CLOUD SHADOWS OF MIDNIGHT
By Atonia and Jo
Jo writing: Maximus, Caroline, Bud, Marie, Lachlan, Cort, Daisy, Ben, Mae, Rusty, George, Lucilla, Robin,
Jack Knife (Col. John Wales), Jeffrey, Julie, Javert, East, Egan, Jack Corbett, Zack, Jim, Nash, Charles, Steve, Monroe,
Dolly, Ardith, Parcher, Merry Men, Hank, O'Hara, Eve'lyn, Kate, Randolph, Sid, Sidda, Liz, Georgie, Glen, Noah, Glinda,
Muriel, Randolph Martin, Tom Golightly, Joshua Connor
Atonia writing: Terry, Dee, Alex, Linda, Jack, Tarwyn, John Biebe, Bethany, Max, Sophia, Dino, Anne, Hando, John
Cristofuoro, Richie, Cal, John Brennan, Colin, Andy, Ed, Nicholas, Arthur, Johnny, Jeff, Kim, Sean, Dennis, Mel,
Sandra, Carol, Dylan, Pat, Brenda, Kristen, Darren Lincoln, Stephen Maturin, Killick, Ray, Jor-El, Nan, Klara, Dennis,
Carlos, Dug, Ronny, Penny, Jannie, Jordan, Pearly, Jay Wilson, T. R. Holden
“Jor-El, I’m not sure we’re gonna…” Richie couldn’t finish. He was out of air.
Jor-El was aware of the lack of oxygen. His only reaction was to increase the speed to the max. The curve of the earth was gone now as he descended into the skies over Texas. He depended on his instruments to guide him home. “Soon,” he replied.
Ed had picked up on the ship some time ago. Still not completely convinced it was Jor-El, he got a fierce-looking weapon from a closet and headed outside with Carol.
“It’s coming in,” Ed said. He had a visual on it then lost it in a cloud. Though the air was crisp and cold he felt sweat trickling down his back.
“Ed, what if it’s not who you think it is?”
Ed patted the weapon. “Then I’ll deal with it. You…you run, Carol. Run into the forest."
Carol swallowed hard. “How would Zod know to come here?”
“It’s where Jor-El launched from. The path is in his computerized guidance system.”
Percival didn't know whether to be discouraged or pleased. While so many of his subjects were gone for good, there was footage galore of Jor-El from the airport, not to mention Colin dressed as Superman, along with several others. How would the so-called family ever explain what had been recorded, what had been seen by so many on their televisions?
In Terry’s room, John and Terry had ceased conversation. Eyes glued to the TV screen.
“Was that an alpaca?” John said, standing up. “I swear it was…long necked thing running across the field.”
Terry sat up straight. “That’s north, north of the airport, not the westlands.”
“Somebody needs to get out there,” John said. “Unless that helicopter is lost…which it is not. What do you reckon this means?”
Bud was scrubbing a hand across his face...hard. "I wish I knew the fuck what it means," he sighed. He turned toward Marie. "What do you think, honey?"
"I'm so confused right now I don't know what to think. It's just...it's just...what that helicopter flew over it looks...it looks so much like..."
"It can't be, honey. You saw the earlier pictures on the news same as I did. The westlands was gone. Nothing was left."
John shook his head. “I know but that sure looked like Cort and Ben’s place. What we’ve been seeing from the reports so far of the westlands, it’s all flat. This is rolling countryside just like…like it was.”
"You are right, John," Eugene nodded. Without another word, he turned toward the door.
"Where are you going?" Eve'lyn called.
He paused in the hall. "Where that helicopter was."
"Not without me," she said, following him. Joshua felt like he needed to stay with Eugene so hurried after him as well.
"What's going on?" George looked up.
"I saw the pink house...Caroline's garden. I've got to go."
"North of the airport. It's there, Dr. Canfield. I know it is."
Ardith's face shown with sudden hope. "You think...?"
"I do think," Eugene nodded. "I have no idea how but I do know what I saw, and it was Caroline's gardens around the pink house."
