Monday, 29 April 2019

JCT Chapter Seven: Nightfall


CHAPTER SEVEN


April 27, 2003? Maybe?
I don't know for sure what day it is. And I don't know what will happen next. I don't know who's idea it was to go back. It might have been mine.
We know the truth at last. Most of it anyway. The scariest part up until then had been not knowing. And now that we know the truth, it's just the same. We didn't know what was going on back in town, and that scared us more than anything else.
I slept for a few hours. I woke up with everyone talking quietly. The lights were doused but our eyes had adjusted. Zack had come back inside. My guess was that whoever was standing guard had dozed off, and we knew that we all needed sleep.
As a matter of fact, having someone sitting outside the fishing shack was probably more suspicious than having it look the way it had for God knows how many years.
I woke up with Jess still stroking my hair. When she saw I was awake she stopped. Neither of us said anything about it. The conversation came and went, with huge gaps in between. We were still processing, I guess.
~oo00oo~
"What about the Pyramids?" Pierce said suddenly.
Silence.
"What about the Pyramids?" Jake asked, too exhausted to sound surprised.
Pierce started to explain. "Well, I read this book once-"
"You read a book?" Jake interrupted.
"Okay, I watched this documentary once-"
"You watched a documentary?" Jess interrupted.
"Fine, I channel-hopped one night, and landed on the Discovery Channel." Pierce sighed. "This guy seemed convinced that the Pyramids were too complex, too advanced for a bunch of ancient guys with hand tools. He thought that Aliens must have built the Pyramids. I thought he was nuts... But now I don't know. What do you think?"
"I don't know, Pierce." Jake sighed. "I really don't."
Long silence.
"What about Ghosts?" Marie asked suddenly.
"Are you kidding?"
"When I was eleven years old, it was Halloween, and I heard a creepy noise coming from outside my window. I thought it was a ghost, or a vampire or something. And my dad came into my room, and he sat me down and told me that I was getting too old to believe in any of that stuff. He said that no serious person believes in ghosts any more than they believe in Santa Claus, or vampires, or Aliens from outer space." Marie rubbed her eyes. "If Aliens exist... what about all the other stuff?"
Jake sighed. "I don't know."
Long silence.
"How is it possible we didn't know?" Jess sighed. "I mean, how is it possible?" She looked at Jake. "Stargazer, I've heard you go on for hours about how unbelievably big the universe is. If the odds were a trillion to one that there was life on other planets..."
Jake nodded. "A trillion to one odds? Space is infinite. At a hundred trillion to one odds, there'd still be millions of Alien species out there."
"So why didn't anyone say that maybe it wasn't completely empty except for us?" Jess raged quietly. "How arrogant can people be to say it was impossible?"
"Plenty of people said it was possible, Jess. Everyone else laughed at them." Marie sat up on her bed. "It's what Mayor Grady said when we first came to him: Nobody who believes in aliens gets taken seriously. Any time someone opens a sentence with the word 'UFO', people stop listening because it seems like a joke to them. Any time it gets put on TV, someone plays the Theme To Star Trek, and just like that it's a sideshow instead of a news segment."
"Grady was a pilot. He said that every serious pilot has seen something in the sky they couldn't explain." Jake sighed. "But none of them talk about it. Nobody wants a pilot that believes in Flying Saucers."
"Why not?"
"I have no idea, but apparently Grady was very sure about it, even before this whole conspiracy started, so I gotta assume there was a reason." Jake said. "If an airline pilot said he saw a UFO, would anyone let him fly hundreds of people across the world ever again?"
Silence.
"Before the Blockade started, I looked it up." Pierce admitted. "The National UFO Reporting Centre has their database online. They were getting reports of anywhere between four hundred to eight hundred UFO sightings per month. And that's just the USA, and part of Canada."
Jake looked over at him in disbelief. "When did you... Why did you look into it before the Blockade?"
"We were the ones that found Doug Gunn. A kid shows up after being missing without a trace for ten years, can't remember how to speak English and apparently hasn't aged a day?" Pierce said it like it was obvious. "Sounded like a sci-fi movie to me, so yeah... I looked it up."
"Why didn't you say anything back then?"
Pierce smiled awkwardly. "Because I knew everyone would laugh at me. Crazy teenager looking to get attention by telling the world he found a kid abducted by aliens."
Long silence.
"Eight hundred reports a month?" Jess repeated finally. "And those were just the ones getting reported."
"Most of them would be hoaxes, or mistakes." Pierce offered. "UFO doesn't mean you see Aliens, it means 'something in the air that you can't explain'."
"Yeah, but if 99% of those eight hundred sightings a month were hoaxes or mistakes, then its still an unexplainable sighting in the USA every four days." Marie sighed. "Why didn't anyone take this seriously?" She looked over. "Why didn't we take it seriously, until it was happening to us?"
Long silence.
"We gotta know." Jake said finally. "We can't wait it out here. The answers are all back in town."
Long silence. After a moment, everyone sat up. He had said the one thing they all agreed with, and completely dreaded.
"I was thinking about what Jake said, about how after flying a billion light years, they stop at the edge of our little town?" Marie said. "It occurs to me that maybe they didn't. We haven't heard or seen anything from outside this town since the Blockade started."
"You think this is happening in other places too?" Jess said wistfully, almost laughing. "God, you could be right. We haven't heard from anyone past the Bridge in forever... Can you imagine if there was a Dead Zone around Washington? Paris? London? New York?"
Marie gave a crazed little giggle. "I was born in New York, Jess. You know why we moved here? Because my dad thought a small country town would be safer."
A mirthless cackle went around the small shack.
"Let 'em try and take New York." Marie declared, with a touch of the old Brooklyn accent coming through. "I mean, just let'em try."
Another laugh answered her, getting stronger. The laughter was a release of emotion.
"They may be tough back on whatever planet they come from, but they're just another set of tourists in New York City." Marie went on. "They won't make it halfway down 21st street before they get mugged."
