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AFTER THE KAIJU ATTACK
by John Zaharick
Ice. He hated when they filled his glass with ice. It wasn’t there to keep the cream soda cold. The soda was already cold. They put it in to serve him less.
Barney read the song lists on the mini-jukebox in the booth as he waited for Will. He resented having to huddle at a table, but a gang of raygos—raygun goths—crowded the counter. The boys wore dark-toned imitation pressure suits—one had managed to slip a milkshake straw into a respirator mask—and greased their hair. The girls had on all-black or all-white, contrasted sharply by hair the color of electrified noble gases, from which sprouted antennae. They all wore makeup and looked like dead astronauts. Barney frowned. He would belt his kid for trying to leave the house like that.
Bright toy guns hung from their hips, that could spew sparks and were probably good for lighting cigarettes. Barney felt the solenoid at his side and quietly laughed at the children.
The cards in the jukebox rewrote themselves with each turn of a dial. Barney had to go through five pages before finding songs he recognized. The device’s blue glowing rim reflected off the polished table. The diner was a factory-fabricated silver stamp of Googie architecture complete with curved edges and primary-colored decorations. Most of the new buildings in the Swath were streamlined fac-fabs. Automated trucks glided down the construction roads, dropping them into position where workers linked them to water and electricity. Mayor Flatwoods had promised to rebuild the city quickly. The sky tubes were still down, though, and Barney saw bulldozers clearing rubble on his way here. He had to wipe dust from his receding hair when he got to the diner and found his white jumpsuit was now gray.
The door opened, letting in the sound of pneumatic hammers. Barney looked for Will, only to see a tall man in a black suit and fedora with a newspaper under his arm. He sat at the end of the counter, three seats from the raygos.
Barney gave up on the music and eyed the waitress who had brought his drink. She looked familiar, and after a few minutes he realized she was Judy Parsons, last year’s Miss Flying Saucer. She looked different in a white uniform, balancing plates on her left arm, instead of in a swimsuit, spread out on a giant serving saucer, offered up like coffee with a glass helmet over pink hair. Either way, she was stacked.
Smiling at the thought, he heard the door swing open again. The beeping of a truck echoed in, followed by Will Taylor, still blonde from when he blasted off in a home-made hydrogen peroxide-powered rocket from his back yard. Port Authority had slapped him with a traffic fine, but the phase shift of his formerly coarse black hair was a more blatant punishment. Will joked that at least he didn't have any internal injuries. The doctors would have filled him with car parts to keep him going.
“Some heat we got out there,” Will said, taking a seat. An orange vest with a lightning bolt on it hung over his green jumpsuit. “I fried me some eggs and ham on a busted stop sign this morning.”
“That’s city property,” Barney said with feigned seriousness. “You got a permit for that?”
Will chuckled. “I’m the one rebuilding this city.” He took a cigarette from the case in his pocket and lit it.
A low rumble overtook the diner, glasses and silverware rattling. Barney glanced out the window at the Ohio Class rocket riding a ribbon of smoke into the sky. The swath of destruction ran straight for the launch pad, but arced away at half a mile, sparing the port. The business district and several low-income neighborhoods had suffered instead.
At the counter, the raygos focused their attention on the suited gentleman. “You having some trouble there, big daddy?” an imitation Martian girl asked. The man held his fork and knife by the sharp ends and stared at an omelet.
To his left was a Tarantulus, the Crawling Horror! movie poster. It was grimly out of place in the Swath, where several thousand had died, but that was a side-effect of fac-fab design.
“How much longer before everything is back to normal?” Barney asked.
“We’ve got businesses running at the northern edge, as you can see,” Will said. “Lots of mod-buildings snapped into place. They just need to be prettied with sidewalks and flowerbeds. We’re still cleaning up footprints though, and then there’s the crater where it died.”
Barney felt his heart beat faster as he watched the man in the black suit struggle to comprehend a salt shaker. “They never should have dropped the tungsten on it.” He remembered how the air cracked around the thin black lines flashing down from the clouds. The Rods from God were intended for Leningrad or New Swabia, but that night they sliced out of American skies to cut through the giant sea-star. Silver fire consumed the city, burning in the porcelain rings its tube-feet left on the ground. He had seen two dump trucks filled with the white crust this morning. The crowds came back to him; screaming, shoving, stepping on the dead already trampled underfoot as those gargantuan cries, half-loon and half-whale, shuddered through the air.
“What are you talking about?” Will said. “The artillery shells were bouncing right off it, and an H-bomb would have leveled the whole city.”
“Do you know what happens when you cut a starfish in half, Will? You get two of ‘em!”
“The pieces seemed pretty dead to me when they hauled them off.” Will took a drag on his cigarette.
