Science Fiction Suspense

12 December 2134

One of the walls illuminated an off-black, blank screen. A picture of the family hung on the concrete gray wall across from it: man, woman, two boys about seven or eight, an infant. All smiles, a snowy white mountain with swirls of snow on the breeze behind them, but they aren't dressed for the cold. Beneath the image, a yellow, faux-leather loveseat, a permanent depression in the left cushion. A solid steel door to the left, glittering in the fluorescent light. Closed, floral curtains hung from the other concrete wall and flitted from the door opening.

"And this is the bunker, just in case." A woman wearing a gray pant suit with a red skinny tie led two men into the room. The taller one glanced around, frowning when he spotted the picture on the wall.

The other one, blue eyes under plucked eyebrows, faked a smile. "Why would we need a bunker? The armistice still stands." 

"As I said, just in case." The woman matched his smile. 

The taller man grunted, dissatisfied. "I don't like it, Daniel."

"We don't have to decide right now, Brandon." But Daniel didn't like it either. The price was nice, but they didn't need the constant reminder. "We can keep looking. Ms. Maddox, if you wouldn't mind…" He gestured for her to lead them out before she had time to tell them about the wall display. 

Ms. Maddox kept smiling, even as she shut the steel door behind them.

31 January 2135

"I can't believe we settled for this." Brandon pushed up the sleeves of his shirt and reached over the loveseat to take down the offending family image. 

Daniel faced the wall display, afraid to turn it on. "We didn't have much of a choice, Brandon. The civilian restrictions they put in place—"

The image on the wall came off, but two wires connected the image to the wall. "What's this then?"

Turning, Daniel glanced at the wires and the image. "Looks like a weather monitor." 

"In a bunker?"

"Some people had to live in these things, Brandon."

Brandon shuddered at the thought, putting the image back on the wall. "I don't want it there. I need the wire cutters." He kissed Daniel on the forehead as he walked out of the room.

Clutching the remote controller a little tighter in his fist, Daniel faced the display again and turned it on. Images blinked to life. News networks, images of the barren front lawn ("It'll grow green again with enough fertilizer," Ms. Maddox had promised), the backyard, a shot in both directions down the street. Sixteen different images displaying in tandem. He could barely keep his head from spinning. 

A headline scrolled across the top right news network: Armistice Set To Expire In Two Months. Negotiations At Impasse. 

Brandon found him crying on the loveseat under the glow of the display wall.

31 March 2135

Shelves filled with books lined the walls; the yellow, faux-leather loveseat had been replaced by a pair of recliners. The display wall remained off, the controller sitting on the small table between the recliners. 

The steel door slammed open. Daniel, soaking wet from rain and tears mixing with the acidic water, yanked books off the shelves, screaming intelligibly in frustration. The first crush of books on the floor set him off afresh. These were Brandon's books. All of his clothes and stupid vegan food and board games were gone, in a pile outside the house getting rained on. Daniel might like to burn the books though, as terrible as an idea it might be. Considering only one case was Brandon's. 

After he emptied the books onto the floor, he flipped one of the recliners (Brandon's) and kicked the table. The controller launched across the room, buttons slamming into the shelf. The display wall blinked on: news on a single view on four screens in the middle, the mute symbol in the corner. The woman on screen had that impassive, serious face; the one they use when trying to prove they're unbiased. 

The headline scrolling across the screen: Armistice Ended. Residents Adhere To Local Protocols. 

An image in the corner of the screen: bipes novis, a grayish-bluish biped with black, lidless orbs for eyes, a flat nose, no ears, bald. The mouth was lipless, horizontal and vertical seams bisected in the middle. The image time lapsed as the woman's mouth moved soundlessly; phenotypical changes to the bipes novis: lighter skin, closer to coloration of a caucasian, eyes shrunk and took on the iris/pupil definition of a human with the sclera fading to gray, the visible vertical split in the mouth invisible to the naked eye, black hair growing out of the scalp, serrated white teeth flattening. 

He'd seen all of this in the lab. Like a chameleon on a leaf, bipes novis began to blend in. The armistice ended; Daniel sank into his recliner, not seeing the mess in the bunker, the mess in his life. A laugh huffed out of him, defeated. "We'll never see the difference."

