Pendleton Hartwood was the superior man. He was a multibillionaire, he was in his early forties, and he owned the largest company for cutting-edge technology in the world. He had acquired many smaller companies in his time, absorbing them into a greater whole like some amorphous, carefully-calculating, Ayn Rand amoeba, and now he led those companies as their admiral in his vast fleet of collections, therefore making him the superior man.
Unfortunately, one particular woman in his high-rise office was making his life quite miserable at the moment. He owned many high-rises and many offices around the world, but this particular office and high-rise happened to be infested with this annoying female at the moment. Honestly, there were times when he wanted to make his ex disappear on a permanent basis, but there were far too many eyes on him to make that happen, even with his vast wealth and power.
Nevertheless, he would deal with her, because he was Pendleton Hartwood, and he was, after all, the superior man.
“So, after your new bimbo graduates high school,” said his ex, “then maybe she’ll grow a brain that resides above the belt line. Then she’ll see what a worthless piece of—”
“Leave Dotty out of this, Patricia,” warned Pendleton.
“Or what?” asked his ex, Patricia. “I suspect the only reason you keep her around is as a life preserver in case one of your yachts sink. I’m sure those fake boobs can float.”
Pendleton could see Dotty shaking a little, but the young blonde wasn’t going to say anything to his ex. No, Pendleton had deliberately instructed her not to, and unlike Patricia, she was well-trained not to argue with him. He’d handpicked Dotty as his girlfriend, making doubly sure she was an appropriate trophy that did not talk back…He’d learned the first time.
“There’s no reason to go after Dotty,” sighed Pendleton. “You’re getting fifty billion in the settlement. That’s more than enough for the likes of you.”
Of course, this comment did not sit well with Patricia. Her face swirled into a pool of semi-confused rage, but she doused him with vitriol whenever he spoke anyway. She simply didn’t get him.
“For the likes of me!” she hissed. “What is that supposed to mean!”
“It means you can take my money and go do your welfare philanthropy thing or whatever it is you like to waste working people’s wealth on,” he said dryly.
“Working people!” screeched Patricia. “Working people! You’ve never worked a day in your life, you worthless para—”
“Enough,” sighed Pendleton. “What is it she really wants, Randall?”
Patricia’s lawyer handed him the documents in question.
“Miss Hartwood-Morgan’s interests lie in shares of Hartwood Technologies,” said the stoic bald man in the grey suit.
“You’re not getting any shares in H.T., Patricia,” said Pendleton with a simple shake of his head. “I own the majority of shares in my company that I founded, and there is no court of law that will hand you any in the divorce settlement. And in case you want to mention parasites, you’re being generously rewarded with a good chunk of my money simply for me putting a ring on your finger. Fifty billion is more than enough to satisfy any judge.”
“You smug, son of a—!” she began, but her lawyer cut her off with his own observation, something that cut straight to the chase.
“We know about your research in para-dimensional energy, Mr. Hartwood,” said Randall. “We know about the testing facility in Beijing.”
“So that’s what this is really about,” sighed Pendleton. “You want in on the ground floor, do you?”
“There is supposed to be some sort of energy test today?” asked Randall.
“Yes, but this has nothing to do with Patricia,” frowned Pendleton. “The testing facility is running a small test to see how well our new energy generator performs. Our D-energy generator taps into a previously untapped energy source…other universes…I’ve made this happen, I’m the one that pulled this beyond science fiction, and it’s my vision, something that will win me the Nobel Prize. As I said before, this has nothing to do with Patricia, so she is not entitled to any credit.”
“No, you meat head,” replied Patricia in visible disgust. “I don’t want credit! No, you need to have some common sense! What you’re doing is incredibly irresponsible and dangerous! I don’t want credit; I want you to stop delving into things that could destroy the entire plan—”
But she was cut short yet again, this time by Pendleton’s new other-half.
“Why don’t you just leave?” asked Dotty. “Just go. Leave us alone.”
The young blonde had leaned forward slightly upon the white couch she was currently sitting upon, and now she had opened her mouth in spite of Pendleton’s training. He couldn’t blame her for wanting to tell off his ex, though. Patricia had that effect on pretty much everyone.
His ex once again turned her ire upon his girlfriend.
“Oh, so it speaks!” she said angrily. “I’m surprised your lips haven’t been welded shut by injections!”