It was enough. The entire room cracked up, filled with the hysterical laughter that came from having reached the limit on tension and fear that people could handle without finding some way to let it out.
"We gotta know." Jake said again once it faded.
"He's right." Marie said with a sigh. "We can hold out here until our food runs out, but sooner or later the Greys will get done doing whatever it is they're doing. And when that happens, who knows? And that's assuming they don't come looking for us first anyway."
Jess reached out and took the Gizmo off Pierce. "We've got this. We could try and find our families, get them out of there. We can do it now, because we know how to pop the Implants out."
This proved to be a popular idea.
"Well, hold on." Jake said. "That thing might... I don't know, but they can turn off a truck, a house, all of it, at a moment's notice, what makes you think one of their own toys will keep working? And even if they don't kill it, there might be a battery or something, and we've been using it a lot tonight."
"He's right. We're not on solid ground here." Pierce agreed.
"It's going to be a tough search." Zack sighed.
"It can't be that tough." Jake commented. "The town's the size of a postage stamp."
Zack turned to his friend. "Town's pretty small, Jake. But if you're talking about searching door to door, looking under every rock for people that may not want to be found, to say nothing of the fact that we'll be doing it all while trying to stay hidden from God knows what..."
There was a moment of silence as they all considered that.
"Town got real big all of a sudden, didn't it?" Pierce rose from his bunk and reached into his bag for the map. "Okay. Let's apply a little intelligence to this." He spread the map out on his cot. It still had the marks, and the circle that he had drawn to mark the Dead Zone.
Zack got up and came over. "Well, I'm assuming our families are still in town..."
"Why are you assuming that?" Jess asked.
Jake answered for Zack, knowing him well enough to read his mind. "Because if they're anywhere outside the Dead Zone there's no point looking for them, so let's assume they're in town somewhere."
By this point, everyone had gotten up and shuffled around the narrow space to get a look at Pierce's map. "Grady and Tanner will be looking for us. We know they've got the Town Hall..." Marie thought aloud. "What else might they-"
"That's it!" Pierce snapped his fingers. "That's what I've been missing." He moved his hand over the map, sweeping the whole area slowly. "You see how the circle was off centre? This side of town, the Dead Zone includes a lot more open space, part of the river, some of the farmland, yadda yadda?"
They looked at the map and nodded.
Pierce went over to the Fishing Shack's shelves and searched for a moment, coming back with a pencil. "Jake, give me that diary of yours, I need an edge."
Jake handed it over. "It's a Journal." He corrected.
Pierce used the edge of the journal as a ruler, and drew a line from the top of the drawn boundary of the Dead Zone to the bottom, then he drew a second line flat across the widest point. A neat cross that pointed to the exact centre of the Dead Zone.
It was the Town Hall.
"Well, I'm not really surprised." Jake commented.
Marie snapped her fingers. "Yeah, but that's not what he means!"
"It's not?" Pierce and Jake said at the same time.
Marie nodded. "In fact, Pierce just gave us exactly what we were looking for!"
"Of course I did." Pierce said modestly.
"You have no idea what she's talking about, do you?" Jess challenged him.
"No." Pierce admitted. "But now when she says it, I already got the credit."
Marie grinned. "When you want to give an area cell phone reception, where do you put the Cell Tower to be most efficient?"
"In the middle of the space you want to be affected." Jake answered, then snapped his fingers. "That's it!"
Zack and Jess shared a long suffering sigh. "I hate to break up the Brain Trust, but would someone fill us in?"
"The Dead Zone isn't drawn in a circle around the town, it's drawn in a circle around the Town Hall. If the Hall was at the edge of town instead of the middle, what do you want to bet that the mists would cut the place in half?"
"So... what are we saying here?" Pierce asked. "The Dead Zone is... what, being projected from the Town Hall?"
"It makes sense." Marie nodded. "The Town Hall is used by lots of people, but the only two people who actually work there full time are the Mayor and the Sheriff, both of which are in the Greys' pocket. They'd have the run of the place."
"And if that's the center of the whole mess, then that's where they're based from." Jake finished.
"I don't know, Jake; that's a long shot." Zack shook his head. "They're from another planet, they could be based on the moon for all we know. Like you said, a Cell Tower covers an area, but the phone company isn't run from there."
"If anyone has a better theory, speak now." Jake suggested to the whole room.
Long silence.
"Zack, I know you're scared..." Pierce began.
"Damn right I am." Zack nodded, matter-of-factly. "I mean... they're Aliens. Honest-to-God, not-of-this-earth creatures. If our families were here right now, they'd be saying that our safety is the most important thing. They'd be saying that right now, we're not being tracked, we're not being held prisoner, and we're out of the firing line by being away from town. Our families would call that a good thing. They'd say to keep it that way, rather than go running back into the thick of it without any clue of what we're going to find... or what we're going to do when we get there."
Nobody had an answer to that, because every word was true.
"But I can't ask my father what he thinks, because he's gone. They have him." Zack continued. "They have all our families, they have our whole town." He turned his gaze on Marie and Jake. "And if you two think I'm going to hide under the bed while you go off and try to get my dad back? I'm not brave, but I ain't that selfish. I would just like us to have a plan."
Marie beamed, Jake smirked, like he'd known that would happen all along, and Pierce and Jess look embarrassed at having underestimated him.
"Okay." Jess said finally. "So we gotta have a plan."
They all turned back to the map and stared silently at it, as though a plan would emerge from the paper and reveal itself to them.
"All right, look." Pierce said finally. "We're assuming that we're not being tracked because the Implants are gone. Maybe that works, maybe not. Either way, five people are a pretty big group. We should split up, come from opposite directions. If they could track their toys, they'd have us by now. Even if they see us all coming, they won't know which of us has the Gizmo."
"Twin offensives to opposite ends of a defensive line. Make them think that one offensive will have the ball while the other one gets it." Jess summed up. "Add a forward pass from the quarterback and you've just described the same trick you used when you played Arizona State."
"We won the game, didn't we?" Pierce shot back.
