Like Angels’ Visits,
Short and Bright
©2006 The Angst Guy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Synopsis: Amy Barksdale and two girlfriends are in a spot of trouble, with the fate of Earth at stake, in this way-over-the-top crossover of Daria, Charlie’s Angels, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, the USAF Space Command, and H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories, if you will.
Author’s Notes: In early 2004, Kara Wild challenged several fanfic authors on PPMB to write over-the-top stories for the Dariaverse. At least, I think that’s how it began. This story was one of the many results. The events herein take place simultaneous with the last scenes in Is It College Yet?
Acknowledgements: My cheerful thanks go to Kara Wild for the challenge.
How fading are the joys we dote upon!
Like apparitions seen and gone.
But those which soonest take their flight
Are the most exquisite and strong—
Like angels’ visits, short and bright;
Mortality’s too weak to bear them long.
—John Norris, The Parting (1678)
Her armored suit leaking air and her com/sensors down after her crash-landing, Amy Barksdale carefully stepped into the hallway from the ranch house’s dining room. A kooz was coming out of a bedroom at the end of the hall, not five meters away. Her smart gun fired before she did, her helmet console screamed warnings and flashed lights, but all she felt was dull surprise at knowing the Enemy had reached Earth at last. The war was now here.
And the Enemy was not what she had expected.
It’s so beautiful, she thought, her smart gun jumping on full auto in her right hand. It’s like a—
A titan punched her in the chest, slamming her into a table and smashing it to splinters. She bounced off the wall behind it and hit the floor, her smart gun gone. As she shook off her confusion and struggled to get up, the wooden floor leaped beneath her and the air was filled with dust and debris. Her bones rang from tremendous explosions she could hear even through her helmet and armor. Earthquake, she thought, but she knew it wasn’t, it was Viv laying down fire on the house, and Amy would die if Viv didn’t blow the kooz into atoms this second. She clawed through the blinding dust cloud, feeling for the smart gun and praying that—
The floor jumped extra hard. A tremendous weight fell down across her back, immobilizing her and breaking part of the floor under her. Tasting blood in her mouth, Amy tried to pull herself from under the force pressing her down. She couldn’t move. Her armor entombed her even as it kept her alive.
Don’t be scared! Don’t be scared! screamed a voice in her head, but if she didn’t get up now, she feared she never would, and that fear conquered all.
Up! Amy pulled her arms in, then forced them to do a pushup in her powered combat armor. The weight pressing down on her back shifted, snapped, and came partly away. She had enough room now to get one of her knees up, then the other, and she stood and shoved away the wreckage of the house. At the end she gave into panic, mindlessly thrashing at the timbers and pipes entrapping her. Up! Drowning! Up!
Seconds later she tore through the shingles of the roof and fell on her back over the rubble. She was screaming into her helmet and could not make herself stop even after she knew she was free. The ranch house had collapsed—or exploded, more likely. Parts of the house were scattered everywhere in sight.
She stopped screaming and gasped for air with a raw throat. Big bomb must’ve hit the house, she thought. One of the circling cruise missiles, maybe. Her faceplate was covered with dust, but she could see sunlight and vague images. She wiped a shaking glove across her faceplate, smearing it, and saw a metallic-gray, human-shaped spacesuit make its way across the wreckage toward her.
“Amy!” came a shout in her ears. “Amy, calm down! I got it!”
“What? What?” she shouted back, trying to get up.
The bulky gray-suited figure was on her, American flags on its shoulders. It grabbed Amy’s armored hands by the wrists. “I got it!” the figure shouted over Amy’s helmet radio. “Calm down! We’re okay now!”
“I lost my gun!” Amy shouted. “I lost my gun!”
“I put a cruise missile on it, Amy! It’s over!”
“My see-and-ess is down!” Amy shouted, though shouting in her helmet did her no good, and neither did crying, which was what she did next.
“C’mon, get up. We gotta get going.”
Amy got to her feet, aided by the other figure. “Where’s our pickup?” she said between coughs.
“She’s coming,” said the other figure. “You still have your backpack, you know. It’s not like you don’t have anything left.”
