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WHNWC The Reapers of the Universe

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posted on Feb, 14 2007 @ 08:27 PM
WHNWC The Reapers of the Universe

He came off the motorway about an hour after leaving the city. The narrow country roads drew him deeper into the landscape as he negotiated their labyrinthine route. Trees crowded the steep banks on either side, arching their branches across the road to bind and spin a sylvan cloistered tunnel. Flashes of sunlight stroked the windscreen as he passed beneath, deepening the frown on his face, his mind full of Maddie. Si had been so thrilled for her. It had been the first competition she’d ever won in her life but as all her friends were quick to point out ‘what a one to win!’ space tourism!

It would have been perfect if Si could have accompanied her but the astro tourists, as the press had dubbed them, were as yet a rare breed and she’d won and he hadn’t. A fortnight before the launch he’d waved her off at the airport as she left for the Kennedy Space Centre to undergo her pre flight training, contenting himself with the thought of her nightly phone calls instead.

Going over to Maddies’ parents on the day of the departure, he sat, wide eyed gazing at the TV along with assorted friends and family as the huge, unwieldy looking craft had defied all his nail biting doubts and soared into the sky trailing flame and glory before shrinking to a small piercing shard and melting into the upper reaches of the atmosphere. The following days were spent by Si being besieged by the worlds press and media; even being interviewed by the BBC. People at home, at work and in bars hovered around TV sets and watched live feeds and interviews. Maddie had her turn waving at the camera and telling them she would see them all soon.

It all ended in reassuringly unspectacular fashion. Friends and relatives of the British winners were hustled into a hospitality room and filmed watching the successful live landing. Within forty eight hours she was walking out of arrivals at Heathrow with the others, her smile warm if a little weary. Si hugged her tightly amidst a mass of embracing bodies and flashing cameras.

It was only once they were back home in their Docklands apartment that Maddie told him about the accident.

Si’s mind wandered aimlessly from the shady road before him, his anxiety reigned in just enough to reflect back on that conversation. Odd that amidst all the flurry of media interest and post flight interviews, the articles and photo shoots that erupted then died out as quickly as they’d begun that this mundane exchange between them in the privacy of the apartment should stick in his mind like an apple pip between the teeth, troubling and evasive but impossible to dislodge.

‘It was no big deal Si.’ Maddie had finally asserted with fond exasperation. ‘One of the waste disposal units suffered a malfunction, a little bit of oxygen leaked out a little bit of space leaked in.’ she shrugged. ‘That was it, no one was affected, the onboard computer automatically shut down and sealed off the unit within 30 seconds.’

‘It’s just….’ Si struggled to verbalize the horrific pictures on a permanent slide reel going through his mind. One hundred variations on the theme of the girl you love dying in space. ‘How things might’ve turned out!’ He finished lamely.
‘Even the ground crew thought it was a minor glitch, barely worth a mention.’ Maddie laughed and threw a cushion at his morose face. ‘You really are making a mountain out of this!’

He supposed she was right, but he just couldn’t shake that rolling heaviness sloshing in his gut like cement. He didn’t recognize it at the time as foreboding.

Then Maddie began to get sick.

The road unfurled suddenly into a sharp curve. He wrenched his mind back to the here and now and concentrated on negotiating the bend, slowing and trying to get a grip on the road and his thoughts. But once safely back on the straight, his mind once more began to skip and leap like a gadfly. Glancing quickly through the side window he spied the sun picking its way carefully through glowing green branches as it lowered to the west. His anxiety flared once more.

It wasn’t that she had become physically ill there was no fever, no rash, no nausea or sweats. She just changed…completely and utterly from the enthusiastic, sunny natured and active girl he had first fallen in love with into someone he barely recognized...

Two weeks on from her arrival home she was lethargic, irritable and moody, hardly finding the energy or inclination to drag herself from bed some days, drifting around the flat like a pale leaden ghost on others. Si would walk into a room to find her staring unseeing at the wall before her, silently mouthing secret words like a catchecism. There were still glimpses of the old Maddie, a weak smile, an affectionate touch here and there but these became more and more infrequent. She made glib excuses to avoid seeing family and friends, she wouldn’t go to work. If he tried to bring up his concerns she reacted with varying degrees of anger ranging from tetchiness to sharp spiteful diatribes.