"Hang on." Jake raised a hand. "There might be an easier way. Mayor Grady went ballistic when he realized one of us had stolen the Gizmo. Obviously, whatever the Greys are doing, the Gizmos are needed."
"Well sure, if they're after us, then that's what the Implants are about." Zack nodded. "The Gizmo let us control the Implants... and make the people who had them sleepwalk."
"We gotta think of a better name for this thing." Marie sighed.
"So if they're using the Mayor, and the Sheriff to work their plan... It would stand to reason that they would have been issued Gizmos by the Greys."
Jess grinned, suddenly realizing. "So if we can get another one, we can split up. And if the Gizmo we've got does have a power source, then we have a backup if it runs out."
Pierce's face hardened. "That's my job. I'll take care of it."
Everyone glanced at each other awkwardly. Pierce had just volunteered to take on his own father.
"Two groups." Jake said, getting them back on track. "Jess and I will take the Gizmo we've got and try sneaking into the Town Hall."
Jess nodded.
Jake turned to the other three. "You guys, you track down the Sheriff and see if he has a new Gizmo. Pierce, he's your dad, and let's face it, you've got a better chance of taking him than we do, so it'll be your call."
"What do we do if he doesn't have a new Gizmo?" Zack asked.
"Nothing heroic." Jake told him, and pointed at the map. "All right. The Town Hall sits at an intersection. If they're watching, they've got a straight view up and down Main Street, as well as along the cross street. Avoid the big streets, stick to the backyard routes."
"Why are we going with Pierce?" Marie asked.
"I'll answer that one." Pierce volunteered. "Because I won't let anyone else take on my father without me, Zack won't go anywhere without Marie, Zack and Marie are fighting about Jake so having him with them may be a problem, and Jake and Jess are finally getting their act together and making out like responsible teenagers so they're sticking together, even at a time like this." Pierce said all this with a cool, collected matter-of-fact tone. Everyone was suddenly staring at their feet, looking awkwardly caught out.
"I was trying to... not make that specific." Jake offered.
"Oh, I'm sorry, was that awkward for anyone?" Pierce said smugly. "It's nice being the only single guy on the team."
"I'm feeling good about it too." Jess needled.
Despite the sniping, everyone was grinning at each other. Fear had turned to electricity, hesitation into action.
"All right, that's the plan." Jake summed up. "But we should wait until morning though. With the whole place under Curfew, anyone moving will be obvious until-"
"Wait." Pierce interrupted. He looked completely perturbed. "Something's wrong..." He tried to think about it for a few moments before realizing. "What time is it?" He asked suddenly, and everyone just stared at him, not comprehending. The Footballer started counting on his fingers. "Jake got the photo at two in the morning... It took another half hour for you all to wind up in jail. Another half hour for Zack to come get me. Another hour after that for us to come back for you and get the Implants out of your heads... We've been asleep or dozing for at least three hours..."
Jake looked at the others and with one thought they all ran to the door. It was still night sky, glowing with the same faint Aurora.
"Guys..." Jess said, her voice oddly thin and strange. "Where's the sun?"
~oo00oo~
Of all the horrifying things that had come and gone through my town this week, the sun not coming up was the top of the list. We waited another couple of hours to make sure, but Pierce was right: The Sun wasn't coming up.
It was impossible to cover up, impossible to hide. Jess was right. Whatever the Greys have been building to, it's happening today. Tonight. Soon. It's hard to know what to call a day without the sun.
But we decided to go back anyway. We agreed that if we were going to get our families out of danger, we'd have to do it quickly.
Truthfully, I think there was another, deeper reason. Grady was right about one thing. We're part of this town. It's not like Marie with New York. Small Towns are tighter than that. We're part of Curtis Creek, but it's part of us too. If Curtis Creek is facing disaster, we want to be there with it when it does.
~oo00oo~
"Okay. Are we sure of the plan?" Jake said calmly.
"We drive back into town and split up before anyone sees us." Pierce said. "Then I go play cops and robbers with my dad, while you and Jess go be idiot heroes."
"There's gotta be a better plan than that."
Jess was looking up at the sky like she was expecting it to fall on her. "We can try and find Tracy. If she's still in town after you got her Implant out, then she probably knows what's been going on back there. People must have noticed the Sky by now."
"Which means we gotta hurry." Jake agreed, scribbling a final note quickly in his Journal.
~oo00oo~
It's entirely likely that we won't be coming back. I'm keeping the Journal in the fishing cabin. In the event that I don't survive, this will still be here. If you find it, then it means I am dead, or worse. If you're here, then you probably know more about what happened to the town than I do.
I don't know if you'll be able to find them, but please take this Journal to my family. Tell them that I love them. If you can find them.
Jess kissed me before we left. She's almost worth the whole damn thing.
~oo00oo~
They all climbed into the Jeep, Pierce and Zack in the front, the others in the tray.
"All right." Pierce went through their supplies again. "We're leaving the clothes here. We've got wirecutters, assorted tools for the Jeep, duct tape, three rolls of assorted fishing line and a flare gun from the fishing shed, a pump action shotgun, three cartridges left, my dad's backup service revolver, only six shots, no reloads... Pens, notebooks, and fourteen matches."
"I can't believe you counted the matches." Jess said with a smirk.
Marie held up a hand. "Hold on. You hear that?"
Everyone froze, listening in worry.
"No." Jess said after a moment.
Marie was looking in the direction of the road with a suspicious glare. "Damn. I think I'm getting jumpy."
"Can't imagine why." Pierce deadpanned.
"Now. A reminder." Jake told them, not for the first time. "We can't risk taking anyone along with us if they're marked. We don't know what we'll find when we get back in town. We might need the help of someone or other, but if they have an Implant, then The Greys have got them, no matter where they go. We use the Gizmo sparingly, unless we can get another one, preferably not at all until we find our families. Once they're free, we can go nuts and spring the whole town if we can get away with it... but before that, be cautious."
Everyone nodded.