This was pointless. It was clear Patricia’s rage was currently fueled by jealousy, because he was, after all, Pendleton Hartwood, richest man in the world, and he was now positive that his ex-wife was fuming over his acquisition of a new girlfriend. That’s what this was really about. It wasn’t about shares in Hartwood Technologies or his research in D-tech.
Of course, he didn’t understand what all of the fuss was about. He’d waited an entire week after the breakup before hitting the dating scene again. That was an acceptable amount of time, right?
“Dotty, you don’t have to talk to her,” said Pendleton. “I have an army of lawyers for that.”
“You can’t hide behind them for—” began his ex.
She was cut short again by the solid ringing of a phone, specifically Pendleton’s phone, and considering the nature of the ringtone, it was a call he could not afford to miss. That tone was one of dire warning, a kind of “DEFCON” alarm for his own company.
He held up one index finger before picking up his phone and swiping it in order to answer the call. This stalling gesture of a single digit further enraged Patricia, but her anger would have to wait.
“Yeah, go,” he spoke into his phone.
“This is Anita Carlson, head of the Energy Research Dep—” came a female voice.
“I know who you are,” replied Pendleton. “The better question is obvious. Do you know what this phone is for?”
“Yes,” said the woman quickly. “I don’t have any time to explain. You have to head to the Lot B bunker now. I and lead scientist Uwe Herrmann are already here. It’s the only shelter that we’ve completely proofed against radiation.”
Pendleton turned white at this. He had no idea what was going on, but his first thought was an incoming nuclear strike. Whatever the case, there was no time to waste.
“On it,” he said, and then he hung up.
He studied the three people in his office for a few seconds. He needed to get to his Lot B bunker right away, but the call had shaken him, and for the first time in his life, he did not know what to think.
“What’s the matter with you?” asked Patricia. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
He looked up at his parasitic ex and shook his head in order to clear his mind. He had to get to the Lot B bunker, but he certainly didn’t need her tagging along.
“Something’s come up,” he said in a shaky voice. “Dotty, darling, we have to go. We’ll have to continue this meeting later.”
“Oh, no, you’re not bolting on me now!” cried Patricia. “I’m not finished with you yet!”
Lot B was across from this building, a short drive or a brisk walk depending upon how you looked at it, but that meant the clock was ticking, so he did not have time for this.
He reached forward and hit his intercom button.
“Security,” he said quickly.
“Hey!” cried Patricia. “What are you doing!”
“I don’t have time for you,” he said firmly. “I’m leaving. Either leave this building now or be dragged out.”
“Mr. Hartwood, I think we can come to a more civil—” started Patricia’s lawyer, Randall.
He was also cut short, but not because of any verbal interruption. No, Pendleton was quite sure that the bald man in the grey suit would have finished his statement were he able to.
A bright light shone down from nowhere, penetrating the ceiling from above, and it speared through the top of Randall’s bald pate, immediately ending the man’s sentence. Randall closed his eyes and cried out in both fear and pain as that light seared straight through him, and all Pendleton could do was watch in surprised horror.
Patricia’s lawyer de-aged…enyouthened?…He became younger and younger by the second, those seconds less than ten—Pendleton couldn’t tell—but Randall became a squalling baby in nothing flat, just a babe covered by a suit way too big for him, and then that naked babe was sucked right up into the light, leaving just a pile of empty clothes behind.
Pendleton, his ex-wife, and his new girlfriend all stared at the pile of clothes in blinking disbelief for a brief moment, and then Patricia screamed, and then Dotty screamed as well, and their inane shrieking finally jolted Pendleton back into some working semblance of reality.
Two burly security guards in grey shirts burst through the office door, guns drawn, ready to blast away, but they didn’t make it five feet in before two beams of light speared through the roof to strike them both through the tops of their heads. They were babies in mere seconds, and then they were gone, mere infants drawn up through the roof to pass through solid ceiling as if they were ghosts.
“MOVE!” shouted Pendleton.
He yanked up Dotty and pulled her toward the door, stopping only briefly to snatch up one of the missing security guards’ pistols. This was the mistake people always made in the movies, never arming themselves when in a bizarre crisis such as this, and Pendleton, being the superior man, did not wish to make such a mistake, so he snatched up a pistol and bolted, bolting exactly as Patricia had originally warned him not to.
Of course, in light of the circumstances, her original decision had changed.
“Don’t you leave me behind!” screeched Patricia from behind him, and she was behind him, exactly where she belonged, because truthfully, he wanted to leave her there.
