Monday, 27 May 2019

JCT Chapter Eleven: See It Through


Jake woke up in agony. The sky above was still dark and ghostly, though now the Aurora was churning constantly, and much more violently than it was. Jake groaned, because it was the only thing he had strength to do. For a long moment, he didn't have a clue where he was. He only knew there was concrete under him, a green angry glow above, and pain in every movement of his poor battered body.
Pain. Pain means you're not dead yet.
Then memory caught up, and Jake forced his eyes to open. He was still at the edge of the Festival. The skies were empty of Saucers, and the streets were empty of people. He was surrounded by scorch marks, and the faint smell of grilled meat made him realize that he had been burned too.
How am I alive? He thought bleakly to himself, as he forced his body to turn over. They had to have seen me. Why didn't they finish me off? Did they think I was already dead? Sci-Fi says they should have better sensors than that.
The large grassy Town Square was smoldering. Spot fires were still burning all over the place, the stage was nothing but burnt sticks and smoky haze. Jake's blurry vision started to clear and he became more aware of the scorch marks around him.
"The fire." He said aloud. "The fire hid me. Heat Seeking Saucer-Drones."
One mystery down.
Jake tested his limbs painfully, checking them out. He seemed to be more or less in one heavily battered piece. He tried to stand up, and nearly collapsed. He managed to catch himself before smacking his face against the concrete again.
He rose unsteadily... And the first thing he saw was the Town Hall, and the big black Spaceship parked on top of it. It was right in front of him. Jake suddenly felt horribly exposed, and tried to run. Fire lanced through his body and he gasped for air. Running wasn't an option.
Jake was limping for part of it. Though he was limping off the street, he couldn't help but look up at the menacing thing from another world.
"You beat me." He croaked at the Ship. "You beat me. You won."
His father had thought him insane for even talking about them, and his whole family was held prisoner now. His best friend was dead, slain by their weapons. The girl he had fallen for had changed sides, gone to them willingly and left him and the others to die. His own brother was gone, probably playing games on the Mothership with his new friends...
The whole Town was sealed off from the rest of the world, and the only two people left in the universe that he could trust had disappeared without a trace.
Jake limped to the Diner, and went one street further. Jess knew about the Diner. He couldn't rest there. He made it to the Supermarket, and collapsed in exhaustion against the rear wall, his back up against the dumpster.
Their vague and pathetic excuse for a plan had crumbled, because Jess had known the whole thing. She'd probably told them everything by now...
Or had she? Admittedly, the five of them didn't have much of a strategy. Just an alien Gizmo and an idea that they could get another one. So far since coming back to town, all they'd done was sneak to Tracy's house, only to be driven out, and then sneak to Mrs Blanchard's for supplies. The five of them weren't acting like an army.
Jake blinked. Mayor Grady had said that all they wanted was their device back. Grady had told them point blank that the Greys didn't care about five kids who figured out the truth a half-hour before the rest of them. They were more concerned with the loss of the Gizmo...
And they'd already given one to Mrs Blanchard.
It was a vague, tiny hope to cling to: That his only defense against the Greys might be that they didn't care about him.
His watch was broken, but the town clock said that he'd been unconscious for two hours. It was almost noon.
Middle of the day, and still dark. Jake thought numbly. He was physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and mentally overwhelmed. He wanted to close his eyes and sleep for a thousand years, but deep in his bones, he knew he didn't have that kind of time.
The Supermarket had been broken into. Getting inside was easy. There was nothing left on the shelves, even before the endless night had begun, but Jake limped his way through to the employee lockers, and went looking for first aid kits. He found one and bandaged up his more obvious damage. He also found a set of clothes that was close enough to his size. He didn't like to think about what that meant. The only ones his age that worked here were friends of his, and one of them hadn't come back to get changed into his own clothes.
The sweater covered over most of the bandages, and Jake sat on the tiled floor again, peering out the front windows.
"So." He asked himself. "What now?"
He took inventory. He had nothing. Just the Gizmo. He considered his options. He couldn't go home. He couldn't stay here. If he tried to get to the Town Hall he'd be seen, and Father Rorke was still at the door, checking over each person. "What are the odds that Jess has spoken to you?" He asked himself rhetorically.
What do I do now?
He could try and find Marie. He had no idea if she and Pierce were even alive.
He could try and escape. But the Town was surrounded by the Dead Zone in an unbroken circle. No matter which way he went, he could only go so far.
He could try and hide, wait it out. He'd tried that already with four of his friends. It hadn't worked, and it had left them with more questions than answers.
They've still got my parents. They've still got my brother.
"And what the hell am I supposed to do about that?" Jake groaned to himself.
Something shifted behind him, and Jake froze. He shut his eyes slowly, playing dead. Something was moving through the Supermarket, creeping around, and Jake was in no shape for a fight. He could barely move, and playing dead was his only real option.
The footsteps were slow and heavy. Something large was trying to be quiet. Jake hesitated. They didn't sound like Greys. He kept his eyes shut anyway. They could control people. A weight settled next to him, and Jake focused all his willpower on keeping perfectly still.
"It's Jake Colbert!" A voice hissed.
"Is he dead?" The response came from the other side. "Cause if he is, I got dibs on his backpack."
Jake opened his eyes. "You're all heart, Lockett."
Both teenagers jumped back from Jake with a squawk. He'd recognized their voices immediately. Grant and Lockett were the same two idiots that had put a crop circle in the field while he was out of town. The two of them were infamous for setting off firecrackers in mailboxes. Nobody trusted them with anything more valuable than their own shoes, and somehow they had managed to evade the flying saucers for the entire unnatural night.
Grant was closer and got over it first. "You look like homemade death." He told Jake lightly, and helped him to his feet. "What are you doing here?"
"Funny." Jake commented. "I was about to ask you two the same thing. Most everyone with a brain would be running away from the middle of town right now."
Lockett leaned back and kicked out the front panel of the Supermarket's vending machines. He found one bottle of water left, and dove on it like a wild animal. "Can't do much good running away from the middle of things." He said and slugged down a deep drink.
"What?" Jake was stunned. "You guys want to get into the mix with an Alien Spaceship?"
"Hell no." Grant snorted. "Who's suicidal enough to actually go into the Mothership?"
Jake couldn't help the ironic smirk. "Then what are you doing?"
"My cousin Greg is... walking. I'm gonna get him back." Grant said. "You know me, Jake; I never had a brother, and I really could have used one."
"And if he's goin' then I'm goin'." Lockett added with fierce loyalty to his best friend. "Been a hell of a night."
Grant cackled. "It's almost fun. We play tag with Aliens all the time in video games."
"Yeah, but we take a lot of breaks for junk food." Lockett snorted. "Less fun this time."
Grant reached behind the cash register and pulled out a bag of potato chips and tossed it over. "I told you the old bat was holding out on us!"
Lockett yanked the bag open and stuffed a fistful of chips in his mouth.
"Did you see anyone else?" Jake asked them both seriously. "Anyone else who escaped?"
"Ad hees..." Grant swallowed. "At least a dozen that we saw." He said lightly. "Two of them survived."
Jake felt his heart stop. "Survived?"
Grant nodded and slugged down some water. "The Aliens. They... They were hunting. Like it was a show. The Saucers ran them down, then the Greys zap them. What I don't get, is why they hunt some, and the others all just follow orders?"
Jake hesitated for a second, and told them. "The ones that follow orders are Implanted." He explained. "They have trackers in their heads. I know, because I had one and I got mine out."
Both of them looked at him like he'd just offered them the Holy Grail. "You got yours out? You can do that? You can make it so that they can't control you?"
Jake pulled the Gizmo out of his inside jacket pocket; where it was, unbelievably, still in one piece. "With this. And I'll use it to help you." He held it away from their seeking grip. "But there's a price tag. When you grab your friend... I have to be there to take his place."
"Why?" Grant asked in disbelief. "Because, you know... those guys are the ones going toward the Mothership. I don't know what goes on in there, but if was something good, they probably wouldn't use Mind Control!"
Lockett peeked out the windows, and then looked at Jake. "Listen, Jake... I saw Zack."
Jake nodded thickly. "So did I."
"Charging in there to fight the monsters won't bring him back." Lockett said kindly. His tone was more sincere than Jake had ever heard from him.
"It's Ben." Jake argued. "They have Ben."
"Your brother?" Grant breathed.
"My parents too." Jake nodded. "So... I get that it's an insane idea, but I have to try."
"Okay. Well, you got a deal." Grant told Jake. "We watched them for a bit, and I think they're gonna come right past this Supermarket on their way to Main Street. Which means there's going to be a chance to grab one of them before they go around the corner of the building and get in the Spaceship's sight line."
Lockett peeked out the windows again. "I can see them. They're at the end of the street, but sleepwalkers don't move fast. We got maybe three minutes."
The three of them got organized, ready to pounce out the back door.
"You wanna know something funny?" Grant said quietly. "We were the ones that put that crop circle into the middle of the corn. We thought it'd be a funny joke, y'know?"
Jake smirked. "Yeah, I heard that was you."
"Something to mock all the idiots who thought that alien abductions were real." Lockett snorted.
Shadows moved outside the window and everyone froze. He followed the shapes with only his eyes for a second, and relaxed. It wasn't them. It was another collection of sleepwalking human victims.
"Less than two streets before they get within sight of the Town Hall." Grant hissed. "Ready?"
Lockett was smiling with a dangerous energy. "Oh, I was born ready for this!"
They all held their breath as the moment came. Grant was behind the door, and held it open, just the tiniest bit, enough that it looked closed, but Jake and Lockett could peek out and check for people walking past.
The shadows of sleepwalking people shuffled past, and Jake could make out Grant counting softly, keeping track of how many had walked past...
"Now!" Grant hissed, almost silent, and the door flew open. All three of them lunged out of the Supermarket storeroom, toward the sleepwalking people. They were lined up, shortest to tallest, and the last in the row Jake recognized from school. Grant and Lockett grabbed him by the shoulders, and hoisted him off his feet enough to haul him back into the Supermarket storeroom.
It was chilling how quiet Greg was. He didn't fight back, didn't shout, or even gasp in surprise at finding himself yanked off his feet unexpectedly. He just kept pushing against them, trying to get into line again. Grant and Lockett held him in place as Jake swept up the Gizmo and started hitting buttons.
Greg twitched hard for a moment, then collapsed in the grip of his cousin.
"What the hell did that thing do?" Grant demanded.
"Wait for it." Jake told him.
Greg got his feet under him, and yawned hugely. "Wha... what's going on?" He looked like he'd just woken up from a quick nap.
Jake didn't bother to stick around any longer. "I gotta move. Good luck!"
"You too, Jake. Be careful!" Grant called softly after him.
Jake hurried to catch up as quietly as he could, and fell into step at the back of the row. Barely able to walk straight, limping along in pain, Jake actually fit right in with the rest of the shuffling sleepwalkers. They made their way slowly toward the Town Hall, going right across the Festival Grounds. The Implanted people didn't care about the spot fires, or the debris, if they were even aware of them at all.
Jake very pointedly did not turn to look as they passed Zack's body. But out of the corner of his eye, Jake was certain that somebody had laid a jacket over his remains.
Marie must have made it out.
The two rows of people made it all the way to the Town Hall steps and stopped walking. A moment later the doors opened, and Father Rorke looked out over them. He had the town census and he began comparing the faces in front of him to the list in his hand. Jake didn't make eye contact, not even when Rorke's gaze fixed on him specifically.
Rorke was methodical: He found each person, checked the name. He found the next, he checked the name. The routine was slow and reliable, and nobody seemed to be in any great hurry. Jake was at the back of the line, and knew the odds were against him. The lines were organized by height, and Jake was in the wrong place.
Father Rorke came down the line... and paused when he arrived at Jake. Rorke looked at Jake, looked at his list, then leaned a little closer, looking carefully at Jake's face. Jake put all his energy, all his desperation into keeping his expression blank.
Rorke looked past Jake to the zoned out woman to his left, and checked the list again. Jake didn't know why he wondered. He knew the girl's name. It was Ella Collins. She sat behind him in English class. He remembered she had a crush on the teacher, and she always had cucumber sandwiches...
Rorke had christened her as a baby, but it didn't show as he calmly ticked her name off the list, and returned to the head of the line, opening the door for them. The two rows of people calmly trudged up the stairs, heading into the Town Hall.
Father Rorke closed the door behind them and they all came to a stop. The door between the lobby and the main hallway was closed. Rorke moved towards it, looking bored.
Jake kept his eyes forward, drawing the blueprint of the Town Hall in his head. Beyond the lobby was the main hallway, which lead to all the rooms, the staircase, most of the windows...
And then a hand clapped down on his shoulder. Jake hadn't dared look around and never saw it coming, so he smothered a shout as he was hauled out of the line.
Father Rorke hauled him away from the others and into a small office behind the reception desk. "What do you think you're doing?"
Fear gave way instantly to anger and Jake pushed Rorke's hands off him. "I think if anyone should be explaining themselves, it's you."
"You were free. You had the Implant out, you were immune to the signal... Why did you come back, Jake?" Rorke said, and to Jake's surprise, he wasn't angry... he was heartbroken. "You were as safe as anyone in this town could be. Why did you come in here?"
Jake met his gaze fiercely. "I think everyone is allowed to do something really stupid to try and help their family." He said coldly. "Now you: Why are you helping them?!"
Father Rorke looked sick to his stomach. "Jake, when Grady first told me about them, I didn't believe him. Then he introduced me to one of them and... Jake, I was overjoyed."
"Overjoyed?" Jake repeated in disbelief.
"Of course! The notion that we're not alone? Every Sunday, I stand at my pulpit and I try to teach this town that there's more to the universe than they see around them, and that as creations, we have it within ourselves to give glory to our Creator. The idea that there was another planet full of people out there? Maybe more than one? The more varied and amazing the universe, the greater the tribute to the designer." Rorke looked down. "But I made a terrible mistake... Humans don't often act in a very godly way. Why did I expect more of others in the universe?"
