Eschaton Boulevard, Part 1

(by msulliva@asacomp.com, 07 March 1997)


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Notice:  This story has been rated "NC17" for adult language, nudity,
strong sexual content (lesbianism), mild violence, and explicit
smoking.  If you find any of this objectionable, tough titties.

Copyright 1997 by G. M. Sullivan.  All rights reserved.  This story may
be copied and distributed for the uncompensated amusement of others
only.

Author's note:  This story takes place a few weeks after the events
described in "Hybrid Vigor"  However, the tale stands on its own merits
.

Dedication:  For Jenny G., the brightest new light in the smoking
world.


"Eschaton Boulevard"  Part One of Two


Part One:  One Night In Baxter


1.  An Imperfect Evening, Further Spoiled

How did I ever end up with this fucking dweeb, thought Darlene.

Biff Fletcher was a real catch, they had told her.  Defensive captain
of the football team, a hunk and then some.  Lots of money in his
family; he had his own car, a Lexus no less.  It didn't get any better
than him in this hick Wyoming town.  A date with Biff was a ticket to
high school immortality.

"So when the QB faded back, I faked my stunt to the inside and pushed
the tackle aside...what a wimp, all-state my ass!  After that, the QB
was meat!"   Biff sat across the booth from her, nattily attired in
letter-bearing sweater.  Six feet four inches tall, 245 pounds, all of
it rock-hard muscle.  Not bad-looking, thought Darlene, but solid bone
between the ears, and if he tells one more shitty football story...

Biff, oblivious to his date's painful boredom, plowed on with the
play-by-play while he sized her up.  Darlene Preston was a quite the
babe, he decided, despite her rep as a moody, brainy, nerd.
Medium-length chestnut hair, nice blue eyes behind those dorky glasses,
and plenty under that shirt to check out later.  Time for a little warm
up, he thought, and slipped an Air Jordan off his right foot.

Darlene sighed and sipped her Coke.  Glancing around the diner, she was
sure all the other couples MUST be having a better time.  Otherwise,
there was no hope in life.  At 16, she had been dating for only six
months, and each time she went out with a more popular boy, and each
time she had a more miserable time.  What was wrong with her, anyway?
Why couldn't she just be pleasantly mindless and obliviously happy like
everyone else?

Her reverie was interrupted by a sudden socked presence on her left
calf.  The bozo was feeling her up with his size 15 foot!  She froze
while Biff ambled on with the sports report, all the while working his
clumsy appendage relentlessly up her leg toward Mecca.  Darlene gave
him her best shocked glare, but Bill blathered blithely on.

"Biff...stop that please, right now!" said Darlene.

"Stop what, Darl?"  Biff gave her a gaping grin stuffed with perfect
teeth.  He knew she hated that nickname.  "Keeping them off-balance"
was always a key part of his game plan.  What Darlene did next,
however, was not in the coach's script.

Darlene stood, her face reddening, letting Biff's foot plunk against
the booth's bench.  She reached over and tipped his Coke into his lap.
"Keep your fucking foot to yourself!" she shouted.

Now it was Biff's turn to go red in the face, but he stayed seated and
let his rage gather silently.  Darlene looked around and saw that she
had become the center of attention.  All conversation in the small
diner had hushed and all eyes were on her.  The counterman glared,
angry at her obscenity.  She had done it again; Miss Uncongeniality had
hit a new low.

Tears starting, she pushed through the glass door and into the chilly
night air.  She shivered, thinking of the two-mile-walk home she faced
now that she had ditched Biff and his Lexus.  She would be damned
before she went back in there for her sweater, though.  She was done
with public humiliation for this night, at least.


2.  High Plains Drifter

The streets of Baxter were quiet tonight.  They were always quiet.  The
downtown, if you could call it that, was eight blocks by twelve and
boasted three traffic lights, one spanking new to accommodate  "urban
growth."  It was a Friday night in mid-June, in the emptiest state in
the lower 48, where it rarely gets very warm...or very friendly.

Darlene walked down an empty street, barely better-lit than the country
stretches all around. A chill wind was blowing scraps of newspaper down
the gutter, and the pavement was shiny from a recent rain.  She wept as
she hurried along, wondering where she had gone wrong.  Probably at
birth, she decided.