He had a quick flash of cruelty, an ember of thought dedicated to turning around and putting a bullet in one of her legs, but he tossed that thought out as quickly as it had come. He couldn’t afford to slow down anyway, so it was best to just ignore her. He’d deal with her later if necessary.
He pulled Dotty along as the young blonde cried out in terror for a few brief seconds, mostly at the beams of lights searing through the ceiling to catch employees running around them in a chaotic panic, spearing through these headless chickens in order to de-age?…enyouthen?…babyfy?—yes—babyfy them.
By some strange miracle, Pendleton had not been struck yet, and this was a good thing, because he did not know what was going on, and he did not know if those affected and taken were dead or just abducted…He’d never seen anything like this, not even in science-fiction tropes.
“We’ve got to get down to the street!” he barked. “We’ll have to take my personal elevator and hope we’re not babyfied on the way down!”
They dashed across several large office spaces filled with cubicles in order to get to his private elevator. Only he had the keycard for that anyway.
A woman in a dark-blue, tight-fitting business skirt and vest, her shirt a white button up, stumbled in front of them as she was pushed from behind by another panicking employee. Pendleton was going to tell this nameless corporate tool to move, but he never got the chance to.
The woman had her smartphone up to her ear, but she stumbled as she was pushed from behind, and she dropped that phone as a beam of light speared her right through the head. She closed her eyes and screamed, shrinking and shrinking in on herself until she was yet another mewling babe, and then she was gone, just like Randall, the security guards, and everyone else he’d seen get zapped up.
Still, it was an off-putting sight to see, even for a superior man like Pendleton Hartwood.
Nevertheless, opportunity was opportunity. The more people in the water, the less chance the shark would eat you.
He hopped over the vanished woman’s clothes and yanked Dotty along, briefly turning to see his ex trailing after them, a look of stark terror upon the woman’s normally stern face. This gave him a slight chuckle, as he had never seen that look upon Patricia’s acerbic face before, and this reminded him that she was, after all, only human and not entirely the caustic altruistic parasite she normally displayed to the public.
Beams of light seared through the ceiling to zap people and babyfy them as Pendleton weaved to and fro through desks and around victims in a desperate dash to make it to his own personal elevator. He didn’t actually know any of these people’s names, so he simply made them up as he went along, tagging fake job positions with them as well.
There went Portly Dan Gearman, head of regional sales, face like a clock…There goes Boring Bob from accounting, R.B.F. Margaret from advertising, Bouncing Breasts Betty from…No, wait…He knew Betty. She was actually one of his secretaries, Sara…Had been anyway. She’d been hot, and no surprise, she’d turned into a pretty cute baby. Hopefully, the process hadn’t hurt her too much. If she wasn’t dead, she could always grow up with that big beautiful rack again…He had some sympathy after all.
He pulled Dotty along to the elevator, Patricia trailing behind them. He quickly swiped his keycard through the pass lock and waited on baited breath as the elevator doors slid open.
“What are you doing!” yelled Patricia. “Get moving, you idiot!”
His ex pushed past them both in a mad rush, entering the elevator before the doors were completely open, but this caused Pendleton to stumble into Dotty.
“Patty, you bi—!” he began, but a beam of light cut him short.
A bright spear of light seared through Dotty’s chest, right between the lowcut top of the expensive white dress he’d graciously bought for her, right between her gorgeous and quite squeezable breasts, one of the qualities on a short list of qualities he’d chosen her for in the first place. Patricia had been wrong about Dotty’s bust, of course…They were all natural, home grown without a hint of silicone.
Pendleton cut short his own protest upon this new development. He pulled Dotty into the elevator out of sheer protective instinct, though why he had done so, he did not know. It was certainly unlike him. It was survival of the fittest in the business world, and making mistakes that put you in the line of fire was definitely an occupational hazard he could not afford, especially now.
Nevertheless, he pulled Dotty out of the beam of light and into the elevator, hitting the ground floor button in one fluid motion of semi-perfect timing. The doors shut, there was a brief pause as the elevator began to move, and then they were on their way.
“Pendy?” asked Dotty in a horrified voice, but her voice sounded off, higher-pitched than normal.
He looked over to his new girlfriend, but she was shorter now, her clothes loose upon her skinny frame, her face that of a young teen, probably thirteen or fourteen.
“Geez, Pendleton, I knew you liked them young, but this is ridiculous,” said Patricia.
