// 2021-10-03 // by Neon
It's always the muscle memory: a gut feeling that knows the mind better than it knows itself. Amelia was nervous, and she couldn't help but fiddle with things as a way to keep her senses focused and her mind sharp. The uneasy yet captivated glare from the senator seated across from her made Amelia realise that she was unconsciously fidgeting with her flip-top lighter, dextrously spinning it between her knuckles with surgical precision.
The truth was that her heart was racing and she was terrified. But she wasn't about to show it in front of an upstart politician like the guy sitting in front of her-- what was his name again?
Well, it's not like it mattered. The only reason he was here beside her in the state-of-the-art cushy cabin of a corporate eVTOL was because he had just so happened to be in a meeting with her when the evac call came in. Amelia wasn't the type to look a gift horse in the mouth, and the clout from having a politician indebted to her would be helpful in the uncertain chaos looming over the horizon (or horizon lack thereof).
The Wraitheon corporate headquarters was only several miles out from Concord Orbital, meaning that the end-to-end transfer time for a private eVTOL flight directly to the Wraitheon terminal was only about fifteen minutes. Or so Amelia thought.
With an unexpected jolt, Amelia's head smacked violently against the back of her seat. The aircraft shook uncontrollably and there was a muffled thud from behind the door that separated the passenger cabin from the cockpit. Amelia leaned forward and craned her head to get a look through the small window in the cockpit door, trying to see what was going on.
The small viewport was slightly above where the seated pilots would be, so it was hard to tell what was going on in there. But even with the terrible viewing angle, one thing was certain: there was screaming coming from behind that door. Oh god, the screaming-- it was like something out of a horror film unfolding right in front of her. Though as gruesome as the sounds were, there wasn't enough time for her to really process it all.
The way the cockpit viewport was positioned, only the sky out the front window was clearly visible. Amelia's eyes widened as she saw the horizon disappear and she felt light, as if on a descending roller coaster. She knew she had to do something. She dropped the lighter she was playing with and fiddled with the seatbelt harness on her torso. Her shaky fingers struggled, but the clip was caught on her suit jacket and it wasn't opening. The politician sitting across from her shouted in panic and also moved to unclip himself as Amelia looked across to him.
There was a click as the man's seatbelt unclasped and he fell out onto the floor, tumbled, and landed sideways into the cockpit door with a loud thump. The dry fleshy smack that his body made against the door was carved into Amelia's brain as the last thing she heard before everything went silent. In an instant, the front of the craft pummelled into the ground, crumpling and spraying fragments of fibreglass and dirt into Amelia's face.
She felt dizzy, and it took her a moment to realise that the world was spinning around her. Her body bounced around in her seat like a ragdoll as the cabin rolled across the ground from the impact until finally settling to a stop.
Blood rushed to Amelia's head as she regained her senses. She thought to unbuckle herself and get up, only to realise that her arms and her hair were dangling above her head like noodly strips of spaghetti. She already was up. Upside down in her seat, Amelia hung from the straps of her four-point aircraft harness. She blinked her eyes a couple times and looked around, still in shock from what had just happened.
Reaching up to her face weakly, she wiped the blood away from her cheek where something must have sliced at her skin in the crash. Fiddling with the clasp of her seatbelt once more, she managed to get it open. Immediately, she fell down onto the uncompromising aluminum ceiling of the upturned eVTOL cabin, gravity slamming her wounded body into the uneven metal surface with a cruel thud. On the way down she smashed her face into a ceiling mounted handgrip and her left arm cracked and twisted as her whole body weight landed on it.
She gasped for air and coughed, the light metallic taste of blood tickling her mouth. She couldn't breathe. Her throat choked up as she tried to inhale and she flailed in search of oxygen. An unsightly glob of spit rolled down from her mouth onto the ground as she wheezed. Closing her eyes, she whimpered.
Her body tried to scream and her spine convulsed. Involuntarily, she frantically rolled herself over to be laying on her back. Like a freight train violently pummelling into her ribcage, she felt the most agonising burning sensation pierce her right side. It was like an enraged gorilla was ripping her chest cavity open with its meaty fists. Slowly, the pain in her chest subsided to a more manageable ache. Her body relaxed as she panted heavily, and air rushed to fill her lungs once more.
Amelia curled into a fetal position and grasped her right side. She winced and grunted as her skin burned to the slightest touch. Something was definitely broken. Everything in her body ached. But she knew she had to get up. It wasn't safe here, and the solemn voice in her heart knew that there would be no one coming for her.
She could barely move her left arm, but she uncurled her legs and laboured to push herself up with just her right arm. Pain shot through the right side of her chest as she struggled to put weight onto her arm. Her legs were still shaky and weak, and she fell back onto her face as she tried to get up.
Meekly, she crawled with one hand, pulling her ragged frame over to the side wall of the upside down eVTOL cabin. She reached up to a handle grip on the side door, yanked it for leverage, and slowly pulled herself up onto her feet.
Amelia leaned on the metal hand-hold as she caught her breath. Looking at her surroundings, it was hard to recognise the shambling wreckage as the high-tech modern aircraft she had flown in on. The most obvious bit of damage the was that the entire front section of the eVTOL was missing, leaving a gaping hole in its place. Amelia had no idea where her fellow passenger had ended up, but he certainly was no longer in this cabin. He must have gotten ejected during the initial crash. She shuddered: had she managed to get her seatbelt off, likely the same fate would have become of her.
She let go of the handle she was leaning on and stumbled a few steps forward. Her body ached, but every step she took became slightly easier than the last. Her left arm was still limp, but she felt the tiny prickle of feeling coming back into her fingers. It was also definitely broken, and it'd be at least a few hours until the bone set itself. Given a couple days she'd be right as rain.
