Chapter Three: Last Best Hope
The occupants of the vehicles packed bumper to bumper on the eastern exit of the Memorial Bridge had abandoned them as the shadow of the forty foot steel titan rose into sight. Fleeing on foot, most had stampeded back towards the bridge’s western end as a panicked mob. Six lanes of halted traffic without pedestrian walkways had become a jammed parking lot almost a mile long instantly.
A police cruiser sat locked in the sea of cars, marked by its red and blue lights as the lone defender between the approaching giant and the trapped mass of people on the bridge a hundred feet behind. Beside it, Officer Lily Kurtzberg fed more shells into her riot shotgun. With a final pump, she aimed for the central cyclopean lens of the headless machine’s chest.
Officer Hernandez counted the blasts from his partner’s shotgun. Standing atop an abandoned pickup truck, he shattered a passenger window on the bus before him with a rescue hammer. Broken glass fell onto his feet as she reached the last round.
He smacked jagged edges from the window. “Did you hit it, Lil?!”
“Of course I hit it! It’s as big as a battleship!”
The packed passengers within the bus rushed the opened window in a panic as Hernandez glanced back. “And?”
“Eight solid slugs in the eye! I didn’t even distract it!”
A woman amid the crush of clawing, terrified people trying to escape lifted her toddler. The child screamed as she thrust her to the officer, and he dropped the hammer to grab the girl.
Kurtzberg lowered her empty shotgun and pushed up her black framed glasses. “Rich, we need to get them out! Now!”
The child cried pressed against his uniform, and Hernandez scanned the terrified faces of the men and women trapped inside the bus. They beat on the windows as he glanced to the tractor-trailer that had rear-ended them. The impact of the crash had disabled both vehicles, and left the corner of the bus with its singular door hanging over the bridge.
Above a three hundred foot drop to the river below.
He yelled as a thunderous footfall brought the behemoth closer. “There’s no time!”
Kurtzberg shook her head in stunned realization while Hernandez tried to pull a man in a business suit through the window. “We can’t! We can’t leave—”
The cruiser’s radio squawked to life. “ESWAT is en route! ETA ten minutes!”
She grabbed the mic from the open window. “We don’t need ESWAT, we need tanks! Where’s the goddamned National Guard?!”
“ESWAT is en route!” repeated the dispatcher as steel tentacles swept up cars twenty feet away. “ETA ten minutes! Hold position!”
Hernandez pulled the man free of the window, and the businessman fell into the truck’s flatbed. The toddler cried for her mother and squirmed as the officer locked eyes with the bus’s elderly driver. Steadfastly behind the wheel while passengers panicked around him, it took the sound of metal being crushed and rendered to turn their gaze forward. They saw two cars get hurled over the bridge’s sides.
“Ten minutes?! We don’t have ten seconds!” Kurtzberg shouted missing her partner’s cry of warning.
Segmented steel tendrils half as thick as Kurtzberg herself slammed down on the cruiser. It bounced from the impact, showering her with glass before coiling metal wormed its grip around the car. The microphone still locked in her hand, its cord snapped loose as the vehicle was hoisted skyward.
The lens at the center of the alien machine’s barreled torso remained focused on the science center just beyond the western edge of the bridge, as if the building called out to it with an unheard siren’s song. It lifted the cruiser higher, and the massive drone reduced the police car to a twisted mass without even a glance upon it.
Kurtzberg threw down the empty shotgun and grabbed her service pistol with shaking fingers. From the snail-shelled curves of the headless thing’s massive shoulders descended a half-dozen steel tentacles apiece. They coiled and bundled into a pair of thick trunks long enough to reach the ground, where the ends loosed individual tendrils that writhed like hydra heads skimming above the pavement.
She fired a round that ricocheted off the thing, then squeezed off another as metal tentacles curved to face her.
Hernandez peered up, his face terrified as the drone lifted a massive, elephantine leg. It was, like its false arms, a bundled trunk of tendrils except for its end being clenched into a flat, ovoid foot. The man he’d saved scrambled out of the flatbed while the titanic appendage swung forward. Toddler under one arm, Hernandez leapt from the pickup a split second before the blunt limb crashed down upon it.
The officer tucked and rolled to protect the child as the impact behind him pulverized the pickup and shook the bus further over the edge. He came to a stop beside Kurtzberg emptying the last of her clip in vain into the alien machine.
It hurled the mangled remains of the police cruiser off the bridge before the first tentacles clattered onto the bus’s roof. Unified screams of panic arose from within, and seeing a steel tendril thrust at his partner Hernandez pulled her down. A swipe that would have decapitated Kurtzberg instead missed her hair by a palm’s breadth.
The child wailed between the officers on the blacktop as the tentacles swept above them. They arched like snakes about to strike before whipping down to end them.
