|Twenty-Five Years And A Lifetime Ago|
|Participants||Michael Eildath, Bradley Eildath, Fire Man, Protoman|
|IC Date:||01 February 2200|
|RL Date:||04 June 2012|
"You're going to get us all killed!"
Mike could hear his older brother and father fighting as slipped in through the bedroom window. He quietly closed the window, wincing as the yelling continued. It was clear, at least, that he wasn't in trouble for sneaking out of the house, but the thought gave him little comfort.
"The army told us to stay put and stay off the roads," Edward said, his voice strained as he tried not to scream at his eldest son. "They've got the situation under control."
"Sure," Andrew shot back testily, "like they did at the water treatment plant. Or in Hollywood. Or downtown. Or how about Chinatown, Dad? I heard they busted open the Supermax and let all the thugs and murderers inside run free while some lumber robot chopped the guards down like they were trees!"
He wondered if he should tell Andy and his father what he'd seen while he was out, even if it'd get him in trouble. He'd gone to see Andrea, and they'd snuck down to the army's position further downtown. There had been robots standing on the other side of the army's position, giant walking furnaces that stood just out of the range of the military's weapons.
Then the robots had started to withdraw.
"They're just machines!" his father yelled. "You can't seriously believe the army is going to lose to a bunch of glorified grills and toasters now that they're deployed in force?"
"Maybe if the machines had killed your friends you'd believe me." Andy said sullenly.
Mike started for the door, wanting to tell them that it was almost over. He loved Andy, but this time their dad was right. He stopped at the sound of his father slapping Andrew across the face. Edward had never before raised a hand to his children in anger. The force of the slap make Mike recoil, stopping with his hand on the doorknob.
"How dare you say something like that?"
"Because my friends are the ones that are dead, Dad!"
Andy's outburst got Mike moving again, opening the door and looking down the hall. Andrew and Edward were in each others' faces, Andy's cheek red where his father had struck him. Their mother was there, too, sobbing in her chair, obviously heartbroken and seemingly at a loss for what to do to stop the fight. Mike wanted to rush to her, but it would mean getting between his father and brother.
Another sob turned Mike's attention away from the scene, back into his bedroom. Bradley, he thought with horror, rushing to the closet where he knew he'd find his little brother. Bradley was huddled in the corner, clutching Mike's letter jacket like a security blanket as he whimpered.
Mike wrapped his arms around him without a second thought, Bradley seizing his big brother and holding him tightly. "It'll be okay," Mike promised. "Everything's going to be okay."
Outside, the yelling had stopped, but the damage had been done.
"Just shut up," Andy snapped. "I'm leaving. You won't have to hear about me or my useless friends ever again."
"I didn't-" Edward started, but Andrew was already turning, storming out through the kitchen and into the garage.
"Andy's leaving?" Bradley gasped, shaking Mike as he looked up at his brother's face. He looked as though he were on the edge of shock. Like Mike, Bradley worshipped his older brother.
Mike pulled himself away from Bradley, shaking his head. "He's not going anywhere," he swore. "I'll stop him, it'll be okay."
As Mike left the bedroom, he could see his father standing there, mouth hanging open in dismay over what he'd just done. His mother had finally gotten out of her chair, rushing towards the kitchen to try and stop her firstborn from running away.
The last sound Mike heard was the door of Andy's jeep slamming shut in the garage.
Lights flashed in Mike's eyes as he rebounded off the wall in the hallway, his ankle twisting beneath him as he fell. He could see his parents, his father laying on the floor in the midst of what had once been their coffee table, his mother hanging desperately to the door frame of the kitchen. Julia opened her mouth, screaming Andrew's name, but Michael couldn't hear her - his world was silenced except for the ringing in his ears, his brain aching by whatever blast had deafened him.
He opened his mouth to cry for his mother as Julia vanished from sight, running into the kitchen and through to the garage. The cry turned to a scream that he couldn't even hear himself making as fire billowed from the kitchen, igniting the door frame as it exploded into the living room.
Mom, Mike thought with horror as the house shook again. The floor buckled, and understanding filled him, horrible and undeniable. They were using the water treatment plant to access the sewers.
Edward had pushed himself back to his feet, shouting Julia's name as he tried to fight his way through the fire that poured from the kitchen, all soundless nothings to Mike, whose mind refused to accept what was happening.
Bradley, Mike thought suddenly, he had to protect Bradley. He pushed himself back to his feet, grimacing at the pain as he moved back into his bedroom, his baby brother still cowering in the closet, still clutching Mike's jacket as he sobbed with fear. Mike shouted his name, hoping that he could even still make sound over the ringing cacophony in his mind.
The floor exploded beneath him, fire bursting from the cracked sewer main in pulses. Mike reached for Bradley, but the force of the blast threw him against the far wall as the house split down the middle. Unable to hear, Mike had no warning as the roof gave way, burying him in debris as half of their home collapsed into the open sewer, the rest sliding over it.
