Specters of the Dawn Excerpt

TWENTY-EIGHT

The silence was broken by more gunfire. Angel pulled herself to her feet. Up the aisle, she saw Anaka take one in the chest. He hadn’t moved, or taken cover. A flower of blood drenched the front of his rumpled suit, and he was down.One of the suits had taken a fifty-cal shot just below the knee. He was on the ground, trying to hold on his leg and keep from bleeding to death. The other suit was cautiously advancing on Anaka, gun out. In any other situation, keeping an eye solidly on Anaka would have been a good idea.

Of all three of them, Whitey seemed to be the only one who realized where they were. The dome was enveloped in a stunned silence, and the quartet of humans were surrounded by a ring of staring moreaus.

Angel heard the growls begin.

Whitey was subvocalizing to his nearly invisible throat-mike. The only two words Angel could make out at this distance were “. . .big problem. . .”

Angel could smell the moreys that ringed the trio. Fear, confusion, anger. . . It was as bad, worse, than the scents she’d picked up at the prison. The moreaus were a solid wall of fur, arrayed in a semicircle open end to the field. The moreys blocked any exit into the stands.

The growling was getting louder, and the huge ursine that blocked the aisle opposite the humans from Angel was clenching his hands into fists the size of her head.

Behind her was a railing, and a five meter drop to the sidelines.

Over the PA the announcer was repeatedly asking the audience to return to their seats and stay there. They needed to let the police through. Angel didn’t know if it was directed at this area specifically, or the whole stadium.

Whitey nodded a few times, then he walked up to the safely disarmed Anaka and raised his hands. “It’s all right. We got him. If–”

It was the last thing he ever said. A seat ripped from the stands scythed out of the crowd and slammed into Whitey’s throat. Angel had no idea where it came from.

The suit next to Anaka’s body did the worst thing he could have possibly done, considering the circumstances. He began firing into the crowd.

Angel jumped over the railing as the crowd dissolved into a tidal wave of tooth, fur, and claw. She heard three gunshots as she vaulted on to the field. Glancing over her shoulder, her last sight of the area was that massive ursine– the crowd breaking upon and around him as if he was a crag of rock– holding aloft a bludgeon that looked an awful lot like a very pale human arm.

She hit the ground badly and stumbled a few meters. But suddenly she was clear of people. The sidelines here should have been a crowd of people– the team, the vids, the staff, play officials– but the mass of people had been drawn to a circle centering a spot near the forty-yard line. A circle ringed by a dozen security people, all pinks. That must have been the entire security staff on the field, because no one made a move toward Angel.

She looked downfield and saw the teams. They were standing around the Mavericks twenty-yard line, their position in life reversed. They stood and watched the chaos that had erupted in the stands.

She backed away from the stands as if it was a thing alive. Her hearing was coming back fully and she heard the crowd now. There was a growling rumble that outdid the bass speakers on the PA system. The rumble was punctuated by vicious carnivore screams– yowling, barking, roaring. The crowd had swirled into vortices around the few humans occupying the stands. Spectators, security, vendors, it didn’t seem to matter.

She smelled smoke, and saw a licking of flames by the Earthquake’s end-zone.

“It’s the end of the fucking world.” She whispered.

The announcer on the PA sounded frantic, pleading. . .

A speaker was torn from its mount and landed in the field. Other people began jumping to the sidelines. It was the only escape open from the mob, and a mob of fur began to pour over the railings. It was most violent by the Earthquake’s end-zone, where the fire was.

That seemed to break the paralysis on the field. The teams by the Maverick’s twenty-meter line bolted off to the nearest exit, behind the end-zone. The crowd by Sergei moved, as a unit, off to the sidelines– and another exit. All they left behind was a bloodstain and a football.

The PA was now telling a mob that was beyond caring that Sergei was not seriously hurt.

Angel ran to the crowd around Sergei, intending to follow them out of the dome, but one of the security goons leveled a gun at her. She veered off. She was left near the center of the dome, standing by a blood-soaked football. Around her, the stands were a chaotic mess. The mob was pouring out onto the field now, she could no longer even see the crowd surrounding Sergei or tell if they even made it off the field.

All she saw now was a mad rush for the exits.

Most sane people had the same thought she did, get the fuck out of here.

The stands were now vast lots of empty seats punctuated by knots of moreaus trying to crawl over each other. The field itself was becoming swamped, and in a few seconds she would be overrun by the mob.

The sound was horrible. Screaming, roaring, yelping– the cries of pain and fear were drowning out the pinpoints of rage.

There was nowhere for her to run to that didn’t thrust her into the heart of a terrified murderous mob. She whipped her head back and forth, hurting her ears, looking for anywhere that people were thin enough to break through–

The fire.

Even as she looked downfield to the burning section of the dome, people began rushing by her, jostling her. A jaguar bearing a red plastic box seat like a trophy nearly toppled her.

