Broken Horizons – Vol 12, Interlude 1

The Calamity of Wind

The Vortex was far larger than any of its observers could see. It’s arms stretched across the sky to the edges of the world it saw while in it’s center its winds spun with enough force to sheer buildings from their foundation.

The midwest of the United States was used to tornados and had the systems and warnings in place to alert people and get them into shelters. It wasn’t always enough to save everyone, but it saved countless lives every year.

Dubai, by contrast, did not have quite so robust a tornado response protocol in place. 

The Vortex hadn’t known that when it manifested, nor had Byron when he called it into being there. Neither one was overly concerned about the matter though. The Vortex because it lacked the capacity for any emotional or intellectual response beyond an appetite for destruction, and Byron for largely the same reason. The same however was not true for the people beneath the Vortex.

“I’ve got us a flight chartered out, but we’ve got get in the air now.” Ted Billingsworth wasn’t used to giving commands that weren’t obeyed when he spoke to his staff. They worked for him so they knew better than to backtalk when he was serious about something

“A flight? Now?” Kendal knew better than most not to backtalk him. She’d seen him fire more than one upstart who had opinions and thought he, or she, usually a she, knew better how to run his business than he did.

“Yes. Now get your bags. We’re leaving.”

“No. Not by plane I’m not,” Kendal said and the rest of his staff nodded in agreement, with a few of the weaker ones refusing to even look at him.

“That’s fine. See what I care. You’re all fired. And I’m canceling your tickets back to Dallas. Fly on your own money. I’m not paying for any of you,” Ted said before storming out of the hotel.

The gale force winds that battered him as he left the building only stoked his anger He didn’t need those expendable head counts. Maybe he’d even take them to court for breech of contract or whatever his lawyers could cook up. 

No planes were cleared to fly and he’d managed to get one anyway because he was Ted Billingsworth and he was a man the world listened to. They should have been grateful to him, but no, there wasn’t any gratitude in people today. All they wanted was your money. Money for work you didn’t even really need them to do.

Ted’s thoughts would have continued alone thing line except that he caught his plane.

Which is to say, without any awareness of the irony involved, the Vortex had picked up the plane Ted Billingsworth had chartered while it was fueling on the tarmac against all orders, laws, and basic common sense. With winds that should have reduced the aircraft to a cloud of metal shards, the Vortex hurled the plane kilometers across the city to land directly on the spot where Ted was struggling with his bags.

Surprisingly that was not the end of Ted Billingsworth though.

His body was obliterated of course, but his breath remained and it carried with it the anger and misanthropy which had characterized Ted’s entire adult life. 

Ted had wanted to destroy those around him and the malice of the Vortex responded to that desire by mingling its essence with the breath Ted Billingsworth had left behind to create a whole new sort of monster.

The Calamity of Ash

Wildfires weren’t a new thing for California to be faced with, millions of acres burned up with disturbing regularity. Those burning acres did not usually rise up as a legion of ten foot tall columns of flame shaped in the rough configuration of an adult human male though.

“Are any of them coming up towards us?” Hector Gonzalez was ready to gun the car’s engine for a rapid escape at a moment’s notice but without his friend inside the vehicle there was no force on Earth that could convince him to drop his foot on the pedal.

“Good news, no,” Sashanna said without putting her binoculars down.

“Bad news, they’re definitely heading to the fuel depot,” Kevin added. He at least had the sense to look away and check that the car was still ready to go. That he was also checking the distance to the huge tanks of oil and gas that lay at the end of the valley was a good sign for his awareness too.

“Worse news, I can’t get through to anyone.” Miya was more or less juggling their four cell phones and having no luck with any of them.

“So, we should leave then, right?” Hector said. Being perched on a bridge, a wooden bridge to be specific, that spanned a low valley down which an army of flame monsters was advancing was an objectively terrible idea. Hector was pretty sure literally anywhere else in the world would be a better place to be.

“Yeah, we should definitely go,” Sashanna said.

“Sounds good,” Hector said. “Time to get in then!” 

“Just one problem,” Sashanna said. “They’re not burning things.”

“Really? Cause I’m seeing a lot of flames from that direction,” Hector said.

“Yeah, what do you mean Shanna? Those trees are going up like fireworks  when they walk past them,” Miya said, putting their phones away to survey the army of walking flames with her friends.

“That’s my point. Look at what’s happening to their things they walk near,” Sashanna said.

“I’m seeing flames and smoke,” Kevin said. “Looks like fire to me.”

“That’s at the leading edge,” Sashanna said. “Here use these. Look past the front line.” She passed the binoculars over to Keven and pointed to direct his attention. “Over there. Where the smoke is thin.”

“Damn, it’s all just ash and dust. But trees don’t burn to ash and dust that fast. That’s impossible.”

“That doesn’t sound good either,” Hector said.

“Yeah, guys, I’m with Hector. We really shouldn’t be here,” Miya said.

