Project New Horizon
Condensation had built up along the bottom of the giant windows and I could see ice flowering on the grass despite it being early May. The sun was beginning to burn off the ice, but it was going to be a cold morning out there. I looked at my watch; one hundred and eighty-two days had passed since we had been locked in the mountain. There was still so much to be done as the new members from Kelvedon Hatch arrived in two days’ time, so once the doors opened we were going to retrieve food.
“Any activity?” Mac asked, breaking my thoughts away and allowing me to focus on Glenridding, our town.
“No, it’s been really quiet, even up in the tower I’ve seen no one about,”
“You’ve been up that tower a lot in the last month,” she admonished me, I felt rather than saw her move to my side as I looked solidly out over the town.
“I’ve been busy, trying to organise how many people we’ll need to man the control room and the watchtower on a rota,”
“You’ve been avoiding us,” Mac replied bluntly, “I know when you avoid people, and I’ve seen it since you were little kids,”
“I’ve been busy,” I insisted.
“Do you know what you’ve been doing to Tobi?” I felt guilty, I had been avoiding him because I had almost blamed him, “He’s been like a ghost, I’ve found him in his room crying several times and he won’t even talk to Noah,”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, whether to Mac or to myself, I don’t know.
“You need to talk to him, I’m afraid he’ll do something stupid,” she told me plaintively, her voice struggling as though she was about to cry.
“When we get back from our foraging trip, I’ll talk to him,” I answered and finally looked at her, she was stood firm though a little red-eyed.
“Let’s go down to Command Room,” she said gently, almost as an unspoken apology for rebuking me. We followed the stairs down, both lost in our own thoughts, but neither of us feeling uncomfortable.
I entered the Command Centre a few steps ahead of Mac to find the rest of our small group in there. I noticed the four youngest of our group playing with Lego in the corner while everyone else was settled at the front of the room before the giant screens. I looked at Kelly casually, but she was watching the screens while Noah and Nate were both nearby. I caught Noah’s eye and he gave me a grin. Tobi was settled down in the centre console, while on the main screen was a timer, which read- 00:45:39.
“Right, let’s have the last briefing before we gear up and go out,”
“We’ve gone over everything,” Larry whined.
“Well there’s a change of plans, I don’t think Glenridding is the best place to visit,” I told them, not giving them the reasons why, “We’re better off going West and to Ravensville, we might find more stuff,”
“I might have something to help you,” Tobi look at me tentatively through his blond bangs, we had found some clippers and Izzy was actually quite the hairstylist. His blond hair had been shortened around the sides and stepped at the back, while the front touched the eyebrows bringing out his Amber coloured eyes. I gave him a small smile and he seemed to brighten up.
“Step back,” He suggested and pressed a button. I heard a soft whirring noise and we all stood back as the floor split apart seamlessly and a table emerged with barely more than a whisper. The top was a smooth polished surface. Tobi got out of the chair and picked up a Remote Device and his fingers danced across the surface. Before our eyes, a 3D map emerged on the table of the mountain and surrounding areas. It almost looked like Satellite images but in 3D and solid. I passed my hand through the mountain but it shimmered.
“Wow, that’s some high technology,” Tom breathed.
“I’ve heard about it, but thought it was still being developed,” Talia added, looking awed.
“Its brand new tech, years ahead of its time,” Tobi explained with a look of wonder on his face, “They are utilising 3D projection software-”
“As long as it works, I don’t want to die of boredom,” Larry sneered.
“Right, so Ravensville had a population of about 20,000 with a medium sized Tesco and Asda on the far outskirts of the town, so further than we would like to go,” Tobi explained and drew our attention to the town displayed on the hologram, one of the buildings appeared to be highlighted, “This is the Co-op, in the centre of town and should give us a starting point to get some food,”
“Good, so Larry you’ve found a farm to visit?” I asked.
“There’s a stud farm not far from mine, they should have plenty of horses to appropriate,”
“Right, are you comfortable enough with bow and arrow?” I asked, looking at Amanda and Larry. They had both been drilled by Noah, while I had been busy.
“I could hit a moving target,” Larry boasted, “But I’d feel better with a rifle,”
“I’m sure you would, but I don’t want any of those things alerted to our presence, besides do you know how to fire a rifle?” I questioned him.
“All right, it depends on the rifle; I’ve shot .22’s before. My dad owns a Remington 700,”
“Can you stick to the bows for this trip and then we’ll see what’s what after we get food,” I told him.
