Friday, September 16, 2011

It's a Wonderful Morning - Part 1 of 3

© 2011 by Henry Melton

There was a point in my efforts to sell science fiction short stories when I realized that certain stories I liked would never work in the magazines.  This was one of them.  Tough.  I still like it.

When the water pressure dropped to nothing in the middle of his shower, it set the course of the whole day.  Ken Leighton, held his breath, and when the water started coming slowly back up to pressure, he let out his breath in a noisy sigh.  He stood motionless until the suds from his shampoo started dripping down into his eyes.  Rinsing off quickly, he psyched himself up for a day to remember.
He glanced in the bedroom for Ruth, then headed down to the kitchen.
At least the kids were where he expected them to be.  Billy was already on the computer, hiding the screen when he walked by.  Molly was finishing her hair and applying more make-up than he liked to see.
"Would the younger generation come here for a moment," he called.  Molly stuck her head out of the bathroom and waved.  Billy was almost a minute before he appeared, it probably took that long to close his game.
"Do any of you know where your mother is?"
Billy shook his head.  Molly frowned in thought, and said, "Maybe out in the garden.  She was talking about grasshoppers eating the roses."
He nodded.  "Okay, good enough.  But the real reason I called you two was that I am feeling very good this morning, and I want you two to play hooky from school."
There were two open mouths, staring at him.  Molly glanced at the old pendulum clock over the fireplace.  He hoped he wouldn't have any problems with her.
He turned to his son, "Billy, I think you should hit the cable modem and see how many points you can rack up blasting your Commander buddies."
The boy still looked frozen, but he said, "It's a school day."
"And you don't think there will be anyone on the Net, is that it?"
"Well no...  Are you okay?"
"Fine.  It's a wonderful morning.  You would really rather go take that math test of yours?"
"Then get at it.  The Internet is waiting."
Billy shelved the question of his father's sanity and turned towards the computer.  He walked quickstep, as if running would break the spell.
"Molly."  His daughter was waiting for some clue as to what was going on.  He tried to keep his own face calm, although his insides threatened to bubble up into his voice at a moments notice.  "I think you should take advantage of the time zone difference and rack up some long distance charges with that friend you made last summer on your Student Ambassador trip."
"Jean Louis?"
He nodded.  "Yes, that boy in Leon, France."
Her face paled, and then she straightened.  She set her hair-brush on the table and turned toward her room.  He was proud of her.
"And Molly?"  She looked back.  "Keep an eye on Billy.  Make sure he stays on the computer.  Playing Commander."
She nodded.
Ruth was indeed working with her roses.  She glanced up at his approach, and read his expression from years of practice.  She set down her tools.  "Problem?"
"The water pressure dropped.  I'm keeping the kids home from school today.  And I suspect that you will get a call from the Band Boosters about fund raising."
She nodded gravely, "I think you are probably right."  She started peeling off her gardening gloves, letting them drop to the ground.  "You are still going to work as usual?"
He nodded.  "Somebody has to drive the car pool."
"Be careful.  The traffic can be murder."
He gave her a kiss.  "Don't I know it."
He edged the large SUV out of the driveway.  It was so huge he got a few comments about it from the people at the office.  He just smiled and repeated his story about how great the Surburbanator was for long vacation trips with the kids, and how he really didn't mind the gas consumption.
It also made a great commuting vehicle, now that he had Perry and Hugh to ride in a car pool with him the thirty miles to the plant.
He picked up Hugh first, and they rode together in the front seat without much chit-chat.  They arrived soon enough at the Blackhawk housing development where Perry lived next to the twelfth hole.
"Hey, Perry.  Lose any more windows?"  Hugh asked, as Perry slid into the rear.
"Seatbelt," Ken reminded, as he always did.  It was one of his unwavering rules.
Perry clicked into place.  "No, not since you clued me in on that armored glass.  I still get startled out of my chair by the noise, but at least no more glass to sweep up."
"Your own fault for living in a golf course.  Did you call Foreman?"
"No, " Perry admitted, wiping a perpetual sweat from his forehead, "I haven't had the time."
"You can't play without clubs, and Larry will fix you up with a set."
There was silence for a while, as Ken drove the back roads towards the plant.  The roads were bumpy.  The county hadn't gotten all of the roads repaired from the spring flooding.  For the past few years, the climate seemed to alternate between floods and drought, and rural two lane blacktop's seemed to be the prime victims.
But the back route was at least as fast as the interstate, and there was a lot less traffic.
Just outside of Manor, with the town's new single-pillar white water tower on the horizon, emblazoned with the galloping mustang emblem of the local high school, Perry asked, "Hey, did either of you guys notice a water pressure problem this morning?"
Ken and Hugh exchanged a quick, grim, look.  Ken replied, lightly, "Yep.  It caught me in the shower and I was afraid I was going to have to towel the shampoo off my head.  Luckily, it came back on."
"No, not really,"  Hugh commented.  "Utilities out in the country are a lot more likely to go out.  Perils of rural living."
Perry nodded, satisfied.
They were past Manor, near the Decker power plant dam, when the car shuddered.
"Uh, oh."  Was all Ken said when the engine died.  He had to concentrate on guiding the heavy vehicle safely to the side of the road with no help from power steering.
Perry had leaned over to stare up at the sky.  "Can we get the window open?"
Hugh shook his head.  "Power windows."  He followed Perry's gaze, and saw it.
There was a second sun in the sky, a little bright ball rivaling the sun, but fading rapidly in brightness.
Ken asked, "What is that?"  He slowed, finally, to a stop.
"A hydrogen bomb, I would guess," said Hugh.  "First step in an attack.  A high altitude blast to knock out all the enemy's electronics with an electromagnetic pulse before the real attack happens."
Perry asked, "You don't think it is the terrorists do you?"
Ken pulled the key out of the ignition and inserted it into a special switch on the console, marked as a way to disable the passenger-side air-bags when small children were riding in the front seat.  He turned it.  The whir of the air-conditioning came back on, as well as the dashboard instruments.
Perry struggled with his seat belt.  "Hey, this thing won't unlatch."
Hugh spoke calmly.  "Now don't be silly Perry.  You know it wasn't the terrorists.  It was your attack.  Your people have started the invasion."


Mike G. said...

Another good cliffhanger :)

Henry Melton said...

Thanks. Now it starts to get strange.

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