“Okay. You’re right,” Sashanna said, joining the other two as they piled into Hector’s car. “We’ve got to warn somebody though.”

“Who? The fire department? You think they’re going to miss that coming at them?” Hector said as he pressed the accelerator firmly to the floor.

Hector was neither a Fast nor a Furious driver, but the deep inner voice that said “Little Fire Good, Lots of Fire Bad” was screaming so loudly that he didn’t feel much restraint in terms of obeying local traffic laws.

“You didn’t see what was back there,” Sashanna said.

“You said ash and dust. I’m more worried about the living fire dudes personally.”

“There were things out beyond the ash and dust,” Shashanna said.

“What kind of things?” Miya asked in a voice that very clearly stated she didn’t really want to know.

“I don’t know – like fires turned in on themselves,” Shashann said. “Smoke and dust, but alive, with something that, I don’t know, kind of hurt to look at in their center.”

“Maybe they’ll fight the fire guys for us?” Hector said.

“I don’t think so,” Kevin said. “I think Shanna’s right. Whatever those things were? I think the fire dudes are running from away from them.”

The Calamity of Ice

Not everything in the world was burning. Some parts of it were freezing into deathless silence. Places like Cairo.

The snow had started falling after more than thirty Armageddon Beasts had been dispatched by the residents of Cairo.  There’d been a pattern to them that was beginning to spread through the local lines of communication. The visible weakening of a patch of space. The inexplicable vertigo that you felt only on every odd step around the breakthrough spot. The sound of tearing metal that echoed in and out, doppler shifting though you weren’t moving in relation to it at all. 

In an astoundingly short time, Cairo had grown accustomed to the arrival of the Armageddon Beasts and had learned that the beasts could be carried away. Sometimes the ones who dragged them away from the Earth even came back too.

None of them had recognized the snow that fell as being connected to the problem of the world ending beasts, but few mistook it for a good sign either.

“We need to stay inside. This is not supposed to be happening,” Youssef said.

“Everything is down in here though,” Aya said, shaking her phone. “We won’t know anything about what’s going on if we stay here.”

She fought with her phone further but it was being stubborn in refusing to give her any access to email, the internet, or even texts.

Outside the day grew steadily darker as the snow cloud bunched up and turned from a dull gray to an empty black.

“Maybe it’s better than we don’t know,” Youssef whispered low so that no one else would hear him. 

He had no special experience with cataclysms, though he was old enough to have seen the world’s hardship gather and grow and crash down again and again. This snow though? It was something worse than even the Armageddon Beasts everyone was talking about. He knew that as surely as he knew his body needed breath and yet it was only snow. Just simple little frozen water flakes like he’d seen before on trip abroad.

Youssef felt the urge to reach out through his window to touch one of the falling bits of ice. They were so small and soft and harmless. All he had to do was touch one to wash away his worries. 

He wanted to touch one. 

He needed to touch it. 

He was in agony without the cool caress of the snow.

“God is good,” he whispered though the words cost him more than any shout he’d ever uttered.  More than any scream could have though, they woke him from the overwhelming urge which taken hold of his senses.

It all felt silly for a moment until he gazed down the street and saw the figures there.

Figures reaching out to touch the falling snowflakes.

Figures perfectly frozen into clear, crystal ice.

The Calamity of Stone

Not all of the calamities which befell the Earth were present for humans to see. As Byron skipped about the surface of the planet he saw so many empty places, and so many empty people, but always there was a net of connections between them and the ones who were working to stifle his grand acts of Uncreation.

No human stood truly alone, for all that so many were lonely and so many fell without any to catch them. No place was truly empty either. Life, cursed, wretched, abominable life, filled every awful nook and cranny of the planet, from the tops of the highest mountains to the depths of the deepest seas.

“If only I could carve a corner into this ugly blue sphere without any of that,” Byron said ignoring the screaming of the winds and the rage of the oceans. They were trying to tell him something, trying to warn him, at least the ones that he’d claimed as his own were. The rest were shouting meaningless defiance and threats. 

As though anything could be a threat to him anymore.

As though he would let anything or anyone close enough to harm him ever again when he’d discovered how to create such delightful minions.

He dropped a plague of zombies down into the untamed wilds of Miami’s streets and shrugged at the results. People seemed to notice them, but it didn’t really have the impact he was looking for.

He needed to feed the Hunger that was at his core.

The Hunger which called for him to eradicate everything.

Except everything was doing a rather good job at resisting eradication. 

He’d tried to infect their communications network, but had been stymied by the damn thing collapsing. Should he go after the engineers who’d designed it next? It would be fitting, but also futile. Their incompetence had done their work for them in safeguarding the world from him. He needed a new angle, a new position, a new…

He looked down.

A new direction.

Far beneath him the nickel iron core of the planet spun, surrounded by temperatures far beyond anything life could tolerate. Far beyond anywhere a human could reach.

But not beyond him.

Stretching forth his hand, Byron began to call forth a new minion.

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