"John saw some alpaca," Eve'lyn added.
"Good Lord!" George gasped. "But...but..."
"I know, Doctor," Eugene added. "I know all too well. But it's there, somehow it's there. Not where it was before but it's there north of the airport."
George leapt to his feet. "I'm coming. They might...they...I'm coming."
John Cristofuoro had just passed Ashgrove when he got a call from Nick.
“I thought you should know that a group has left the hospital heading northwest. From footage we’ve seen broadcast from a news helicopter, the westlands is now almost the northlands.”
“What, what the hell are you talking about, Nick?”
“What I’m saying is, we saw the homes of Cort, Maximus and Ben Wade on TV. I can’t explain it, John. All I’m saying is, something strange has happened.”
“Northwest? What highway is that?”
“It was hard to tell from the short video we saw. They did cross over a major highway. Could be 424.”
“What we need is a helicopter.”
“Can’t provide that, Lieutenant. Use your best judgment.”
“Where were the folks going that left the hospital?”
“All I know is ‘north’, sorry.”
John ended the call and looked over at Hando. “You were right, Hando. You hadn’t been to the westlands that we just visited. It seems they’ve moved.”
Hando chuckled. “I’m not surprised at anything.”
Soon a caravan of vehicles was leaving the hospital's parking areas, all headed toward the airport then up the road north along the western side of it. George's car, with Ardith and Steve also inside, was in the lead. Speed limits were not on George's mind and no one stopped them, the police being still too busy at the airport and other areas involved in the destruction.
"There!" Ardith called. "That's the road that leads off to Lachlan's airfield. My God, George, I can see the buildings at the field. I can see them!"
George had his jaw clamped, bypassing the turn off to the airfield and going just a little further to the lane that led to Cort's house. "The barn," he said under his breath. Off to the left of the lane sat Cort's big barn. His head swiveled to the right. The big Victorian was there as was the smaller house that now belonged to Lachlan and Georgie. He was holding his breath, not even noticing he was.
A number of cars were parked close by and George recognized Rusty's car as well as Ben's and the station wagon Caroline and Maximus used. There were a couple of other cars he didn't know. He pulled up beside the station wagon, hopping out just as Eugene pulled in behind him, followed by several other cars. He was aware of the sound of many car doors slamming. A sudden dizziness took him and it was then he noticed he wasn't breathing. Gulping in a lungful of air, he dashed past the parked cars to where he could see the yard.
"Maximus," he hissed.
The general lay on the grass, Caroline and Angel cradled protectively in his arms. Beyond them were other clumps of people. Oh, God...were they dead? No one was moving.
"Maximus!" he called loudly then fell to his knees beside the general. Quickly he felt for a pulse and tears sprang into his eyes when he found one. Looking briefly up, he saw that Ardith was kneeling beside Lachlan, George, and Welland. "Are they alive?" he called.
She nodded yes, managing a shaky smile.
Jor-El cut the power and the little ship appeared to float, to descend gently, hover above the landing pad a moment and then set down.
Ed kept well back with the weapon pointed at the ship. It was Jor-El’s all right but he was waiting for the hatch to open before he dared send up a cheer.
Jor-El shut everything down, sprung the hatch and then turned to look behind him. A pile of humanity, all of it limp. He jumped out of the ship and saw Ed dropping a weapon and running towards him.
“Jor-El, are you all right?”
“I am fine but I am afraid our brothers are not.”
Ed came to the side of the ship and looked inside. “What’s wrong with them…alive?”
“Yes, alive, I will carry them inside if you will help with the doors.”
He made three trips and lay his brothers out in the rotunda of the observatory. He went over them with his x-ray vision and could detect no injuries. “Lack of oxygen.”
“Ed stood by, wringing his hands. “Hospital, we should get them to the hospital. Everyone’s been gathering there all day.”
“You have a vehicle here. I will put them inside and you and your lady can take it from there.”
“Jor-El, we’ve lost the westlanders. Nothing out there, houses gone, land flattened, brothers and their families…obliterated. It was the World Machine that set down out there.”