Rorke sat down, and Jake was standing. It was not unlike the teenager was taking confession from the town clergyman.
Rorke looked up, and the tortured need for Jake to understand was obvious in his eyes. "Jake... I wanted to see more of them! I wanted to see more of the stars! I wanted... I wanted to tell the world that they really aren't alone. I wanted to tell them that they were part of a bigger community. I wanted to tell them that there was more to the universe than the petty, stupid trivia that they get obsessed with down here!" The fervor was strong and desperate. The Preacher had thought that being part of a bigger universe might save them from themselves.
Jake felt his eyes sting. Despite himself, he was feeling nothing but pity for the elder man.
Rorke looked up at him, and Jake knew he was understanding the point of the moment too. "This is my confession, Jake. I wanted to be part of this... and I didn't even know what it was. I wanted to go with them. I begged them to let me go with them on their ship. They told me that I was of more use, that I could play a greater part here, among the congregation that I have spent my life with." He looked at Jake beseechingly. "I have spent my life in the service of higher powers, Jake. I was willing to be led." He bowed his head in personal torment. "But they're gone. The whole town. And I helped make it happen. This is my confession. I am a servant of evil ones. Ones that have seduced even your own brother away from you and your family. I helped them do it." He met Jake's eyes, one last time. "I'm sorry, Jake. I'm so sorry. I wish I could make all this stop."
"Then stop." Jake said simply.
"It won't make any difference."
"It will to you." Jake offered.
"No. It won't." Father Rorke touched his temple with one hand, the meaning instantly clear. "I told you. I begged to go with them. I have their mark on me now. It's inside me."
Jake reached into his waistband and pulled out the Gizmo. "It doesn't have to be." He held it up to the clergyman's face, resisting the impulse to cross him with it. "But there is something I want in return."
Rorke looked up, sensing the chance for forgiveness. "Name it."
"First, information." Jake asked. "You said I was immune to the Signal. What did that mean?"
Rorke pointed upward. "You know that the Alien Devices can control people with the Implants. But they have the entire town under their spell now. There's a signal being transmitted."
"Then why do the Gizmo's still work if there's a signal over the whole town?" Jake demanded.
"Proximity, I guess." Rorke shrugged. "I didn't build the thing, but you tell me: How close do you have to be for it to work?"
"No idea." Jake said immediately. "Now... How do I get onto the Ship?"
Royce gulped. "You want to go aboard?"
"I do."
"The... They only let me aboard once. When they come in the front door, they're under control, so I only have to let them into the building and check the manifest."
"Census." Jake corrected absently.
"Same thing. After that, they just march up the stairs. One of the windows towards the base of the steeple has been knocked out, so that everyone can just step out onto the roof. They go aboard the Ship, and I think they go straight into cages."
Jake's eyes flashed. "Does anyone escort them up after they leave you?"
"Not until the Ship. I don't think they care that much about..."
"About their livestock?" Jake growled through grit teeth.
Rorke couldn't meet his eyes.
Jake brandished the Gizmo. "They may notice your Implant going off the air. They may come looking for you. So I'll come by on my way out to get rid of it for you."
Rorke lurched to his feet. "No. I'll go with you."
Jake glared. "Can you think of a terribly compelling reason why I should be willing to have you at my back?"
Rorke bit his lip, and his eyes flicked to the Gizmo. Jake swiftly understood. "Oh." The young man scorned. "You want to come with me, because you think that the odds of me living long enough to come back for you are close to zip."
Rorke nodded. "Frankly, yes. I'm sorry, that's not... go. They will be wondering at the delay. Go with the next group. Don't draw attention. They'll do a headcount, but they won't check for Implants, because they know on sight if someone is obeying their signal. They won't recognize you." Rorke smiled with a sarcastic bitter laugh. "I don't think they can tell us apart, really."
"Why are they using us for so much?"
Rorke blinked. "What?"
"I mean, why do they need humans to do anything at all? They took the plane, they've taken the entire town over the years... why do they need us to handle the leg-work?"
Rorke looked over his shoulder again, as though discussing the forbidden topic was somehow a million times worse than just having this conversation at all. "There are only eight of them."
Jake blinked. "What?"
"The Ship. It doesn't have a big crew, there are only eight of them... and I think that most of them don't enjoy doing the 'leg-work'."
Jake growled, low in his throat. "Except for the ones who enjoy a night of hunting."
Rorke put his face into his hands. "Oh Father God, forgive me; what have I done?"
Jake sighed. "I'll be back."
"I'll be here. W-what are you going to do?" Rorke demanded fearfully.
"See it through." Jake said without emotion.
Rorke took that in with a nod. "Good luck."
The group started walking again. Jake slipped out of the side room and joined them. It took him a few seconds to realize that the girl who had walked in next to him was gone. He resisted the temptation to look around for her, restraining himself to the slow, methodical shuffle. The two lines were suddenly uneven, with him at the back of the lines alone.
As the group reached the end of the hallway and began climbing the staircase, Jake fought to remain still as two Greys scaled down the walls of the steeple. The staircase went up around the wall in a spiral, and the Greys were climbing down, completely ignoring the march of their victims. They were both chattering eagerly with each other, their whistles and clicks sounding angry. Jake forced himself not to shudder as their malevolent gaze swept over him.
They went straight past as the humans climbed.
What are they worried about? Jake thought to himself. Are they wondering where the girl who's supposed to be next to me went?
They made it to the third level. Out the staircase window was the roof, and Jake could see the windows were wide open. Large enough for people to climb out easily, and on the roof was the Spaceship.
And all that stood in his way, was Jess.
She was on the staircase landing, one turn short of the window. Somewhere since seeing him last, she had changed clothes, and combed her hair back. She looked lovely. She looked dangerous. She looked at Jake as the sleepwalkers shuffled past.
She had a new Gizmo, which was a dark red color, and she waved everyone past her, making them pause on the steps above, before they reached the window. The position was perfect. It made it impossible for Jake to push past the motionless people to get to the roof. Jake didn't bother pretending that he was sleepwalking.
Jess and Jake regarded each other a moment on the landing in the turn in the staircase. A narrow spot, wall on one side, three level drop on the other.
"I told them you'd come anyway." Jess said softly. "They didn't believe me. They said not even a human would be stupid enough to try anything now, but I knew." Jess looked disgusted. "I had a feeling you wouldn't be smart about this."
Jake looked equally disgusted. "Jess, did you actually stop by your house to change into a new outfit on your way here?"
Jess shrugged. "The alternative is I look like a war refugee."
"Like me?" Jake said with scorn. "You know the one consolation I have in all this? Everyone warned me about you. Marie, Zack, my dad, even Pierce. Everyone who saw us together warned me that you weren't a good pick."
"I know." Jess said quietly. "And I know that you defended me against all of them. I loved you for that." Jess looked miserable, but decided. "All I have to do is scream, Jake. All I have to do is call for help."
"Then why haven't you?" He challenged.
Jess said nothing.
"Can't do it, can you?" He almost dared her, with a confidence he didn't feel. "You know what you did was wrong, and you can't follow through." He shook his head. "Even when you've made up your mind, you can't make up your mind. God, how did I never see this before?"
"Don't have too much faith in your charm here, Jake." She growled scornfully. "I know that Zack is dead, and I know it's because I fired off that damned flare gun. You think I'm going to do that, and walk away with nothing?" Jess sighed, and reached into her waistband, pulling out the gun she had gotten from Mrs Blanchard's house. She raised it smoothly and pointed at him. "I'm in too deep to walk away now."
Jake looked hard at her. He backed away a little, and found he had nowhere to go when he hit the handrail behind him. The two of them circled a moment, until Jake had the staircase going up at his back. The staircase behind him was still crowded with people, none of them moving, none of them aware of the drama unfolding. "Are you going to kill me, Jess?"
"What do you want from me, Jake?" She demanded with tears rolling down her face. "I can't let you screw this up, or my family is finished. You don't have the tracker, just get out of here and save yourself before you take me and my parents down with you!"
"Dammit, Jess: that was the plan! To take your family, and mine, and Marie's, and Zack's; and get them all out of here! That was the plan! That was OUR plan!" He raged at her quietly. "What? You got a better offer? You have what you wanted, so to hell with the rest of us, is that it?"
"You can't do it, Jake." She said darkly. "I told them all about your plan when I came on board. Your Gizmo doesn't work any more. They can turn any of their devices off by remote, for exactly this reason. It stopped working the minute you came in the front door."
Jake stared at the alien thing in his hand. His fragile nothing plan had crumbled to ashes outright. He felt his mind race for a moment... And then he relaxed completely. After all the fear and all the doubts and all the questions, his vague excuse for a plan had been eliminated... and he was perfectly calm about it. The die had been cast. Everything that he could do, or try to do had been tried, and all that was left was to play it out. "Well then. That's it."
"Not necessarily. Just run, Jake." She almost begged him. "Just go."
Jake lifted his chin. "No." He said simply.
"I'm not kidding around with you, Jake." Jess stepped closer, bringing the gun close enough that Jake could smell the gun oil. "I don't want to kill you." She said seriously. "But I will."
"I believe you." He said softly.
"Walk away." She said again, for the last time.
"No." Jake said simply, his eyes never leaving hers.
Jess squeezed the trigger, when she felt a sudden tap on her shoulder. She turned in surprise to look and howled as her eyes were suddenly set on fire.