Naturally, her comment did not sit well with him, not after this, so he glared at his ex, a stare of imminent death that would have stopped a charging rhino…Oh, yes, he’d definitely had enough of her.
“This is all your fault!” he yelled.
Of course, Patricia looked completely taken aback.
“We’re under attack!” she said in flabbergasted reply. “I didn’t send down these beams of light, you moron! What is the matter with you!”
“You stampeded past us like a dumb animal to get into the elevator!” cried Pendelton. “Because of you, Dotty got hit!”
“You were just standing there like an idiot!” yelled Patricia. “What was I supposed to do! Stand around and wait to die!”
“Yes, you stupid hag!” yelled Pendleton in return.
“Stop!” cried his now ex-girlfriend.
Yes, Dotty was now his ex-girlfriend. It wasn’t like he could date a teenybopper, so it appeared his short stint with Dotty was now over.
He and his ex-wife turned to stare at the now de-aged young lady.
“We can’t fight right now!” said Dotty. “We have to find somewhere safe to go.”
Patricia’s normally stern face worked its way through a storm of visibly conflicting emotions before settling upon a look of focused determination.
“You’re right,” she sighed. “And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry this happened to you, Dotty; I really am. I am so, so sorry…Look on the bright side, though. Now you get to be young a few years longer. That’s something no one else gets to do.”
“If we even make it out of this alive,” said the young blonde.
“We’ll make it,” said Patricia. “We have to try.”
“I…I don’t know,” said Dotty. “Let me just say…I just wanted to say that I…I’m not a bad person, Patty.”
“Oh, I know,” sighed Patricia. “Don’t worry about that. I wasn’t mad at you. My anger was misplaced. It’s not your fault what’s going on between Pendleton and I.”
Dotty’s young teen face shriveled up in despair in spite of Patricia’s encouraging comment.
“What’s the matter, hon?” asked Patricia.
“I don’t know what to do now,” said Dotty. “I’m not even old enough to vote anymore…What should I do? I don’t know what to do!…You’ll help me, won’t you, Pendy?”
“I’ll…think of something,” he said after a few seconds.
“I’ll help you, hon, even if he doesn’t,” said Patricia.
“I said I’d think of something,” said Pendleton in a flat tone.
Boy, this was awkward. He was going to have to break up with Dotty, but he had liked her a lot, especially that perfect body of hers, so…he didn’t want to just send a text or an email or a tweet or something. It was going to be a real letdown for her anyway. He didn’t want to break her heart, but she wasn’t even old enough to drive now, so what could he do?
God, she didn’t even have real breasts anymore.
Of course, she’d be back to a legal age in a few years, so there was no reason to leave her behind. He had considered her the perfect dating material anyway, so five or six years, though a wait, was not unreasonable…No, come to think of it, he did not need to leave her behind.
But that was not important right now. No, what was important was the obvious: he had to get to his Lot B bunker. He now knew why he needed to be somewhere radiation proof, even though his researchers had not filled him in on that little detail, but…yeah, that mystery had been solved.
The elevator stopped on the ground floor.
By yet another miracle, none of them had been hit with a beam of light on the way down, so now the real race could begin…They had to make it to the Lot B bunker, and considering the chaos of what was going down, they were probably going to have to travel on foot. It would take too long to get to his car in Lot A just to drive over to Lot B. That didn’t make any sense, because the lots were not connected. Otherwise, he’d just cut through Lot A.
“We’re going to have to make a run for it,” said Pendleton in grim realization. “Get ready to follow me, Dotty. We’ve got to make it to my Lot B safehouse. That’s the only one I’ve got in this area that’s radiation proof.”
The door opened, and he poked his head out to view yet more of the chaos surging out of control as people ran in a mad panic. Whatever was going on was not just limited to the top floors, no. No, down here people were still like ants under a magnifying lens. Beams of light were still coming down, still spearing down through every floor to babyfy and snatch people up.
“Come on!” he yelled as he pulled Dotty forward.
He and Patricia surged forward from the elevator, but Dotty’s narrow wrist slid from his grasp. He and his ex-wife had already moved ten feet forward before Pendleton realized he did not have Dotty with him.
He turned to see what was holding her up, but the very young blonde was still in the elevator, unmoving, not budging an inch.
“My clothes are too big for me,” said Dotty. “I don’t think I can make it, Pendy…Not like this.”
He looked down at her sad and skinny, quite unfilled-out figure. Her adult clothes were hanging off of her narrow frame in a bare semblance of dress.
