Realizing that, whatever it is that was attacking his city, it was airborne, Dante hit the switch to raise the retracted hard top, even as he pulled into traffic.
Within moments, the black top locked into place, grabbing the windshield frame, and Dante rolled up the car’s side windows and checked to be sure all the blow-through vents were shut.
It was less than a mile and a quarter down 12th Street to the turn onto 8th Ave, which Dante took nearly on two wheels, sometimes bashing other cars out of the way in his haste.
All he could think of was getting off the island and escaping the certain death he'd seen behind him.
Dante soon lost count of the number of cabs, Beamers, Benzes, Toyotas, and even a NYPD cruiser that he'd either sideswiped or brushed out of the way on his mad dash north, thinking only to get to the Lincoln tunnel off the island.
He noticed Madison Square Garden out of the corner of his right eye as he passed it, but it was almost all he could do to keep most of his attention on the traffic in front of him while also noticing the yellow-brown cloud of death closing in both in front of and behind him as the prevailing winds blew it northwest over the most populous island on earth.
Apparently, the aircraft that had dropped the gas canisters, for that is what Dante assumes happened, did so in a line straight up the eastern side of Manhattan, all along its length.
Crossing through the red light on 34th street, Michaels almost breathed a sigh of relief as he realized he was now in Hell’s Kitchen, and almost to his destination.
At one point in the late 1950s, someone had the bright idea to try and rename the Hell’s Kitchen area as Clinton, and it even said that on what few maps showed the area at the time, but no one used the name with the exception of real estate types. It had been, and would always be, Hell’s Kitchen to anyone familiar with the area. And, thanks to Daredevil and Marvel comics, to quite a few people who had never been to Manhattan, as well.
Just before turning onto 39th Street, Dante saw one of the omnipresent tourist helicopters plunge out of the sky, obviously out of control, and crash into the New York Times building.
The explosion was surprisingly small, compared to what seems to be the Hollywood conception, and Dante winced at the impact before turning his attention to taking the corner ahead at nearly fifty.
He'd gone less than a block before he noticed that access to the Lincoln Tunnel was packed, so Michaels, struck by a sudden inspiration, slammed the Ford into reverse, the big three hundred horse V-8 smoking the rear tires as he stomped the gas, aiming, in reverse, into the oncoming traffic before cranking the steering wheel to the left and shifting from reverse to second gear.
By the time the big Skyliner stopped skidding and the tires once again gained grip to propel the vehicle forward, Dante had it aimed north on 9th Avenue, and his speed increased as he kept the pedal matted.
Of course, 9th Ave. was a one way street, and Michaels was heading the wrong way, a fact that the Manhattanites loudly reminded him of with their horns as he juked and weaved the Fairlane 500 towards and around them at nearly suicidal speeds.
He managed to make it the two blocks to 41st street without killing himself or anyone else, and took the turn onto 41st at 60 miles an hour, the rear end of the massive Ford fishtailing as he did.
Instead of slowing down, Dante mashed the accelerator, letting the 312 cubic-inch engine force the rear end into obedience. He knew this move tended to work better on front-wheel drive cars, but, on the narrow streets of Manhattan, he wouldn’t have far to slide before the Skyliner’s massive rear end would hit a parked car and straighten out anyway.
His luck held, and he was able to power through the fishtail before hitting anything -- but he was soon sliding intentionally again, having thrown the Ford into a right turn to merge onto 10th Avenue heading north.
Surprised at the relatively light traffic for this time of morning, Dante let the big Fairlane have her head as he aimed the car uptown.
Dante stayed on 10th Ave all the way until 46th street, which he slid the big car onto, seeing his destination, a famous city landmark, straight ahead.
Michaels roared the Fairlane down West 46th Street and sliced across the startled and panic-stricken traffic on 12th Ave and the Hudson River Greenway, skidding the Fairlane to a stop beside the massive USS Intrepid. Shutting the engine off, Dante scanned the area outside the car, seeing the malicious cloud closing in -- but not quite to him yet.
Moving as fast as he could, he grabbed his Desert Eagle and iPod and stuffed them into the backpack Victoria loaded with supplies back at the apartment, then opened the car’s door and sprinted for the white access stairwell leading up to the Intrepid’s gangway, sprinting at full speed past the startled tourists and attendants yelling for his attention, trying to get him to pay for his admission.
Michaels didn’t bother to acknowledge them as he bulled his way onto the carrier, then headed deeper into the decommissioned vessel.
He knew the yellow-brown cloud had been less than a hundred yards from the pier when he'd dashed onto the ship, and he knew there was possibly only one place left in the city -- here, on the Intrepid -- that he could survive.
There were no crowds in this part of the ship, as most people tended not to be too interested in anything outside the main flight deck and the exhibits set up in the hangar bays -- but Dante’s great-grandfather had told him stories of World War II, and how he had served on an Essex-class carrier.
When he was younger, Dante had looked up all the info he could on the old ships, and had toured the Intrepid more than a few times in his younger days, as well, just after the big ship had returned to the city back in 2008.
Now outside the public areas, Dante closed and locked every hatch he came to leading to the galley. As he locked the Galley hatch by cranking the large wheel, Dante could smell a hint of camphor, a strange smell for a decommissioned museum ship.
Tightening down the door, Michaels headed to the back of the galley and entered the freezer, locking himself in. He heard the hiss of the gasket around the door sealing him in.
Now he knew he just had to wait.
He did’t know a lot about gas attacks, but was sure the city was experiencing one, and was positive he'd read somewhere that all known chemical airborne agents dissipate within three days.
