"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A new episode will be published each week.
1 - Arrival
It was a scene no science fiction comic book or movie could begin to convey. Devin and Dina were too far away to hear the screams, or to see the details of bodies being shredded by the powerful explosions, small body parts themselves becoming deadly missiles that tore into other people nearby. Shattered human bones became projectiles which shattered other human bones in a continuation of the death that was almost cannibalistic.
Buildings and structures were no longer the targets of the fusillade. Instead, the attack had become solely an exercise in extermination.
"While we're down here, maybe a prayer would be in order?" Dina asked, looking hopefully at her husband.
Another series of booms reverberated from the area near the river.
"I've never been much of a praying man," Devin replied. "I'm not even sure where to start. How do you ask God to protect us against aliens?"
"I'm not sure, but I think we need to try," Dina replied.
The couple took a precious moment of silence. Initially, Devin thought the moment might have been better spent running, but quickly fell into a rhythm of his own beseeching plea to a higher power. It was something he had done previously when a different set of explosions was rocking the world around him in the Gan. He was a little ashamed that the only time he bothered to pray had been at times of desperation like this.
When they both opened their eyes, they felt more focused and ready to take on whatever came next.
"Aliens," Dina said, letting the unlikely word tumble off her tongue. She got off her knee and crouched near the wall to get another look at the scene of death unfolding less than two miles away. "This can't be real. Is it possible it's something else? Something manmade?"
"Doubt it," Devin said, scanning the skies for signs that might hint at any other surprises from above. "Firing bombs seems kind of primitive, but we don't have anything even remotely like whatever is making the thing invisible. I don't think any other government has that capability, either. If it weren't for the smoke, I'm not sure we would have seen it at all."
Devin began walking around the perimeter of the round wall, taking in the surrounding scene.
Downtown Kansas City had been destroyed, but in an almost surgical fashion. A neat ribbon of devastation cut through the heart of the city, stretching 12 blocks wide in some sections, but never flaring beyond that. The soldier realized that the floating machine could have sprayed exploding rain across the entire city, but had instead carved out a precise band leading to the river. He also noticed for the first time that, with the exception of the now mangled bridges, none of the bombs had landed on the other side of the river.
He also realized that the explosions had stopped.
"It's moving again," Dina shouted to him.
Devin quickly finished his circuit around the top of the memorial, confirming that the outlying parts of Kansas City seemed untouched, and that no smoke registered from north or south of the bomb-made dividing line. Once back by his wife's side, the couple watched as the five-story hovercraft began moving north along the river's edge.
The quiet turned out to be short lived. As the craft approached a railroad bridge near Interstate 670, two explosions erupted in quick succession. Seconds later, a different sound could be heard as large sections of the bridge collapsed into the water below. Before the water had stopped churning, three more booms rocked the water's edge, and more than half of the interstate bridge joined the railroad bridge in the Missouri River.
"It's cutting off access," Devon noted.
"Keeping people in, or keeping help out?" Dina asked.
"Could be both, but from the way it herded then killed those people in the first round, my gut says it's to keep people in," Devin answered.
After being back from combat only a year, he was surprised at how quickly all of his training had returned, and he had gone from thinking like a husband to thinking like a soldier. He also came to another realization: without receiving government notification or official paperwork, the enemy had just called him back into active duty.
Devin pulled out his cell phone. No bars.
"Wherever it's from, it's following the standard warfare playbook," Devin said. "Cut electricity, cut communications, cut transportations routes. Classic command and control."
"So how do you defeat that?" Dina asked. She had remained strong throughout the attack, but time and the dissipation of adrenaline had allowed common sense and normal fear reflexes to return.
"I imagine when we rolled into some of the remote villages in Afghanistan, the villagers seeing our tanks and Apaches and drones felt a lot like we do now," Devin said. "Yet, even with our satellites and superior technology, war continues there."
It was as close as Devin would ever get to making a political statement about the war in which he served to anyone who wasn't wearing the uniform. But in one way, he realized that the woman beside him was now his only battle buddy.
"Guerilla warfare," Dina almost whispered.
Dina looked at the craft as it continued to move away, hugging the contour of the river as it worked its way along the perimeter of the city. Another series of booms announced that the machine had taken out the Central Avenue Bridge. Devin pulled the map from his pocket, the same one that had helped save them when the attack began.
"Unless I miss my guess, the next two salvos you hear will be the James Street Bridge and the twin spans for I-70," Devin said.
"Between the smoke and the distance, it's getting harder to see," Dina said.
"Okay, we've done our reconnaissance," Devin said. "Time to find a safe place to analyze it. And to start making some plans."
The couple headed back to the inside of the tower and the stairs. As always, it was faster going down than up.
"So, do we go back inside with Myron, or do we find another place?" Dina asked as they continued down the staircase.