"And guys, don't forget." Jess told them. "Mayor Grady has an Implant too, probably the Sheriff."
"I'll be good." Pierce promised roughly.
"Wait!" Marie held a hand up again. "I'm not imagining it."
They all listened. There was a slight humming sound in the air. It was a sound none of them recognized. The humming intensified a moment, and a shape became visible above them, drawn against the green glow. It was flat and round, and was made of a material so dark that it seemed to draw light into it. It moved through the air with a hum, still very quiet for an aircraft, and it shone a light down on the ground. The light was aimed at a point none of them could see, at least a hundred feet from the shack. The light was flat and moved back and forth, more like a scan than a spotlight. By it's glow, they could all see a strand of trees in the distance.
The humming faded into silence, and the craft moved silently toward the trees, before scanning its light over the shack. They all ducked away from the light instinctively, but had nowhere to run. The craft didn't seem that interested in them.
Without making a sound, the craft moved toward the trees.
Dead silence.
"Get away from the shack." Jake hissed. "Get away from the shack. Get away from the shack. Get away from the shack. Get away from the shack. Get away from the shack!"
Pierce dropped the Jeep into gear and floored it, driving away from the small fishing shack as fast as he could while keeping every light off. They headed in the opposite direction from the shack and Pierce found a place to hide, pressed against another tree with low hanging branches. From the air, they were out of sight, but nobody was willing to say they were safe.
"Get out of the Jeep!" Pierce said sharply, and everyone bailed out, grabbing their packs and running down to the edge of the water. There were tall grasses and taller reeds, and if they spread out, they'd be less obvious.
"That was a flying saucer!"
"It's only five feet across. Gotta be a drone or something!"
"Maybe it's bigger on the inside."
"Oh please, this is reality!"
Away from the Shack, they had a clearer view of the sky, and saw the Saucer come back around. It didn't move like an aircraft, or even a helicopter. Aside from a very few lights around the centre, it was completely featureless.
Even after everything he'd seen that night, Jake felt a chill go straight up the back of his neck. The Saucer was iconic. Every movie, every cartoon with Aliens in it... at some point there was a Flying Saucer. The creatures were real. The stories were real. The blurry internet photos that everyone laughed at were real. And they were not stories that had happy endings for everyone. The five of them pressed against the ground and trees, quietly sobbing, trying to be invisible.
The Saucer hovered, and hummed again, before another spit of gleaming red fired down, this time much further away, closer to the stream. It fired again, and again. There was an explosion, out of sight but only a hundred feet away, toward the base of the trees it had scanned. Jake saw the shape and the sound of it, and realized it was a bigger, heavier version of whatever the Greys had been firing at him earlier that night.
"It's not shooting at us!" Jess hissed. "It's just... here. I think it's hunting something else."
"Or someone." Pierce observed. There was a tiny moment of hesitation, and he was suddenly up and running toward the scene of the explosions.
"Pierce, don't be stupid!" Jake hissed, but a moment later he was off and running too.
"What the hell are they thinking?" Jess demanded.
Marie shook her head grimly. "They're thinking that if there's something upstream that the Greys want dead, we might want it alive."
The Saucer hovered over the site of the explosion for a moment, before turning and gliding away smoothly, back in the direction of the town... when suddenly, from the site of the explosion, something rose quickly. Something was firing back at the Saucer-Drone. Everyone ducked, waiting to see what it was, but if the sound hadn't tipped them off, the familiar flash of light and color made it all too clear.
It was a firework. It flashed up from the ground like the rocket it was, aiming for the Saucer... and it missed completely. The rocket exploded into a shower of light, low enough to startle everyone, high enough that the Saucer wasn't knocked off target. Bright green sparks skittered off the Saucer's hull harmlessly and faded to nothing.
"Fireworks? Really?" Jake hissed.
"It's Curtis Creek, Jake." Marie hissed back. "Where exactly do you buy a grenade launcher around here?"
The Saucer was apparently feeling a little more confident now, and came lower as it set up for the next shot. In that instant, another blast came up from the ground. First one rocket, then two, and in quick succession, almost a dozen. They were fired tight enough together that it covered a wider area, in the same way as a flak cannon. The Saucer was struck. Once, twice, enough that when the rockets exploded, the Saucer was caught in the blast, nearly flipping over.
Pierce was up and running immediately, the shotgun in his hands. For whatever reason, the others decided to chase after him.
One more firework came up and caught the reeling Saucer-Drone dead centre. It didn't bounce off or explode on impact. Instead, this one stuck to its target, lodging in the metal skin. The charge erupted, knocking the drone down out of the sky.
The blast was bright enough in the unnatural night that Jake was blinded for a long moment. He slowed to a stop, trying to rub his eyes clear, when he heard Pierce's voice. "That last one was a lucky shot."
"Ha!" A sharp voice snapped back. "Luck! I make my own luck!"
Jake grinned, relaxing a little as he recognized the voice. "And your own Fireworks." He called as his vision cleared. "And now I know why."
Maggie Gunn stalked out of the trees. Her wild hair was tied back in a ponytail. She was wearing camouflage clothes and her usual crocodile skin boots. A rifle was cradled in her hands, and she had a large collection of homemade fireworks strapped to her back. "Funny thing." She called jovially, as she strode toward the crashed Saucer. "But when you start phoning gun-shops for Anti-Aircraft guns? You get noticed by ATF, the FBI, and at least a few other three letter crowds. I had to go out of town to find one of these." She hefted the rifle. "Making fireworks is the only way I could arm up."
"We thought you were outside the blockade." Jess commented as they all gathered around the wreckage. "Nobody's seen you since the day everything went offline."
Maggie nodded. "I've got a small shack just inside Town Limits. I've been laying low. Doug's with friends of his mother. They'd be better parents for him than I would anyway." She kicked aside bits and pieces of the flaming debris with the toe of her croc-skin boots, before spitting on the metal and turning away from it pointedly. "I figured sooner or later they'd try something."
"You've known about this, then? What they're planning?"