Sitting down on the metal floor, he looked around the massive room, larger than his first apartment, and was almost positive he will have enough air for that long.
He pulled the blue backpack off his shoulder and rummaged through it to see what Vic had packed for them.
Bottled water, candy bars, some canned fruit (but, of course, no can opener), a couple paperback novels, and a flashlight with extra batteries were on the top of the pile, next to his hand cannon and iPod.
Digging deeper into the backpack, his hands touched silk, and, almost against his will, he pulled the red blouse out of the bag.
Holding it to him, Dante finally let go and started to cry.
* * *
He'd waited four days, just to be sure.
He had run out of candy on day two, books on day three, and water that morning. Plus, boredom and curiosity had overcome his fear enough that he felt he needed to get outside. Besides, the freezer area was starting to stink from the corner farthest away, which he had used as a makeshift toilet.
Laboriously, as he was weak from both malnourishment and exhaustion, Dante retraced his path through the Intrepid, unlocking the doors he had locked back on the 6th.
He had just unlocked and opened the last of the doors he had closed when a sickly sweet smell became apparent to him.
He knew he should know what the smell was, but he couldn’t place it, even though it became stronger the closer to the public areas of the ship he traveled.
He found the first body just past the machinist’s shop. It was bloated and starting to decompose -- it was also the source of the smell Michaels had noticed.
In the hangar bay, there were dozens more.
The smell was awful, but nothing compared to the stench that assaulted him once he stepped onto the deck of the USS Intrepid.
The winds were blowing the charnel-house stench of the city directly towards him. Dante fell to his knees and retched.
Once he collected himself, he staggered on wobbly legs back over to the entryway he'd used to board the ship, only a few days ago, but in a different lifetime.
Stepping over the bodies slumped on the stairs, Dante made it back to the Ford -- bashed, dented, and scarred from his mad dash across the city. He supposed it really was his car, now.
He pushed the body of a teen girl off the hood where she had fallen in her death spasm and got into the Fairlane’s driver’s seat.
He checked the wires he had exposed, twisted them back together, and was somewhat amazed when the car started right up.
Leaving the Intrepid’s pier much more slowly than he had arrived, Dante carefully steered the Ford up 12th Avenue, trying to avoid as many of the crashed cars and sprawled bodies as he could. He didn’t even try to head south, knowing that the Lincoln Tunnel was probably little more than a mausoleum now.
He was also trying not to breathe through his nose, as the mixture of decay, excrement, vomit, blood, and heat made for a noxious cocktail.
Everywhere he looked, Dante Michaels could see the dead and soiled bodies of what had, just four days ago, been millions of New Yorkers and tourists.
Along the Hudson, he could also see ferries that had run out of fuel or run into the piers, and, as 12th Ave turned into New York 9A and the Henry Hudson Parkway, he saw the first of what he knows must be hundreds of light sightseeing aircraft and helicopters crashed into the city, this one nothing more than the burnt hulk of what once might have been a Twin Beech.
Many of the buildings had been scarred from impacts with either aircraft or birds, and there wasn’t one without some kind of broken or smudged window.
It took him three hours of dodging bodies and nudging cars aside with the big Ford’s front end to get the seven miles to the George Washington Bridge.
At the foot of the bridge, he scared the living hell out of a New Jersey Public Works crew at the foot of the bridge, who were loading bodies into a lineup of dumptrucks, presumable to be taken away for burial, and had not seen another living being, certainly not one leaving the city.
* * *
Shaking himself slightly, Ronin pushes the memories away as he turns the completely-rebuilt Fairlane onto the Brooklyn Bridge and prepares to leave the city behind again.
The bridge is the only way into or out of the city these days, and is hardly ever busy. In fact, Ronin Michaels only passes one tour bus, belonging to Necropolis Tours, one of the few companies still offering tours of the city to the morbid, as he rolls across the bridge over Hudson River.
From security camera footage and the accounts of the crew of a news helicopter that had been flying out of the city at the time of the attack, a story of what had happened had been pieced together.
The Chinks had modified an Air China Airbus A330-200 from its normal passenger role to that of a toxic bomber, then fitted it with a cloned Lufthansa transponder. The twin-engined jet had dropped thirty Soman canisters over the eastern edge of the city. Each of the hundred-gallon canisters had been rigged for an air burst, and had detonated at three hundred feet above the city.
The ten mile-an-hour winds from the southeast had done the rest, spreading the Soman across the island, the steel canyons causing eddies and whorls in many areas, like all of the parks across the city, where the concentrations had been slightly higher, not that it mattered.
The city never had a chance.
Of the ten million people known to be living in New York City at the time, 4052 are known to have survived the attack. Almost all of them had been on the west side of the city and able to get out via the bridges before they had become snarled and jammed.
Estimates are that there were anywhere up to twenty thousand tourist fatalities as well. Nearly six hundred people remained unaccounted for, but were believed to be in wrecks sunk in the Hudson river.
The US Government came in and sterilized the city over the course of two years, but no one would move back in. Five years after the Soman attacks, Manhattan was declared a National Historic Site and was listed as both a ghost town and graveyard.
However, the business that had lived in the city went on. All the major news outlets had moved across the Hudson and set up shop in New Jersey, keeping their old names in memoriam to the dead city. Wall Street and most of its associated businesses were now located in Baltimore, but still ironically called the New York Stock Exchange.
The first thing Dante Michaels had done once he left the city was ingest as much food as he could find. The second was to enlist. He may not have had any friends or family alive anymore, but he was damned if he was going to just let the Chinks get away with killing everyone he had ever known or cared about.
© 2010 Brian Kupfer (@Valder137)