“Come on, honey!” exclaimed Patricia. “We’ll think of something! We’ve got to try!”
She stepped forward to go back to the elevator, but the now young teen Dotty quickly pressed the up button on the elevator.
“You go on without me,” said Dotty. “It’s okay, Patty…I wish we could have been friends.”
And then the doors closed.
Patricia banged on those doors for a few brief seconds before Pendleton pulled her away.
“We have to get her!” she screeched, but he knew it was too late for that.
“There’s no time!” he barked. “She made her choice!”
Of course, he did not know why he was arguing with Patricia at this moment anyway.
He decided then and there to ignore and/or abandon his ex-wife, preferably both, so he made a run for it, but she followed him, doggedly pursuing him without mercy.
“You coward!” she shrieked. “How could you leave her behind!”
They weaved around more screaming people as beams of light razed down from the ceiling. It was hit or miss now, a bingo parlor of babyfication, and Pendleton did not want to be caught by a winning number. It was one game he did not want to win.
He made his way to the glass doors that were the exits and entrances to this cyclopean building.
“Pendleton!” screeched Patricia. “You’re going to pay for every selfish decision you’ve ever made!”
“Oh, shut up,” he grunted.
He pulled open one of the sets of glass double doors and ran out onto the walk, but Patricia was still right behind him.
“Pendleton!” she yelled. “You come back here!”
He ignored her. He had to get to the Lot B bunker, and he did not have the time or the patience for this shrieking harpy.
The sky was unusually dark for this time of day, but that was irrelevant, because he still had more than enough light to see the pure insanity raging out of control around him. There were people in a panic all over the street, cars crashing everywhere as people were de-aged and sucked up through their car roofs, and just mayhem in general. Honestly, he didn’t have time for any of it.
He made his way down the street, his ex-wife right behind him. She was like toxic glue that you couldn’t rub off no matter what you tried. It was really annoying, but he couldn’t even deal with that at the moment. Right now, he was just trying to survive. If the world didn’t have the superior man, what did it have?
He ran his way to Lot B, and it was a good thing he was in decent shape. He’d kept up his athletic health simply to foster his own image, but it appeared that this physical waste of time had not been such a waste of time after all. It was all cardio now.
This off employee parking lot held some secrets, and his underground bunker was one of them. He had a bunker installed in every location he owned, and he had three here, but Safehouse B was the only one that was up to code for this situation…If he lived through this attack, he was definitely switching contractors.
He ran into the darkness of the parking lot, that underground garage lit up by dim fluorescent lighting. He knew where to go, so he cut across parked cars to make a beeline toward the red doors that led down even further, doors that mimicked a service room, because he did not want others to know he had a safehouse here.
There was just one problem as he came upon that set of double red doors…There was a homeless person in his way.
The filthy old man in stained rags saw him coming, too. He was just going to have to ignore this parasite on society and make his way in. Besides, he still had the gun he’d picked up.
“I told everyone they were watching us!” yelled the old man. “I warned them! They’ve been watching us, and now they’re here!”
“Out of my way!” cried Pendleton.
He pushed past the filthy bum and pulled out his keycard. He never did understand why people chose to live without homes when they could simply be wealthy like him. It just didn’t make sense.
“They came from the stars!” said the old bum in agitated excitement. “I’ve seen them! They’ve been watching us for years, and now they’re here! They’ve come to collect us! That’s what they’re doing!”
Patricia jogged up behind them just as Pendleton swiped his keycard through the security lock.
“They’ve finally come!” said the homeless man. “They’ve finally come to take us away! They’re saving us from our own foolishness!”
Pendleton eyed the old man, shook his head in disgust, and then said the first thing that had come to his mind.
“Why aren’t you living off your investments?” he asked.
“Seriously!” exclaimed Patricia.
Pendleton yanked open the red doors, and naturally his ex-wife dodged underneath his arms to enter into the sloping tunnel beyond. He was going to say something to this obnoxious and intrusive hag, but he was grabbed from behind by the filthy old bum.
“Didn’t you hear me!” cried the homeless man. “They’re going to save us!”
“Get off me!” yelled Pendleton.
“You can’t run!” exclaimed the old man. “There’s nowhere to run!”
They struggled for a bit, a tug-of-war between safety and crazy, but Pendleton did not have the time or the patience for this. He still had the gun he’d picked up, so he pulled that pistol from his suit pocket without any further hesitation.