By all means, Amelia's injuries were intense. It was a miracle that she was even alive, much less pushing her body to get back up after a high-speed aviation accident. Or was it? To the average person, maybe. But then again, the average person didn't have a military-grade medical nanite system coursing through their veins. There were undoubtedly some perks to being a high-ranking executive at the country's prevailing corporate defence contractor.
As she walked out from the wreckage, Amelia squinted to the bright midday sun in her eyes. She surveilled the scattered plates and beams that once made up an aircraft that cost more money than the average American would earn in their entire lifetime. There was a light breeze as the spring air rushed through Amelia's chocolate brown hair and ruffled her dishevelled business suit.
A small movement registered in the corner of her eye. Amelia's head darted in the direction of the severed cockpit half-buried in the hillside. Wait, was that... there was someone still alive in the rubble! Amelia ran over to the survivor, grunting in pain as she jostled her injured ribcage and strained her battered legs.
"HEY!", she shouted trying to get the attention of the obscured individual trapped in the debris. As she got close, the form of one of the pilots impaled on a rod of metal from the cockpit came into view. He was clearly in shock, struggling aimlessly, moving his limbs in every direction as if that would separate him from the frame rod sticking through his chest.
Amelia approached the man and spoke gently, slowly walking close to try to help him.
The pilot's face darted toward Amelia. Nimble as a fox, Amelia ducked and jumped back as a contorted hand swiped vigorously at where her head just was. Her body reacted faster than her mind could process what had just happened, but a horrific dread overcame her as she locked eyes with the thing inhabiting the living corpse front of her. Its eyes were solid black empty orbs, the last perverse echo of what was once a human being.
The desolate husk growled and crackled as its joints writhed and twisted. Black goop oozed from its mouth and dripped all over the tarnished flight suit it was wearing. Amelia couldn't just stand there and do nothing. She couldn't. She bent down and grabbed a short broken steel rod laying at her feet. She stared at the abomination and it glared right back at her, baring its teeth.
Enough was enough. Amelia let out an exasperated cry and launched herself at the creature, smashing the metal rod into its hideous face. Her skin crawled as the unsettling crack of a human skull fracturing into pieces sprayed fragments of bone all over the sleeves of her designer blazer. A mix of black slime, blood, and pinkish brain goop dripped from the mutilated skull as Amelia wiggled the rod out from the once-pilot's caved-in cranium.
But it wasn't over. The blighted corpse was still moving. It reached for her, mindlessly grasping at the empty air. Amelia smacked the monstrosity again. And again. And again. And again. She kept going until the carcass was plastered with rod-sized holes, too pulped and mutilated to keep moving.
Exhausted, the metal rod rolled out from Amelia's good hand and she dropped down onto her knees. She felt the acidic sting of bile in the back of her throat and uncontrollably heaved the contents of her stomach onto the rocky ground. Amelia had read the reports and heard the stories, but gazing into that murky soulless abyss with her own eyes was something else entirely. She wasn't sure how to process it. The worst part was that she knew what it was, unlike the countless terrified people who would be living out their last moments, confused and alone, as they slowly turn into that.
All those people. She had known about the experiments, the contaminants seeping into the water supply, multiplying until they reached a critical mass and spreading to a wholly unprepared and uninformed populace. Everyone involved with project XEDRA knew. It's why up to now they had been laying the groundwork to leave, because everyone knew how fucked it had gotten.
Years of cover-ups ensuring that world governments were completely unequipped for the impending crisis. Disappeared homeless and orphans, sacrificed to the XEDRA life forms in the hopes of some miraculous medical or militaristic breakthrough. The conclusive reports that XEDRA could not be effectively contained. The confirmation of its existence in the wild and subsequent bureaucratic action taken to sweep it under the rug.
Amelia knew. She knew about all of it. And she had done nothing. She had built her career off of it, even. But hey, that's business, right? Sometimes the people at the top have to make the hard decisions to do what's best for progress. For science. For whatever the fuck she wanted to call it.
The truth was that, when it came down to it, Amelia was no different from the mangled nightmare that she had just put out of its misery. After the crash, her body had risen from the ashes of a dying world, but her soul was haunted. If she even had one anymore.
She could cry in self pity at the bed she'd made for herself, but she knew it wouldn't change anything.
Amelia stood up and looked around to the verdant countryside that surrounded her. Her transport had crashed up on a hill and there was a full view of small rural homes speckled in the distant woodland landscape. All of this was something that she'd always taken for granted. It had been years, really, since Amelia had taken even a moment to stop and take in the natural beauty of this world and all the people who once called it their home.
That was her problem, really. She'd tell herself all these comfortable lies about how her work would bring the best of humanity to new horizons, but she had undermined her own intent by never actually stopping to consider the lives of the regular people her work affected. After all, they were once just as human as she was. But now Amelia had all the time in the world to consider everything that she'd accomplished. After all, this world was doomed. She scoffed and winced. She was doomed to go down with it.
Amelia knew the company operating procedures. Hell, she had written many of them. No one was coming for her.
Amelia stood up, dusted herself off, and began walking. There was nowhere to be, but she'd find somewhere to go. The world was entering an unprecedented cataclysm, and there were bound to be other survivors who could benefit from her confidential knowledge on the demons her corporate stewardship had helped to unleash.
The ground rumbled and she turned to look to the northwest. Roaring in the distance, the rocket with Amelia's collaborators on board streaked across the sky in a plume of smoke and light.
The cutting-edge industrialists of today had departed, entrusting the world of tomorrow to the skeletons left in their closet.
This post is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events, persons, or corporations is purely coincidental and a product of the author's imagination.
This post was heavily inspired by and set in the retconned 2040 timeline of Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead.
The illustration for this post was made by me using GIMP. The full resolution version can be found here. Source assets were obtained under a free to use license: