Diana spent a troubled night trying to sleep in a space suit. It did not help that she kept having nightmares of the skeletons in the train car and people going up in flames. At one point in time, she dreamt she heard a wolf howling in the night. However, when she awoke from the dream the sound did not repeat itself.
The morning sunlight spilled into the small lobby where Diana dwelled. She woke up shortly before Major Tom and gave him a status report. Diana removed her helmet and had a quick breakfast in the natural air of the ruined world. The experience brought back familiar smells of plants of her native England. These smells mingled with those of decay and dust.
Diana replaced her helmet and began to search around the room where she had spent the night. There were faded posters on the crumbling walls. A rotting desk lay against another wall. A quick search of the desk revealed some evidence of the building's former occupation.
By great fortune, Diana had stumbled upon an old bookstore. With a little more luck, she may be able to find some answers to her questions. She found a pile of decomposed newspapers, long faded and crumbling with decay. Most of the books she found were in the same sad condition.
Diana decided to take a chance and try the stairs to the lower level. Maybe the elements were kinder to the material down below. The stairs held her weight as she gingerly walked down them.
With her flashlight held out as a weapon to pierce the oppressing darkness, Diana started to search amongst the books. She found a few in better condition than any she found on the main level. Some appeared to be promising. She used her palm computer to take a quick scan of the books and sent the information back to the Zephyr's flight computer.
Diana was thumbing through some promising DVDs when she heard a noise in the back of the bookstore. She swung the beam of the flashlight instantly in the direction of the sound. She thought she saw something white disappear behind a bookcase.
The colonel cautiously approached the bookcase. The flashlight held out in front of her. It never occurred to her to bring a weapon of some sort. However, the Zephyr did not have any, but she could have at least picked up a crowbar or found a sturdy branch on her trek here.
The bright beam of light from the flashlight scoured the area where Diana had heard the noise. The only evidence that someone had been there was the skeleton huddled in the far corner. It was unlikely that it was the bones that she saw duck behind the bookcase. Nonetheless, there was nothing else there.
A primitive fear of the dark was starting to grip Diana's mind. Maybe the ghosts of the former residents of Manchester were now haunting the ruined city. Maybe all of the dead humanity was haunting this devastated world.
Diana tried to push her fear back down, but it was a tough battle. She went back to the DVDs. She picked a few which she would feed into the Zephyr's computer. Occasionally she thought she heard another sound, but Diana could never confirm what she heard.
A final quick search brought forth a few more promising books that Diana hurriedly scanned. The darkness was starting to become more oppressive and the colonel felt an urgent need to leave this place. She felt unseen eyes watching her. For the first time in a long time, Diana was becoming completely terrified.
Diana finished scanning the last book and quickly ascended the stairs back into the entranceway. The sun was still out and had filtered its warm rays into the small alcove. Diana rushed outside hoping that the light would remove some of the irrational fear she was feeling.
Though the midday sunlight did comfort her a bit, Diana felt a dire urge to return to the safety of the Zephyr. She radioed Major Tom to inform him of her find. However, she left out the part about her becoming spooked. Diana started back after she had a quick lunch.
The trip back took less time than it did to get to Manchester. Diana did not know how far she had run to get back. She still felt that she needed to return to the Zephyr's safety.
About two hours of sunlight remained when she returned to the glade where the Zephyr had landed. Diana found Major Tom standing on one of the delta wings with his head inside an access panel over the Zephyr's engine. He had obviously been repairing the Zephyr.
Tom pulled his head out and noticed Colonel Diana Kemper walking towards the ship. He waved a greeting towards her, happy to see her back in one piece. Tom then closed the access panel and began packing up his tools.
By the time Diana was back, Tom had everything packed up and joined her at the ladder to the airlock. Neither said anything until they were both back inside the cockpit. Diana was inserting DVDs into the computer's drives when Tom sat in his seat and looked at her.
"Looks like you didn't waste any time in returning," he joked. Diana just shrugged her shoulders absorbed in her work.
"The good news is that all that was wrong was the quantum flux matrix and I have repaired that. Maybe we can have another go at it and see if we can get back to our time. I have been working on a few theories with the computer. It looks like we may have a chance of returning home."
"I was able to find out a little bit of what happened. The rest I am feeding into the computer now." Diana finally spoke.
There was a moment of silence. Tom cleared his voice and got Diana's attention.
"Something wrong? You haven't said much since you returned."
"Sorry," Diana replied somberly, "I am a little depressed by this world."
"What did you find?"
"It looks like there was a nuclear war on a global scale. The cause of it I am not entirely sure. From what I have glanced at, one nation had become like old Nazi Germany. It is the same old story of some dictator determined to run the world."
"Do you know what nation it was?" the major asked.
"I'm not sure yet. However, I believe it was from the western hemisphere, possibly Mexico or Brazil. I remember reading something about both in one the books I came across. I also know that it began as a democratic nation, but had slowly become autocratic. Something in its past slowly started to erode the individual's rights. Because of some horrible action, the people willingly sacrificed their civil liberties for the sake of security. The poor became poorer and the wealthy became even richer through tax cuts and war profits.
"Unfortunately, the books I looked through weren't in the best of conditions and I didn't read them too closely. I wanted to get out of that ruined city as quickly as possible. I am sure something was watching me."
Tom touched Diana's arm to gain her attention, "Was there any mention of the United States?"
"One of the sources mentioned that the Europe and her North American allies fought a desperate war to conquer the dictatorship. Looks like everyone perished in the fight." Diana looked down at her hands fighting to remain in control of her emotions. "I'm sorry, I haven't had much sleep. I think I will hit the bunks while the computer works on the data. I'm sure everything will be ready by morning."
Diana exited the cockpit leaving Tom alone. She climbed into the nearest bunk and let the exhaustion take control. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
It was nearly midnight when Tom shook Diana awake.
"Colonel, you have to see this," the major said excitedly.
Tom nearly pulled Diana into the cockpit. He sat her down in front of a monitor. Tom then took a seat next to her.
"I thought I heard a noise outside," Tom said quickly, "so I had a thermal scan done of the surrounding area."
Tom flipped a switch on the monitor and the green screen showed the image of about twenty lighter green images giving off a heat source. At first Diana thought, maybe her mind was playing tricks on her. Nevertheless, there they were the undeniable images of about twenty humans cautiously approaching the Zephyr.Posted by deg at March 16, 2006 5:45 PM