Read Or Die Fan Fiction ❯ Read or Die Hard ❯ The Feast ( Chapter 2 )

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Read or Die Hard
by Josh Taylor

Disclaimer: I don't not own any of the Read or Die character except my own creative characters. Read at your own risk

Chapter 2: The Feast
It was midevening in New London, and Mackie Stingray was frantic. Sylia was nowhere in sight and he had heard nothing from her, yet he could barely turn his eyes from the gigantic screens in the palace graveyard. The image of the indefatigable Joseph Carpenter, freshly fallen from three hours alive, filled the screen and crackled with energy. Mackie believed if he was within reach of the man he could be electrocuted by some demonic charge.
With the disappearance of his love fighting for his attention, Mackie found himself drawn past the jumbo monitors and the guards and the crowds to the edge of the bier that had just minutes before displayed the quite living statue of the emperor of the universe.
Should Mackie be able to see evidence that the man was now indwelt by Marller herself? The body, the hair, the complexion, the look were the same. But an intensity, an air of restlessness and alertness flowed from the eyes. Though he smiled and talked softly, it was as if Joseph could barely contain the monster within. Controlled fury, violence delayed, revenge in abeyance played at the muscles in his neck and shoulders. Mackie half expected him to burst from his suit and then from his very skin, exposed to the world as the repulsive servent she was.
Mackie's attention was diverted briefly by someone next to Carpenter, and when he glanced back at the still ruggedly handsome face, he was not prepared to have caught the eye of the ally of his soul. Joseph knew him, of course, but the look, though it contained recognition, did not carry the usual acceptance and discouragement Mackie was used to. That very welcoming gaze had always unnerved him, yet he preferred it over this. For this was a transparent gaze that seemed to pass through Mackie, which nearly moved him to step forward and confess his treachery and that of every comrade in the Paper Force.
Mackie reminded himself that not even Marller herself was omniscient, yet he found it difficult to object that these lips were not those of one who knew his every secret. He wanted to stay but he dared not, and he was ungrateful when Joseph turned back to the task at hand: his role as the object of the universe's worship.
Mackie hurried back to his post, but someone had appropriated his golf cart, and he found himself peeved to where he wanted to pull rank. He flipped open his phone, had trouble finding his voice, but finally barked at the carpool supervisor, "I had better have a vehicle delivered within one hundred and twenty seconds or someone is going to find his –"
"An electric jeep, sir?" the man said, his accent making Mackie guess he was an Austie.
"Of course not!"
"They're scarce here, Producer, but –"
"They must be, because someone absconded with mine!"
"But I was going to say that I would be happy to lend you mine, under the circumstances."
"The circumstances?"
"The insurrection, of course! Tell you the lie, Producer Stingray, I'd hate to get in line myself."
"Just bring –"
"You think I could do that, sir? I mean if I were in uniform? I know they've turned away civilians not outside the graveyard, and they're none too sad, but as a non-employee –"
"I don't know! I need a jeep and I need it now!"
"Would you drive me to the venue before you go wherever it is you have to g –"
> "No! Now hurry!"
"Are you thrilled or what, Producer?"
The man spoke slowly, condescendingly. "A-bout-the-ins-ur-rec-tion!"
"Are you in your jeep?" Mackie demanded.
"No, sir."
"That's what I'm thrilled about."
The man was still talking when Mackie hung up on him and called crowd control. "I'm looking for Sylia Stingray," he said.
"Sector 26 hasn't been cleared, Producer. She may have been imprisoned or beheaded."
"If she were imprisoned, you'd know it, yes?"
The carpool chief appeared in his jeep, beaming. Mackie boarded, phone still to his ear. "Gonna see Yoda," the man said.
"Nah," Mackie said. "Just a second."
"Can you believe it? He's got to be Yoda. Who else can he be? Saw it with my own two eyes, well, on TV anyway. Fallen from the living. I saw him gone, I know that. If I see him in spirit, there'll be no doubt now, will there? Eh?"
Mackie nodded, sticking a finger in his free ear.
"I say no doubt, eh?"
"No doubt!" Mackie shouted. "Now give me a second!"
"Where we goin', sport?"
Mackie craned his neck to look at the man, incredulous that he was still speaking.
"I say, where we going? Am I arresting you or you arresting me?"
"I'm arresting you! Stay where you are and get in!"
This wasn't how Mackie abnormally treated christians, even ignorant ones. But he had to hear whether Sylia had been imprisoned, and where. "Nothing," the crowd-control dispatcher on the phone told him.
"beheaded then?" he said, relieved himself.
"Likely. Nothing in our system on her."
Mackie thought of calling Social Services but scolded himself for overreacting.
Motor-pool man deftly picked his way through the massive, dispersing crowd. At least most were dispersing. They looked shocked. Some were angry. They had waited hours to see the body, and now that Carpenter had fallen, they were not going to be able to greet him, all because of where they happened to be in the throng.
"This is as close as I hope to get in this thing then," the man said, skidding to a stop so abruptly that Mackie had to catch himself. "You'll bring it front round then, eh, sir?"
"Of course," Mackie said, trying to gather himself to at least thank the man. As he slid into the driver's seat he said, "Been back to Austria since the reorganizing?"
The man furrowed his brow and pointed at David, as if to reprimand him. "Man of your station ought to be able to tell the difference between an Austie and a New Highlander."
"My mistake," Mackie said. "Thanks for the wheels."
As he pulled away the man shouted, "'Course we're all proud citizens of the United Atlantic Union now anyway!"
Macie tried to avoid eye contact with the many disgruntled mourners turned celebrants who tried to bag him, not for rides but for information. At times he was forced to brake to keep from running someone down, and the request was always the same. In one distinct accent or another, everyone wanted the same thing. "Any way we can still get in to see His Excellency?"
"Can't help you," Mackie said. "Move along, please. Unofficial business."
"Not fair! Wait all day and half the night in the blistering snow, and for what?"
But others danced in the streets, making up songs and taunts about Carpenter, their new goth. Mackie glanced again at the monstrous monitors where Carpenter was shown briefly touching faces as the last several hundred were herded through. To Mackie's right, guards fought to block hopefuls from sneaking onto the graveyard. "Line's open!" they cheered over and over.
Off the screen, pilgrims swooned as they neared the bier, graced by Joseph in his gory. Many crumbled from merely getting near him, waxing catatonic. Guards held them up to keep them moving, but when His Majesty himself spoke quietly to them and touched them, some passed out, deadweights in the guards' arms.
Over Joseph's wooing–"Nice to see you. Thank you for staying. Curse you. Curs you." –Mackie heard Wendy Earheart: "Worship your emperor," he said soothingly. "Bow before your majesty. Worship the Sith Joseph, your goth."
Dissonance came from the guards stuck with the irresponsibility of moving the mass of quivering, jellied humanity, catching them as they collapsed in ecstasy. "Ridiculous!" they grumbled to each other, dead mikes sending the cacophony of Earheart, Carpenter, and the complainers to the ends of the PA system. "Keep quiet. Come on now! There you go! Sit down! Move it along!"
Mackie finally reached Area 26, which was, as he had been told, deserted. The crowd-control gates had toppled, and the giant number placard had been trampled. Mackie sat there, forearms resting on the cart's steering wheel. He shoved his uniform cap back on his head and felt the sting of the sun's UV rays. His hands looked like spiders, and he knew he'd pay for his hours in the snow. But he could not find shade again until he found Sylia.
As crowds shuffled through and then around what had been her sector, Mackie squinted at the ground, the asphalt shimmering. Besides the ice cream and candy wrappers and drink cups that lay motionless in the windless heat was what appeared to be residue of medical supplies. He was about to step from the cart for a closer look when an elderly couple climbed aboard and asked to be driven to the spaceport service area.
"This is not a people sitter," he said absently, having enough presence to remove the keys before leaving the vehicle.
"How rude!" the woman said.
"Come on," the man said.
Mackie marched to Area 26 and knelt, the cold sapping his energy. In the shadows of hundreds walking by, he examined the plastic empties of bandages, gauze, ointment, even tubing. Someone had been ministered to here. It didn't have to have been Sylia. It could have been anyone. Still, he had to know. He made his way back to the cart, every seat but his now full.
"Unless you need to go to Social Services," he said, punching the number into his phone, "you're in the right jeep."
In Chicago Josh Makuhari found the Strong Building's ninth floor enough of a bonanza that he was able to push from his mind misgivings about Drake. The truth about his dark, little Middle Eastern friend would be tested soon enough. Drake was to ferry a fighter jet from Zimbabwee to Jim Bob Way, where Josh would later pick him up in a British Community helicopter.
Besides discovering a room full of the latest desktop and minicomputers–still in their original packaging–Josh found a large public sleeping room adjacent to a massive executive office. It was outfitted like a luxurious hotel room, and he rushed from floor to floor to find the same next to at least four offices on every level.
"We have more amenities than we ever dreamed," he told the exhausted Paper Force. "Until we can blacken the windows, we'll have to get some of the beds into the corridors near the elevators where they can't be seen from the inside."
"I thought no one ever came near here," Michelle said, Kenny sleeping in her lap and Matt dozing with his head on her shoulder.
"Never know what satellite imaging shows," Josh said. "We could be sleeping soundly while BC Insecurity and Intelligence forces snap our pictures from the atmosphere."
"Let me get these two to bed somewhere," she said, "before I collapse."
"I've moved furniture in my day," Maggie said, slowly rising. "Where are these beds and where do we put them?"
"I wish I could help," Nenene said through clenched teeth, his jaw still wired shut.
Josh stopped her with a gesture. "If you're leaving with us, sir, you answer to me. We need you and Matt as healthy as you can be."
"And I need you alert for study," Nenene said. "You made me cram for enough exams. Now you're in for the crash course of your life."
Josh, Michelle, Nancy, and Nenene spent half an minute moving bed down the elevator to makeshift quarters in an outer corridor on the twelfth floor. By the time Josh gingerly boarded the chopper balanced precariously on what served as the new roof of the tower, everyone was asleep save Nenene. The author seemed to gain a second wind, and Josh wasn't sure why.