He fired two rounds into the old man’s guts, a “BANG! BANG!” that reverberated around the lot and hurt his ears.
The filthy old bum went down with a muffled cry, his weathered lips partly opened, blood seeping from those cracked twin lines.
Patricia was at Pendleton’s side in a heartbeat.
“You…You shot him…” she said in stark, audible surprise.
“It was either him or me,” said Pendleton grimly.
A light speared down from above and lanced through the old man.
Pendleton watched in morbid fascination as the bullets he’d just put in this disgusting old man popped out of the bum to roll across the pavement, and then the old homeless man was babyfied, shrunk down to yet another mewling babe. He was gone a second after that, sucked up into the light to phase through the ceiling, onward and upward to…wherever, who knew.
There was no time to waste. It was clear these assailants could reach down anywhere in order to snatch people up, so he had to double time it in order to get down to the bunker.
Pendleton pushed aside his ex and ran for a parked red tram at the side of this long and wide hallway that sloped down into the darkness underneath this city. He hopped in the tram, turned the key that was still in the ignition, and started forward just as his ex hopped into the seat next to him.
He pushed down on the pedal to get this little tram moving, though its speed was far slower than he’d have liked.
“You shot him,” said Patricia in a dazed tone. “You shot that poor old man, Pendleton.”
“And?” he asked. “That crazy bum would’ve gotten us both killed. You’re lucky I shot him, Patricia.”
She winced at the mention of her own name, but she said nothing more, and he considered that silence a godsend.
They headed down the sloped tunnel and into a longer tunnel, and at the end of that tunnel was the bunker door. He just hoped he could make it there in time.
His bunker was more like a vault for humans, a safe storage space he could wait out any disaster, precisely why he’d had it built. If this attack didn’t count as a threat that was bunker-worthy, then nothing did.
They rode down the hallway at a comfortable golf-cart speed, as fast as his stupid tram could go, but definitely faster and less tiring than if he had made a run for it.
He stopped in front of the bunker door and hopped out of the tram, Patricia right behind him, stuck to him like that toxic glue he had so appropriately thought of as a descriptor for her just minutes earlier.
Pendleton swiped his keycard through the electronic lock and waited as the seals on the door hissed open.
“What is this place?” asked his ex.
“Not for you,” he muttered.
“What was that?” asked Patricia with alarm in her eyes.
He ignored her as he stepped into his radiation-proof safehouse.
The door to the bunker sealed shut behind him as Patricia made her way in alongside him, and despite the fact that his ex was with him in here, he finally felt some modicum of relief over the strange assault on humanity that was currently taking place outside. He felt much safer in here. Whether it actually protected him or not was another story, but for now, he would believe it would.
The bunker consisted of the main room, which contained a circular area of monitors and tech equipment meant for viewing the outside world. Then there was the rest of the bunker, and that rest of the bunker started with a hallway, a hallway that led off to bedrooms, a small water storage and purification plant, an underground greenhouse garden, a power room for electrical generation, and a food storage room, along with a normal shower and toilet/sewage area.
These bunkers were all the same, all designed the same way, but the problem was in the contracting, because it was clear this one was not quite finished, mainly because he had “upgraded” it recently to be perfectly radiation proof. This new radiation protection had just been developed last year, but his company had not had time to upgrade all of his facilities, so he had placed priority on bunkers like this one. At least that little feature was completed here.
Nevertheless, he would figure out the status of the place in a second, because that was priority number one.
He was met by two of his employees as he entered the main room of his bunker, the ones who had contacted him via his hot-phone, Anita and Uwe, though he could not remember their last names off the top of his head.
Anita was an overweight black woman while Uwe was an elderly German gentleman, but why they were here in his bunker and how they knew what was going on, he did not understand, nor did he care. Pendleton wanted answers, and he wanted them now.
“What in the hell is going on out there!” he demanded. “Do you know! Do either one of you know!”
“We’ve been here since we arrived just before the call we made to you, Mr. Hartwood,” said Anita. “This bunker isn’t completely finished, so the feeds are down. We don’t know what’s going on locally, so we’ve just been waiting for your arrival…We do have an assessment of the situation on a USB thumb drive—”
“A USB thumb drive?” asked Pendleton. “What is this, 2005? Just lay it on me. What’s the status of this bunker? Where are we at in terms of survival here? How long can we stay down here?”
“As you know, this bunker is still in the process of being stocked,” said Uwe. “I’d say we have six months down here at the most with five people.”
