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DOOM. INFERNAL SKY



AFTER THE CRASH COURSE IN FREDS 101, THE REMAINDER. PROLOGUE


"Why are there monsters?"
An exhausted woman looked at her little boy, who had asked the question that was burning in her own mind. His voice didn't tremble. She reached over to wipe his face. They were not wearing camo right now, and the smudges of dirt were only dirt. It wasn't right for a ten-year-old to be a seasoned veteran of war, she thought, but all of the human survivors on Earth understood what it meant to fight for their lives against alien invaders.
A long time ago, when she was ten, her only question was "Are there real monsters?" What a wonderful world that had been, a sane world where nightmares stayed where they belonged, lodged in the gray matter between the ears. Only in dreams would you encounter giant floating heads that spit ball lightning; angry crimson minotaurs; shambling hu- man zombies fresh from their own death; flying metal skulls with razor teeth dripping blood; ghosts colder than the grave; fifteen-foot-tall demons with heavy artillery in place of hands; obscenely fat shapes, only vaguely humanoid, that could crush the life from the strongest man in a matter of seconds; and, finally, there was the special horror of the mechanical spider bodies with things inside them that were far worse than any arachnid.
There was no way to answer David, no explanation for why dream shapes crawled across the land that once was a country called the United States on a planet called Earth.
She thanked God that her son was still alive. After her husband died, there were only three of them. Three. The number made her cry. They weren't three for long.
She'd never had time to grieve over the man she loved. The monsters didn't give her any time at all. Her daughter, Lisa, had been thirteen.
At least her husband had died bravely, ripped apart by the steel legs of a spider-thing. For a brief moment the woman had caught a glimpse of the evil face peering out from the dome mounted on top of the mechanical body. She couldn't stop herself crying out! Her husband couldn't hear her. But the spider- thing heard everything.
She still blamed herself for that momentary loss of control. Her daughter might have been alive today if Mom hadn't freaked out and drawn the attention of the mechanical horror at that instant. The sounds of the monster were the worst part as it headed toward the remaining members of the family. The heavy pounding would stay in the woman's head forever, along with the screaming of her terrified daughter- right before the girl's head was torn off.
A human head makes a sound like nothing else when it's played with and crushed.
She thanked God David hadn't seen what hap- pened to his sister. But lately she found herself wondering if she should ever give thanks for anything again. Although she'd always been religious, she was forgetting how to pray. She told herself it was like the Book of Job: everyone was being tested as everything was taken away. But the Book of Job didn't have spider-things in it.
"I don't know why there are monsters," she said, finally responding to her son's question. "These crea- tures come from outer space. We've learned some important things about them."
"What?" he asked. She looked out the window of the basement where they'd been hiding for the past week. It was a clear night, and she could see the stars. She used to feel peaceful when she looked at the night sky; now she hated those eternal spots of fire.
"We've learned they can die," she said quietly. "They are not what they appear to be. They're not real demons."
"Demons? Like the minister used to tell us about?" She smiled and ran her fingers through what was left of her son's hair. "They can't take you to hell," she said. "They can't do anything to your soul. Real demons don't need guns or rockets. And, as I said, real demons don't die."
David looked out the window for a while and then said, "But they are monsters."
"Yes," she agreed. "We have to believe in them now. But I want you to promise me something." "What, Mom?"
She pulled him close and tried not to notice his missing arm. "There's something more important than believing in monsters, David. Our minister thought we were in End Times. He didn't even try to fight the spider-things, except with his cross and his Bible. But they can be fought with weapons. The human race will prevail! If we have faith in ourselves. I want you to promise that you'll always believe in heroes."
"Heroes will save us," he echoed her. The two of them stood together for a long time, looking out the window at the blind white stars.



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DOOM. INFERNAL SKY
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