There seemed to be some impassable barrier between her and her peers.
She loved to read, hated sports, and liked to talk about meaningful,
sometimes depressing things.  The other teens watched television, lived
for football, and would speak only of those things or each other's
dirty laundry, endlessly.  The girls thought only about boys.  And the
boys thought only about....

It wasn't that she disliked the idea of sex.  Darlene masturbated
often, and wished she could do it more.  She always thought that if
boys knew how much girls dreamed about sex, they'd be ten times more
obnoxious than they were.  Just as well to keep it a secret,
considering how those dweebs behaved now.

What she really wanted, she thought, was intimate companionship, the
sort where sex was a natural consequence of affection, mutual respect,
and real communication.  Was that so much to ask?  Apparently, it was.
She'd rather become a nun than spread her legs for the likes of Biff.

Darlene reached in the pocket of her denim skirt and withdrew a pack of
Marlboro Light 100s.  She had begun experimenting with smoking a few
weeks earlier, and was still undecided about continuing.  Smoking
seemed to suit her personality somehow.  It was a little anti-social, a
little non-conformist, and the danger of it appealed to her somewhat
morbid habits of thought.  Even the bitter taste and irritating quality
of the smoke was in tune with her feelings, especially now.  Cool or
not, it was her.

But it was most assuredly uncool with her parents and most of the kids
in Baxter, so she had remained "in the closet" from everyone, not
daring to smoke openly.  Having no friends who smoked forced her to
teach the skill to herself.  Without role models to emulate, she knew
she still looked dorky doing it.  She could quit at this stage easily,
she knew...but what was the point?  She could hardly be any less
popular.

She put a cigarette in her lips, and after a few tries managed to light
it with a match while standing with her back to the brisk wind.  She
welcomed the still unpleasant taste of smoke in her mouth and puffed
out a little uninhaled cloud.  She continued to walk toward home,
taking small puffs, inhaling very shallowly if at all, but pleased at
the way her puny exhales were magnified by the cold, moist air.  It
almost looked like she could really do it.

Darlene quickened her steps as she moved through the old section of
town.  The last silver mine outside Baxter had shut down in 1953,
leaving slat-sided warehouses and ratty apartment buildings empty and
decaying in the constant wind.  No more ore to be stored, no more
transient workers to be housed.  And the people called this a thriving
little town.

Darlene never heard the soft footsteps behind her.  Her thoughts were
interrupted by a rough shove which sent her spinning into a narrow
alley.  Trying to get her balance, she fell on her backside into a
puddle, splashing mud on her skirt and dropping the half-smoked
cigarette.  Her abandoned sweater appeared beside her in the puddle.
She looked up to see Biff standing over her.

His face was still red and now twisted with rage.  "Bitch!  Nobody
walks away from me!  Nobody!  Who the fuck do you think you are, you
little cockteaser?  You wanna see your old man run out of town?"

Darlene was frightened.  She strained for a strong, calming reply, but
could only mumble, "please...leave me alone..."

"Sure, Darl, I'll leave you alone...when I'm good and done!"  Biff was
reaching for the zipper of his Coke-stained Dockers.

Shit, no, Darlene thought, and huddled deeper into the puddle.  Not
here, not like this...if he touches me, I'll kill myself.

Darlene heard a dull thunk behind Biff and saw him sprawl forward on
his face, flopping in a helpless manner he seldom exhibited on the
football field.  He bore an expression of pain and supreme surprise as
he struggled to rise on his elbows.  "What the fuck!  That hurt!"

She expected to see a nightstick-wielding cop standing behind Biff.
Instead she saw a red-haired girl, barely five feet four and certainly
no older than 14.  Biff struggled to his knees and turned around, one
hand reaching back to rub his shoulder blade. "Owww...Who..."

The girl just stood there, glaring silently at Biff as he gained his
feet.  His hands curled into  fists as he rose menacingly above her.
He seemed to hover in indecision for a moment, meeting her level gaze,
then trotted from the alley.  "I'm getting the cops!" he called as he
vanished into the street.