Amy sniffed back a runny nose, feeling her self-control settle into place again. “My see-and-ess isn’t working. I get only you on the suit radio, nothing else. What’s going on?” She wished she could use a handkerchief to wipe her nose and eyes. Combat armor was great, but it had its sucky side, too.
“This was the only landing so far. Charlie said SAC will be here in a few minutes to fry everything within twenty klicks, just in case, so we’ve gotta go.”
“The Canadians are gonna be pissed.”
“The Canadians asked us to fry it. In secret, of course.”
“Someone’s going to see the fireball.” Amy laughed without a trace of humor. “Not like it matters, I know, but still.”
“Can’t worry about it now, babe.” The figure in the gray armor swiveled to look around at the widely scattered remains of the ranch house. “I’m just glad no one was home. Hope the owners are into redecorating.”
“No other landings?”
“Nah. Can’t believe those monsters don’t need spaceships. That’s too weird, even for me. I mean, how do they move in space, you know? Someone at SPACECOM tried to explain it to me, but I still don’t get it.”
“You’re sure the kooz is toast?”
“Crumbly burnt toast, like I used to make my ex-husband for breakfast.”
Amy looked around. “Doesn’t look too burnt to me. Shredded, but not burnt.”
“It was a figure of speech. Hey, I don’t want to bug you, but didn’t you pick up the kooz when you went into the house?”
“My see-and-ess went down when I landed.” Amy ran a gloved hand over the outside of her helmet, feeling for dents. There were plenty. “The retrorockets didn’t go off like they were supposed to. Rattled me pretty good. Suit’s leaking, too, damn it.”
“Forget it. Charlie doesn’t care about the equipment. Someone’ll fix it or throw it away. Who cares.”
The gray spacesuit turned so that its gold faceplate faced Amy.
“Thanks,” said Amy. “Sorry I lost it there. I was kind of scared for a little.”
“Eh.” The gray spacesuit turned away. Though covered with dust, the name TAYLOR was still visible on the chest and arms, along with the U.S. flag, SPACECOM, and 513th USAF Space Wing (Angels) patches. “Make dinner or something.”
“How about carryout?”
“Yeah, why not,” said Amy. “Let’s make it a party. We could use one.”
“Let’s. Know what?”
“It’s graduation time. My little girl is getting her high-school diploma right now.”
Amy looked down at the bottom rim of her helmet, at the digital chronometer. She sniffed again and smiled. “You’re right. So’s my favorite niece. We should go see them when this is over, all three of us.”
“Yeah.” Vivian Taylor did not sound like she believed it would happen.
Amy did not blame her. If more kooz reached Earth behind this one, time would be sorely lacking for family get-togethers. “I can ask Charlie for a short leave, couple days or something,” she said. “Can’t hurt to ask.”
“We might be busy.” Viv was always the party-pooper.
“We might.” Amy was realistic, which was almost as bad. “Party’s on me, though, if we’re not.”
“You hear from Brittany lately?”
Amy heard Viv sigh over the suit radio. “Yeah. She said her dad was acting kind of weird about—”
The kooz reared up behind Taylor, flinging away a ton-and-a-half section of roofing. In the full sun, it sparkled like a giant plastic amoeba filled with rainbows, colored fog, and light. It was breathtaking, and Amy saw it and stepped back, raising a hand to warn Vivian.
A pseudopod flashed out from the kooz and punched Taylor in the back, knocking her out of sight. Her nerve gone, Amy turned and ran, jumping over piles of debris to escape. Nothing more was possible without her gun.
Another titan’s fist hit her, a weaker blow than before that still threw her clear of the wreckage of the house. Rolling across a weed-filled backyard, Amy came to rest only twenty feet from Taylor’s gray-armored body. Her head spun as she got up on her elbows. Taylor wasn’t moving. The kooz was coming on like a two-story bulldozer.
Kill it, Amy thought, suddenly calm. Kill it at all costs. She reached up and carefully keyed in the backpack release. It was hard to focus with blood running down into her eyes from a gash on her forehead, but the backpack came loose. She rolled away from it and flipped it over to key in the timer code.
