The Death of Earth Patrol

Short story based on this illustration by Kali Ciesemier…

Short story for the Pictonaut Challenge of August 2014.

“Okay, let’s think about Emma Haugen. Really, I’m more interested in Emma Haugen right now, I’m afraid. You see, she’s not been in what you’d call a great place. She’s not been quite herself and, well, her life has changed and is changing. She’s in transition. I suppose that’s only to be expected because she’s been through a big shock. Same goes for all her friends, but she’s not been spending much time with the usual crowd of late. Fact is, she finds it a little hard to cope with.

The little things. It’s the little things that a different. Like watching TV and films. Hanging out with the regulars at Black Hole and the Muse Bar. It just doesn’t feel the same without Steph. Anyway, Emma’s been keeping herself busy with other things – hitting the gym hard, working more shifts at the deli. She figures she’ll save up to go see her grandmother back in Norway. Maybe she’ll go back and study someplace. Who knows? Some of her old friends went straightway to sign up to the forces but she reckons that’s a rash reaction. I mean, who are they gonna try and get revenge against? As I said, she’s distant from those guys at the moment but she can understand why they’d make that move, I guess.

Grief makes people do odd stuff and shakes ’em up some. It’s a big thing to try and get over – not just because Steph died but because of how she died. And she was so young and full of life and love. I mean, that’s why she got up at dawn that morning to take a three hour train ride to Bay City. That’s why she spent all her birthday money on a replica costume and all the pieces she needed to make herself the spitting image of her hero, Corporal Rada-Jae Rimmick. That’s why she cut her naturally curly, long mahogany hair and dyed it black. That’s why she was heading to the Wonder Worlds convention on an unseasonably gloomy August morning. She went there because she was a lover. She was a romantic – a great geek romantic. The irony is horrifying. She went there to celebrate her passion and celebrate the things she loved most in life and to feel alive. But they all ended up dead…

Anyway, not getting ahead of ourselves, she got off the train at Monroe Heights and, being so early, she decided to walk down to the New Docklands. Of course, if you know Bay City you’ll know that between the Heights and the recently developed upmarket areas you’ve got to pass by the Old Docklands if you’re not hopping on the Metro. It’s mostly junkyards and ruins of old industry that the City hasn’t got around to cleaning up or renovating yet. Most of the attacks on 4/13 ten years back were fixed around there, fortunately. Not fortunately in this case, though – not because of what Steph Hartley found on that August morning.

Alright, here’s what happened. She was wandering around the Old Docklands and making her way slowly to the Con at Bay City Coast Center, lost in her own little world. Dressed as Corporal Rimmick, she could easily imagine that she was surveying the wreckage of another skirmish with Shadow Core soldiers or the environs of a disused space station. High on pre-Con fever, Steph thrilled in her personal fantasy. And then she came across it. It was just floating there – a rusted metal sphere in the waters by the shore. It stood out from the rest of the random debris, even more so to Steph because it reminded her of something right out of Earth Patrol. It looked slightly retrograde, had a series of dimmed bulb lights and an array of wires.

To her, this was a perfect coincidence. Some higher power or fate or destiny or whatever had put what appeared to be a pretty good recreation of a Shadow Core Orb-Drone in her path. You may remember that Core Orb-Drones were a real key part of the second season episode, Eyes in the Ice – the one where General Riss got held hostage in the Antarctic, right?

Anyway, she picked it up for a closer look and it captured her imagination, even though it showed no signs of life. She wasn’t thinking about the aftermath 4/13 or anything like that – she was all caught up in Earth Patrol fandom and the excitement about going to Wonder Worlds. What she didn’t know was that the big orb in her arms was actually an unexploded automatic-drone-bomb built by the New Dawn Insurgency. The NDI, of course, are in part real-life inspiration for the Shadow Core, so again there’s another stab of irony.