Maggie nodded. "They're shrimping for us. The boat is here to scoop up the quota."
Jake reacted. "'Quota' is the word Mayor Grady used. What do they want us for?"
"Who knows?" Maggie shrugged. "Maybe they want workers, maybe they want lab rats, maybe they want hamburger meat. Either way, they picked their time and place."
"Why here?" Pierce demanded.
"Why not?" Jake answered him. "Remember what we were talking about the night Doug showed up. If you were going to pull off an invasion or a raid, why not pick a place that's isolated? They cut off the radio and the road, and just like that we were at their mercy. In Washington, or London or whatever, we'd have laboratories, big populations, military reservists... hell, military bases even. Curtis Creek? Nice out of the way spot they can play with."
Maggie nodded. "Yup. They were here years ago, looking for places like this. They don't need much, and they weren't in a hurry. This place was everything they needed."
"I don't get it." Marie thought aloud. "If they eat meat, why not snatch a lot of cows? It'd be faster. If they need workers... if they can handle space flight then surely they can build robots or something..."
"Maybe they don't like robots?" Pierce guessed, and they all just looked at him. "What?" He said defensively. "Who knows what these things would care about?"
Jake turned back to Maggie and shared what they knew. "Eddie Sisko had a list of who had been Implanted and who hadn't. He figured about a third of the town was still free."
"Could be." Maggie nodded. "I only saw the trackers once, but I'd bet that number is smaller than a third. Sometimes the trackers don't take. I have no idea why, but they don't. Just sometimes. If Eddie was able to find that many of the 'unmarked', you know the Greys will too."
Jess took in the whole conversation and asked the only question that she cared about. "Is my family alive?"
Maggie snorted. "Kid, your family delivered themselves up like a free lunch. Drive-Thru, from what I hear. You don't fish, but when a half-decent fish jumps into your boat by itself, you don't send it back just to be sporting."
"So you've known about this for ten years." Marie challenged Maggie. "You got a plan?"
"I don't exactly know a lot." She snapped. "But I've had ten years to get things together, think it through. Here's what I figure. Their... devices, their energies, need a power source."
"How do you know that?" Jake asked.
Maggie reached into her pack and pulled out another Gizmo, identical to the one the kids had. The five of them stared at the older Gizmo, almost buggy eyed. "Because that thing stopped working after a few weeks. The Implants, the Blockade, the Signal Jammers... they can be left on their own for a while, but they wear out. The same thing happened when my family got taken. We were stuck for a while after they left. But sooner or later, it all faded out and everything went back to normal." She waved at Pierce's Jeep. "That thing still work?"
"Yes." Pierce said carefully.
"Good!" Maggie growled eagerly. "Because I've lost my wheels thanks to that damn Saucer. I got a lot of homemade explosives hidden near the creek, and I intend to ram them all straight into the heart of this thing."
"The Town Hall." Pierce breathed.
"Oh good, you spotted that too." Maggie grinned like a crocodile. "It was a pretty good guess, but I like to have someone check my work."
Jake looked back and forth between Maggie and Pierce. The two of them both seemed charged and eager, ready to go inflict some destruction.
"Not to put a damper on this, but... Aren't there people in town?" Marie offered. "You know, people who might get caught in the middle of a great big explosion going off in the middle of things?"
Maggie sent a swift gaze to the sky toward town. It glowed green, and was starting to boil and ripple, as though a windstorm was whipping the Aurora around. "Not for long!" She growled sharply. "Let's get to work!"



~~/*\~~
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A Note From The Author: I hope you're all enjoying 'The Jake Colbert Testimony' in it's serialised format. If you'd like to read the whole thing at once, and take it with you, you can buy the whole book here in eBook and Paperback Format.

Monday, 22 April 2019

JCT Chapter Six: "They Know All Our Names."


CHAPTER SIX


Time passed. Jake's watch had been confiscated, so had Jess'. The clock in the room was out of sight. Marie yawned after several minutes. Then Jake yawned. Then Jess.
"What are the odds that Aliens drink coffee?" Jess asked.
There was a sudden explosive crack, as though the entire sky had erupted into thunder and lightning at the same time. It was powerful enough to shatter the windows, and the sounds from outside became sharper suddenly.
Everyone ducked instinctively, letting out a yelp of shock. The wind howled for a moment, and then settled. There was a very low, slight hum, almost too low for them to notice it.
"What's happening out there?" Jess whispered.
"I don't know if I want to know." Jake admitted.
"Should we just leave you here, then?" A voice asked smugly.
All three of them jumped, nearly levitating off the cot. They dove toward the bars in shock. "Pierce?"
Pierce was standing in the doorway with a pump action shotgun slung across his back, and a strange device in his hand. It took Jake a few moments to realize it was the exact same device they'd found sketched in Eddie Sisko's notes, the same device that his brother had drawn.
Zack pushed past Pierce. He had a baseball bat in one hand, and in the other was the keyring. He came running over. "Come on guys, it's a jailbreak."
"No guards?" Marie asked.
"Zack was right, they don't have enough in here to cover the windows." Pierce shrugged. "I was under house arrest once. The GPS band they put around your ankle is impossible to get out of. They don't need to watch you, just the tracker." He lifted the device. "Of course... we've got a way around that now."
Zack found the right key and quickly got the cell open. Pierce unslung the shotgun and handed it to Zack, who held it awkwardly, but without fear. Nobody who lived any part of their lives in the country had a great fear of guns. Jake had spent a weekend shooting rabbits and birds that found their way into the vegetable gardens with his air rifle before he was ten years old, like most kids born in Curtis Creek.
Pierce beckoned Jess out of the cell and held up the Gizmo. It was the first time any of them had gotten a good look at one. It was a foot long, all chrome-silver and it had buttons on the handle. It was round and stubby, more like the handle of a fishing rod than a weapon.
"Don't tell me it's an actual working lightsaber." Jake deadpanned.