“Yes, Sir,” He replied mockingly, but I ignored him and turned back to Tobi, who had a headpiece on.
“Tobi, as soon as that countdown is complete I want you to lock down the main entrance,” I repeated.
“Yes, Boss,” he replied rolling his eyes, knowing I had gone over everything before. He looked at me through the fringe, trying to work me out.
“Have you set up the remotes to allow entrance?” I asked looking at Tom.
Your wrist computer will allow you entry, but we’ve also set up three other remotes, only those that have a correct access code will be able to enter,” Tom answered, holding up what appeared to be a TV remote with straps.
“Good, now once you know we are coming back, Kelly and Sarah, you’ll make sure to lock yourself and the youngsters on the sixth level,” Sarah rolled her eyes at me and grinned.
“We’ve been through this a thousand times, we know what to do,” she laughed at my nervous repetition of her orders.
“Right then, if we’ve got nothing more to say, I want the recon teams ready to go,” I told them and headed back up to the sixth floor to get myself ready. I quickly changed out of the jeans and tee and grabbed a pair of black cargo trousers and a black shirt. I strapped on the thigh holster I had gotten earlier and checked the handgun, before sliding it in. Suddenly I felt arms slide around my chest and scare the life out of me.
“Either I have an incredibly beautiful woman hugging me or there is a Rugrat attached to me,” I turned around in the pair of arms and looked down into the shining auburn eyes of Tobi. I leaned down and kissed him, he closed his eyes as we held each other close.
“Please be careful,” Tobi whispered to me.
“Look, I’m-.” He cut me off before I could speak.
“Don’t apologise, I’m angry at how you were ignoring me and I still don’t know why but I don’t want you leaving on an apology,” he told me.
“I’ll be careful as can be, besides I’ll have Noah watching my back,” He frowned but released me. I hugged him tight again and left my apartment, leaving him to make his way back down to the control room.
Five minutes later I was down in the armoury and Noah, Larry and Amanda were joining me. Tom was also there but dressed in his usual attire of scruffy jeans and an off-white tee shirt. He handed us all technical vests as we wired ourselves up to the radio system. I handed Larry a Bow, though he wrinkled his nose up in disgust he never said anything. All of us had long machetes.
“Are you sure you’re happy with a rifle?” Tom asked Noah sceptically handing him a British sniper rifle the L115A3, “Jesus Christ, these are heavy,”
“About 6.8kg,” Noah answered and put the strap over his body, giving me a look, “My father used to take me shooting in America, while slightly different rounds I’m pretty good with a long range rifle,”
“Rather you than me,” Tom answered as I tested my bow. Both Noah and I know he was lying; his Dad being Special Forces and training Noah had taken him to America to train on the equivalent to certain weapons including Sniper Rifles. I picked up the Tactical Eyepieces, which were similar to a retro item called Google glasses. They were wraparound frames, but instead of dark lenses, they were completely clear. They could bring up a Heads-up display and super-impose a map over the landscape, which was one of its features. I passed a pair to Larry, who thanked me.
“The Eyepieces should be connected to your computer,” Tom explained.
“Soundcheck, are you receiving me?” I checked the mic.
“Receiving loud and clear,” Tobi returned from his place in the Operations Room. Everyone else checked their mics.
“What sort of range will the radios have?” I asked the boy.
“A fair good range and they are encrypted, you should be able to use them in town,” he explained.
“Thanks,” I answered, then turned to the others, “Larry, don’t take any risks. If you can get four or five horses, that would be brilliant,”
“I’m not that stupid,” He rolled his eyes; though he comes out with these stupid outbursts every now and then, I trusted him to do the job I had asked of him.
“Right then, let’s make a move,” I suggested. The rest of them proceeded down to the Mech and I followed after I had locked down the armoury, carrying the bow. When I walked into the Mech bay, Tom was giving an explanation of how the remotes worked. Mac was standing to the side, watching them anxiously. I slipped the earpiece out and typed a command on my wrist computer so my mic was locked. I walked over to Mac and she looked me over.
“Be careful out there, Lexi,”
“It’s been a while since you’ve called me that,” I chuckled.
“Remember when I couldn’t say Alex properly,” we shared laughter, and then sobered up as we looked at the other.
“Mac, I need to ask you a favour,” She turned her gaze on me with a questioning look.
“What? I won’t fit in your shoes if you die,” she half-joked, but it fell off her lips.
