The Pod: Part 7

7.

The Substation

It was very early in the morning, cold with a brisk wind that blew out of the North. We had deliberately stayed our hand, waiting for the opportune moment. In the week of planning and preparation that had followed our scouts return, there was no further advancement. Our scouts kept their eyes on the power station, and our patrols kept their guns ready, but thankfully, in vain. My Colleague and I put together a force of a dozen able-bodied men and women, finished the last of the weapons, and retrofitted capacitors in order to couple with the power station. The militia, comprised of men and women of all walks of life, said goodbye to their families and readied for the fight.

My Colleague and I, in our best attempts to rally morale, prepared a speech. We assembled whom we could to hear it, and all but the furthermost patrols were there. I began reading from notes written down, but soon abandoned them. They were filled with false sentiments, lies concocted to hide and ease all too present pains. These men and women did not need these things. They did not need the burden of false hope. They needed perspective.

“I won’t bother to sweeten things,” I said. “I’m not going to lie, or sell you false hope. It is not right, and it will not work. The truth is, Humanity is in shambles. Who do you place the blame upon? The inventor and his machine?” There was a sporadic nodding from the silent crowd. I countered, “He is an easy target, no doubt. So was Oppenheimer and his bomb.” This confused the crowd. “Neither of these men can attest to the actions carried out by the intent of those whose hands were placed at both switches. It is, however, at our feet. Every one of us, myself included, sought dreams of glory and triumph through violence– To prove ourselves in a challenge that we would never face, to bolster our egos.” I lost the crowd a little, with these remarks. No matter, I continued on. “It is partially the inventor’s blame, you say, for it was his machine that malfunctioned. This too, is a false sentiment. Perhaps the blame may lie solely at his feet, perhaps he has wished this plague upon the world. I have my doubts. As I look out, I see inside, that so do a great many of you. No, we all know the truth; it is our own fault. Each in our individual way, and collectively, our egos craved an ever-increasing boost.”

I paused to look out among the faces, many worse the wear for my words. It did not matter, morale or not, no man, woman, or child, would have stopped trying to survive. After a tense moment, I resumed my words. “So what is the solution, then? Give our ego the boost of a life time. Give Humanity’s collective ego a boost for the books. Let us look at this honestly, admit that we’ve made a mistake, and paid for it, and fix it.”

A slight applause began to creep from the crowd. It started slow, a few people here and there, before building to a courteous clamor. It erupted suddenly into a full-on roar, the group finally feeling the impact of my words.

“Many have given their lives to fix it, and we have all made payment for it. We live in fear, cowering, remorseful, wallowing in our own pity. This is not the time to make fools of ourselves! Let us win the day! Let us earn that one final boost, erase our mistake from the page, and continue on. Let us eradicate these damned swarms! Are we going to let these tiny bastards push us around?”

A chorus of “No!” gripped the bolstered crowd.

“Or bring us down?”

No!”

“Or scare us into living like caged animals?”

No!”

“Then get your asses ready, and let’s take this fight to them!”

A thunderous applause erupted. My Colleague raised a fist, thrusting it into the air with defiance. The others joined in, chanting a rhythmic “No!” The dozen militia members charged off for the waiting vehicles, and headed for the station. My own fervor got the better of me; I too charged off, my colleague fast behind me. We started the trucks and tore off through the neighborhoods, onto the rural roads. Sprinted for the main road in front of the substation, setting up a defensive line.

My colleague and I gave the militia their orders; distract the masses to buy us time to plant our explosives. They inched nearer the substation, and my colleague and I set off for a path ’round the back. We made our way to a point along the side, and infiltrated through a tree-line there. The first shots came from the militia. We hastily cut our way through the fence surrounding the station, climbed through for the smallest transformers, grouped together in one section of the area. The shots grew louder, more numerous as the seconds passed. There was no time to fear what might be happening. We planted the explosives on the first transformers, moved to the mid-sized ones.

The plan was to overload the largest grouping by taking out the conduits that would dampen their charge. This required all of the smallest, and several of the mid-sized transformers to be destroyed.

