Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Land Leave 20

The relative heights of some famous buildings the Burj Dubai (in red) extends over 2700 feet up. By contrast the mega-structures range from 2-3 miles high in Land Leave. Think about that.

James looked at the gap. He peeked around the corner and saw Bill's ship. The laser cutter was off. He looked just beyond him and saw the two warships in the distance. He cursed to himself, took two steps back and jumped the gap. He fell to the floor below and rolled to save himself. He ran hard, knowing that a big impact was imminent.

He made it to the blast doors that kept the stairwell safe. He opened the door and bolted up the stairs. He might have felt the impact of the explosion, but he couldn't be sure, his adrenaline was running high and making it to the Navy offices was his main priority. It was sixty floors from the fuse at the A-frame and James didn't have much of a head start.

By the thirtieth floor, he was flagging. At some point he realized that he was two floors below the Navy offices. He noticed the long scratch in the wall that he had left when he was young. He had been playing with a long piece of pipe while waiting for his father to finish work; he slipped down the stairs and dragged the pipe against the wall, leaving an enormous scratch. But his cut was worse. When he had stumbled into the room covered in blood, it was the first time he had seen his father be gentle. James could smell his dad's cologne. He shook the thought and opened the door to the offices.

The Navy offices were small in the mega-structure; only one floor. There were recruiters and coordinators but San Diego did the majority of work for the region. Before his father was a senator, James knew him as an even keeled admiral that coordinated first voyages for ensigns. James was struck by the familiarity of a place no longer inhabited by either his father or himself; just a bureaucratic office now.

The lights flickered, the generators wouldn't keep the structure running much longer. James took a quick look around the offices and spotted his father rummaging through a large box of old files. They were old fiscal year budgets for the office. James couldn't understand why his father would be risking his neck for some old audit materials, “dad?”

“James?” His father had gained weight and gone gray since his Navy days, but the stiff posture remained. He looked confused but gave no indication of relief or emotion. James didn't know how to react. “What are you doing here? It isn't safe here.”

“I know, that's why I came up here. I ran into one of your officers; he said you would be here.” James was tense, he didn't want to walk much closer. The two of them rarely spoke to each other, and since joining the Navy, James had talked maybe twice to him. “He gave me this,” James pulled out the storage card, holding it up as if he were a child showing a discovery.

“I think that has part of what we need, but I'm looking for the reference sheet,” James' father quickly went back to shuffling through the papers.

“Isn't there a digital?”

A large binder flew from the box, “I wish, but I haven't been able to even find a record of an out of place transmission. I know there must be a hard copy though,” James' father sounded discouraged.

James looked out the window, one of the attacking ships was in smoke and making an emergency landing in the bay. He saw the Eve and her small fleet behind. Smoke blew past the window, turning the day into night. “We have to go.”

“James, there's a reason there are fourteen mega-structures under attack. Now, go, stay, or help, I don't care. Just stop distracting me,” he looked at the papers in the box, stopped and rubbed his face in his hands, “not here!” He screamed, losing his cool, he kicked the nearly empty box.

“What are you looking for?”

“This office. There are three liaisons here. Jovian spies. I need some reference sheet to track the physical location of certain transactions,” James' father said it dismissively, as if James could not possibly help.

James tensed up even more, “give me a stack, where can I start.” James' father looked up, regarded him and motioned to a box in the corner. James walked over. He relaxed a little and started sifting through the paper. His impatience started welling inside almost immediately. Every paper looked the same. He tried to stay calm, but it was getting the best of him. He couldn't take it, he had come all the way up to get his dad and all he had gotten was a cold hello.

James picked up a binder and threw it at a wall, “it's not here!” He screamed and pushed over a desk. He breathed heavily, trying to calm himself down, then he noticed the binder he had thrown. It was lodged into the wall. “Dad, that's not supposed to happen.”

His father had noticed too, “no, it's not.” The two of them walked over to the wall, noticing the ersatz metallic finish. James reached out his hand and pulled away at the plaster. It revealed a small space where a folder was pressed tightly against the wall. As they pulled the plaster away further, a circuit paper was also pressed into the plaster.

