffee and hurled out of the shop into the street. We
stood still just for a moment. Only a few pedestrians had taken notice. Hundreds of others were still
shopping, smiling, oblivious. I glanced at the core of the city, gleaming like a thousand palaces in the
spring sunshine. Architectural marvels of spheres and pinnacles of emeralds, teal and Abyssinian
seemingly defying gravity. I stared at the skyline for a fleeting moment, if for only a final reminiscence.
We were three blocks away from the acoustic shelter. Perhaps too far. We had just seconds to get there.
I grabbed Janlyn's hand. I was breaking the first Rule of Survival. I could hear my mind speaking our
Beloved Leader's voice from the propaganda video. Think only of yourself. Statistically more people
survive if you think only of yourself. In defiance, I squeezed hard as I could, dragging her as my strides
grew longer, more desperate. She was stumbling and couldn't keep up.
"Run faster, Janlyn!"
"Think only of yourself!" she pleaded, trying to squirm her hand from mine. I felt the bones in her hand
crunch as I defied our Beloved Leader's wisdom and squeezed even harder.
We passed the first street corner, dodging a street vendor when the siren peeled through the air like a
mechanical demon. Looks of thousands were caught in an instant of dark disbelief, then terror contorted
their faces into death masks. The lucky ones wouldn't think, just react.
Do not panic, think only of yourselves.
The sirens suddenly cut off. "Death to the Thoth! Victory for us!" The booming words of our Beloved
Leader echoed off the doomed buildings. How utterly pointless, I thought. Such thinking was done within
the silent sanctuary of your mind; no one dared to defy such wisdom with speech. His wisdom spoken,
the masses enlightened, the sirens resumed their depraved wail.
I bumped into a little red-haired girl, stranding in fear and uncertainty as her mother's hand slipped away
and melted into the charging masses. She couldn't be older than six, wondering why her mother left her.
She was scared and began to cry.
Janlyn grabbed her hand.
"Don't!" I shrieked. "Think only of yourself!"
"Go on, I'm not leaving her!"
Caring for the child was a death sentence, even the girl's mother knew better.
"Good luck." We both knew the words were pointless, and she nodded me a goodbye and to hurry and
save myself. That last look she gave me said that she had used the little girl only as an excuse to cast me
off. On my own, there was hope. She picked up the girl, cradling against her chest to give her comfort
until the end. As I turned to look back at her one last time, I saw the sonic bubble burst above the city. I
had seen the animations in the propaganda video hundreds of times, but it never happened this fast. What a
horrible weapon. Sound that had been harnessed and mutated into a high frequency shockwave traveling
at hypersonic speeds. Sound faster than sound.
They had been warned not to.
I felt the bony shoulder of an old man press in front of me. He was blocking my way and I shoved him
aside. He shrieked as he fell, and I heard a grunt crush out of him as a hundred feet trampled him.
Think only of yourself.
The hypersonic sphere spread outward, compressing the air into a wall as hard as tempered steel,
smashing buildings as if they were china houses battered by a club. The Great tower of Commerce was
the first to go, a glass obelisk stretching a half kilometer into the sky reduced to fragments of sand and
dust in just a wink on an eye. The city core was gone just a moment later. Black smoke and dust
obscured the carnage, and now the twisted shards of debris had became a wall of deadly shrapnel.
They had been warned not to!
I was running out of time. The shockwave was filling up half the sky with it's looming darkness.
Eventually there would be an equilibrium, the front of the shockwave would have the same pressure as the
air before it. However, it had left a vacuum behind, and there would be a violent decompression and a
crunch. What wasn't blown to pieces, would be sucked into the vortex.
I turned around the corner and saw the shelter, just fifty meters away. The big blast doors were already
lowering, but I knew I would make it just in time. We had heard the building around the protective cocoon
disintegrate and carried off its foundations. But four thousand of us were safe and secure. There was no
sign of Janlyn, but I did recognize the little red-haired girl's mother. She was oddly composed, knowing
that abandoning her daughter had saved her.
The grey-clad security forces were handing out packages of rations as the booming voice of our beloved
leader roared from the loudspeakers.
"Death to the Thoth. Victory to us!" In seconds, I was in the midst of an outraged mob, bodies leaping
with fists thrusting in the air, repeating his chant like holy words. Was I so easily drawn into this
madness? Was I to be assimilated by the propaganda machine? I thought of Janlyn and the little girl. I
thought of my family, friends and my city that were gone.
I felt my hand curling into a tight ball. At first it was as if my fingers were acting on their own volition,
defying my will. Then all at once, my knuckles became white with the violence of my efforts as I
squeezed even tighter. I was jumping up and down, punching the air above me, drunk with rage.
Death to the Thoth. Victory to us!