A torch of bright light sliced into my prison and scattered sparks all around me, over me, and what felt like through me.
My consciousness was fading in and out, the shower of sparks jolting me awake one moment, then lulling me back into non-existence the next.
After an eternity of this the light ceased. Seconds or minutes later, my formerly-mobile-now-stationary prison was wrenched apart, steel tearing and popping, clear plastic shattering and giving way to a strong wind that carried with it acrid smoke. Cold rain fell on my face and my lips and after a moment I tasted oil.
A swarm of hands reached into the gap and tugged at my body, nimble fingers running over the dark mesh suit I wore and pulling on wires and tubing that stuck out of me at odd places. Then I was lifted up into the light.
I flew a few feet above the ground and listened to the sounds of the world. Feet stomped on pavement and splashed through puddles, rain fell, labored breathing was all around me, a mechanical whine receded as we moved. Nobody spoke.
After a minute of this I was thrust into a small dark space, my captors filling in the crevices around me, then all light was gone and for a moment I could not see. The dark confines then shifted, lumbered into action, a powerful drone of a motor more felt than heard, and a dull red light lit up the cabin.
The vehicle shuddered into motion and someone was shining a light in my eyes, snapped their fingers to get my attention.
“cAaan yo-ooo-oo-oo heaaaar me?” was what I heard. I tried to nod and the doctor’s face broke into a smile. She had beautiful teeth. I told her that, I think.
We drove for a while, long enough for the doctor to examine me, and for me to be examined. They watched me in fascination, and I tried to return the favor.
The group around me was decked out in black, light-stealing jumpers. Everyone was armed, even the doctor, who at first carried a rifle on her back, then handed it off to someone, but still kept the pistol on her hip. As she moved around me, the stock bumped into me on occasion. I enjoyed this contact.
The doctor introduced herself as Meg. The names of the others were Diego, Alexis, Block, and Loop. I didn’t know who owned which, not yet.
They referred to me as Ben. When I was able to move my head, I swiveled it to look down at my body and noticed a nametag over my chest, a blue patch with white lettering. “BEN”.
“Where am I? Who are you? Where are we going? Why can’t I move? Who are you?”
I asked this and more. Meg poked and prodded my body, drew blood, felt for any internal damage, but didn’t address me at all. It was the others who spoke and answered my questions.
“Outskirts of Pittsburgh.”
“The forest to the north.”
“Don’t know. Meg?” She shook her head at that one, but for the most part concentrated on her patient.
“What’s left of the survivors.”
They offer terse, non-descriptive answers and eventually I am too tired to keep asking.
The vehicle stops and they carry me outside. Meg is at my side, but now she’s holding her assault rifle at the ready, pointed toward the ground, her index finger hovering close to the trigger.
The vehicle we had occupied was a squat metallic box on six oversized tires. There were no lights on it, but neither did I see any weapons. A troop transport, I ventured.
We had gone off-road at this point and the vehicle was parked facing a dense forest.
“Hurry up,” someone says. I looked around and saw one of the women crouched down. She placed a laptop computer on the ground and was typing into it, slowly, a few keystrokes at a time. After a few more seconds of this she pointed toward the forest and said “Twenty three meters, six minutes.”
Two of the survivors started moving in the direction she indicated. One was carefully counting their steps while another fiddled with a tablet, swiveled it this way and that before orienting it in the same direction.
“Got it,” she said.
A palpable sense of relief washed over the group. They picked up the stretcher I was lying on and carried me in the same direction. Mentally I tried to keep track of time. The six minute warning seemed ominous and I wanted to be prepared.
But of course that’s not something you can really prepare yourself for.
The stretcher was place in a random-looking spot just shy of the forest and the survivors crowded around me, facing outward, rifle sights moving this way and that, covering the dark treeline.
“Here it comes,” one of the survivors said.
I looked around, head jerking from the forest to the vehicle, then back to Meg. She caught my eye but said nothing, only tightened the restraints that held me strapped to the stretcher.
Don’t bother, I almost said, I’m not going anywhere.
Then a blue light seemed to come from the ground, the air, out very bodies, and suddenly the ground dropped out from under us, I was falling. I screamed and shut my eyes.
No one else screamed, though, and after a moment I felt a prod in my ribs and Meg’s calming voice spoke cut through the fog of fear.
“It’s ok, you’re not in danger.”
I stopped screaming and opened my eyes. It still felt like I was falling, but now I could see why. The rest of the group was there, but they were no longer standing around me in a tight circle.
They were floating.