“There were cells, tissues that could have gotten into the water works to infect people. There’s a rumor going ‘round about a drifter causing trouble at a tube station. He pulled a broken bottle on the cops, and when they zapped him, his skin split open and brittle stars poured out.”
“You mean Christmas decorations?”
“No, they’re like starfish, but with long, wavy cable arms.”
Judy appeared at the booth and Will ordered a tuna sandwich and coffee. At the counter, the man in the black suit had his hat on top of his plate. He picked it up and put it back on. Barney looked from him to the television on the back wall, its convex screen contained in an oval frame. A titan-o-fungus was blossoming in Japan. Workers repairing a cracked bridge in Sapporo found their cement pushed out of fissures by something invisible. Soon white and purple mold appeared and encased the entire structure.
“Those growths are getting more common.” Barney shook his head.
“The missile shields should keep their spores off the coasts,” Will said. “They send out shiny golden flakes. Ain’t that something?”
“It’s unnatural, is what it is.” Barney rattled the ice about in his soda before taking a sip.
“Well, San Francisco is suing Cardinal Electric over the armored salamander that ate Brannan Street.”
“You buy that scam?” Barney slammed his soda on the table, splattering drops. “The Reds and Antarcticans want everyone to believe we’re spawning all these monsters so they can ruin our economy. They grow 'em out in their frozen wastelands and then send 'em here.” The media was quick to blame an undersea mining firm for its atomic robot that malfunctioned two years earlier. Several beaches were closed at the time as radioactivity washed ashore. Barney knew better.
Will shrugged and knocked ash into the face of a cartoon Venusian painted in the tray. “All I know is we didn’t have giant mushrooms taking over cities when I was growing up. Something’s changed.”
Barney watched the counter as he took another sip of cream soda. “Look behind you. That guy’s been acting weird ever since he came in.”
The gentleman in black lifted his newspaper off the counter, food sticking to the back of it, and held it in front of himself as if to read, but looked at the raygos instead.
A boy in a dark orange spacesuit turned to his friends as he jerked a thumb towards the man and grinned. “Tune in this rich elder.” The kid wore blue-red 3-D glasses.
A girl in a dirty white dress with wavy lavender hair leaned across the counter. “Are you like one of those cubes who tells people they didn’t eyeball any lights in the sky or insists the abnormals on their farm were only owls?” She blinked and her oversized eyelashes waved like coastal fan worms. “Whitley here had a smoking cylinder crash behind his house once. What do you correlate of that?”
“I come from Greece and I have seen the wooden airships propelled by song,” the gentleman responded. The kid in the glasses cracked up laughing.
“Hey, leave that old man alone, you punks,” Will yelled. The gentleman stood, put his egg-covered newspaper under his arm, and began to leave the diner, his legs and arms jerking randomly. Barney’s jaw dropped and a tremble rolled through his body.
“Seriously, you’re not ichor, are you, mister?” asked a blue-haired girl in a black skirt and vest.
“Good Lord, he’s been infected by Asteroidea spawn!” Barney leapt out of the booth, spilling soda and ice on the floor. Miss Flying Saucer screamed and dropped a cup of coffee when Barney pulled the gun-mounted solenoid from his hip and aimed it at the old man.
“Barney, what are you—” Will shouted, cut off by the flash of light and crack of static from the pistol.
Charred pieces of fabric and rubber fell away from the gentleman’s chest to reveal a pair of half-gallon jars containing glass spirals and branches. Pistons pumped out of either side of a metal plate on which a grid of tiny lights grew and retreated like time lapse video of bread mold.
“He’s a robot?” Barney said. “A Russian autospy!”
The raygo with the blue hair grabbed the automaton by the shoulders and lowered him to the ground, her antennae bobbing on springs. Drawn on her cheek in eyeliner was a heart with the word CRAFT next to it.
“Get away from him, little girl! He could be a walking neutron bomb!”
She looked at Barney with disgust. “I’m a registered nurse. This man has an artificial chest.” She spoke to the rest of the diner. “Somebody clue the hospital. Now!” She read the lights in his chest while his eyes rolled back into his head and he hyperventilated. “Oxygen to his brain has been down 17 percent for the last 3 hours.”
The kid in the 3-D glasses asked a radio on his forearm for a medi-copter. Judy spoke to the police on a screen by the cash register. Barney stepped back, simultaneously shocked and embarrassed. Ice cracked under his feet. Everyone was staring at him. He looked at the TV.
In Japan, it was snowing phosphorescent goldfish scales.
John Zaharick grew up in coal country Pennsylvania, among forests and mine fires. His love for both writing and science has led him from working as an assistant editor for a weekly newspaper to obtaining a graduate degree in ecology. His fiction has appeared in AE - The Canadian Science Fiction Review, The Colored Lens, Not One of Us, and Allegory, and his poetry in Strange Horizons and Silver Blade. He can be found online at www.johnzaharick.com.