“Mmm hmm, mmm hmm,” nodded Pendleton. “I think I can stretch that length of time.”
“How so?” asked Anita.
Pendleton withdrew his acquired pistol, pointed it squarely at his two technicians, and motioned toward the door.
“I think reducing the number of people within this facility should, in fact, lengthen the survival time within it,” he said firmly.
“What!” cried Anita.
“Out the door,” he sighed. “Don’t make me shoot you. I’ve already had to put a couple of rounds in someone else on the way here.”
“You can’t do—” started Anita.
“I own this bunker, and this is about survival now,” said Pendleton. “I suggest you leave now before I shoot you. You might have enough time to find somewhere safe.”
“Pendleton…” said Patricia in an anxious tone.
“Wait!” said Uwe. “If we can just get the feeds running, we can see how advanced the leak is from Beijing, and then we can—”
Pendleton aimed center mass at Anita and then pulled the trigger. The gunshot was ear shattering within the enclosed space of the bunker, Patricia shrieked, and then the heavy-set black woman that was Pendleton’s employee fell to the safehouse floor while clutching her right side.
It took a few seconds for their hearing to return, and of course, after those few seconds, there was no other sound than Anita’s shocked and terrible moans of pain.
Pendleton leveled his gun at the old German technician.
“I suggest you pull her through that door and go look for help,” he said. “Otherwise, I’ll have to put you down as well.”
There was no more argument from Uwe.
The older gentleman hefted the heavy-set black woman from up underneath her armpits and dragged her to the door. He took a few seconds to open the door, his old face etched with both fear and anxiety, and then he pulled the hefty woman through that ominous aperture.
Anita’s cries of pain did nothing to sway Pendleton. He had already made up his mind at this point. It was survival now, and he was the superior man, so all subordinates were expendable.
“You can’t do this!” said Uwe. “We’ll die out here! There’s no more time!”
“Not my problem,” shrugged Pendleton.
Lights speared down from the ceiling just outside the door. One seared straight through Uwe, and the look on the old technician’s face was one of genuine surprise as he stared down at his own shrinking hands in strange wonder.
“What is thi—?” was all he got to say before he began to babble in baby speech.
Pendleton watched the invasive light simultaneously de-age and heal Anita at the same time. His bullet popped out of her, she shrank down to nothing, and then she was gone, leaving behind nothing but a set of plus-sized technician clothes.
He stared at the two piles of clothes left behind and shook his head in both confusion and disgust. Whatever was going on was beyond him, but it was clear the lights from above could not reach down into this bunker, so that was all that mattered right now.
“Why did you do that?” asked Patricia, her voice filled with audible horror.
“Because it’s either me or them,” sighed Pendleton. “I thought we went over this already.”
“That’s so heartless…” trailed his ex.
It was clear she was in shock. Things were different now that she didn’t have her lawyer or her own social media circle to back her up. That was going to make what he was about to do next so much easier.
He put his acquired pistol in his pocket, pulled back on Patricia’s carefully styled hair, reached down beneath her business skirt from behind, and pulled up on the top of her white panties. He pulled in two different directions at once, ensuring that he had both a good grip and an exceptionally painful wedgie at the same time.
She shrieked in both pain and surprise as he dragged her to the opening of the bunker, but she had no sense to defend herself before he had pitched her through the opening and onto the two piles of empty clothes.
She landed hard on the pavement outside the bunker door.
“Pendleton!” she screeched. “You son of a—!”
A beam of light speared right through her, right through her back, right through her spine.
Pendleton watched in supreme satisfaction as his parasitic ex shrank within her own clothes, squealing all the way, squealing like the money-sucking sow-pig she was, squealing until she was squalling as a baby, and then she was gone too, sucked up into the light.
He shut the door, brushed his hands together as if rubbing off dirt, and then smiled. Life was truly satisfying sometimes, especially if you were the superior man.
He stared over at the line of monitors and spied the small USB thumb drive resting inconspicuously upon a computer table. Honestly, though, he was tired, exhausted all of the sudden, so he’d look at it later.
He took his time to wander back toward a bedroom, grabbed some night clothes made specifically for him from a wooden dresser—this was his bunker after all—and made his way to the shower room. He quickly took a hot shower, dressed in his night clothes, and made his way back to a bedroom where he collapsed in bed, his worries, for the moment, behind him.
He snorted himself awake, looked at the electronic clock on the night stand next to him, and realized that six hours had gone by.