Marie sprayed half her can of Mace square into Jess' eyes. The gun fell to the floor, forgotten instantly. Jess was clawing at her eyes, shouting in agony, when Marie struck, clapping one hand over Jess' mouth, and the other on Jess' shoulder, shoving her hard into the wall.
Jess was trying not to scream hysterically. Marie pulled a zip-lock bag out of her pocket. Jake lunged forward to hold the thrashing blonde still as Marie opened the bag and yanked out a cloth. Jake recognized the smell immediately. Marie had produced a chloroform rag.
Jess was unconscious in seconds, and both of them looked around for a place to stash her unconscious body. "Smooth." Jake gasped, suddenly short of breath after the tension of the standoff. "I didn't know you had a can of Mace."
"An old memento from my mom's days in Manhattan." Marie said with a savage grin. "The knockout rag I got from following around your mom. I spend enough time at the Clinic, I know where to find bottles of dangerous stuff."
"What do we do with her?" Jake asked.
"Don't ask me, I ran out of plan when I hit her with the chloroform." Marie shrugged. "Sometimes you can over-plan these things."
"It's more than I had when I came in here." Jake waved that off. "We can hide her one level higher, near the bells. If they're using this staircase to get to the roof, I doubt they'll go any higher than the window level."
Marie snatched up Jess' new Red Gizmo, and waved it at the two rows of people. In unison, they started to climb the stairs again. Jake snatched up the gun and grabbed Jess by the shoulders. Marie got her by the ankles and the two of them almost ran up the stairs with their burden, adrenaline making them quick. As they pushed their way past the waiting people, they got a quick glance out the window. The rear of the Ship was open. Intellectually, Jake knew that it was a cargo door, nothing more malevolent than that. But it was impossible to shake the image of it being a mouth, ready to snap them all up.
They hauled Jess up to the next landing, out of sight by the angle of the stairs.
When they got to the upper part of the clock-tower, they could see that something had happened to it. The usual mechanism was there, clockworks and the enormous cast iron bells... But something new had been added. Along the interior of the tower were wires. They looked like ordinary cabling and components, the kind of thing that were visible in most radio towers... But laid out differently. It clearly wasn't normal, wasn't meant to be there... But it didn't glow, or have gooey bits involved.
"If that's what their tech looks like, no wonder we didn't notice." Jake commented.
"No time for sightseeing." Marie said quickly, and unceremoniously dropped Jess to the floor. Marie shook her arm a little and a roll of duct tape slid out of her sleeve, down into her hand.
"Marie, you're phenomenal." Jake said in a matter-of-fact tone as they taped up the traitorous young woman, hand and foot.
"I figured I could pull the same trick you did." Marie explained, looking over Jess' Red Gizmo. "So I grabbed the girl at the back of the line and stuck her in a closet. I figured I could catch up and you'd be smart enough not to scream in delighted shock when you saw my adorable face again." She gave him a tight smirk. "I didn't expect you to make a quick stop for confession." She grinned. "Let's move, before someone on that Ship wonders what's keeping their latest cargo."
The two of them hurried down to rejoin the group. Marie keyed the new Gizmo and everyone started walking. Jake and Marie fell into step behind them, matching their speed as they stepped out on the roof of the Town Hall, leaving the clocktower behind them on their way to the Ship.
"Last chance to back out." Marie whispered.
From within the craft, emerged a Grey, heading in their direction.
"Too late." Jake whispered back.

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.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

JCT Chapter Ten: This Was Not The Plan.


The four of them ran down the street, turning at every corner they came to. It was a zig-zag route that was meant to make them hard to follow, though they knew it wasn't likely to help them. The loudspeakers were still going in the distance, voices that seemed familiar, some they didn't recognize. Jake wondered distantly if that meant there were still other survivors on the run out there, being called in by the voices of captured loved ones...
Everyone stopped for a moment, gasping for air as they reached an intersection. Four directions spread out into the dimly lit streets, with no sign of anybody in any of them.
"Where the hell is everybody?!" Jake hissed. "You'd think there'd still be someone trying to fight back."
"Not if you believe our hosts." Pierce retorted.
Jake shook his head miserably. "I can't believe Jess would do that!"
Pierce and Marie traded a bleak look. It was clear that they could believe it just fine. Zack looked sadly at his friend, unhappy about breaking the bad news. "Jake... this entire week she's had one thing in mind: Getting her family back. She said so, over and over. She just got offered an easy way to do that."
"Yeah, but she can't possibly think that The Aliens can be trusted..."
"She doesn't care!" Zack retorted. "She just wanted her mommy and daddy back, and then she could let them fix the problem." He was about to say more when Marie clapped a hand over his mouth. Everyone froze, listening to the unnatural night.
There was a now-familiar humming, getting closer.
"SAUCER!" Pierce barked. "Scatter!"