“Nate, Noah and I found out who the saboteur is. We’ve been monitoring them for the past few months,” I told her and her jaw dropped.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she hissed.
“The fewer people who knew, the better,” I shrugged my shoulders, not going to justify myself, “But with Noah gone and our doors open, it would be the perfect opportunity for her to communicate with the outside,”
“Her? Who is it?”
“Kelly, we’ve got her on video sabotaging the crops,” I returned.
“How have we not had the aliens breathing down on our necks if we had a saboteur?” she asked a question I had been pondering for a while.
“I can only gather, whoever she worked for put her in place, but had no idea where she would be taken,” I told her and was going to continue when we were interrupted.
“Nearly time to go,” Tom said aloud looking at us. I put my earpiece back in place and unlocked the mic. I tapped the glasses bringing up the HUD and noticed Noah, Larry and Amanda was awash with a faint blue line around them.
“The three of them should be glowing a faint blue colour,” Tobi replied in my ear, scaring the crap out of me. He must have seen me jump because I could hear him laughing in my ear. I looked at one of the camera’s and gave him the middle finger, “The glasses should also record footage if need be,”
“Have you been tinkering with them?” I asked.
“No, but reading up on what they do. I’ve connected them to the base, and identified everyone as allies,” Tobi replied, “Apparently they have biometric scanners,”
“I’ll take your word for it,” I laughed at the excitement in his voice. Two quad bikes had been bought up, each connected to a small trailer. Beside one of the Quads, there was also a dirt bike.
“They’ve each got weapons holsters for, well, weapons,” Tom smiled as Larry and Amanda got on one of the Quads, Larry sliding his bow into the weapons holster while Amanda had a crossbow on her back and a pouch of bolts opposite her to her machete.
“Five minutes,” Tobi warned us all so I settled onto the other quad while Noah settled on the dirt bike.
“Is everyone ready to go?” I got a lot of nods through the helmets we all wore. We moved up to the entrance looking at it tensely. I was wondering what we would find when got out there.
“Now,” Tobi’s voice was tense. Thirty seconds later he had activated the doors and a grinding noise echoed across the Mech bay and the doors began to rumble. I saw movement and slowly the doors began to move, now quiet as a whisper. They opened open about twenty feet and then stopped, allowing us to look out into a tunnel. The road was tarmacked, but the walls were still compacted dirt. I gave the signal and we moved out together, racing towards the exit. The tunnel ended after 300 metres and we launched ourselves out of a hidden entrance into blinding sunlight. The others closed their visors, but my helmet was open. However a minute later the smart glasses reacted and polarised, becoming darker.
“Fresh air,” I heard Larry’s voice over the radio.
“Good luck,” The pair of them peeled off in another direction while Noah and I headed towards the west and the town.
Thirty minutes later we reached the edge of town and saw first-hand, what the world had become while we were underground for six months. We drove through a quiet street, it could have been a normal day, except it was eerily quiet and there was no movement whatsoever. We reached a crossroads to find an overturned bus and car almost blocking the way.
“Tobi, I hope the kids aren’t in the control room,” I suggested, “I’m not sure what we’ll find,”
“I moved them out about fifteen minutes ago,” Mac’s voice told me, seeing the live feed from Noah and my Glasses. Noah and I made our way down the high street, where shops were boarded up and a grill hung loosely half way down a WHSmith’s. Shattered glass lay all around them and a sign pointed them to the main square through a narrow walkway.
“This is where we give up the bikes for the moment,” I told the other boy, so we stopped and dismounted. I pulled off the helmet and readied the bow with an arrow on it. Noah followed behind as we slowly made our way through the alley before we emerged onto the central plaza. Shops made up the corner and the left-hand side of the square. The central plaza was a beautiful white circle with a fountain at its centre; stone benches and the occasional tree were dotted around the circle. I looked back the way we had come, on one side of the alley was a bakery shop while on the other was a beautiful white church with a bell tower and stained glass windows.
“Jeez, this place is deader than a cemetery,” Noah joked.
“I expected that from Larry, but seriously Noah,”
“You’ve not heard my black humour then,” he shrugged back at me as I looked up at the City Hall, which was a little pretentious. A large white building it had long white stairs leading to the entrance, which was between huge pillars. It had an almost roman appearance about it like the senate hall.