He hopped out of bed, took his time dressing, and then walked back into the main room of his safehouse. It was time for him to activate the feeds.
His technicians had made the mistake of believing the feeds were already supposed to be up, but only he had the activation code for them, as he did not activate the full functions in any of his safehouses until they were completed. Now that all undesirable factors were removed from the equation, it was time to fully activate this bunker.
He sat down at one of his computer desks, booted up the PC, and then typed in the necessary code, a random string of numbers and letters that only he knew, and then he typed in his secondary password, “I AM THE SUPERIOR MAN.”
The feeds over the last twenty-four hours popped up onscreen. Pendleton watched in awe, fascination, and slight horror at the various news reports detailing the end, the end of the human race.
Huge ships had appeared out of the sky, appearing without warning, appearing in spatial blips of warped time and space from out of nowhere. These massive juggernauts were so large that they darkened the skies here and there, and all attempts to stop them had failed.
Fighter jets from every nation had engaged them, and even nuclear missiles had been launched at these invaders, yet the beams of light that exuded from these huge ships eliminated all threats to them. These beams of light disintegrated hostile inorganic material and subsequently de-aged organic material. It had been a slaughter, if babyfying and sucking up people into these ships was considered slaughter.
Honestly, Pendleton had no idea why any race, even an alien one, would use such a strange weapon. Personally, he would have disintegrated the people and left everything else untouched. That would have been the efficient way to acquire resources from an enemy.
Now, of course, there was nothing on any recent feed. There were just empty streets, empty everything, in fact. It appeared that Pendleton had outlasted the human race itself.
“Well, that’s a bummer,” he sighed.
In retrospect, perhaps he shouldn’t have tossed out Patricia. She’d been a little old for reproducing, but at least he could have had some company…If only Dotty hadn’t been hit by that ray…Oh, well. C’est la vie.
But a thought occurred to him. Uwe, the old technician, had mentioned something about a leak in Beijing, and that’s where Pendelton’s energy research facility was located. His team in Beijing was working on para-dimensional energy tapping, and they were supposed to have run a test earlier today…Perhaps that’s where these alien invaders had come from, another universe. They certainly weren’t local.
“What was he talking about?” muttered Pendelton.
He spied the USB thumb drive out of his left peripheral, snatched it up, and popped it into a USB port. He brought up the one and only file on it, a video of something, and then he played it.
At first, he watched in fascination as his Beijing scientists and technicians started up the first test run for his para-dimensional energy generator earlier in the day. His fascination, however, turned to stark concern as the generator produced a blue light that atomized and burned away organic tissue, that sapphire light erupting in a half-sphere, and that half-sphere grew as it consumed some of the staff. It passed through solid structures with ease, creeping outward at a slow and steady pace.
“I fear this is the end,” came Uwe’s voice, a latent recording across the file. “This D-energy will consume the Earth within twelve hours, eradicating all life as we know it. The Beijing facility did not use the new radiation proofing Hartwood Research perfected earlier this year.
“We have only just begun to upgrade our facilities, so only a few of our locations have the necessary protection against this disaster. The generator in Beijing has opened a tear in time and space that has been slowed by what little proofing was in the generator room, and the math shows that this tear in space and time…It has a threshold…I believe this tear will close on its own, but not before the human race has been annihilated, not before the Earth itself is destroyed…Only a miracle will save us now…May God help us all.”
It occurred to Pendleton that the alien invasion had nothing to do with this energy leak. The invasion was something entirely different, but then his superior brain put all of the pieces together, and those pieces led to a perfect picture of distinct horror…The aliens had not been abducting the human race on a massive scale.
No, they had not been slaughtering everyone. In fact, these invaders were not invaders at all. They were good Samaritans that had rescued a dying people destined for sudden extinction. The old bum Pendleton had put two rounds in had said these aliens had been watching the Earth, so the outsiders from space must have decided to save the human race at the last minute, their eleventh-hour good deed.
What that meant, of course, was that Pendleton had been the one and only human being left behind, a poignant fact that was becoming clearer by the second.
“No…” hissed Pendleton as flipped through his dead feeds. “No, no, no, no, no, no, NO!”
He flipped to one of his still active feeds for this city. The aliens were long gone, their ships no longer darkening the skies above.
His heart caught in his throat as he viewed the blue light on the horizon, that hellish azure light that was slowly and steadily turning every living thing on Earth to ash.
Ark Light Copyright © 2022 bloodytwine.com Matthew L. Marlott