"For now, we need all the help we can get," Devin said. "Even if it's Myron. He may not be much use in a fight, but insurgencies need different kinds of resources. Information is a big one, and right now he's 411 for us. It's his town. He's also surrounded eight hours a day by military history. That has to have some value."
While muffled by the thick walls, the descending couple heard a trio of explosions.
"James Street," Dina said.
Devin nodded behind her.
"First thing we need to do is try to get more information, the kind that goes beyond what we can see," Devin said. "Is this an isolated attack, or is it happening in other parts of the country."
"Or other parts of the world," Dina continued. "Maybe we can find a radio."
"In the digital age of iPods and streaming video?" Devin answered. "Good luck with that."
The booms this time sounded like the finale at a fourth of July fireworks display, an ongoing refrain of explosions.
"I-70 bridges," Dina said, reaching the landing.
Joining her at the bottom of the steps, Devin nodded again.
Once outside, they hurried down the steps and scampered back to the front doors of the museum. Devin continued scanning the pockmarked lawn, partly in hopes of seeing other survivors to team up with, and partly to ensure that no other surprises were on their way. Looking at the smoke rising to the east, he thought he saw the shimmer of a reflection, but couldn't pinpoint anything.
"Great, now I'm starting to see things," Devin thought to himself.
Both of them pounded on the front door. Unlike the last time, when seconds ticked away like their own independent little eternities, Myron was on the job and opened the door quickly to let Devin and Dina inside, then closed it just as quickly.
"Do you have a radio in your office?" Devin asked as he headed into the main part of the museum.
"No, my boss forbids anyone from playing radios in the museum," Myron said. "Even visitors."
Being isolated without communications meant not knowing what was going on around them or whether there would be any help arriving. They were cut off.
"Okay, let's start with the basics. For shelter, I think we'll be okay in here for a while. The building looks sturdy," Devin said.
it is," Myron said, looking around the room as if he had personally laid
every stone. "The foundation is granite and the walls are Kasota stone,
12 inches thick. It was built back in the twenties, when they knew how to
build things to last."
"I don't think so," Devin answered. "For starters, it's not a population center. Right now, concentrations of combatants will be the primary targets. The destruction of monuments will come later, when they're trying to break our spirit. So we have time, although probably not a lot. After shelter comes food. Myron, any rations here? Candy machines? Snacks in a break room? Anything?"
"We used to have vending machines, but-"
"Your boss. I get it," Devin finished for him. "Okay, closest place for food. Where would that be? Where would your co-workers go for lunch?"
"Well," Myron began, "I always brought my lunch. In fact, I still have it, if anybody is interested. Just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some chips, and a banana. As far as places to eat, there's a pizza place over on Grand Boulevard, and a little eatery next to it that does hamburgers and hot dogs. Of course, with the electric out, they probably aren't open."
Devin pulled out his map and spread it on the counter. Taking one of the souvenir pens from the nearby rack, a move which Myron started to protest, he began to make marks identifying the museum, then the probable food locations on Grand Boulevard. He ignored Myron's last remark, knowing it wasn't a lack of electricity that would be forcing "Closed" signs in windows all over the city today. If this went the way he feared, it would probably be a while before those signs were turned back around again.
A distant rumble drifted through the thick walls, signaling the hovercraft had found another target.
"Broadway Bridge," Devin said quietly, checking the north end of the map. "Next will be the Heart of America Bridge."
But the next sound they heard wasn't another explosion. Instead, it was a new kind of noise, followed by a distinctly different boom.
A sonic boom.
"Jets," Devin said, dropping the map and racing to the front doors, followed by Dina and Myron.
While Myron stayed back, holding the door open while peering at the sky, Devin and Dina stepped into the now-overcast day. Overhead, a lone black airplane shaped like a bat had already flown through the center of the city and beyond to the west, and was banking around to the north.
"B2," Devin said. "From Whiteman Air Force Base."
As it looped around and began heading south toward the downtown area, the bomb bay opened and a rotary rack descended from the plane's belly. As soon as it was locked, two missiles ignited and erupted from the rack, headed toward the mostly invisible hovercraft still winding along the Missouri River north of the downtown area. The first missile found what Devin could only assume was the dead center of the tall cylindrical craft. The resulting explosion was small compared to those that the machine had fired on the downtown area, but seemed to have an effect. The hovercraft immediately stopped its forward motion, and dropped suddenly. It remained upright as it settled on a flat area in the Berkley Riverfront Park.
While the menacing alien craft seemed to go dead, the very manmade second missile continued flying, missing its intended target and continuing south.
"Back inside!" Devin yelled, turning and pushing his wife ahead of him toward the museum entrance.
They were still outside when the 500 pound bomb hit the field. A deafening explosion sent dirt and deadly shrapnel in every direction, including toward the nearby trio who were scrambling for their lives.Unfortunately, when the noise and remnants of the bomb stopped, one of those lives was over.