The device had somehow remained there since 4/13, somehow not exploding and somehow not being picked up in the sweeping operations. All signs indicate that it was faulty – that something was messed up with its internal mechanics and sensors. It didn’t detonate when Steph Hartley touched it and the NDI – or at least, what’s left of ’em – are probably over the Moon that it didn’t.

As it was, she decided it’d be a great prop to drag along to the convention. After all, she was dressed as Rada-Jae Rimmick and it wouldn’t like out of place. So she took it with her, and walked it the next three kilometres to the Bay City Coast Center. It didn’t look out of place at all. When the whole place is crawling with cosplayers and steampunkers and wannabe Wolfgirl Olivias and kids dressed up as alienoids, who’d bat an eyelid?

Eventually, at noon, she headed to the Earth Patrol panel. The entire main cast of the show was there, including her idol Carla D’Amico – the real life Corporal Rada-Jae Rimmick. That special panel was the main reason she really wanted to head to Wonder Worlds that day. The same is true for many other attendees, because there was quite a crowd in that room. The drone device knew it too and I suppose the sheer number of people in close proximity is what triggered it. As I said, the internal mechanics were faulty but it just so happened that things clicked and activated a few minutes after Steph sat down in the front rows at the panel – mere seconds after the proceedings began and the cast themselves came on stage.

Those bombs were designed to do maximum damage, using the sensor data to work out when it was guaranteed that a great number of individuals would be killed in a blast. The sensors now working and detecting a sizeable crowd, it sent a signal to the detonator.

The drone exploded, instantly killing both Steph and most of the audience gathered in that space. The entire main cast perished, none of them surviving.

And that’s why there’s no season four of Earth Patrol…”

***

Spencer Caplan looked up. The two figures opposite him on the other side of the glass table were gawping, open-mouthed. Studio exec Ira J. Kalish was frozen half-way between apoplexy and pure confusion. Next to him his assistant Amanda wore a relatively similar expression, though hers seemed to be more a combination scepticism and a sense of “oh, how embarrassing”.

And now Spender Caplan was feeling embarrassment. The silence was harsh and it cut into him. All the fabricated bravado and confidence that he’d entered the meeting with now choked and retreated away into zilch in the hostile vacuum.

He forced himself to speak to try and break the moment. “So… well…”

“What the hell is this, Spencer?!” Kalish countered, cracking himself out of statue state. “Wha?! What the hell is this?!”

“I just… I mean, thinking about Season Four of Earth Patrol I had… I thought I wanted…” but as the showrunner struggled for words he looked up into the eyes of the media titan and from there everything inside him seized up and withered.

The exec spat out his words slowly, forcefully, seething. “I don’t know what the hell this is, Caplan…”

Amanda pitched in, “Uh huh, I mean… I’m no writer, Spencer, but I straight away I can see several plotholes and well, it all seems way, way too meta…”

Kalish raised a horizontal knife-hand to cut her off and restore the heavy silence. He returned his steely gaze to Caplan, grimacing and barely containing his irritation. With strained calm he proceeded to growl at his screenwriter.

“This, Caplan,” he intoned with a thick finger waving, “whatever this is, get it out of your system. This? This meeting? It didn’t happen…”

He glanced at Amanda and she nodded in compliance.

“I and Amanda are going to leave now. We’re going to pretend this never happened and you’re going to come back on Thursday morning with a road map for Earth Patrol season four. And you’re gonna show me how we’re going to retain our ever-shrinking audience and you’re going to justify this thing’s recommissioning and you’re going to remember what your job is and what you owe me, the network and the fans of Earth Patrol. Okay?”

And in a flash the giant was up and out of his chair and bolting out the room, snorting with disgust, his assistant following swiftly. Neither of them even even glanced at the broken man they left behind them.

Spencer Caplan just sat there, beaten and dejected. He had no idea what to do with Earth Patrol. It’d be better off dead and, right now, pitiful Spencer Caplan felt the same way about himself.

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  1. Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘The Death of Earth Patrol’… | ENTER... JAMES CLAYTON

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