Pierce took off down one street, Zack and Marie went down another, and Jake took off in the opposite direction. It was an instinctive reaction. They'd never seen more than one Saucer-Drone at a time, and they didn't dare go together any more.
This was not the plan! Jake thought miserably as he ran for his life. The thought repeated through his head like a mantra. This was not the plan! This was NOT the plan!
Jake spun. The Saucer wasn't aiming at him. It wasn't even chasing him. It was chasing after Zack and Marie.
No. Jake thought to himself. I lost my family, I lost Jess... I can't lose them too.
Jake took off running in the direction of his friends. He knew where to find them. The Saucer was pointing the way perfectly.
The Saucer was hovering in mid-air over the Festival Ground. It was shooting its way through the tents, hitting one after the other. Fires were burning across the perimeter of the Town Square. Jake hid behind the Supermarket, trying not to be within sight of the Town Hall, or the Saucer-Drone.
Through the fire, he caught a glimpse of Marie running toward the stage. The smoke grew thick and he lost track of her again.
Okay. Think. Jake told himself. Come on, Stargazer; think for a minute. How do you do this? The Saucer is flying low. Why is that? Because... it needs to make sure of its target. Like with Maggie. Like at Tracy's place...
The fire! It came to him like a thunderbolt. It's not piloted, it's a Drone. So it has to be following a program. No doubt a smart one, but still a program. If it's using heat or movement to track a target, then the fire must be confusing it.
Jake saw his chance and ran for the stalls.
"Marie! Look out!" He could hear his best friend shouting in the distance.
Jake had helped set up the entire Festival that year. He'd set up the generators, the deep fryers...
The stall over by the nearest loudspeaker pole was the hamburger stall. It had a gas powered barbeque set up. Jake dove to the side of the tent and lifted the edge of the thin material wall. He rolled under it, into the stall. The gas cylinder was right next to him. On the stall counter was a toaster, deigned to toast the hamburger buns. Jake pulled the toaster down next to him.
Thwapp! Jake could hear the sudden gushing noise of the water main. Perversely, he was glad to hear the Saucer still shooting. If it was still trying to kill Zack and Marie, then it hadn't succeeded yet.
A hand clapped on his shoulder and Jake let out a shriek. Another hand clapped over his mouth, and Jake spun to find that Zack had joined him in the stall.
"Oh, thank God!" Jake gasped out. "Where's Marie?"
"The thing hit one of the generators and set off a big fire. It lost us in the flame." Zack said quickly. "I think Marie went for the Stage!"
Jake spun on him. "Which Generator?"
Zack blinked. "Um... The one near the cotton candy machines."
Jake grinned and grabbed whatever scrap paper he could; newspaper, and dropped handbills for the Festival. He crammed it all into the small toaster, and turned the dial around to high.
"What are you doing?" Zack hissed.
Jake's eyes were lit with a fierce inner fire. "Something really stupid. Listen, in about five seconds, I'm going to make a break for it. When I do, I need you to count to three and go in the opposite direction." He switched on the toaster, but it didn't start. "I need you to get to the other generator and crank it up."
"I'll ask you again: What the hell are you doing?" Zack repeated.
"I told you: Something really stupid." Jake explained like it was obvious, and he yanked the hose out of the gas cylinder. A thick cloying smell immediately hit them both, and they held their breath. Jake scrambled under the tent wall and ran for the edge of the Festival ground.
Thwapp! Thwapp!
The Saucer was still shooting, but whether it was still on its search and destroy grid, or if it had noticed Zack, it was impossible to tell. Jake snatched up a brick off the ground from where it was being used as a tent weight and started breaking open fuse boxes. It took him a few seconds to find the breakers, but when he did, he didn't hesitate to throw every switch he could find. He barely stopped to check before running back the way he came.
And suddenly the whole Festival Square lit up like a Christmas Tree. Jake looked up at the bright, multicolor lights in horror. Zack had obviously succeeded in turning on the generators, but the lights were hooked up to it too.
Jake poured all his energy into running. The Saucer had noticed the lights were on too, and had circled around to investigate. It was painfully obvious he wasn't going to make it in time, so he changed direction, heading for the stage.
Ahead of him, he saw Zack running away from the generator shed... Jake raised a voice to scream out a warning, but there was no need. Zack had already run for cover.
Jake ran for the stage, as the Saucer fired in the opposite direction. He ran as fast as he could, sprinting straight through the geyser. The ground was soft and mushy from the broken water pipes, and he was able to skid across the grass, until he slid painfully into the edge of the stage. Clutching at his ribs, he pressed himself under the stairs, getting in under the deck.
Marie was also there, the stage above them low enough that they both had to belly crawl toward each other. "Are you okay?" He hissed at her.
"I'm fine! Where's Zack?!"