“Aiyee,” Jor-El said. He was truly distressed. “Klara?”
“At the hospital. She’s okay.”
Carol already had her vehicle running. “Let’s get these boys loaded up. I got my heater going.”
Bud had been running and skidded to a halt, almost colliding with Eugene, who was crouched beside Cort. "They...they...?"
"Alive," Eugene managed, barely able to talk.
Bud felt himself grabbed and shook his head, trying to clear his blurred vision. It was John, a huge smile on his face, who'd grabbed him in a bear hug.
“They're alive!” John cried, hugging Bud.
"What's the matter with them?" Zack asked practically. "Why are they...?"
George was going from person to person, checking for pulses. "I don't know, Zack. Something happened here." He frowned. How obvious that was and he felt stupid he'd said it. "The westlands...they...they've been...moved."
"Moved?" Steve repeated. "Who could move acres and acres of land and why would they do it?"
Ed ran into the emergency room to find someone to come and take care of Big Jack, Richie and Colin. Carol stayed with the car until the gurneys had been dispatched and the men taken in. She parked and tried to find Ed.
Ed went up to the 6th floor to break the news to his brothers. He came upon Jack Aubrey and Stephen.
“Jor-El’s back. I just brought Big Jack, Colin, and Richie in. They passed out, no injuries just a lack of oxygen.”
“George isn’t here, Ed. He’s gone out to, well, we thought we saw the westlands in a different place. I mean as though it were moved north of the airport. They’ve gone to investigate.”
Ed rubbed his temples. “None of that makes any sense. Jor-El’s gone up to check things out. Hit him pretty hard about the westlanders.”
Stephen put down the coffee cup he had been drinking from. “I’m going downstairs to emergency.”
Jack nodded. “There’s some hope, Ed, for the others.”
“God, I hope so. What a day this has been.”
Others began crowding around him for news. Some went downstairs to see about the three in emergency.
Alex came over. “I hope somebody thought to get Colin out of that Superman outfit.”
Ed blinked. “There wasn’t time, Alex.”
“Whoo boy, that oughta attract some interest in emergency.”
Cal heard him. “I’m going down and see if I can run some interference. All we need is some guy from a national network to stumble upon him. Poor fellow’s had enough excitement for one day.” Colin had hit the major news outfits already. Some explanation was going to have to be forthcoming.
Blue had been watching over Glinda and the others. "Now?" she asked Ariel. "Can you release them now?"
"Sufficient time has passed," he agreed. The translocation would have been too much for them to bear so he'd put them all in a state of suspended animation.
Cort sucked in a long, gasping breath and sat abruptly up, his head almost impacting that of Eugene's, who was bending over him. He wiped a hand over his eyes, blinked slowly, waiting for his vision to clear but feeling hands gripping his shoulders.
"Cort!" a voice said near his ear.
"It's me, Eugene."
"What? Why...why are you here?"
"You don't know?"
"I don't know what?" His gaze moved from Eugene's face to movement at his side where Daisy was just sitting up. "Daisy? What...what happened? Are you ok, darlin'?"
She looked at him, confused, but nodded. He became aware of a weight across his legs. "Glinda!" He grabbed her, pulling her to his chest.
"It's ok, little darlin'. You're ok. Daddy's got you." His eyes sought Eugene's again. "What's goin' on?"
"The westlands, they've been moved."
"That makes no sense." He shook his still somewhat foggy head and looked toward his house. It was exactly the same as it had always been. But then he smiled as he felt Glinda's arms go around his neck and Daisy grip his left arm. Only then did he become aware of how populated his yard had become. "What...what's everyone doin' out here?"
All across the lawn those who had come for New Year's were waking up and various of the new arrivals were crouched beside them.