4 July 2135

The workbench on the wall across from the display was pristine. A box of nitrile gloves sat in the corner, the blue one of the few spots of color in the room. A microscope sat on the workbench, just as clean as the rest of the space. Bookshelves to the right. The ones on the left wall were removed a couple of months ago. 

Daniel sat in a stool, watching the display. News showed fireworks; the street views showed fireworks. Loud explosions completely shut out by thick concrete walls and being twelve feet underground. A news anchor interviewed an unsmiling bipes novis, asking about how they felt about the fireworks. The slurred hiss of English through curling lips. "Remarkable what humanity finds entertaining."

"Isn't it," Daniel responded to the screen. The bipes novis glanced at the camera briefly, as if it heard him.

His cell buzzed in his pocket, but he didn't look at it. Work or Brandon or his mother. None of them were people he wanted to think about. The five-o'clock shadow itched. Progress had been slow without regular resources. Daniel was reduced to black market deals and handouts from the Purists to retrieve samples. He stared at the ceiling of the bunker, the fluorescent light humming. 

He left the display on, turning back to the workbench and putting on a pair of gloves. This time, he'd get it right. This time, he'd find a cure. 

15 October 2135

The bunker rumbled from the impact. Daniel huddled under the workbench, the stool laid on the ground, and a crack spidered across one of the display screens. Books had fallen off the shelf, scattered across the floor. A picture of him and Brandon at a beach down in Florida stared up at him. A reminder he'd missed and now was grateful that he had. He'd rather see Brandon smiling and happy instead of the permanent image of him bone white in a morgue with his lips beginning to bisect and his sclera turning black. 

The floor stilled; the light overhead flickered. Daniel didn't move, clutching the vial to his chest. He could only hope it worked, since he was his only test subject. 

A flicker from the display, and the street to the left showed: a smoldering crater in the middle of the street. He wished he could say with confidence that it was bipes novis bombing the humans, but most of the time he couldn't tell the difference. Another shudder ricocheted through the bunker, and the display flickered off again. 

Would his house still be standing? Would he be buried down here? His palm sweated against the glass vial. Someone out there could do something with it. Someone could help him fix the human race.

The walls shuddered again. For now, he would wait. No one listened to him before; the evidence was right in front of them. They would listen to him after the bombs stopped and the air cleared and all that was left were cratered homes and cracked asphalt streets.

12 December 2135

Only one display worked: the street view to the left of the house. They approached from the right, so Daniel wasn't prepared when a heavy knock landed on the steel door. Gaunt now, it took everything in him just to look up at the door.

The last time he saw anyone was when he'd taken the cure to the Purists. Purists who were already changing, who the cure would do nothing for. Genetic manipulation was tricky and messy, and nine out of ten people who were infected by whatever the bipes novis brought with them died from DNA rewriting that broke something irreparable in them. 

Another knock on the door. Daniel eased to his feet, a thirty-four year old man acting like he was eighty. He wouldn't live to be eighty at this rate. The faded picture of him and Brandon at the beach rested on the workbench. He glanced at it one more time before shuffling to the door and opening it. 

They looked human, the two standing on the other side of the threshold. Two women, their hair pulled back tight in matching ponytails, no visible lip bisection. That didn't mean anything these days. Dirty combat fatigues, googles, AR-15s. Military or militia. Did it matter anymore? Did bipes novis have combat fatigues? 

"Daniel Shaw?" one of the women asked, taking a tentative step into the bunker. Her training probably prevented her from flinching at the smell. Eyes flicked to the display, the workbench, the shelves. 

Daniel flinched at his name. "Yes?" The woman outside the bunker glanced between the room and the staircase. "What are you—"

"Mr. Shaw, come with us, please." A hand stretched toward him: five fingers, not three. Human, maybe. Maybe not. 

He swallowed, throat dry. "It's not safe out there."

"The war's over, Mr. Shaw." A slight smile. Did her lips curl back slightly? Did he imagine that?

"Who won?" He didn't take her hand, but he didn't step back either. 

"We did, Mr. Shaw." The soldier's smile grew; he could see white teeth in the seam of her lips, vicious white teeth. "We did."

March 12, 2021 15:14

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