The girl moved with an odd slowness toward Darlene and extended a
hand.  She took it and was quickly pulled to her feet.  The hand was
small and baby-smooth, but strong...very strong.  "Thanks," said
Darlene.  "You saved my life, there."  How banal, she thought as the
words left her mouth.  "What's your name?"

"Call me Mary Lou," the girl said, with just a hint of a soft accent.
"Come on.  They'll be here soon."


3.  Running on Empty

Darlene rose painfully to her feet, squeezing cold water out of her
clothes.  She left the soaked and ruined sweater where it lay.  She was
miserably uncomfortable but also ecstatic at her strange rescue.  Mary
Lou was peering out the alley, apparently looking for signs of
pursuit.  Darlene thought that was unlikely; she doubted Biff would
spread this embarrassing story around, to the police or anyone else!

Mary Lou reached a marvelously soft hand back and took Darlene's
again.  "Come on, sugar, they'll be along any time now!"  Not bothering
to contradict her, Darlene allowed herself to be led out of the alley.
The street was silent and deserted.

Darlene was trying to arrange her questions in some coherent order when
a pair of headlights appeared at the end of the street.  She thought at
first that the police were here after all, but it was just an unmarked
van.

However, Mary Lou was alarmed.  "Run!" she said, and started down the
street away from the van, pulling Darlene along with irresistible
force.  Darlene feared that her shoulder would be dislocated, and
followed as best she could.

With a muted roar, the van accelerated behind them.  Darlene knew it
was useless to run.  "Mary Lou, we can't..." her words were cut off as
her feet were suddenly swept from beneath her.  Mary Lou lifted her up,
carrying her like a baby, and began to run.

Mary Lou began accelerating faster than the van.  Wind whipped past
Darlene, pinning her hair against the sides of her head.  It was like
riding on the hood of a car speeding down the interstate, but Mary
Lou's grip was gentle and firm, the ride smooth and swift.  Behind them
the van's engine growled loudly, struggling to catch up with the
fleeing pair.

A sharp crack came from behind, and Mary Lou cried softly into the
racing wind.  However, her pace never broke or slowed.

Mary Lou adjusted her grip on Darlene to free a hand, and reached it
behind her back.  She had no trouble at all cradling the older girl
with one arm.  Darlene saw that Mary Lou was wearing what looked like a
army field pack, huge on her small frame and evidently stuffed full.
Without turning her head, Mary Lou reached inside and removed what
looked like a small crowbar.  Quickly, she cocked her arm and flung it
backhand toward the van.

Darlene saw the girl's arm blur into invisibility as Mary Lou completed
her swing, then reappear to support her body once more.  Instantly
there was a loud report as the right front tire of the van exploded,
sending shreds of rubber and steel belt flying to either side.  The van
settled onto its metal wheel with an agonizing screech, sparks
scattering behind on the wet pavement.  The vehicle spun out of
control, but the driver was evidently an expert and brought it to a
halt quickly.  Their pursuit was ended.

Speech was impossible at this point and became more so as Mary Lou made
an abrupt 90 degree turn into a side street.  Darlene was reminded of
how she felt on some of the faster rides at the state fair.  She had
never liked those rides.  She felt sure her stomach was still moving on
their original course.  Despite this, she felt safe and warm in Mary
Lou's arms, and snuggled closer to the small girl's chest.

After more Indy-style running and another two or three dizzying turns,
Mary Lou entered an alley which divided two abandoned apartment
buildings.  Darlene flinched as she saw that the alley dead-ended in a
brick wall only a few yards ahead.  Mary Lou could never stop in time.
This would be a painful death...

Instead of crashing into the wall at 70 miles per hour, Mary Lou gave a
little jump.  The pair sailed upward, angling toward a closed second
story window on the right.  Somehow, Mary Lou twisted around in mid air
so she hit the window back-first, sending an explosive spray of broken
glass into the building ahead of them.

Shielded by Mary Lou's body from the deadly hail, Darlene's only
thought was "She'll be cut to ribbons..." then Mary Lou landed on her
back with a soft grunt.  Darlene felt her breath go out in a whoosh and
could say nothing as she struggled for air.

Apparently unhurt, Mary Lou stood, still carrying Darlene, and set her
on a worn but clean mattress on the floor.  Then the younger girl
collapsed, sitting with her back to the bare wall beside the mattress.

