Portland creaked, and rose.
Mud sluiced off the streets as they split and lifted, water poured onto the ground beneath the city as it hitched itself into the air, concrete cracked and power lines tautened, tensed, and finally snapped. The great flywheels slowly spun, creaking and grunting and roaring. Pylons unfolded themselves, bearing the great weight of the city. And then the myriad wheels arched down, finding their tracks with great clangs and clamors of metal. Portland poised, balancing, finding its equilibrium. Rain dripped off the edges and crackled against the electric snake-heads of severed wires, fire alarms sounded across town, lights flickered and flared, faded and faltered.
With a miles-long chunk the wheels began to turn, painfully, slowly, effortfully. The city lurched, shuddered, groaned, and inched forward through the rain and the night. It achieved a walking pace, then sped up as its progress got smoother. In a few minutes it was chugging along at about ten miles per, and when it hit the web of tracks over the Columbia it didn't pause for a moment as it swept by above the water, blocks and buildings and sheer star-blackening bulk rolling northward smoothly, humming with power and purpose.
They'd moved Centralia for the purpose, shunting the town about twenty miles eastward, so when Portland and Seattle drew close there was nothing in their way but a field of green. The cities neared, slowed, loomed and stopped. Towers gleamed in the morning bright. Cars revved. Klaxons sounded. And when the two cities sank back into the ground, clouds of dust whoofing from their impact, it was as though they pawed the earth at each other.
For long moments there was silence. And then the hordes erupted from the buildings, pouring onto the streets, roaring toward each other onto the dirt and grass. Most of the people were unarmed, but there were a few with handguns, a few with rifles, and many of the others had clubs or batons or baseball bats. Rocks started to fly over the quickly-closing space between the two armies, and screams of pain counterpoised with the thunder of thousands of feet.
Debbie screamed too, but it was a war cry rather than a howl of agony. She had a chef's knife in her right hand, pistoning up and down as she sprinted toward Seattle and the forces keeping it from her. She leaped over hummocks, splashed through puddles, and had to lunge out of the way when she heard a roaring behind her and a '69 Impala fought its way through the mud, filled with teenagers, clawing its way through the muck toward the ululating mass of Seattle citizens closing in on them.
The car found its footing and blasted into the oncoming line of people, scattering them broken and bent like bowling pins of flesh. And then Portland's front line met Seattle's, and there was the kind of crashing crescendo you heard in movies, but never quite believed existed in the real world. It was even louder than that, to Debbie's ears--it was like Armageddon, the sound of doom as thousands upon thousands of people slammed into each other with their makeshift shivs and shillelaghs, motorcycles screaming and skidding through the morning mud, and then it was a roiling cauldron of sheer fury and murderous motion as everyone got down to the real work of killing.
The improvised artillery started soon after, blowing red and black stars into the sky, illuminating the Boschian deathscape below as humans gutted each other with linoleum knives and broke skulls with fireplace fenders. Debbie lay covered with gore, but she exulted as her blade slit open another Seattle throat and she rolled herself over onto the old man, driving her knee down onto his brittle ribcage, sending shards into his heart.
She looked up, looked north, and saw the buildings of Seattle within distance. They were almost there.
David blinked sweat out of his eyes as the dust rose before him. Seattle had sent two flanking waves, one on each side of Portland, while the main forces clashed between the cities. He was facing one of them, he and a few dozen other downtown troops, most of them lawyers, and it was going badly. The Washingtonians were swarming down Burnside now. They weren't disciplined, but they were determined. He blinked again, raised the pistol, aimed, and put a bullet into the head of a cheerleader sprinting toward him. She spun, blood flying out in a parabola above her, and took down the two men behind her with her corpse as she died.
"Come on!" roared a voice behind him. "Fall back to Powell's!"
David turned and began to sprint. They had lost ground to the encroaching forces, but there was ground to give. As long as they kept the Seattle forces away from the Square, they could trade property for time. He slammed another magazine into his gun as he ran, saying a silent prayer of thanks for the Second Amendment. Half the people he'd started out with had died facing the surprise assault from the West Side, and most of them had died with nothing more than forks or nail clippers in their hands.
He spun into the doorway of the bookstore, slammed the door open, slid into the shelves. The air rattled around him as some improvised grenade shattered windows along the street, sending volumes cascading down onto him. He snarled and crawled back to the wall, tossing books from his body. He peeked through the shark's teeth of broken glass and saw a Seattle woman dazedly shaking her head against the explosion. He shot her in the guts. A red flower suddenly blossomed beneath her breasts. He watched her lurch backwards, watched her die.
"We gotta keep them focused here," he yelled.
"I know!" came a voice from behind him. He risked a glance over his shoulder. Tom Foster, the bartender at the Chinese restaurant on the first floor of the government building most of them worked in, had quickly become their lieutenant. Maybe pouring the perfect Manhattan gave you a grasp of tactics others were denied. In any case, David listened to him.
"Okay," Tom shouted. "We bring 'em in, then burn the place down around 'em. Anyone got gasoline?"
"I've got a bottle of lighter fluid!" came another voice from further back in the stacks.
"Close enough," grinned Tom.
David grinned too.
Debbie fought her way into the city proper. The streets bent and meandered and twisted, but the pour of Portlanders filled them, beating staccato on the cobbles with a thousand pairs of Doc Maartens and Nikes and Uggs and hobnails. They pulled people from storefronts and stomped them to death, they tore down flags and street signs, they spat and snarled and surged forward, seeking.