The kooz rolled through the smashed house, heading for her. The unearthly waterfall of color radiating from it distracted Amy from her work, but she kept her head down and concentrated. Little wonder how the monsters got their name, plucked from an old horror story called “The Colour Out of Space.” The title was shortened to COOS, then to kooz by those in the American military who studied them, tried to contact them, then fought them in the black depths of interplanetary space with robot spacecraft, atom bombs, and particle beams. It was impossible to say if kooz were intelligent, but they certainly knew how to fight. And now, the kooz knew where their most annoying enemy lived. More would come. Possibly a lot more.
And humanity would die screaming.
Amy hit the last button and got up, leaving the backpack behind. SAC would have to settle for second place. She staggered over to Vivian and grabbed her by one arm to pull her away. Neither of them would escape the backpack nuke, but Amy was damned if she would let the kooz get Viv first.
The ground jumped. Amy fell but kept her grip on Viv. She got back on her feet and turned around, staggering as the ground jumped again and again.
A black helicopter with a SPACECOM emblem showered rockets and cannon-fire into the kooz. The sparkling amoeba came apart in billions of droplets, the ammo hits and explosions spraying a colorful mist across the wreckage. As Amy watched, however, the droplets came together again in the air and on the ground, forming larger drops, then blobs, then larger blobs still. It was regenerating. Rumors out of SPACECOM said kooz were unkillable. Amy believed it. We are so screwed, she thought. We are so very—
In the blink of an eye, a missile on a lance of yellow-white flame darted from the black helicopter into the middle of the largest piece of the shattered kooz. Amy remembered at the last moment to throw herself to the ground, but by then it was entirely too late and everything blew up hard.
Someone bumped into her. Amy woke up and regretted it. A blazing headache sang between her eyes. Her helmet was off, wind was roaring in her face, she lay on her back inside a helicopter, and she hurt so much all over that it made having cramps and the flu at the same time look pretty good.
“Hang on, muchachas!” shouted a woman from the pilot’s seat of the copter, next to Amy’s head. “Here it comes!”
Amy reached over for Viv, her finger snagging her friend’s armored suit’s chest straps. She remembered the backpack. Where was—
A Light brighter than day came and went in an instant. The air heaved and jumped. The helicopter was flung forward and spun crazily in the air as deafening thunder hammered it and hammered the three women inside it from every side.
Blinded and battered, Amy screamed as forces tried to pull her out through the open side door of the helicopter. She jammed a foot against the ledge under the side door and gripped a metal pole behind the pilot’s seat to keep Viv and herself from falling out.
After a last sickening spin in the air, the helicopter righted itself. The engine had an irregular beat and the copter flew with a jerking motion, but it flew.
“¡Ganamos! ¡Vamos a Disneyland!” the pilot screamed above the rumbling outside. “Charlie, you bastard, you owe me fifty bucks! I told you we’d do it!”
Amy allowed herself a thin, dry smile. Penny Lane was forever betting on their missions and, more often than not, winning. As the kooz could not regenerate from atomic disintegration—so far as anyone knew—the Angels had indeed won this round. Maybe they did deserve a vacation to Disneyland once this was over. If it was ever over.
Better than Disneyland, however, would be a trip back to Lawndale. Penny would want to see her little sister, Amy her niece, and Vivian her daughter, all three of whom at this moment were throwing their blue graduation caps into the air on the high-school’s football field, under a cloudless blue sky.
Amy turned her head and looked out of the open side door of the copter. Wind roared over her face as she gazed down at the mushroom cloud rising over the deserted farm in northern Alberta. A few more minutes, and a much bigger mushroom would bake the farm and all around it into black ash. The first landing of the kooz on Earth had been stopped. It was only the first, but still . . .
Amy smiled again, but it was a different, feral grin.
“My planet,” she whispered to the thing that had been at the base of the cloud. “This is my planet, not yours.” She closed her eyes and listened to the copter’s damaged engine and the fading thunder, and she imagined that humanity might make it after all. Charlie might even give them two days off to see their families. Anything was possible, for an Angel.
Original: 02/03/04, modified 12/24/04, 09/22/06