Pierce gestured for Jess to come out of the cell. She did so, and Pierce turned her around. He had her put her hands on the bars, and bend forward, leaning her up against the cell door. "Okay." Pierce said gently. "Now tilt your head over, all the way... that's it." Jess followed his directions, till she was braced against the bars, looking sideways at Jake under her arms. "Now, brace yourself, Jess. This is gonna be a little weird."
"What is it?" Jess demanded, spooked. "What's happening?"
Pierce lifted the Gizmo, and pointed the tip of it at the back of Jess' head. "It's okay, just relax..." He pressed a few buttons, and the low background hum seemed to change pitch slightly. Jake, and Marie hissed, each pinching the bridge of their noses, as though something painful was hitting them, but neither of them felt any pain.
Jess hissed in a breath sharply, and Jake came over closer to her, checking what Pierce was doing. Her left ear was pointed down, and from that ear came a few drops of blood... and a small trickle of something that looked like mercury.
As Jess straightened up, Zack came back from the door and tossed Pierce the shotgun. The footballer caught it expertly and took over guarding the door, passing the device over to Zack on the way. The move was done smoothly and without words, and Jake suddenly realized that they'd done it before.
Zack turned on the metal detector, and waved it over Jess' face. No reaction.
"No Implant." Jess whispered, as though trying to convince herself. "It's gone." She paused for a moment, and then whooped, rubbing her ear. "It's gone! I'm free!"
Zack nodded. "Yup. Now we gotta hurry."
Marie and Jake quickly assumed the position that Jess had, and Zack waved the Gizmo over both of them, pressing the controls.
~oo00oo~
The feeling was strange. It was like something cold and wet was pressing against my ear, but it was pressing from the inside. I could feel it in my sinuses, the way you do when you go swimming and you get water in your ears.
My ear itched like crazy, and part of me was worried about whatever the material itself was, and what it might be doing to me. But too much of me was just feeling... free. I never felt the Implant there. It wasn't like a collar around my neck, or handcuffs or anything, but when it was gone, I felt like I could fly.
Zack and Pierce had it all worked out. One of the cars behind the Town Hall had been prepared. The doors were unlocked, and the keys in the ignition, just waiting. The parking lot was behind the Hall, where the Sheriff's Office was, and we went right out the window.
The strange humming sound had become white noise to me. I only noticed it when it started to fade. The further we got from the Town Hall, the quieter it got. The Aurora was still going strong, and it seemed to grow brighter, the motions of the cloud suddenly becoming fierce like a storm around the top of the Clocktower, the highest point in town, and the apex of the Town Hall.
Jess didn't let go of my hand for more than ten seconds during our escape, and I was glad.
~oo00oo~
"You ever seen anything like this before?" Jess hissed.
"Twice, last year. What? Didn't I tell you about it?" Jake retorted sarcastically.
Curtis Creek was still a ghost town, but now there was sound. The glowing sky had turned angry, the constant humming like a dull roar coming from the air itself.
They were the only vehicle on the road, Zack and Pierce in the front, the other three in the back
Pierce drove at top speed until they were well away from the centre of town. The background hum started to fade a little and Jake couldn't help the look back at the Town Hall. Every light was on, the only lit up building they could see. Small dark figures lurked in every doorway, burning black eyes watching them drive away.
"Where are we going?" Jake asked.
"The Clinic." Pierce reported. "We gotta ditch this car."
They drove without another word for a few minutes, out of the sight of the Town Hall. The sky above looked less savage here, but it didn't make them feel better. Pierce pulled in behind the Clinic, where his Jeep was waiting, door unlocked, keys in the ignition. Zack and Pierce took the driver's cab. Pierce handed the shotgun to Jake, and the two of them traded a curt nod.
~oo00oo~
It was strange. I still despise Pierce, if only for what he did to Jess... but he had really, truly, honestly saved our lives, and set us free. He had no Implant, he could have kept going, holed up somewhere for the duration. But he came back.
I was so tired I was seeing three of everything, almost having hallucinations, but Pierce got us all moving again. Heroic bastard.
~oo00oo~
"They're not coming after us." Zack reported. "I think we're safe."
"Safe. Right." Jess said sarcastically.
"We got a few minutes at least. Once they find out we're gone, they'll still have a few streets to search for us now that we're free of the Implants."
"Any ideas on where to go?" Jess asked finally.
Silence.
"Away from town." Jake said finally. "But stop before you reach the Dead Zone."
That was good enough for everyone else.
"I got a place to go, if you're willing." Pierce piped up. "Because the last two times we were all together on the road with me in the driver's seat we pretty much ran over whatever the Aliens were done with."
Nervous laughter.
"He's right, though." Jess said finally. "Are we done with this town?"
The question was a good one. They all had families, some sleeping, most missing, a town under siege, and no clue when or if they'd be coming back. Those that held the town hostage knew their names and addresses, so it would be safer for them to run.
"Aliens in Curtis Creek." Jake said finally, his voice tired. "God, even when I thought... I was trying to convince the Mayor, but he already knew. And he sounded so... right, when he cut our arguments apart. Even then, even us, we didn't really believe it."
"How did you do it?" Marie asked Zack in awe. "Where'd you get the Gizmo?"
Zack and Pierce traded a proud look, and Pierce began the story. "After Zack broke me out, he told me what Jake saw, and we knew we couldn't go back to Zack's house. It made sense that if Zack and I didn't have Trackers, then they'd have to find us the old fashioned way. So with my dad out turning over rocks looking for us, I figured we had a chance to go back to my house. I know the alarm code, and where the keys are hidden. After that, we had to figure out what to do next. We both wanted to come save your miserable skins, but we didn't know how to get you out with the Implants in you."
Zack took up the story. "Well, that drawing in Eddie's notes, of the Gizmo? After we escaped, I finally showed it to Pierce, and he recognized it."
"I did." Pierce confirmed. "I thought it looked a lot like a toy that I played with as a kid, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I only had one memory of the thing."
"Your father." Jake said, still sounding exhausted.