A beam struck Michael in the head, and darkness took him.
Mike could hear the roaring of the fires as he returned to consciousness, dimly aware of the pain that seemed to be coming from everywhere. He was in his room, or what used to be his room. His bed was crushed, and it looked like everything had slid against the wall as the house had collapsed into the sewer.
Mike clenched his fists, then looked down in horror at what he saw in his hands. It was his letter jacket, the fake leather soaked in blood. Bradley was nowhere to be seen. He tried to push the thought out of his head, but he couldn't. Where was his brother? His mother? Dad and Andrew?
He bit back a scream as he tried to move - one of his legs was broken, the other still bearing a twisted ankle. The rubble shifted perilously as he did so, and he knew that he'd be buried if he didn't do something. Biting his lip hard enough to draw blood, he pulled himself free, dragging himself back towards what used to be the hallway.
"You bastard!" a voice cried. His father.
Mike tried to call out to him, but his voice wouldn't work, his body half-paralyzed from fear and pain. It was all he could do to drag himself forward, and forever after he cursed himself for doing so. Perhaps it would have been easier if he never saw what he saw next.
His father beat his fists against a metallic torso that might have been white but for the blood and soot caked on it. The robot was shaped like a man, but he clearly was not. Red eyes stared dispassionately at Edward Eildath, fire flickering atop of the robot's head. He was made to burn, Mike could see that clearly, his arms terminating in flamethrowers that even now were glowing with flame.
"My wife! My sons!" Edward cried, pounding his bleeding fists into the robot. Mike had never seen such fury in his father before - Edward was a computer technician, too busy raising a family to fight in the last war. Violence was not in his nature.
The robot did not respond to his father's strikes, nor to his words. As Mike watched with horror, he lifted a gauntleted arm, the flamethrower shifting, turning by some trick of technology into a red hand as he grabbed Edward Eildath by the shoulder. Mike could hear the crack of his father's shoulder blade as the robot pulled him close, looking directly into his eyes.
Edward flew like a child's toy as he was thrown, crashing through one of the ruined walls of the Eildath home, bleeding all over as he rolled to a stop. He was breathing, Mike could see, but that was all he could tell as his eyes were fixed on the robot warrior. The robot glared, then turned and walked away, hand turning back into a flamethrower as he set the neighborhood to the torch.
Mike crawled to his father, breath caught in his throat as tears poured down his face. His father was cut in a dozen places, his left arm hanging limply at his side, shoulder broken badly. One of his legs looked twisted, if not broken, and blood trickled from his lips.
"Dad," he whimpered. "Dad, please don't die."
He wasn't sure how much time passed before he saw another living being. Mike did what he could for his father, using his jacket and some snapped timbers to try and splint his shoulder and his leg. He could do nothing about the bleeding, and Edward Eildath swam in and out of consciousness.
Mike had crawled out of their hiding spot looking for something to eat. It was safe enough at night - the robot drones in this sector all seemed to burn, betraying their presence long before they could see Mike. It wasn't night this time - food was getting harder and harder to find, the last of what was in their fridge covered in flies. He had to see clearly, and the fear of being seen was overridden by the need to keep himself and his father alive.
He crouched in the ruins of the kitchen, digging cans out of what was once their cupboard, trying his best to stay out of sight. There had been no flaming drones, and perhaps he'd convinced himself that they had left this area. The robot that came was quiet, and Mike didn't hear him approach until it was too late to do anything. When he saw the red boots and gauntlets, fear gripped him, his eyes going wide.
It wasn't the same robot. Where the other robot had been white, this one was grey, and its head was covered in a helmet, a black visor and red mouthpiece covering its face - if it had one. A shield was strapped to its back, and it held something in its hand - a scrap of yellow cloth, Mike thought.
He stared at the robot, and his breath caught in his throat as the robot looked back at him. He was trapped, and the robot could do whatever it wanted. It could kill him without a second thought, and then his father would die. He could feel his heart pounding as the robot turned towards him.
And then he kept turning, walking away from Michael and out of sight. Mike was still alive.
It was almost a week later before Mike was rescued, a military team sweeping through the outskirts of the city looking through survivors. He and his father were taken to a hospital in nearby Nevada, but with so many wounded pouring in from what was left in San Angeles, the overtaxed staff could do little but ease Edward Eildath's suffering.
Mike stayed with his father despite his own wounds, holding his hand as Edward slowly lost his fight to stay alive. He'd wanted to be a doctor, but there was nothing he could do for his own father. Edward only regained consciousness once, his eyes straining to focus on Michael as his hand tightened around his son's.
"Don't... don't hate them," he whispered, his voice cracked and dry. "They're the tools of an evil man... but you mustn't hate them. You need to go on, Mike. You need to carry on for your mother, and your brothers, and me. I love you so much, son."
Edward never said another word. On February 10th, 2200, Edward Lee Eildath passed away. That was the day that his first life ended, and another began.