The windowless hotel corridor was darker than Hook’s armpit. Stella wondered where the big man was. They were supposed to meet an hour ago in the lobby but her way had been barred by angels. She had no idea what they were doing in an abandoned hotel in a city ruined by looting and three years of post-apocalyptic hell and she had no intention of finding out. Wherever the angels were was exactly where Stella didn’t want to be.
She moved slowly and carefully along the corridor, letting her fingertips slide along the flock wallpaper. It wasn’t much of a guide and, not for the first time, she cursed her broken night vision.
Hearing sound ahead, she halted, listening intently while her finger absently traced the flower pattern in the wallpaper. Something was slowly moving towards her, inching its way along the carpeted floor. Definitely along the floor. The sound of dragging had become a soundtrack to Stella’s life. So, a whole zombie with broken legs or half a zombie? It didn’t really matter; draggers were even easier to deal with than shufflers.
Keeping an ear on the sound, she crept forward. Soon she could make out the creature, a moving lump of shadow, pitiful, even in the dark. Its groaning was more of a desperate wheezing, like a thirsty dog on the edge of death, too tired to even breathe, too broken and useless to even live. Stella kicked her right foot against the skirting board. A blade shot out of the end of her boot, a silver tongue invisible in the dark, but she knew it was there. It was just short enough to allow her to walk freely and just long enough to stab through the nose and into the brain.
She moved to the creature and kicked into its face, shattering the nose and slicing the blade through the skull and into the brain. It was always the brain. Even the angels went down if the brain was destroyed.
Without a backwards glance at the zombie’s ruined face, Stella moved forwards to the end of the corridor and the lift doors. She used the metal surface to push the blade back into her boot and then pulled a short jemmy from the deep pockets of her cargo pants. Forcing it between the doors, she slipped her fingers between the gap and pulled them smoothly open.
The shaft was an extension of the darkness but she knew it wasn’t very deep. Even so, she decided to risk some light. Producing a torch from her pocket, she flashed it into the space. Cables, thick and grey, the steel glinting in the light, were rod-straight in front of her. Turning the torch’s beam down, she could see the bottom of the lift shaft one floor below. That meant the lift itself was above her. She didn’t need to know where, so she resisted the temptation to flick the torch upwards.
Switching the torch off, she returned it to her pockets and reached out blindly for the cables, the finger tips of her right hand dancing and waving in the air as she stretched. Leaning a little further, her left hand gripping the edge of the metal door, she finally touched the cable and managed a firm grasp with one hand. Letting go with her left, she swung easily onto the cable and began her short descent.
At the bottom of the shaft, the jemmy was into the crack between the doors and the two panels of metal were pulled smoothly open in just a few seconds. Stella was momentarily blinded by the light flooding through the massive windows in the room beyond. Her eyes quickly adjusted, reducing glare and maintaining optimum vision. She smiled as the tech kicked in. At least something still worked.
The floor to the lobby was waist high and, as far as she could see, empty. She needed to move quickly. Anything with an eye on the lift shaft would have seen the light. Boosting herself, she jumped up and forward, and had her feet firmly on the floor. She immediately set off at a crouched run.
A quick scan of the lobby showed the doors to the street were locked, the carpeted floor was clean, or as clean as could be expected post apocalypse, and the chairs and tables were still neatly arranged, patiently waiting for the guests to take their ease. The place seemed secure.
Stella moved to a comfortable arm chair in the corner of the lobby and slowly sat down, sinking into its cushions. She relaxed into the chair, stretching her feet out in front of her, her fat, chunky boots dark blobs in the sunshine as they lolled on the glass coffee table.
From her vantage point she surveyed the space. The room fascinated her. It was so preserved; the windows making it feel like a diorama in a glass case in a museum. She hadn’t seen a space like this in years. Dust filled the shafts of sunlight, as the millions of motes raised from her chair turned and moved in a nebular swirl, a galaxy of dead things.
She sat still for long minutes, just staring at the patterns, watching the particles dip and dance and dart. ‘Beautiful,’ she whispered, her light breath casting gentle eddies into the flow. She leaned forward and blew a little harder, creating new patterns and spirals and tributaries here and there, controlling the galaxy.
‘If I ruled the world…’ she started to say, but was cut off.
‘For all we know, you do,’ said the burley figure as he landed in the chair opposite her, leaving his back to the room.
Stella watched the universe of particles erupt into the sunlight. She turned her attention to the man, slightly annoyed with herself that she had not heard him coming. ‘Hook,’ she said. ‘Pleased to see you’ve caught up.’ He nodded in mock submission. ‘Find anything?’ Stella added.
‘Nothing. You’d think for such a place there would be something. And check this out.’ He waved his arms at the lobby. ‘Untouched. Haven’t seen anything like this since the crash.’ He folded his hands behind his head and slouched further into the chair. ‘I could get used to this.’ He let his head fall back, exposing his neck. The glint of titanium was obvious. Hook had never bothered keeping his flesh arranged before the crash and the apocalypse had done nothing for his aesthetic standards. ‘What would you do anyway?’ he said.
Stella wasn’t listening. Her attention was on the window directly ahead. Movement.
‘What would you do if you ruled the world?’ said Hook, still staring at the white ceiling.
‘Get down,’ said Stella.
‘You’d let everyone dance?’
‘On the floor!’ she hissed.
Hook, recognising the urgency in her voice, was down in a micro second. ‘What is it?’ he whispered.
‘Angels,’ said Stella, nodding at the window.