She stopped. She held up her hands, and the press of people stopped behind her. She'd killed a dozen, if not more, and had become their de facto leader. She looked up.
There were nods, and shouts, and rebel yells, and then the mob moved left, toward the Space Needle.
Most of the West Side was burning now, and half of David's face had been blasted in the cataclysm. One eye had burst under the heat and pressure, and what had been his right cheek was almost completely gone, raw and ragged as a hanging scree of hamburger. His hair was a stinking, smoking lavascape on his scalp. Tom had died in the Burnside blast, and David had led the survivors down Sixth in a straggling line, cringing at every noise, waiting for the next Seattle onslaught…which never came.
They found the MAX tracks and followed them, guns up, eyes nervously scanning the walls of the canyon they were in, seeing every window as an enemy, every corner an ambuscade. Their effectiveness as a fighting force had been destroyed, but David thought they might still be of some help, if only as a distraction. He kept them close, in a tight huddle. They were an easy target for any Seattle warrior with a rocket launcher or a hand grenade, but he doubted that the Washington team was any better-equipped than they were. And it was better to keep his people close.
There were still people downtown, lurking in their apartments and stores, scrounging for anything that might serve as a weapon, but they were in an eerie lull right now, a distant whump of an explosion from somewhere in the Park Blocks, a baby crying somewhere, moans and whimpered entreaties, but the sounds of fighting had died down. David used the opportunity to check his weapon. Two bullets left, plus one in the chamber. Nowhere near enough.
They crept down the street, hugging the storefronts, heading toward Pioneer Courthouse Square. Last-stand time.
The fight up the Space Needle was as bloody as anything from the First World War. The Seattle citizens had cut the elevator cables and sent the cars crashing down to shatter all over Broad Street, but there were still 848 steps leading up to the observation deck, and Debbie and her people fought their way up every one of them, leaving blood and viscera and death behind as they went. A news helicopter from KIRO whumped around the action, the men inside throwing out improvised grenades at the structure, trying to discourage the Portland battalion, and they killed a dozen or so, but then, like the cavalry, a KOIN helicopter from the city to the south showed up, and the two choppers chased each other around the Seattle skyline until, in a valiant act of sacrifice, the Portland airship rammed the Seattle one, sending them both crashing down two hundred feet to the ground, where they exploded in a great ball of flame and fury.
After that it was just carnage. The warriors rolled the bodies downward and kept struggling upward, blades and bullets tearing apart flesh, hands ripping at throats, knees slamming into crotches, fingers digging out eyes. Debbie killed and killed and killed, and then, after an hour, she burst her way onto the observation deck. There, in the center, was the flag of the City of Seattle, teal and white, surrounded by a wild-eyed and desperate circle of men and women.
A pause. A roar from dozens of throats. And then the final assault.
David and his squad had busted into a repair shop and stolen nine bicycles, which they rode fast down SW 6th, legs pumping with urgency and purpose. In minutes they were at the Square, and they were met with a scene of utter chaos, mobs clashing with each other, humans killing each other in every manner they could think of. The bike contingent slammed into the rear of one of the Seattle masses, scattering bodies all across the blood-stained bricks. David whipped himself off, sending the bicycle skidding into the legs of three people trying to get to him, and put his head down. He bulled forward, wrenching arms, biting a hand that tried to blind him, ripping off a finger with his teeth. He only had one good eye, but it was enough to guide him through the lines. He felt his ankle snap as something landed on it, and he wailed and fell forward, scraping the skin off his palms. In agony he crawled forward as the battle raged around him.
And then he was through to the empty space in the middle of the square. There was the flag of the City of Portland, hanging limply in the light rain, a Nordic Cross, green and blue and yellow. And there were two Seattle fighters overpowering a Portland defender and struggling toward the pennant.
David grabbed his pistol, aimed as best he could, and fired twice.
Debbie buried her knife in a teenager's throat, spun around, and grabbed the flag off the pole.
David collapsed, completely spent, as he saw his two foes fall. His last sight was of the flag, still hanging.
It was just murder after that. The siren had sounded, and the Portland army spent a good half hour slaughtering everyone they could find. Blood poured down the cobbles, into the gutters, splattered the walls and windows. But then it was time to troop back, across no-man's land, back home. Behind them fires raged, buildings collapsing, steel bending and tearing itself apart. Explosives had been set beneath the Space Needle, and though it had stood through storms and blizzards and earthquakes, it couldn't withstand gelignite and gravity. Those who watched saw it standing there, proud in the rain, and then there was a titanic cloud of dust, an instantly-expanding ball of heat and pressure, and it fell with a noise like doom.
Debbie smiled and laughed and accepted the congratulations and adulations of those back in Portland. Someone tossed her a towel, someone else handed her a flask, and she sucked liquor down her dry throat while mopping blood off her face and arms. She saw more bodies--the defenders of Portland had been creative dealing with their attackers, and heads dotted parking meters, guts hung draped from stop signs. The water fountains ran with gore.
She finished her drink, handed the flask back. It looked to be an all-day party shaping up, and she flashed everyone thumbs-up and grinned, but she kept walking. Walking home. She needed sleep. She needed rest.
They only had two weeks until San Francisco.