The Swarm

The swarm got us at 24th and 10th. The taxi started overheating right after I plowed through a barricade on 12th and punctured the radiator. It steadily lost power and then I knew we’d never get to the tunnel. It stalled out on 23rd, rolling to a stop against a dead raccoon. I checked the rear view mirror and gauged the distance to see if we had any hope of proofing out the cab, but they were too close. I told Elissa and Frankie to stay put, popped the trunk, and got out.

The swarm-sound hit me immediately, tickling my inner ear and making me want to cough. The first tendrils of cloud were already at 19th, foaming brick and slumping glass in bizarre whip-marks. The asphalt boiled and re-congealed as the cloud passed over. I pulled the backpack on, struggling against the weight of the batteries, buckling the harness across my chest. It was down to about a quarter charge, but that didn’t matter at this point. I picked up the disruptor and plugged it in. The capacitor ran up with a whine, and the cloud noticed.

“Let’s go!” I said, slamming the hood shut. Elissa and Frankie jumped out, Frankie with a .357 in hand. It wouldn’t do a thing. We headed north at a dead sprint. I would have had trouble keeping up, but they were both weak from so many days without food, and I was used to the weight. I heard the cab foam out before we even made it half a block – steel has a peculiar high-pitched ring to it, like Rice Krispies sped up, although instead of milk it’s mercury. The cloud barely paused to suck the cab dry and then the burble of the asphalt started getting closer. I spun and saw the leading edge of the cloud not three feet from me. I triggered the disruptor at point blank range.

The cloud scattered, soundlessly, the magnetic pulse not even popping any streetlights. The capacitor started to run back up and we kept running. We made it all of a dozen yards before we pulled up short. Cloud was boiling out of the sewer grate at 24th. It filled the intersection in seconds, weirding the traffic signal so it made a wet sort of noise when it hit the street. The capacitor needed a second or two more, but before that the cloud hit us.

Everything went white, like being inside an illuminated fog-bank. I heard Frankie get off a protest shot and a fluttering noise as the bullet spiraled out and dissipated. Just more energy.

Elissa’s silhouette grew vague and faded into the mist. I hit the actuator on the disruptor, but the juice wasn’t there and it just made an empty spot in the cloud for a second. The batteries were proofed, but we hadn’t figured a way to cover the connector and I had never found time to hard-wire the thing, so that was the only shot I got off. I took a deep breath, hoping it would be quicker that way.

It went for my fillings first.

–Steve Kilian
More Cloud Battles
Little Known Facts About Lincoln

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