Pierce blinked. "That's right. How'd you know?"
Jake waved a hand vaguely. "Because it's the only thing that makes sense." He said. "Your father agreed to cooperate, as long as he could guarantee you were safe."
Pierce nodded. "When I was a kid, I think about five years old, my dad brought the Gizmo into my room and played checkers with me while he had it. I remember because my nose started bleeding a lot during the game." He tapped the sketch of the device in his hand. "I never saw it again, before or after that."
"That's why you don't have an Implant." Jake said. "Because your dad got it out of you that day when you were a kid, just like you did for us tonight."
"It also explains why my dad tested me with the metal detector after the Plane." Pierce nodded. "He was checking to make sure they hadn't put it back." For a moment, it almost looked like he was going to laugh. "Ever since we did the X-Rays, I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out why I was the only one on the plane that was left alone."
"Jake, what does that mean for my dad?" Zack called to the backseat. "I don't have an Implant. Is my dad working for them too?"
"Could be, but I don't think so." Jake assured him. "Mayor Grady said that the Greys had 'quotas to meet'. My guess is they want a fixed number of us for something, and once they've got that number, they don't much care about whoever gets left over."
Jess got them back on topic. "So?" She pressed. "You remembered the thing in the drawing, and then...?"
"Well, there are only two or three places my dad actually hides anything." Pierce said. "He's the Sheriff, so he has criminal records, guns, things nobody else should get to. I didn't know what was in them, but I knew he had lock-boxes in his office, and his private office at the house."
"So you went looking." Marie guessed.
"Two locked cabinets in the house, one in the Sheriff's Office, right next to the jail cells. We played the odds and tried the house. Took a while to get into them." Pierce nodded. "I honestly couldn't believe it when we found the Gizmo in my dad's locked desk. It was in the house all this time. All that work, and we had the proof two doors down from my bedroom!"
"You and me both." Jake commented darkly.
Zack picked it up from there. "We didn't know how it worked, and all we knew of it was Pierce's ten year old memory." He took a breath. "So we... experimented."
"Do we want to know?"
Pierce took that one. "Probably not, but Zack will no doubt tell you anyway."
Zack piped up. "We agreed that if we made it to Tracy's house and didn't have anything from another world waiting for us when we got there, then it was probably safe to hold onto the Gizmo."
"Makes sense." Marie offered. "If the Implant is a tracking device, then that's what it's meant for, but we don't put tracking devices into all our toys."
"Tracy's house. You went straight there, huh?" Jess commented. No venom, no anger, just confirming the fact.
Pierce met her gaze seriously. "I wasn't going to test the thing on you." He waved the Gizmo. "We were learning how to use this damn thing by pushing buttons and seeing what happened, and... Tracy was the only one in town I knew who would let me in her bedroom window at three in the morning."
Jess made a sound of disgust, but didn't push it.
"What happened then?" Marie asked, moving it along.
"I tried it out, pushed a button at random, and... Tracy started sleepwalking."
Jess turned instantly and sent a look at Jake. He nodded. It wasn't a coincidence that their entire town was walking in their sleep a few days before. The Greys had been testing.
"Which means that everyone who was sleepwalking that night had an Implant." Jake nodded. "Another mystery down."
"Not so much. Why didn't we sleepwalk?" Jess demanded. "We were assuming it was because we were still awake when it happened, but if Tracy let them in, she was awake."
"I think the Gizmo is used to control the Implants themselves, up close and personal." Pierce offered. "The difference between having a light on and pointing a high-powered torch. We spent a few minutes pushing buttons, and the people with Implants in Tracy's street started to sleepwalk. This is a pretty freaky little toy. I sent Tracy walking into the walls, face first, for ten minutes until we found the right buttons." Pierce explained. "Then her ears started bleeding mercury, and she just... woke up."
"Where is she now?" Jake asked.
"We made another copy of the photos and showed her. She flipped, and told us to leave. Last we saw her, she was packing. I think she was planning to wake her parents and get them all moving. We told her to come with us, and she found that to be hilarious."
"She didn't want to come with us, so we made a run to all our houses and grabbed some stuff, then we came back to the station. The rest you know." Zack finished.
Zack's comment made Jake suddenly aware that the Jeep was packed. In the back were five backpacks, all stuffed full enough that they were bulging. Jake recognized them on sight. Zack had packed a bag for each of them. "You went to our houses?" Jake repeated. "Are they..."
"We grabbed food, some clothes... I don't know how long we'll be in hiding, but I know we can't go home until this is over." Pierce said. "There was nobody at any of them. I'm sorry guys, there's no sign of any of our families at home."
Zack slugged Pierce's shoulder, and Pierce sighed. "Fine. We found my dad hanging around Zack's place. We tried to drive away... He took a shot at our tires and..." He looked to Zack, seeking help.
Zack sighed, looking miserable. "It was my fault. I was driving. I saw him shoot and I just reacted."
"You ran him down?" Marie exclaimed.
Zack squeezed his eyes shut. "I think I killed him."
"Well, that explains a few things." Jess nodded.
Pierce reacted. "What do you mean?" He demanded, his voice cold and hollow.
Jake answered him. "Pierce, your dad's okay. He and the Mayor came back to our cell, breathing hellfire and demanding to know what happened to the Gizmo. Your dad was seeing stars, but he was walking and talking."
Zack sagged in relief. "He's okay."
Pierce was smiling too. "My dad's alive."
Marie looked to Zack. "He was waiting at your house?" She questioned.
Zack nodded. And looked at his shoes. "The house was empty except for Tanner." He whispered. "My dad's bed was empty. I don't know where he is."
Sympathetic silence. Of the five of them, four were now missing their entire family, and Pierce's only relative in town was a willing servant of the ones that hunted them.
Jake bit his lip. "Ben knew. My kid brother's been out with the Greys every night since before Doug Gunn came back." Pierce met his eyes in the rear-view mirror. Pierce and Jake were the only people they knew with collaborators in their family.
Long silence.
"We just have to make it to dawn." Zack said finally.