Then a primeval roar echoed above the noise and terror of the bridge, and suddenly there was silence as the tendrils jerked to a halt inches away from Kurtzberg. They held motionless in the air, and when a second roar came the tentacles slowly withdrew.
“Cretaceous Queen,” Kurtzberg panted.
Above them, the forty foot robot turned from its goal for the first time. The tyrannosaurus charged, Queen’s image reflected on the fisheye lens that analyzed her every motion. The drone snatched up the pickup it had crushed, and in a lumbering turn to face the challenger, whipped its steel coils to hurl it at the dinosaur.
Cretaceous Queen’s claws gouged the pavement as her tail lashed forward. Turning her flank towards the projectile in a skid, she slapped the wreckage in mid-air and knocked it back at the drone.
It hit dead center, and she watched the mangled remnants of the truck slide off of the robot nearly three times her height. It was hardly scratched.
She hesitated as the monstrous drone lunged forward. Flailing a trunk of tendrils, it pummeled her with a tremendous backhand that knocked her massive head to the side. Staggered from the blow, its other false-arm clenched into a fist-like pseudopod and threw a straight punch. The blow slammed her skull like a titanic battering ram.
The officers rose back to their feet as the honey-colored tyrannosaur reeled from the impact.
Hernandez yelled over the noise of the gargantuan fray as the drone drew back to throw a second punch. “The cavalry is here!”
“The cavalry is in trouble!” Kurtzberg said brushing hair loosed from her bun out of her eyes.
Then there was the muted foosh, and a cloud of purple gas appeared from nothing above the dazed tyrannosaur’s head. From it, Purple Phantom fell prone from extradimensional space with a shout of “Uck!”.
The cops did a double take as he landed on Queen’s neck and scrambled to hold on for dear life. Phantom’s eyes caught sight of the gigantic haymaker headed their way and the teen shouted again. “Queen! Duck!”
Queen could only see stars, but thrust her head low as Phantom hung on to the back of her neck with all his strength. The car-sized mass of clenched tentacles sailed like a wrecking ball a foot above his back. He opened his eyes, then glimpsed the behemoth thrown off balance by the momentum of its missed swing.
“Queen, heads-up and bite!”
Her face lashed and bleeding, Cretaceous Queen loosed a renewed roar and struck back at her opponent. She clamped down her huge maw on the trunk of tendrils that had been left exposed. Seconds later there was the groan of steel in her teeth as one of the squirming steel tentacles was severed.
Hernandez renewed his grip on the toddler in his arms and looked to his partner while the tentacle crashed lifeless to the ground. “We’ve got to get this kid and the rest of those people out of here!”
She grabbed her empty shotgun eyeing the wild, gigantic fray. Cretaceous Queen snarled and growled, her nearly foot long teeth locked on the drone’s cabled steel pseudopod as a tug of war began between them.
“You get the kid outta here,” Kurtzberg shouted. “I’ll try to smash open a few more windows on the—”
She was cut short by the sound of tyrannosaur claws that screeched across the pavement. Relentless with her vice-grip on the robot, the officers watched as the machine dragged Queen with a wild tug of the limb she refused to release. In a tremendous show of strength and weight, the robot whipped her through a one hundred and eighty degree swing.
By the time the cops realized the super-powered tyrannosaur was careening towards them and the bus, it was too late for them to act.
But from his perch on Queen’s neck, Phantom spotted the officers caught flatfooted in a blur of motion. Unable to see her rider, Queen heard the foosh of his teleport.
He appeared instantly in front of the officers, flying out of a purple cloud with the momentum he retained from the pitched swing. Belly-flopping, he scraped and rolled across the blacktop until he tackled their ankles. He glimpsed an empty point on the eastern edge of the bridge opening another gap into e-space.
Queen saw his heroism before being thrown through purple gas and nothing more.
The tyrannosaur hit the bus. The impact staved in a side, and passengers within were thrown into each other or their seats. Outside, Queen rolled off of her side, then struggled to rise beside the vehicle’s rows of shattered windows. The robotic bundle of tendrils still clamped in her jaws, she gave it an angry thrash to sever two more steel worms from their host.
She rose as the alien titan lumbered around to renew its attack. But with an ominous groan, the bus began to slip away behind her. Queen glanced back at the noise, then spit out the remaining tendrils from her mouth. Her saurian eyes widened as the bus began to tip over the bridge’s edge.
The vehicle’s rear tilted up, and amid dozens of screams, its nose plunged downward. But then the passengers were jarred by a new impact, and the fall was halted. The driver checked his side view mirror, and beheld the sight Cretaceous Queen biting the rear corner of the bus’s roof. Her clawed toes dug ruts into the asphalt, and she struggled to pull them back from the edge.
Copyright © 2017 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.
Chapter four of Cretaceous Queen, Countdown, will be released next Saturday! Stay tuned, true believers!