We rigged the last charges, and made our retreat. Back on the road, we were taken by a terrifying sight. It froze us mid-stride, our minds unbelieving of our eyes. A massive swarm, continually transformed its shape as it threw cloud-like fists upon the militia. Bodies lay slumped over trucks, some thrown back on the road in puddles of blood. We watched on, aghast. The swarm threw a cloud at one man on a truck. He flew backward, to the ground. It advanced on him with a second cloud. He clambered to regain his footing. In his confusion he missed his chance to dodge. The impact slammed the man’s body into the road, threw small chunks of asphalt into the air. His corpse had been pulverized. He was done for, but a few others remained. We had to act.

My Colleague and I snapped from our trances, hurried to our truck and signaled a retreat. I jumped on the gun to engage the mass. It turned its sights from the fleeing militia to us. I fired inexhaustibly. The truck accelerated, flew forward at an alarming rate. My shots became erratic, missing by miles. The truck burst through the station’s high, front gate throwing me forward.

The swarm gave chase, toward the center of the clearing between the transformers. The truck stopped, my colleague climbed up into the back. The swarm descended rapidly.

“It is good to have known you, my friend,” He said. He smiled a wicked smile, as only a man crazed by the exhilaration of sacrifice could.

“You as well,” I said with a slight bow of my head.

I let out a battle cry, and fired the weapon. My shots hit the swarm that encompassed my vision, but dislodged little of its individual flecks. My friend lifted the detonator from his pocket, flicked a switch. We flung ourselves to our bellies in the bed of the truck. Fireballs erupted on either side of us, searing the area. The swarm gave pause.

Then, with a sound of building electricity, the final transformers overloaded. The swarm, confused by the explosions, stood motionless as the largest transformers blasted apart. A tidal wave of electricity accompanied fireballs and debris that engulfed the area. The gun’s batteries in the bed exploded. Lead-acid sprayed our clothes, burned us, but we dared rise until the swarm had collapsed.

And collapse it did! The electrical wave burst forth, and the swarm surged. It burst into flames like a mortar around us. Electrical arcs discharged into the truck, nearby by metallic surfaces, and melted the gun’s barrel above. The scent of burning rubber mixed with a thousand acrid fumes that spewed skyward in plumes of smoke.

Then, with a final, crackling of electricity, that beautiful rain of embers began once more.

My Colleague and I, pained from the burning acid and choked by the flames, rose to our knees. We watched the swarm burn and fall to dust on the ground. We laughed, cheered with giddy delight, hugged in a celebratory manner as two men who’ve conquered such a beast against our odds might. The day had been won, Humanity the victor.

Epilogue

In the days and weeks that followed the defeat of the massive swarm, we were able to reclaim much of the city and begin rebuilding what had been lost. Though the lives of many were irreplaceable, few felt it a price they couldn’t live with. It was not a foolish sentiment in the least. For either because of many combined factors, or just that fateful speech before the fight, many saw the true villain behind the swarms: It wasn’t the machines that had malfunctioned, and it wasn’t a man who’d built them poorly, it was ourselves. Each and every one of us had contributed to the near-fatal destruction wrought upon our species and our civilization. In each our own way, we learned the dreadful power of our own egos. In this knowledge, a new-found kindness and concern for one another emerged. No person went hungry, homeless, nor without aid in our new city.

Whether or not there are swarms left beyond our little crook in the world, I cannot yet say. No one has since ventured too far into the outskirts. There is no mass-communication left– the swarms have seen to that. As well, we have no time to. When reconstruction is over, we will move toward neighboring cities in search of survivors, and to provide aide and weaponry if need be.

Few things are certain of the human condition, save these points: Firstly, there is triumph in the human spirit that can be found when others suffer unduly. And that beneath all of our desires for greatness, all of our wants to be best, strongest; there is an aching desire to band together as one, and see that boost of pride passed on– At least, in some ways. For Humanity is both its own worst enemy and its greatest ally, and its dreams both beautiful and nightmarish.

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