"Home at last," said Mary Lou, reaching down to pull out a dart-like
tube sticking from her right calf.  "I must start remembering to leave
the windows open."


4.  Hello, Mary Lou...

Resting on the mattress, head still spinning from the rapid events and
dizzying run, Darlene finally gathered herself enough to begin
examining her new surroundings.

The room was large and mostly bare, but showed signs of recent
occupation.  Besides the mattress, there was an old blanket, some empty
half-empty food packages, a battered metal wastebasket, a few paperback
books, several gallon-sized jugs of water, and some cracked plates
bearing a few cigarette butts.

There were no lamps in the room and probably no electricity to light
them, but it was adequately lit by a mercury vapor streetlight just
outside the shattered window.  A second, intact window let in a little
more light.  An open door led from the room to a bath, and another door
stood closed.

Darlene took a more careful look at her odd hostess.  Mary Lou was
certainly very young, but quite mature physically.  She wore a blue
sweatsuit that had not just seen better days, but looked as if  at
least one person had been killed while wearing it.  Dried blood was
heavily caked in several places.  However, through the rips, rents, and
burn holes, Mary Lou's smooth, pink, flesh showed no marks.  Under the
tear where the black dart had pierced her, Darlene could see a small
red spot on Mary Lou's calf.  That was all.

Mary Lou removed her field pack and set it down.  It landed with a loud
thunk that shook the bare, wooden floor.  My god, thought Darlene, that
pack must weigh more than I do.  Yet she had run...and jumped...!

Mary Lou opened the pack and fetched a small, white can with a flip-top
lid.  Not bothering to use the attached lever, she punched in the tab
with her thumb and drank the contents greedily in a few quick gulps.
She tossed the empty aside and removed another from the pack.

Darlene retrieved the can and examined it.  It bore the familiar GenSci
logo, two DNA helixes spiraling around a stylized letter "G."  The
label read "Power + +:  Chocolate Flavored Nutritional Beverage."  She
vaguely remembered Biff saying that he drank this before the big
games.  She turned to the disclosure label and saw that each can was
loaded with vitamins, nutrients, and delivered 2500 calories per
eight-ounce serving.  As Darlene watched, Mary Lou quaffed five full
cans in less than two minutes.  When she had finished the last, Mary
Lou absently balled the steel-sided container in her small fist and
tossed the compressed mass into the wastebasket near the mattress.

"Oh, honey, I needed that!" said Mary Lou with a contented sigh.
"Running from the MIBs is thirsty work!"

"MIBs?" said Darlene.

"Men in black.  My sole companions on this stroll down Eschaton
Boulevard."

"What's that?" said Darlene, feeling a little dense.  There was no such
street in Baxter, certainly.

"Last things," said Mary Lou.  "End times.  Everyone wonders where and
when but it's here, now, sugar.  Now you know it too."

I don't know shit, thought Darlene, but kept silent.  There were so
much to ask about, but she couldn't think of a question that didn't
sound ridiculous.  Surely this girl knew she wasn't a normal person,
knew that most people were not pursued by anonymous, armed, hunters.

"Smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo," said Mary Lou.
"And I have far too much to do."

Darlene shivered.  Mary Lou's abnormalities were not limited to her
physical abilities.  She wondered if she might even come to regret
ditching Biff...but no!  She'd take her chances with this girl anytime
over that asshole.  Mary Lou had saved her...

"I..." Darlene began, "want to thank you again..."

Mary Lou's head snapped around to look at Darlene, as if she'd just
become aware that she wasn't alone.  For the first time she met
Darlene's eyes.  Beneath her childish red bangs, Mary Lou's eyes were
unnaturally bright, her concentration too intense to be wholly human.
Darlene wanted to look away but could not; that gaze held her like a
rabbit in headlights, flooding her mind, seeing into the secret places
she had guarded all her life.

"Don't thank me, sugar.  Fires from frying pans, as they say.  You'd
best be running along."

Darlene was still transfixed and helpless, but tears ran from her
eyes.  She had never felt like this before...she hardly knew this girl,
yet Mary Lou's words seemed a rejection painful beyond endurance.
"You...you want me to go?" she managed in a trembling voice.