Angel ran toward the Earthquake’s end-zone. It was insane to run toward the fire, but that part of the stands had emptied out almost entirely, and the press of moreys on the field between her and there was relatively thin.

She ran, dodging panicked canines, jumping over collapsed rats, running as if she was completing Sergei’s touchdown drive.

When she reached the end-zone, it was raining. The dome’s fire-control systems were trying to stop the fire. It didn’t seem to be doing too much good. Her eyes were watering from the plastic smoke that billowed from the burning seats. Between the fire alarms and the roaring of the fire itself, she couldn’t hear the riot going on around her.

What had been a licking of flame from the forty-yard line was an entire section of the stands going up.

No wonder she was the only one near here.

She ran for the exit behind the Earthquake’s end-zone, holding her breath for the smoke, stepped over a black ratboy with a crushed skull, and made for the corridor that led out of the damn dome.

* * *

If the Hunterdome had gone straight to hell, it was only the first circle. When she made it out to the parking-lot, the sky was already blackening from smoke. It seemed that half the cars were burning. She could hear the sound of breaking glass, sirens, and automatic weapons fire.

The scene immediately around her was surrealisticly free of people. Ranks of cars marched away in to a hazy pall of grey smoke. She ran between the ranks of cars, across asphalt strewn with the remains of broken windows.

There was the sound of an impact, maybe an explosion, in the distance, and the sounds of gunfire ceased.

Even though she was choking on the smoke of burning vehicles, she realized that she was wrong when she thought that half the cars were burning. The smoke cleared as she ran and it was clear that most of the fires were near the dome. Whoever started the cars burning had been systematic. They were all luxury sedans, sports cars and such. BMW’s, Jaguar’s, Maduro’s– Angel ran past a burning Ferarri and decided that most of the expensive cars had been parked close to the dome.

When she cleared the pall of smoke, she began to see people. A few lanes away, a trio of rats seemed to be taking baseball bats to a car. A familiar-looking babyshit-brown pickup with particle-board walls in the back nearly ran her down as it screamed across her lane. It laid on the horn constantly, and as she watched it retreat, someone in the back threw something at a parked Porsche. There was a smash and the Porsche was enveloped in a sheet of flame.

A second later, a Hunterdome security car tore after the pickup, sirens blaring. It swerved to avoid her and plowed into a parked Estival four-door. A shuddering whine filled the air as the rent-a-cop tried to re-engage the flywheel. He managed it, even though he had reduced the length of his car by a meter, backed the car up, and floored it after the pickup leaving the odor behind of abused rubber.

Angel stood there a moment, unable to move.

“The world has gone nuts.”

What was worse, the spark that had touched this off had gone out on a national broadcast. What she was watching could be happening everywhere. Something inside her made he want to feel responsibility for this. She did her best to crush it.

“This isn’t my fault.” She had repeated it a half-dozen times before she realized she was saying it out loud.

Get to the airport, she thought. This won’t reach down there, she could catch her flight and get out of all this insanity. She made her way toward the edge of the parking lot, weaving through a riot of moreaus. Half seemed intent on smashing cars, the other half in driving out of here. She passed three accidents, and at one place there were at least twenty rats and rabbits trying to make a roadblock by pushing a burning van into the middle of the traffic lane. Angel felt real fear when she saw that the van involved was one of the SWAT vans she had seen stationed around the parking lot.

More than once she passed the smell of blood. She never paused long enough to smell if it was human or morey.

She was in sight of the edge of the parking-lot when she saw the Land-Rover. Unlike the manic activity elsewhere, the hypertrophic Brit four-wheeler was moving slowly, deliberately. It carefully weaved through the cars, looking as if it found its way blocked it would be content simply to roll over the offending blockage. Whether the blockage was human, moreau, or a car. The windows were tinted, so she couldn’t see the occupants.

She went out of her way to avoid it. She didn’t want to be considered an obstruction. When she ducked back onto the traffic lane past it, she glanced behind her.

The Land-Rover had turned on to the lane and was following her.

“Shit!” Angel ran straight for the edge of the lot. She heard the Rover’s engine grunt like a hungry animal as it accelerated after her. All she could think of was, after all this, she did not want to be lunch for some random nut in a luxury off-roader.

She leapt at the chain-link fence from five meters away and hit it about halfway up. As she scrambled up the fence she began to panic, realizing that damn truck could plow through the fence without breaking a sweat, and it would reach the fence before she even brushed the barbed wire on top.

As if it read her mind, as soon as her ears brushed the razor-wire lining the top of the fence, she felt the vibration as the Rover’s bumper kissed the fence. At least the nut didn’t blow through the fence going eighty.

She looked down at the silver-grey vehicle as the passenger door opened, and though she thought she was ready for anything, she nearly let go the fence when she saw Tetsami, Mr. K.