A Quiet Fight – Sifting the Ashes


steampunk-computer

Fabio Freitas E Silva | Dreamstime.com – Steam punk vintage computer

Sifting The Ashes

It was several hours before there was banging on the door. Stephan rolled the steel door back to reveal three wide eyed members of the Dunstable Fire Brigade. Stephan said, “We’re alright…How bad is it?” The three men looked away. The Captain, Willy Sheppard, said in a low voice, “Sorry Stephan, it’s a wonder this block is left. The pub is gone as well as Bob’s market. I feel damn lucky we kept it to this block and didn’t lose the whole city.”

Jolene gasped and put her hand to her mouth, “I knew…I just didn’t think…”

One of the sergeants, Lester Wills, “I’m sorry Jolene. The town’ll be happy you’re alive. But it’s gone.” Jolene buried her head in Stephan’s shoulder.

Stephan said hoarsely, “We have one person in here with a bad burn. Can you take him somewhere and keep it clean?”

Sheppard signaled to the two sergeants into the office, “Sure Stephan. While they get him out, maybe you can tell me what happened?”

Stephan groaned, “Can we get out of the office, Willy?”

The captain stepped aside and let the group out into the ashes. There were still places where the building smoked. The beams remained but were charred black. Most of the floorboard was gone or difficult to walk on. The kitchen was the first sight. Metal fixtures remained but were twisted with the heat. Remarkably, Jason’s water heater was head damage but had not contributed to the flames. The kitchen work tables were a total loss. The wood counters, full of fat and wax burned like candles. The metal frames that held the wood had warped and fallen. Cooking utensils were strewn across the ground blackened and dented from the conflagration. Jolene wailed at the sight and moved to various utensils picking them up. Stephanie moved to help her.

Wynn grunted as he was moved out of the office. The captain said, “We’ll take him to Mayor Brown’s. He’s set up a facility for people hurt and left homeless.”

Stephan said through tight lips. “Aye, he would do that.”

The captain asked, “Stephan, what the hell happened? I am getting stories that make no sense – guns that spit fire. Explosions on roofs.” He pointed to the smoking rubble, “Your pub might be wood but it is …was the safest wood building in the city. You had sprinklers…for God’s sake.” He looked at the office made bunker that they had come out of and said, “And I have no idea how you survived in that.”

Stephan rubbed his eyes, “Willy, remember the McNeil explosion…twenty years ago?”

The captain smiled, “Hard to forget. I got my Linda out of that.”

Stephan smiled a little, “Yes…a happy ending to a sad story. I told you and everyone to not ask too many questions.”

The captain scratched his ear, “Yeah … I remember that too.” He looked around and said, “This looks different…and it took out two buildings Stephan. The insurance is going to want to know what happened.”

Stephan put his had on the captain’s shoulder, “Willy, I am going to tell you now, nothing will make sense. It will look like the ignition was the middle of the dining room. And those stories of people with guns that spit fire is as good as true.” He looked around and said, “And if you write that in your report, Bob won’t get a penny of his insurance.”

The captain said, “It’s crazy.”

Stephan said, “I know it is. Say it was a gas line in my bar that broke and then got into the barley and stills.” He stood up and stretched and looked in the direction of the melted and warped stills. “And it’s not far from the truth.”

The captain protested, “Someone started this.”

Stephan grabbed him by the shoulders and looked at him, “Don’t chase them. Please don’t.”

Willly Sheppard looked around and said, “I don’t think you can sweep this under the rug Stephan. I haven’t told you the worst. Kevin, Ronny and Gib were killed as the came up to the fire. People are saying they were shot. We can’t tell because they were in the fire and the coroner can’t find any bullet rounds.”

Stephan’s knees felt week. “Oh shit.”

Willy said, “Scotland Yard is on its way. You can’t hide this one Stephan.”

Stephan muttered, “Damn idiots. Idiots. Didn’t have to do that.”

Willy said, “Who was it Stephan?”

Stephan rubbed his face, “I really do not know, Willy. And if I did, I doubt all of Scotland Yard could catch them.” He gestured to the ruins. “Let me figure out what I am going to do. I will keep you posted on anything I learn.”

Willy said, “The Yard is going to be upset if you disturb anything.”

Jolene came up and shouted, “The Yard can bloody well fuck itself. I am getting my knives, if the handles aren’t gone and my pots.” She looked up the crumbling stairs and said “Everything I have is here, Willy. It is burnt and wet. I am not leaving it out in the rain waiting for some useless inspector to say it doesn’t say anything. Now go help Bob and we’ll manage.”

Willy left. Jolene leaned her head on Stephan’s shoulder. “Will we manage?”

Stephan looked around, “I suppose. I’ve got a bit saved. I can swing a loan from Abby.” He leaned down and picked up a charred piece of oak from the bar. “I don’t know. Maybe I should retire. We could travel. Stephanie could join us or get a job in London.”

Jolene looked at him and pulled his jacket down, “As much as I love that, those three tried to kill you, kill us. You think they are going to forget about that?”

Stephan leaned his head against Jolene, his eyes closed, “We can hide. The world is a big place. The galaxy is a big place.”

Jolene pulled back from him hard, “Not it is not Stephan Miller. Maybe you ran the last time you had trouble. Well, I learned something different and those people nearly killed us.” She waved her hand around, “They took everything from us. And I do not plan on letting that stand.” She crossed her arms, “They aren’t invincible. I hit one of them. I know it.”

Edward came up with Stephanie and said, “I don’t much about all the goings on…” he pointed to the sky, “up there. But, I think she is right Stephan. This isn’t going to end. It is only going to get worse.” He looked at his shoes, “I am not the bravest man in the bar, but I know a bit of electrics and chemistry. Wynn tells me he knows a bit of mechanics and physics.” He looked up, “If we don’t do something that seems a bit like me hiding in the closet again.”

Stephan shouted, “None of you gets it. Wynn might, but none of you do. We can’t beat these people. Millicent could. Smith could. But we don’t have the resources.”

This time Edward shouted, “Then we might as well give up now. Because there is a hell of a lot more coming. Maybe these are the vanguard. Maybe these are the rats cleaning up before the flood. I don’t know. But we are the only ones who understand what they are doing. And we if we throw up our hands then maybe Earth really should just be some colony to be mined and harvested.”

Stephan clenched his fists and turned away. “We can’t win.”

Stephanie said quietly, “But we can try. And if enough of us try…well maybe something will work.”

Stephan stared at the broken slab of granite. “This is a mistake. If you lot really want to do this, at least I can go along and try to keep you from getting blown up.” Jolene came up and gave him a hug. He said, “Wynn will be better soon. We’ll need to head to London when he can move.”

Author’s note

In California, we have all too much experience with fire burning places down. Sometimes people have mere minutes to grab everything and leave the rest of their lives behind. The emotion of returning to a house…a home lost is wrenching. It is easy to say “you and your family survived” or “you can start over”. But more is lost…the door jamb with kids measurements; the tree you planted when you moved in; your photographs from earlier times. People do start over, but the pain of loss is hard.

The progress on the story goes well. As scheduling this, I am at 16000 words. I have a good handle on the second half of the story. Things look good.

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