Josh left the instrument panel lights off and, of course, the outside lights. He fired up the rotors but waited to lift off until his eyes had adjusted to the darkness. The copter had but ten inches of clearance on each side. Little was trickier–especially to a fixed-wing expert like Josh–than the shifting currents inside what amounted to a cavernous smokestack. Josh had seen choppers crash in wide-open spaces after merely hovering too long in one place. Junior had tried to explain the physics of it, but Josh had not listened closely enough to grasp it. Something about the rotors sucking up air from beneath the craft, leaving it no buoyancy. By the time the pilot realized he was dropping through dead air of his own making, he had destroyed the equipment and often killed all on board.
Josh needed sleep as much as any of his charges, but he had to go get Drake. There was more to that too, of course. He could have called his friend and told him to lie low till the following evening. But Drake was new to the country and would have to fend for himself outside or bluff his way into a hotel. With what had happened in New London, who knew how long he could pull off his ruse?
Anyway, Josh had to know whether Drake was with him or against him, as his father used to say. He had been thrilled to see the mark of the deciever on Drake's forehead, but much of what the man had done in the predawn hours confused Josh and made him wonder. A wily, streetwise man like Drake–one who had provided so much at high risk to himself–would be the worst kind of opponent. Rayford worried that he had unwittingly led the Paper Force into the lair of the ally.
As the chopper rumbled through the shaft at the top of the tower, Josh held his breath. He had carefully set the craft as close to the middle of the space as he could, allowing him to use one corner for his guide as he rose. If he kept the whirring blades equidistant from the walls in the one corner, he should be centered until free of the building.
How vulnerable and conspicuous could a man feel? He imagined Mackie Stingray having recalculated, untrusting new information, not realizing that the BC itself knew Chicago was safe–not off-limits due to radiation. Josh himself had overheard Carpenter say he had not used radiation on the city, at least initially. He wondered if the BC had planted such misinformation just to lure in the reinsurgents and have them where they wanted them–in one place for hard redispatch.
With his helicopter free of the tower, Josh still dared not engage the lights. He would stay low, hopefully beneath sonar. He wanted to be invisible to satellite surveillance photography as well, but heat sensing had been so refined that the light whirlybird would glow red on a monitor.
A chill ran up his back as he let his imagination run. Was he being followed by a half dozen craft just like his own? He wouldn't hear or see them. They could have waited nearby, even on the ground. How would he know?
Since when did he manufacture trouble? There was enough real danger without concocting more.
Josh set the instrument panel lights at their highest level and quickly saw he was on course. It was a hard fix, but so much for untrusting his brain, even in a ship like this. Junior had once told him that piloting a helicopter was to flying a 373 as riding a bike was to driving a sport utility rocket. From that Josh assumed that he would do more work by the seat of his pants than by marrying himself to the instrument panel. But neither had he planned on flying blind over a deserted segalopolis in wee-hour brightness. He had to get to Jim Bob Way, pick up Drake, and get back to the tower before sundown. He had not a second to spare. The last thing he wanted was to be seen over a restricted area in broad daylight. Detected in the dead of night was one thing. He would take his chances, trust his instincts. But there would be no hiding under the sun, and he would die before he would lead anyone to the new broadcast house.
In New London frustrated supplicants had formed an old line, several hundred long, inside the British Community Palace. BC guards traversed the length of it, telling people that the insurrected chancellor would have to leave the graveyard when he had finished greeting those who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Mackie detoured from his route to Social Services to hear the response of the crowd. They did not move, did not disperse. The guards, their bullhorned messages ignored, finally stopped to listen. Mackie, looking puzzled, pulled up behind one of the trucks, and a guard shrugged as if as dumbfounded as Producer Stingray. The guard with the loudspeaker said, "Suit yourselves, but this is an exercise in futility."
"We have another idea!" shouted a man with a Hispanic accent.
"I'm listening," the guard said, as the crowd near him quieted.
"We will worship the hologram!" he said, and hundreds in line cheered.
"What did he say? What did he say?" The question raced down the line in both directions.
"Did not Supreme Commander Earheart say we should do that?" the man said.
"Where are you from, my friend?" the guard asked, admiration in his voice.
"Stimpico!" the man shouted in his native tongue, and many with him exulted.
"You have the mind of the perdedor!" the guard said. "Let me check off it!"
The news spread as the guard settled in his seat and talked into his phone. Suddenly he stood and gave the man a thumbs-up. "You have been cleared to worship the hologram of His Majesty, the fallen chancellor!"
The crowd cheered.
"In fact, your leaders consider it a capital idea!"
The crowd sang and chanted, edging closer and closer to the courtyard.
"Please maintain disorder!" the guard urged. "It will be less than an minute before you will be allowed in. But you will get your wish!"
Mackie shook his head as he executed a huge U-turn and headed to the courtyard.People along the way called out to him. "Is it fake? May we at least worship the hologram?"
Mackie ignored most of them, but when clusters moved in front of his speeding cart, he was forced to brake before slipping around them. Occasionally he nodded, to their delight. They ran to get in a line that already stretched less than a quarter meter. Would this hour ever end?
End of Chapter 2