‘I didn’t realise what a whining little control freak you are Si,’ She sneered one evening. ‘I might have thought twice about living with you otherwise.’

He turned and walked into the bedroom, slamming the door, his patience and concern finally dissolving into anger and frustration. He lay on the bed staring at the ceiling, feeling like a man who’d been enjoying a luxury ocean cruise now hi-jacked by evil pirates. An hour later she opened the door,

‘Si,’ she whispered apologetically.

He looked around, she stood framed in the doorway, eyes pleading wordlessly. He suddenly realised he was seeing the old Maddie reflected there once more, how quickly he’d become duped into accepting the stranger that had lurked in her place these past two weeks.

‘What can I do to help you if you won’t let me in,’ he shrugged helplessly. ‘You’re sick Madds!’

She sighed heavily but nodded. ‘I know! Call the doctor!’

As he walked into the bedroom doctor Maddox, a garrulous, cheerful type, had been unable to fully suppress his dismayed gasp. Si felt an answering shock of empathy realising how she must appear to him, a wan, emaciated wraith, swamped in a housecoat too big for her skeletal frame, her normally lustrous hair hanging down in dark, scurfy strips, sunken eyes, scorched black like those of a refugee from some traumatic conflict, peering beadily from beneath.

The usurper was back. A small, knowing smile played at the edges of her mouth as the doctor visibly pulled himself together and began an easy jovial banter. ‘Swinging the lead again?’ he proclaimed lightly going to the bed and opening his case. ‘Not quite the appropriate thing for a Starship trooper is it. You do realise I had a really hot date tonight that your malingering’s totally screwed up for me.’

Maddie just continued smiling that strange little smile.

As he began a series of routine tests Si left the room . Sitting on the sofa he gazed out through the big glass wall onto the towers of Canary Wharf hanging like giant lanterns in the night sky, caught and copied imperfectly in the glistening, curve of the Thames. In the corner the ansa-phone winked accusingly, full of messages from family and friends which grew in tones of concern and bemusement.

They probably think I’m beating her and keeping her prisoner he thought wryly, rendered weary and helpless, trapped between her duplicity and there concern.

posted on Feb, 14 2007 @ 08:32 PM
Part 2

The doctor tried his best to be reassuring. ‘I’m going to get her into hospital for some tests,’ he said, coming back into the lounge half an hour later. Then, seeing the anxiety leaping in Si’s eyes, laid a steadying hand on his arm. ‘Try not to worry; they’re only to eliminate any other possible causes.’

‘Causes?’ Si uttered shakily. With his minds eye he saw a panoply of gibbering carnival skeletons parading before him baring placards daubed crudely with horrific conditions and diseases.

He nodded. ‘I just want to dot the I’s and cross the T’s first.’

So what do you think it is?

‘Severe clinical depression Si, I think she’s having a breakdown!’

The car emerged smoothly out of the leafy tunnel and onto the crest of a hill burnished by the warm radiance of a late July sun. Below him the Kent country side unfurled lazily like a khaki and gold banner. He was nearly there, later than he intended.

But then he hadn’t even planned on visiting her today had he, couldn’t have envisioned the day turning out like this at all.

He crested the brow and began ascending towards the small enclosed fields clustered haphazardly along the ribbon of road below. A mile beyond, it’s spires peeking above the foaming tree tops was the private hospital, an old Edwardian country residence now renovated and dedicated to the health and well being of those wealthy enough to be able to afford it. Si was determined to give her the best of all treatments.

With all the major tests turning up negative the original prognosis seemed more feasible by the day he had wondered darkly if he were the cause of the problem. At these times he would forcefully chide himself, trying his best to banish his own paranoia. She had a great job, lived in the kind of apartment most people would kill for, was loved by everyone, not least by himself and he had never, not once in all their years together, coerced her at any step of the way. All he could do….all he wanted to do was stand by her and see her though this and get the old Maddie back.

But the old Maddie seemed more distant than ever. Granted since her stay in the hospital she seemed a little better, robust enough even to spend much of her time wandering in the lush landscaped grounds of the hospital but visiting times were an exercise in polite conversation strained by awkward pauses on his part and an almost amused indifference to him on hers. Distant and unconcerned, she viewed him like a familiar, if mildly interfering neighbour. She still insisted that no one else should be told.