~oo00oo~
They drove for the better part of an hour, doing the best they could to be away from everyone in town. They spoke a little, sorting out ideas and plans. The only one who didn't was Jake. He was dead silent.
"What are you thinking, Jake?" Jess asked finally.
"It saw me." Jake said finally. "I saw its eyes. It saw me, and they were waiting at my house." His hands were shaking. "I don't know what's scarier. The idea that these things exist at all, the fact that out of billions of light years they came to Curtis Creek... or the fact that they know my name!"
Silence.
"They know all our names, now." Pierce said quietly.
~oo00oo~
Well outside town, at the edge of the widest, deepest part of The Creek, really more of a river at that point, there was a small one room shack. It was about the size of Jake's bedroom, with small windows made from salvaged car windows. There was one door, and the walls were made of wooden panels.
There were empty places for mounting fishing rods on the walls.
"What is this place?" Marie asked.
"Old fishing shack." Pierce said. "Me and a couple of seniors used to come here years ago, but they left town long before..." He hesitated. "Well, before. I was a junior then, so..."
"I wonder if they made it out." Zack wondered.
"They left years ago." Pierce shook his head.
"Right. After flying a billion light years and putting tracking devices in all our heads for more than ten years, I'm sure that moving two hundred miles to the left would make them safe." Marie shot back.
"Well, I honestly don't know if anyone in town even remembers it's here." Pierce shrugged. "It seemed as good a hiding place as any."
The shack was rectangular, and had fishing rods leaning against the narrow back wall, with bunk beds on the longer walls, each bunk long enough to accommodate one person. Two bunks along each wall, and little room for anything else.
"Four bunks, five of us." Jake said. "Which works out. One person should keep watch at all times."
"Agreed." The others chorused.
Jess swept a hand over her bunk, kicking up a cloud of dust, and tossing aside a handful of cigarette butts, two empty beer bottles, several dead matches, and a few condoms. "Pierce, what the hell did you guys get up to in here?"
Pierce looked back innocently. "Well, obviously those things got here after I stopped coming to this place."
Jess made a face at him, and everyone started picking a bunk.
"I'll take the first watch." Jake said. "I couldn't sleep anyway."
~oo00oo~
I couldn't believe it when I cracked open the backpack full of stuff Pierce had grabbed for me, and I found my journal inside. He's a bully, but recent events have proven I may have misjudged him. A little.
The first thing I thought when I started writing a Journal years ago? I was scared that I wouldn't be able to think of anything to write in it. I really wish I had that problem tonight.
In all the movies, the school football team grabs some weapons and goes driving back into town, gunning down the bug-eyed monsters until they've saved the world. And as much as I'd like to think we could do that, I know there's no chance. I don't even know where my brother is.
The others have been pretending to sleep for a few hours, while I found a seat on the front doorstep and wrote down everything that happened since this morning.
~oo00oo~
Jake reacted to the sound of footsteps, and jerked around, coming to full wakefulness. His hand went automatically to the shotgun across his knees, but the steps were coming from inside the shack. "Hello?"
Zack stuck his head out the door. "Don't shoot." He said lightly. "It's been an hour, and Jess figures that you must be dead on your feet. I'll take the second watch."
"Has it been that long?" Jake checked his watch, provided by Pierce to replace the one his father had taken. "Huh. Some guard I am."
"You've got a lot on your mind." Zack said forgivingly.
Jake rose from the step and stretched with a groan. He passed the wristwatch and the shotgun to Zack. "If you feel like you're gonna fall asleep, come get one of us."
"I will." Zack promised.
Jake headed back inside and paused. "Zack?" He said quietly. "Thanks for saving my life tonight."
"You'd do it for me." Zack said immediately, and the two best friends shook hands, making their way to their respective posts.
~oo00oo~
Jake came into the fishing shack and found everyone asleep. The bunks were almost all occupied. The one Zack had used was the lower one on the left. Jake limped toward it, so tired he was seeing three of everything.
The bunk opposite him shifted as he sat down. Jess was the only one awake. She looked at him silently, and he met her eyes, patting the space next to him on the bunk.
Jess rose and slipped over to join him. "Are you okay?" She whispered, mindful of his ex-girlfriend sleeping opposite, and her ex-boyfriend sleeping less than six inches above.
Jake yawned. "Nope."
Jess nodded. "I should have taken the first watch." She said apologetically. "I should have let you sleep after everything you've been through."
"You went through it too."
"He wasn't my brother." Jess whispered, putting her arms around him, hugging him sideways as they sat side by side.
Her arms were warm and soft, and Jake was so exhausted he could barely move. Her arms alone were lulling him to a rest he hadn't felt in days. "How does this end, Jess?"
"I don't know." Jess admitted.
"We can't hide here. No matter what Pierce says, you can't keep a secret in Curtis Creek... well, unless you're the Town Council. Someone in town must know about this shack." Jake yawned, trying to think. "We'll have to move again soon."
"We will." Jess promised.
"Pierce will want to go back for his dad." Jake yawned. "The Sheriff is dangerous, so don't let Pierce leave without us."
"Already taken care of." She told him.
"We figured it was... what? Two thirds with Implants? The other third... The Greys will move on them..." His voice was drifting.
"Shh." She shushed him. "Just for now, just..." She stroked his hair, gently pushing him to lay down. She sat at the head of the bunk, and shifted, laying his head down in her lap. She sat back against the wall of the cabin, holding him as he finally gave in, eyes drifting shut helplessly.
"I'm so tired." Jake whispered miserably.
She bent down to lay a soft kiss on his lips. "I know. Just rest, Jake." She crooned to him quietly. "Sleep now. Dream of the moon. Just sleep."
Jake gave in to her sweet, gentle warmth and let himself fall into oblivion.



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A Note From The Author: I hope you're all enjoying 'The Jake Colbert Testimony' in it's serialised format. If you'd like to read the whole thing at once, and take it with you, you can buy the whole book here in eBook and Paperback Format.