Jor-El flew over the westlands, high enough he wouldn’t be spotted. He was aware of the public exposure at the airport. He hoped to sink back into obscurity after this crisis was over. The land below him was flat with damage done by the World Machine. He could not discern that any human habitation had been recently obliterated. It puzzled him. A second pass over the area and he headed back towards the hospital. His hearing picked up a conversation in a speeding vehicle. It was John Cristofuoro and Hando. He followed them as they turned off, heading northwest.
Noah lay a little to one side by himself. As he became aware again, he folded his arms across his face. Something had happened, something big. He had no idea what but after what had already happened to him, being snatched so suddenly from everything he knew, he was afraid to look and see where he might be now. Feeling a hand rest on his arm, he sighed. "Who?"
"It's me, Bud White. You're all right, Noah."
"Bud?" He couldn't seem to remember who Bud was.
"Yeah, Bud, one of your younger brothers."
Noah let his arms drop, staring up at Bud, recognizing the face. "You're here?"
"I'm here," Bud smiled.
"Where...where is here?"
"Cort's front yard."
Noah sighed heavily and let his eyes close again. He'd had some vague hope he might be back where he belonged. "Cort's, yes." At least he hadn't been sent off to some even more alien place.
Stephen Maturin stood by with his hands behind his back watching the emergency room staff attach an IV to Big Jack. Of the three, he was the only one who had yet to regain consciousness. In the bay next to him Richie was sitting up on the side of his bed. He said he felt fine except for a headache. The emergency room doctor wasn’t about to let him go yet.
Andy and Jeff were beside Colin’s bed. He was receiving oxygen and listening to what his brothers had to say about his performance as Superman.
“It was a brave thing to do, Colin,” Andy said. “Stupid but brave.”
“When you can talk we want to hear all about what you saw and what happened.”
Colin closed his eyes for a moment. “We beat ‘em."
“Yeah, I’d say so, mate, sent them back through the hole they came out of,” Jeff said, touching Colin’s arm. “We’re glad you survived it all.”
“It looks like we’ve all survived it,” Andy began. “We got a text from John Biebe. The westlanders have been moved, lock stock and barrel to the north of the airport. They’re all alive.”
Colin frowned, not understanding.
“The World Machine, Colin, it set down in the westlands and what we could see on TV showed complete destruction. We thought they were all dead,” Andy explained.
Colin closed his eyes. He was tired but not too tired. Kristen came into the bay and took his hand. She kissed him lightly on the forehead. “Hey, you…Superman.”
"Angel," Maximus was saying, holding his baby out toward George. "Please, doctor, be sure she is well."
George took the tiny girl in his hands. She smiled up at him and he checked her quickly. "She's fine, Maximus."
"Gods be thanked," Maximus sighed. Caroline was leaning against him and George handed the child back to him. "Were we attacked?"
"Yes, in a manner of speaking," George replied, going on to explain about the World Machine.
"We saw it coming," Maximus said, "but there was nothing we could do." He looked around the yard. "It would seem to have halted its progress before getting to us."
Maximus looked curiously at George. "Is all not as it was?"
"It is as it was, yes," George said, "but not in the same place."
"I...I do not understand."
George explained further and Maximus shook his head. "How can that be? What could accomplish such a thing?"
"Well, it wasn't Sid, that's for sure." George looked over to where Glen was surrounded by those he lived with.
"Jor-El? Could Jor-El have managed this?"
"Jor-El was otherwise occupied," George said. "Very occupied." And he told Maximus some of that.
"I have no idea, General, but if it hadn't been done, all of you would now be very dead."
John Cristofuoro stopped his car at the end of a row of cars. The yard appeared to be full of cars and people. He hopped out with Hando on his heels and ran up to Biebe. “What happened here?”
“Nobody knows, Lieutenant. They’re all alive and have just started waking up. Like they were put to sleep and the whole compound was moved here.”
“That’s just not possible.”
“Well, what can I say?” Biebe shrugged. “You can’t deny what you see.”
Above, Jor-El circled around making sure everything was had it had been out west. It was all intact. He then lightly set down in the yard. He didn’t understand it, how it had been done. Looking up at the skies he became aware of something he’d not felt before. He wasn’t the only alien life form around.
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