"Why no, sugar, of course not!  It's just dangerous, is all...and
lonely.  Sooo lonely.  I can't for the life of me
remember...memories...things get lost."  Mary Lou's gaze softened a
little.  Her eyes were even brighter as if she was trying to cry too,
but could not.

"I don't care," said Darlene.  "I want to stay with you."

Mary Lou did not seem to hear.  She got slowly to her feet and fetched
something from her pack,  picked up a chipped plate, then sat down
beside Darlene on the mattress.  "Like a smoke, honey?"

Darlene saw that Mary Lou was carrying a pack of Pall Mall kings,
unfiltered.  It made sense that if she would smoke at all, it would be
a strong brand like that.  Darlene said "Yes, sure, I have my own."
Darlene withdrew a Marlboro Light from her skirt pocket.  She didn't
think about the fact that she had never smoked in front of anyone
before; she was just glad Mary Lou was not insisting that she leave.

Mary Lou placed a cigarette in her mouth and struck a match.  The white
cylinder looked incongruous in her tiny, round lips beneath an upturned
nose.  She held the match to Darlene, who leaned forward to accept the
light.  Then Mary Lou lit her own and pinched the match out between two
fingers.

While Darlene took her usual shallow drag, Mary Lou also took a
brief-seeming puff.  The tip glowed bright orange for a second, then
Mary Lou withdrew the cigarette.  An inverted waterfall of white vapor
poured from her mouth, over her upper lip, and into her small
nostrils.  She breathed in deeply, then blew an opaque-looking stream
of smoke toward the window, where it caught the light from the street
and swirled thickly.  Mary Lou took in some more air and produced
another thick stream.  She smiled contentedly and stretched, smoke
still escaping from her mouth and nostrils on the next breath.

Watching Mary Lou, Darlene continued to take her shallow puffs,
strangely fascinated by this display.  She had never seen anyone smoke
like that or seem to get such pleasure from it.

Mary Lou took another short puff, but Darlene noticed that each of her
drags consumed a measurable portion of the cigarette.  Holding smoke
deep in her lungs, Mary Lou turned toward Darlene and watched as the
older girl managed a shallow inhale.

Smoke curled thickly from Mary Lou's lips as she spoke.  "Why sugar,
you remind me of someone I'd nearly forgotten.  Such little puffs.  Now
what was her name?"  Mary Lou paused to exhale the rest of her puff,
the smoke billowing warmly around Darlene's face.  "She's the one gave
me my special honeys!  I save them for occasions."

Trying to look grown-up, Darlene exhaled a small stream of smoke from
puckered lips.  "I haven't been smoking very long, just a few weeks.
How about you?"

"I don't really remember.  Eight, maybe ten years."  That hardly seemed
likely to Darlene, but then what was with this girl?  Mary Lou spoke
again with smoke-wrapped words, "Sugar, I should help you like I helped
my friend....Shelly.  Like this..."  Mary Lou took a slightly longer
puff, inhaled, then with no warning leaned over and placed her lips on
Darlene's.  Startled, Darlene drew in breath sharply just as Mary Lou
began exhaling smoke gently into her mouth.

Darlene, frightened at first, quickly decided that she liked this.
Even though the smoke was pre-mixed with air from Mary Lou's lungs, she
could feel it's richness and thickness as it filled up her lungs, her
throat, and finally her mouth despite her best efforts to inhale it all
down.  When Mary Lou ended the kiss, she exhaled the rest of the puff
in a cloud over Darlene's face and watched.

Darlene lay still, her eyes bright with surprise, her mouth wide open.
Holding her breath, she saw smoke gradually curling upward from her
lips, veiling her eyes.  "Wow," she said, and smoke billowed forth more
thickly.  Then she closed her lips slightly and blew, watching a vast
cloud emerge from deep within her, merging with the remnants of Mary
Lou's exhalation to wreath them both in smoke.

"That, honey, is smoking," said Mary Lou.  "Now why don't you put that
silly thing out and we'll try this again?"