“What's this?”

His father examined it closely, the semi-transparent envelope sized plastic was almost featureless. James' father held it up to the light, a line of circuits and a circle appeared, “it's a listening device. I don't see a trigger. This might have a key in it.” He turned to James, “best tantrum you ever threw,” he chuckled and patted James hard on the back.

James didn't savor the moment, “is this it? We gotta go.” His father nodded and they started for the door. The smoke cleared out the window and James noticed the ships moving in for an evac route. That wasn't good, he knew that meant the structure wasn't going to stay up. He turned to his father, “radio?”

“Lost it in the chaos,” he responded.

“See that? They're on evac. Do you have a way off the mega-structure?” James knew he was asking a futile question. He shook his head, “what's the evac plan for major personnel in case of emergency?” He looked at his father who seemed very frail suddenly, he exhaled, “there is no plan. The redundancies. The safe-guards. Nothing could break through the shield.”

His father nodded slowly, “what about the magna-rails?” The lights flickered, “oh, no power.”

“Dad, we need a comm. Hopefully we can get someone on the line before this place crumbles,” James looked around absently at the room, hoping the scattered items would yield something. He looked at the smoke rising in huge plumes in front of the window. He watched as some half-charred bits of paper flew up into the sky and disappeared, “control on the top floor. They have emergency comms when the power is out.” James looked at his father, it would be about fifty stories to the top, an agonizing climb without functional rail or elevators. He knew he had to do it, “c'mon.”

The two climbed. As they did so they felt several shifts in the building. A large portion of the mega-structure was going to fall. About ten stories from the top the building shook so violently that James was sure it was the end. He helped his father up and they continued the climb.

James fell through the door into the control tower. The room had a panoramic view of operations. It was the best view in the entire structure. Desks were arranged in a 360 degree pattern that gave officers and controllers a view of all air traffic as well as of incoming trains. It was the central director of 90% of non-private traffic in and out of the mega-structure. James scanned the place quickly and ran to what he assumed to be the commanding officer's seat. He searched through the desk and found the small circular comm. He turned it on and started calling out on all Navy channels.

His father appeared, “move over junior. Being senator has privileges.” James' father turned to a high channel, “omega, delta, Rojas, Rojas, Rojas,” he waited and heard a beep, “Calling all AmU vessels in the area, I need immediate evac for two from my current position. Do you read?”

There was a long silence. “This is AmU vessel Eve, we have a reading on your position, we have a small Navy class fighter en route to your position, hold steady. Call out Bravo Tango four,” it was the captain.

“Bravo Tango four do you copy?”

“This is Bravo Tango four, I copy,” James smiled, it was Bill, “It's going to be tight but I can take two to taxi.” James went to the window. The smoke blew away and Bill's ship appeared, “stand back, I am clearing an opening.” Bill fired his large caliber machine gun, shattering the windows. He pulled into the building and opened his cockpit, “hop in.”

James helped his father into the cockpit slowly. The fit would be tight, but the fighter was technically rated to hold three people—a bold claim by its manufacturer. His father strapped in, and looked up at James who was directing him on how to buckle the seat.

The building buckled, James was thrown from the fighter onto the floor. A desk chair swung toward him and grazed his arm making it numb. He lurched to sit up and assessed the situation. Bill's ship had been hit and had slipped behind a pillar. It wouldn't be able to take off without being pushed. James got up and started pushing.

“James, get in. I can fly us out!” Bill yelled as he activated the engines. Something buckled on the other side of the building. The heat of the engines was incredible. James was sweating.

“No you can't. You know it's stuck,” James gave another push, and freed the ship. Bill cleared through the windows and stayed close to the building.

“Jump.”

James picked himself up, felt the floor start to rumble and sprinted to the ship. As he jumped he felt the floor crumble underneath him. He reached out and grabbed the wing of the ship. He heard the loud bangs and crashes of shattering floors. Then he saw the Yorktown's lasers. The ship was cutting through the collapsing floors, trying to spread the debris. He grabbed tightly on, but his arm felt broken and he could feel his strength leaving him. As the fighter pulled away he felt his vision go dark, and his grip start to slip.