“Alex, you better come and take a look at this,” The younger boy was stood over a bench and seemed to be looking down at some red paint. I moved closer and realised it was not paint but a streak of dried blood, he added, “Something bad went down and recently,”
“Obviously I can’t tell, but that look’s a week old at best,” Mac told us over the radio, “Did it really get that bad in six months?”
“It’s the end of the world,” Larry’s voice came over the radio.
“Quiet down and let’s just get the job done,” I told them and looked at the bakery shop, which had its shutters half down but the glass front was still shattered with a couple of bloody handprints on the windows. The Police Station door was hanging off its hinges and there were bullet holes in the walls.
“Looks like the police have come through here,” Noah said aloud and looked over the plaza. No water was coming from the fountain making the water very still sunlight glinting off it. He noticed another bloody mark across the seat around the fountain and what appeared to be shell casing. Noah moved across to it and picked one up examining it, then looked towards me.
“Alex, what do you make of these?” He asked, watching me so I stepped over and took one of the casings from him.
“A 9mm. could be from a SIG, a Glock or an MP5,” I replied, “They were and still are pretty common with the military, I don’t know if the gangs use them,”
“Something’s not right,” Noah shivered and glanced around, as though someone was going to jump out at us. I checked out the shop we had come to `loot’ from and saw the barrier was completely down.
“We’re going to have to find a back entrance, but I want to check out the police station and see if we can find anything useful,” I spoke over the radio and to Noah. I didn’t like the eerie feeling so I decided to ditch the bow, slinging over my shoulder and taking out the handgun. A standard issue army pistol, it felt comfortable in my hands as we entered the Police station.
“Are you going to be able to use that?” Noah asked and I noticed he also had his gun out.
“We’ll see,” I told him as we entered the lobby. The only light come through the front door so the pair of us switched on lights mounted to the underside of the modified pistols. We scoured the reception, where we found the main desk and the station for a desk sergeant. To the right were a set of stairs and a row of plastic chairs drilled into the ground, while immediately to our left was a door with a keypad. I checked the door and found it locked so preceded upstairs, light from a window brightening the stairs. We moved carefully onto a landing, where a window overlooked an alleyway, letting light in. With Noah behind me guarding the room up, I checked upstairs where a double set of doors stood. Moments later we found ourselves in front of those doors. I tapped Noah on the shoulder, signalling him to get ready. He nodded, but we had barely said a word since entrance the police station. I pushed against the door and immediately felt something hard on the other side, but heard a scraping sound as whatever had been used to barricade the door moved. Making a gap, I shone the light in and stepped over the threshold.
“What do you think happened?” the other boy asked quietly taking in the scene as I had minutes ago. We were stood in an empty office with about five or six desks. Several windows allowed us to see the office was in complete disarray with paperwork, chairs and computers strewn across the room. The desks had been pushed back and I could see a couple of sleeping bags, but there were no bodies, alive or dead, except for some week’s old dried blood on the floor.
“I can’t say, everyone seems to have disappeared,” I shrugged.
“Where the hell has everyone gone?” Noah asked, “it’s been six months not six years and the whole world seems to have disappeared, are we the only ones left alive?”
“No, what about Kelvedon and Cheyenne,” I told him, seeing the panic in his eyes I had to remember he was fifteen like me, not an adult, “they were obviously trying to block something from getting up here, maybe they were military,”
“It would make sense, with all the casings,” he nodded and I could see the colour come back into his face as the analytical part of his mind took over.
“But, I still don’t know what the hell has been happening,” I returned, stumped, “We need to speak to Kelvedon,”
“What’s that?” Noah distracted me from my thoughts to point out a door I had not noticed before.
“Let’s check it out,” I moved towards the door, which was already opened and noticed the door was quite thick. I swung it closed a bit and saw a sign that declared this was the `Evidence Room‘. I looked in and took note of the shelves in the large room, but all were empty except for some single 9mm bullets. In the corner were four or five camp beds.
“They obviously left in a hurry,” Noah noted.
“Why would you say that?” I asked as he stood alongside me.
“They left some food,” He pointed to several cans and immediately scooped them up and put them in his cargo bag. I looked closer around the beds and saw some magazines, mostly teen mags except for a few model making ones. I noticed a gun holster in the back corner and picked it up. Noah watched me carefully I slipped out a handgun painted in camouflage with a laser on the top rail and light below in front of the trigger.