‘The less people who know the better!’ She would mutter perfunctorily.

He’d taken to accompanying her on her long walks in the grounds, the activity precluding the need for any attempts at conversation. But yesterday, on an almost perfect early summer evening with the songbirds announcing the final dispatches of the day she’d suddenly turned to him.

‘All this life!’ She declared, in exasperation.

Si blinked, totally bemused. ‘Life?’

Maddie answered him by sucking in a huge lungful of air. She suddenly bent double and coughed as though it were noxious.

Si stepped forward in alarm, reaching for her but she raised a hand to block him, straightening slowly. He continued to hover, unsure what to do. Maddie seemed to pull herself together. ‘It wasn’t like this….’ she hesitated for a moment. ‘Up there!’

‘When you were in space Madds?’ Si responded with clarity.

She swept her hand in a vague arc, indicating the woods and hills beyond. ‘All this life!’ She repeated, almost spitting the last word out. She turned and marched briskly away up the steps and back through the open French door that led from her private room onto the patio.

posted on Feb, 14 2007 @ 08:35 PM
Part 3

‘It’s like she’s psychotic….delusional.’ Si tried to keep the break in his voice from fracturing into a sob. ‘I’m losing her!’

The doctors’ voice purred from the speaker of the phone. ‘Take it easy Si.’

Si imagined him lounging back on his overstuffed chair in his smart surgery, felt a sudden petulant fury. ‘Easy for you to bloody say, it isn’t your girlfriend….or wife.’ He added pedantically.

‘You’re not helping anyone by giving in to fear, least of all yourself.’ He admonished. ‘I agree. I’m more or less convinced it’s a psychological condition she’s suffering from and not a physical one, but I’m sure it’s nothing permanent.’

Si clutched the phone helplessly. Outside the last of the summer day was draining into an indigo sky. Across the river the trees in Greenwich Park rose like a wall of flame in the last of the amber rays, the sounds of late rush hour traffic taunted him through the open window.

The voice in his ear cut through the cacophony.

‘There seems to be such a clear demarcation line between how she was before and after the trip into space that I did a quick bit of research and found there’s a history of mental health problems amongst some former astronauts. It’s not uncommon.’

‘Really?’ Si was suddenly alert.

‘Absolutely, there seems to be a few theories floating about as to why but with the right therapy and treatment most recovered.’

For the first time in weeks Si felt a tentative sense of relief. This dilemma had a precedent, there was a way to make sense of it. ‘So it‘s treatable?’

‘Of course,’ the doctor replied. ‘Now we’re fairly certain it’s not physical, I think it would be best to get her into a small clinic. Somewhere she can receive counselling and medication, get her de-stressed and back on the road to recovery.

For the first time in weeks Si went to bed feeling relaxed. Even if the problems were not over there was a route through them to the other side. Maddie…his Maddie would be back with him one day. He rose and went to work that morning feeling lighter and happier than he had in a long time.

Then that afternoon he received the phone call from the hospital.

The hill was far behind him now, the car hurtled past purple and scarlet streaked meadows before plunging once more into woodland. For a moment he wanted to stop the car, get out and run, to lose himself in the cool green shadows. He was going towards his worst nightmare, the closer he got to the hospital the more his panic rose like bile yet still the idea felt bloated and bellicose, resisting any frame of reference. She can’t die, not Maddie…..not my Maddie…

But the call from the hospital had been unequivocal.
‘She’s slipped into a coma, there’s barely a pulse. We think you should get here as quickly as possible.’

Don’t let her die!

The mantra kept repeating in his mind over and over as he turned off the lane and into the drive leading up to the hospital. The trees crowding the car suddenly fell away like awed acolytes as the grand facade of the building appeared before him. He parked the car awkwardly and sprinted through the doors to the main reception. The thought that he ought to phone here parents battered ineffectually at his consciousness but first he had to find her, prove to himself that there really was nothing he could do to bring her back, no miracle he could conjure from the force of his love for her.

posted on Feb, 14 2007 @ 08:37 PM
Part 4

It was only as he ground to a halt in reception that he realized how quiet and dark the place seemed. The dying evening light flickered outside but failed to penetrate the shadow draped interior. No lights were switched on to compensate nor anyone sitting at the desk to greet him. Squinting in the gloom he took off into an adjacent corridor towards Maddies private room. A vague smell of pot pourri and disinfectant played at his nostrils yet no sounds of activity drifted to his ears save the echoes of his footfalls.