Darlene quickly stubbed out her almost forgotten Marlboro as Mary Lou
took another puff.  This time Darlene leaned up eagerly to meet the
young girl's lips.  Darlene reached one hand behind Mary Lou's head,
cupping it and pressing their faces together as closely as possible.

In a much more deliberate fashion this time, Darlene drank hungrily and
deeply of Mary Lou's smoke, willing her young lungs to expand to the
challenge.  Here was a taste of the intimacy she had been looking for,
unhurried and unforced, sharing a pleasure only for pleasure's sake.
This was heaven.

When their lips parted this time, small wisps of smoke escaped from
both girls' mouths and nostrils, maintaining the connection between
them like a silky veil.  Both exhaled together with Darlene now
producing most of the volume, the mingled smoke gathering between their
still-close faces, removing then from the dreary room, the dreary
world, transporting them to a place of fog-bound mystery.

"I think you've got the knack, Sugar." Mary Lou smiled, and they shared
the last puff from her cigarette in the same intimate manner.

"Oh, my," Mary Lou yawned.  "Good eating, good smoking, good kissing,
and now I'm good and tired.  I need a nap, honey.  Hold me while I
sleep?"  As she spoke, Mary Lou removed the remnants of her sweatsuit
and was nude.  She laid down with her back to Darlene.

Dizzy and light-headed from the unaccustomed smoking and other new
pleasures, Darlene removed her blouse and skirt without thinking.
However, as she was about to undo her bra, she caught herself.  What
was this leading up to, anyway?  Is this really me, or just someone
swept away in a strange adventure?  Mary Lou lay still and silent,
seeming to be already asleep.

Darlene kept her undergarments on and stretched out behind Mary Lou.
She pressed close to the small girl's back and placed an arm around her
waist, again marveling at the infant smoothness of her skin.  With her
other hand, she reached down and pulled the worn blanket over them
both.  Sharing body heat, they spooned in the near-darkness.  For now,
this was enough.


5.  The Posse

Bronsen Callaghan, Special Agent in charge of Search Beta, swore under
his breath as he watched his "crack" team struggle to replace the tire
on the van's bent wheel.  When would these assholes finally learn that
they were dealing with real trouble here?

And not only his assholes.  The chief back in Washington had been very
specific in his orders.  BETA was to be apprehended unharmed and in a
manner so as to attract as little civilian attention as possible.
Better to let her escape a hundred times, Callaghan had been told, than
to violate either of these rules.

And a hundred times it would be, too, until someone upstairs bothered
to read his reports and wised up.  Equally unhelpful was their damned
"need to know" bullshit.  He did not, in their opinion, need to know
who BETA was, where she came from, or how she got the way she was.  He
did not need to know about Search Alpha or any other teams that might
be out there.  God help them if two groups like his came together...the
result could well be a blood-bath.

He had first picked up BETA's trail in New Orleans, where he had
managed to arrest 12 of her worshippers, but the "goddess" herself had
slipped the net quite easily.  The 12 detainees had been immediately
shipped to Washington for questioning, but all he was told was that
they showed no sign of "contagion."  Contagion of what, for Christ's
sake?  Did they think BETA was some sort of Typhoid Mary?  Sorry, they
said, he didn't need to know that.

At the next stop in Tyler, Texas, he had received his special
equipment.  Unmarked, black Nomex suits, the high-performance van (what
a joke!), lots of intelligence gear, and special rifles adapted to fire
tranquilizer darts.  The hard-pointed darts were loaded with 750
milligrams of Placidyl, a potent CNS depressant.  LD-50 for Placidyl
was 75 milligrams, but with those hard-points darts coming from
high-velocity rifles, any citizen struck with one would not be in any
condition to worry about the drug overdose.

Not that the darts posed any difficulty for BETA.  He knew he'd scored
a clean hit on her just before she'd tossed that crowbar.  Fat lot of
good that had done.  He suspected he'd also gotten her on five other
occasions, in five different towns, as she fled west.  No reaction.
Nothing.  She never slowed down and she didn't leave many tracks; just
little patches of chaos everywhere she lit.  That was why he had,
against orders, drained the Placidyl from several of the darts and
refilled them with RDX-14, an impact-detonated high explosive.  Just in
case someone finally got smart.  Just in case.


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