Jake pointed, and they both fought to crawl along enough to see out over the Festival Square. The Saucer was hunting the sources of light and noise, taking on the rides, the lights, the music boxes. With quick precise shots, it gunned them all down.
"What's the plan, Jake?" Marie whispered.
"I rigged up one of the cookers to start a fire. I don't know exactly how long it takes a toaster to turn newspaper into open flame, but by the time it does, the Hamburger tent will be full of gas."
"Okay. That's a bad plan." Marie hissed. "How does another explosion help us?"
"Same way Tracy's house burning down saved our necks." Jake explained quickly. "That Saucer had to get in close because it had trouble picking us out with all the fire around. They don't fly too stable when they hover in place..."
Marie blinked. "How do we get the Saucer to hover over the right tent?"
Jake bared his teeth. "Only one way I can think of."
"Live bait?" Marie reached out and grabbed him. "Okay. BAD plan!" She hissed. "What if it doesn't blow in time? Or worse, blows up too soon?!"
Jake pushed her hands away gently. "The tent is going to go up. Either it goes up when the newspaper catches fire, or it goes up when the Saucer shoots at me. All I have to do is have it miss me one time!"
Jake was about to fight his way free, when they both felt the familiar shadow on their souls and looked out over the Festival. The Saucer was coming back. They could see its shadow moving slowly before them.
And beyond that, they could see Zack looking back at them, calculating how fast he could get to the stage and join them.
Marie divined his intentions instantly. "No!"
Jake saw it coming too. "Zack, no!"
The Saucer moved on so that they couldn't see it, and Zack ran for it. He ran toward them as fast as he could.
The world seemed to drop into slow motion as they watched his desperate sprint. Under the stage, they couldn't see the Saucer, but they could see the naked fear on Zack's face as it became visible suddenly. Zack Washington, someone that both Zack and Marie cared about more than their own lives, skidded to a panicked halt, trying to change direction... and knowing he wouldn't make it.
"ZACK!" Marie shrieked, as the shot splattered across Zack's face and body, catching him dead centre.
Marie lurched forward, and Jake's hand flashed out, holding her back.
The sizzling sound started, and Zack collapsed, howling in sudden agony. His screams were cut horribly short a moment later, and all Jake could hear was Marie sobbing.
Jake felt something in him shift suddenly. Something hot and deadly had bubbled up to the surface in him. It was harsh and savage and Jake honestly could not feel his own body any longer.
Feeling like he was moving in slow motion, Jake crawled out from under the stage and he started moving. He ran toward the nearest open fire he could find and ran for the centre of it.
The humming started again, and Jake didn't care. He cleared Zack's body in a leap and kept running.
The flames licked at him as he ran, but Jake didn't even feel it. He ran through one fire, then the next, then the next. The Saucer hesitated, sweeping back and forth. Jake was seeing red, not even aware of himself. Some distant, conscious part of him realized that his clothes were catching fire, that his legs were starting to blister, that his lungs were burning from the effort and the smoke...
But the rest of him saw Zack's twisting body, saw it happening over and over again, saw it everywhere he looked, and he was out of control as a result.
He ran forward, making the last stretch toward the hamburger tent. He burned energy like he didn't need it... and he didn't. He saved nothing for later. He wasn't going to have a later, and part of him didn't care.
He made it to the tent and dove into it, ready to dart out the other side. He gagged on the thick stench of gas...
And suddenly realized that the toaster wasn't even on. He followed it with his eyes for a second, and noticed that it wasn't plugged in.
It was a sick cosmic joke. He'd made every effort to turn a toaster and a barbeque into a bomb... and he hadn't even checked to see if it was plugged in.
The humming in the air dropped to nothing. Jake prepared to make a run for it. One last exertion. One last effort. One last ditch attempt to get clear before the hit came...
And he saw the matches.
The tent had been set up to grill burgers. He thought clinically to himself. Of course there was a way to light the grill. Idiot.
Jake snatched them up and bolted. He didn't look to the sky, didn't look back, didn't look for Marie. There was nothing left in the tank. He was at the end of his rope, having used up everything he had...
But as he ran, he flicked a match alight, and tossed it over his shoulder.
The tent couldn't really contain a lot of gas. The explosion wasn't enough to level anything.
But the bang was enough to send up a burst of flame. Jake felt himself get knocked flat on his face by the blast of heat and shock. For a microsecond, he was able to make out the concrete hurtling toward his face. There was an abrupt shock of pain and he was suddenly seeing six of everything.
He couldn't get up, couldn't move his limbs. He saw the reflection in the shop window, and thought that the blast had managed to knock down the Saucer. An endless moment passed, as the flames faded a little, and Jake saw the Saucer was still in the sky. He had failed.
The fires had spread, surrounding him, burning in spots all about him.
I hope Marie got away. He thought distantly, as the darkness swept up to claim him.


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.