“What a beauty!” I gushed, “This is a custom Colt 1911, and do you see the camouflage pattern? Only a 150 of these were ever made in the United States, half a decade ago,”
“But what’s it doing in the UK? Where handguns are banned?” Noah questioned, but I unclipped my normal holster and put it on my belt at the small of my back then clipped the brown leather holster to my thigh and put the gun reverently back in place. I picked up some of the ammo and put it in my cargo bag.
“I can only imagine some collector smuggled it over to the UK and when the world went to shit, he decided to use it,” I guessed and saw Noah roll his eyes at me.
“So how do you know so much about guns? I thought you were a conspiracy nut,” He asked and I looked at him, and then tapped on my computer to turn our radios into a closed circuit. He raised an eyebrow at me.
“I thought it would be better that Home doesn’t find out about where we learnt how to shoot,” I told him.
“Can we still hear them?” he asked.
“We can still hear them, but I’ve cut off the mic’s,” I answered, then replied to his first question, “I like gun publications; I have a pen pal in the states that I get to send them to me,”
“So do really know how to fire the handgun?” Noah seemed curious.
“I lied when I told you had a little experience, we did go to a club and it was supposed to be kept secret, but I would fire a handgun every couple of weeks. Dad told me he wanted me to be proficient weapons, thought it might toughen me up and not make me such a sissy,” I answered, “But I know your Dad was Special Forces, did he teach you?”
“Seen as you know, yeah, even though most of the time we would hunt when we went to America, my Dad would get me taught annually on handguns as well as rifles,” Noah explained, “He knew some special forces guys that would teach me on a private range,”
“We may have to train the others, I’m not sure bow and arrows will cut it,” I told him.
“We’ll have to see, but we’ve seen nothing so far so maybe the place has been abandoned,” Noah suggested.
“Maybe they are dead,” I shrugged, but I’m sure there must be someone looking around here. One of the radio calls for help had come from this town. I switched the radio’s back on and then followed the stairs back down, walking carefully and listening for any noises. The new gun felt good in my hand as I checked the stairs for intruders. Moments later Noah and I were outside, breathing the fresh air and blinking from the bright sunlight. The glasses had immediately darkened as soon as we came outside.
“Alex, I’m seeing a lot of unknowns coming from the playing field to the north,” Tobi’s voice startled me, “Maybe forty or more,”
“Can you tell if they are armed from the feed?” I knew Tobi was watching the live satellite feed. I followed the side of a building and looked onto the playing field. I took out a spotting scope and looked down the field to see men, women and a couple of children pouring from the school and shambling along. They were deathly grey with sunken cheekbones. He stared at the eyes unable to move, they were bloodshot red beneath a creamy film of something. Their teeth were ragged in the snarling mouths, red jam and spittle flying from it.
“I’m pretty sure; it’s those things I fought,”
“You mean zombies,” someone deadpanned, but I had no time to complain as I heard a single shot and one of the leading `runners’ went down with a bullet to his head. I looked to Noah, who was aiming the rifle. He shrugged his shoulders.
“I thought I’d try destroying one of them,”
“That was a pretty damn good shot,” I told him and then realised his muscles were straining, “Put the damn gun down, we’re not going to kill them all,”
“You need to move,” Mac said over the radio.
“That’s a bit obvious; have you an entrance to the supermarket? The fronts all boarded up,”
“Give us a minute,” Tobi answered.
“We may not have a minute,” Noah muttered as we both looked around for somewhere to hide. The shambling horde was getting closer, half the distance now to the square.
“Right, there is a back door,” Tobi answered and proceeded to give us directions. Noah and I ran past the shuttered front windows and turned into an alley, just as several more zombies burst from the other side. I noticed the thick door and knew that was our salvation.
“Noah, get us in that door,” I ordered as I took up as shooting position I was taught and began to fire the gun. I was hitting legs and torsos but not getting anywhere near the head, “How are we getting on?”
“It’s a very heavy door,” Noah panted and pounded on the door. I fired a few more shots and at least one of them went down, but there were still three or four more shambling towards us, “Oh shit,”
“What?” I asked, but couldn’t turn my back. I heard more hammering on the door and then what sounded like a bolt being drawn back. I moved slowly back and saw this kid, maybe a year younger than me pop his head out.
“My name is Noah, we’ve come to rescue you, but we’re in a bit of a bind,” he sort of lied to the kid as I looked around and noticed the other horde had reached the alleyway. I groaned out loud as the kid looked at the pair of us and then pulled the door open. Noah pushed in and I followed. Just as I reached the door one reached out for me with a snarl and red drool hanging from its mouth.