She wasn’t there, the bed was ruffled, unmade as though she’d just got up and left it. Si turned in confusion looking left and right, the corridor stretched away into a secretive gloom, its polished tiled floors transformed every rustle or breeze into conspiring whispers.

Then sharp and distinct he heard a harsh retching cough.

He walked quickly in the direction of the sound, footsteps clattering eagerly, stopping at a doorway to a larger communal ward. A dozen empty beds lay neatly divided on each side of the room, French windows at its end, it too seemed deserted but the last bed on the right had the curtains drawn around it as though for privacy.

Or bereavement!

The thought nudged him awkwardly into the room. Was this her death bed, did they move her here to die? Surely not. His throat felt knotted and leaden with grief. He was so busy concentrating on the end bed he almost fell over the body.

It was the ward sister. She lay sprawled on her stomach head turned to one side between two of the beds, her legs sticking out intrusively into the gangway. Si steadied himself and stared, mouth sagging open, barely believing what he saw. He crouched down, reaching out to her then stopped, catching sight of the visible half of her face, the eye staring sightlessly, the lips grey, the flesh bloodless and withered, almost mummified as though dead for weeks but he recognized her from only yesterday.

He stooped there stupidly for what seemed an eternity, one hand stretched out in frozen assistance then he heard that same harsh cough again, it came from behind the green curtains.

A teasing fear trailed icy fingers along his spine, he stared at the green curtains fixedly, trying to discern shape and form behind them.


Maddie…it’s Maddie! My God she’s come around…she’s ok.

Fear and elation battled within him. He managed to straighten, wrenching his legs from the quicksand of shock to take the last stumbling steps, like a new born calf, towards the end bed. He reached out a trembling hand and pulled the curtain back. He had to get her away from whatever danger lurked here.

He’d expected her to be lying down, groggy and confused, coming around from whatever had caused the mysterious coma; instead she perched on the beds edge, hugging herself, knees drawn up, gnomic and mischievous.

‘I knew you’d come!’ She smiled, an action totally devoid of warmth and humanity, so alien to the real Maddie that he knew, instinctively, that she was gone completely now, this creature resurrected in her place. Still he uttered her name hopelessly like a desperate memorial as the pallid, dead eyed copy gazed at him.

For a few unreal moments they faced each other, he knew the corpse behind him was her handiwork.

‘I suppose you want answers?’ She began. That’s understandable,’ ‘I can tell you what I am but as to why,’ she shrugged, ‘even I can only guess. The nearest approximation I can draw from this girls memories would be a parasite, a virus perhaps…or spores.’ She shook her head. ‘But it’s far more complex than that.’

She turned and looked at a small rose that had been placed in a vase by the bed. ‘So pretty,’ she commented idly. ‘All this life! All the colour and energy. All the air and light and warmth, giving succor, making this planet so fecund…so ripe!’ Reaching out she plucked it from the vase.

‘But up there,’ she raised her eyes briefly as she continued, ‘It’s different, cold, dark barren emptiness. Down here life strives to nurture and proliferate yet more life but up there what is nurtured and brought forth in the void is a different kind of thing…. a thing like me.’ She smiled at him patiently like an adult explaining the nature of things to a child. ‘What we propagate is not life.’

What was once Maddie regarded the flower in her hands, rolling the stem between thumb and finger. ‘We drift across the void ….we‘re patient… something always comes along. Then we get the chance to infect, appropriate…..and finally disseminate.

A little bit of space leaked in. Maddies glib dismissal drifted into his memory like warning acrid smoke.

And something else with it! His barely comprehending mind amended.

He stared unbelieving at the rose as it curled and wilted, the colour and life seeping into a dim, parched facsimile as her voice continued. ‘So many others before your kind, going back to their ripe little pieces of rock, unwittingly carrying us with them. Did you never stop to wonder why your planet is the only oasis in a vastness, a multitude of dead planets, did you think it was always that way. We reached them all, spread death, nurtured it.’ She dropped the flower and raised an arm towards Si, he gave a cry scrabbling backwards like a demented crab.

‘I don’t have to kill you, I can make you like me if you wish, it would take an eternity for just the few who reached here to accomplish the task. We need to make more.’ She laughed skittishly for a moment then her eyes narrowed, spearing into his. ‘Join me, it’s not the future you may have envisaged but at least you’ll be at my side. And when we’re done with this place, these bodies will rot and we’ll drift up through the last gasps of a dying atmosphere and back into space to drift….and wait.

She uncurled her legs and rose from the bed to stand before him. ‘Join me Si!’

Si turned and ran, wailing like a child, his footsteps spinning thunderous echoes through the corridor. He didn’t’ look back, convinced if he did she would be scuttling behind him like a vengeful witch but there was only a thin ribbon of laughter that taunted his heels. In the newly accustomed gloom he spied more bodies, sprawled untidily in side rooms and wards, behind the reception desk and a pair of overcalled legs protruding almost comically from a neat flower bed in the courtyard as he broke out into the dusk and ran for the car.

He spun away with a hissing shower of gravel, gunning the vehicle towards the trees.

[edit on 14-2-2007 by ubermunche]

[edit on 14-2-2007 by ubermunche]

[edit on 14-2-2007 by ubermunche]

[edit on 14-2-2007 by ubermunche]

posted on Feb, 14 2007 @ 08:42 PM
Part 5

She’s mad, it has to be that. She’s mad and she killed those people.

It had to be that.

But he pictured the rose curling and withering in her bone white hand.

Si tried to assert some kind of order to his panic, bring it down to manageable sized pieces. He would phone the police but first he needed to get as far away as possible, that was it once he was through the woods he would stop and phone the police on his mobile.

To try and quell the hysteria in his mind he leant over to flick on the radio, anything to drown out the sounds and visions, only to be met with an answering panic.

….live at the scene. Peter can you tell us what’s happening.

It appears to be some kind of chemical attack, witnesses are talking about multiple casualties, people dropping like flies. An eyewitness in the street where it appeared to have started says she saw a neighbour, one Sergio Brunelli running along the street accosting people after which they seemed to go into some kind of convulsions. It seems he may be disseminating some kind of chemical agent or nuerotoxin

And Peter is this the same Sergio Brunelli who only weeks ago took part in the space flight.

It would appear so Bob and further reports say that some of the victims have recovered and are now joining in the attack as well, we had this from a police radio despatch some minutes ago. The areas now sealed off and armed response units have gone in.

The presenters voice broke in, ‘Sorry to cut in Peter we’re getting reports of more casualties in the Town centre of Norwich and unconfirmed reports of disturbances in other parts of the country now too. Possibly Manchester and Cardiff.’

In a daze Si leant over and flicked the radio off, hadn’t one of the winners come from Manchester, another from Cardiff, how many British winners took part in that flight? Six…seven. How many others from all parts of the globe, how would…..

He let out a cry, braking suddenly as movement erupted in the darkening square of the windscreen.

A blizzard of dried leaves swirled before his eyes, a sharp crack rang out and a branch fell with a splintering thud against the bonnet of the car. Si stared, seeing the rich brown bark peeling away revealing a limb as pale and brittle as old bone lying petrified against the hot metal. A movement at the side of his vision made him jerk his head around. A man in the white coat of a doctor clutched and writhed against the trees trunk, body undulating obscenely as his hands ranged across it’s coarse expense as they would across a lovers body. The man turned his head to meet Si’s gaze, the eyes empty, a fearful smile twisted slackly on his face. More branches cracked and slumped to the ground, browning leaves drifted lazily. For a few moments he could not tear his eyes from the sight of the great oak dying before him. More movements disturbed the dusky shadows amongst the trees, dim figures in night gowns, pyjamas and nurses uniforms, staggering greedily towards trees and bushes, reaching out to touch and bestow their newly acquired gift.

Something thumped against the back window, with a shout Si floored the accelerator and sped onwards, tears gravid with dread springing in his eyes. Coming out from the woodland the car began rising gently as it ascended the hill. Looking in his rear view mirror Si could see the landscape below him, full of life, being swallowed by the darkness as the sun finally set.

[edit on 14-2-2007 by ubermunche]

posted on Feb, 16 2007 @ 12:43 PM
Wow. Really spectacular.

Beautifully written, engaging, creepy.

That is some really good stuff, ubermunche.

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