Sunday, 12 May 2019

JCT Chapter Nine: "Run While You Still Can."


Jake and Jess were running down the street, holding hands. After going three streets, Jess pulled back out of the next intersection and hissed. "People!"
Jake's eyes had recovered, and his lungs were improving. He pulled her behind him and peeked around the street corner. At the other end of the street, there were half a dozen people... and two more on the way. They were at the end of the street, standing still in the middle of the road, lined up according to height, male and female, in two rows.
"That's what Tracy was talking about." Jake whispered to her. "If they're sleepwalking, then... They probably won't notice us."
"I don't wanna take the chance." Jess hissed.
"Me neither."
None of the people in the next street reacted at all, but the two of them spun around in shock, as every window in the street shattered from the force of the explosion. Jess let out a sob. "That was Tracy's place." She gasped out. "That was the Jeep full of explosives."
"...yeah it was." Jake admitted, trying to get his ears to work again. "Man, that was a big bang."
Jess looked back down the street. "And they don't even blink."
Jake coughed again, his lungs healing, but in pain. "Jess... Did you see? My eyes were half useless. Did you see what happened to the others?"
Jess looked at him sickly. "No. Last thing I saw, they were taking cover behind the edge of the pool, and Pierce was shooting. Where'd he get the gun?"
"From Maggie. She... didn't need it any more."
Jess' face twisted slightly, and she was about to speak when her shoulders suddenly hunched a little, and her head tilted like a wild thing that had heard an approaching predator. Jake reacted the same way. Neither of them could be exactly sure what they had heard, but they both knew something was coming. Without a word spoken between them, they ran down the first driveway, taking cover. Sure enough, a Saucer slid through the sky above them without making a sound, heading for the explosion. It passed over them without pausing.
"Where are we going?" Jess asked.
Jake checked his pockets and discovered he still had the Gizmo, stolen from Sheriff Tanner. "We finish the job." He said finally. "Neither of us wanted to go through with Maggie's plan. We've got the Gizmo, we can still go through with our own."
Jess shivered hard... and nodded. "The Town Hall?"
Jake bit his lip. "The Diner."
Curtis Creek was being taken, street by street. Those who were Marked put up no struggle, and those that saw what was happening either burrowed deep into their houses, or tried to run. Those that ran were quickly dispatched by the watchful Saucers, moving overhead with endless geometric precision.
It was a pattern that was predictable, but Jake knew it was designed to keep people from getting out. He and his friends were trying to get in.
It took several minutes, dashing from cover to cover. Every street they passed was still, but now it felt more like a bombed out warzone than anything else. There were houses burning, but not many of them. Jake wondered what those families had done to rate destruction. He wondered how many of these streets had been cleared out already.
As they crept through their neighborhood, Jess and Jake compared notes on which houses had doors left open, or muddy footprints here and there, and got a rough idea of how the town was being cleared out. It was enough to keep them distracted from their fear until they reached the Main Street. The Supermarket was burning, but the rest of the street was still. Jake knew where the spare key to the Diner was, and he let them in the back door.
"Stay in the kitchen for now." Jess said to him quietly. "You can see the Town Hall from the windows here... which means they can see us."
"The windows are tinted, just keep the lights off." Jake said. "But yeah, let's stay away from the windows for now."
The two of them found chairs stacked up in the storeroom and sat in the kitchen for a while, not saying anything.
"I was hoping they'd be here." Jess confessed after a moment. "I didn't see if they got away... Zack would come here. Pierce might use it to recon the target, and Marie would go with either of them."
"Recon the target?" Jake repeated, a small grin playing at the corner of his lips. "When did you go GI Jane?"
"Somewhere between: 'Jess, are you having trouble sleeping?' and 'Look at these photos'." She retorted.
Jake nodded. "Could be we just beat them here?"
"I hope so." She nodded. "Listen... Zack came running out of the fire. He said that he and Maggie got pinned. He said that you and Pierce got him out. He said that Maggie was dead the second it fell on her."
"With all the smoke and the heat, it took us a few seconds to figure that out." Jake agreed, peeking around the edge of the kitchen door, just checking the back entrance.
"Zack was about to go running back in when you came out." Jess offered. "I honestly don't think he knew that he'd left you behind in there."
She was commenting on Zack running away, without actually using the words 'run away', and he sent her a light glare. "If you're looking for the heroic type, you should get back together with Pierce. Because he didn't even blink. He ran straight into the fire. I mean, while we were all coughing on the smoke, he just sprinted into a burning building."
"Yeah." Jess conceded. "But if you're asking... I don't regret any of my choices with who I date." She made sure he got her meaning. "Not any of my choices."
"And I don't regret any of my choices in who my friends are." Jake nodded. "After all this, I might even add Pierce to the list. Heroic bastard."
She chuckled a bit at that, and pulled him in for a kiss on the lips that set off sparks in his head. He wasted no time in deepening the embrace, and they clung to each other for several moments.
"Oh. Sorry, we'll come back later."
"Mmph!" Jake broke the kiss quickly, and spun to see Zack, Marie, and Pierce in the doorway to the kitchen. They were all trying not to laugh, even after the night they'd had. "About time you showed up."
"I don't know, you probably could have handled it if we arrived a few minutes later." Pierce teased, and Jess flipped him off. Even with the teasing, none of them could hide their open relief at seeing each other safe.
Pierce looked around. "Tracy?"
Jake shook his head a little. "She didn't suffer." Not for long, anyway.
The five of them took a few moments to take stock of themselves. They were scratched up, bruised, eyes a little wild, hair and clothes a bit trashed... But they were all alive. And not everyone that had joined their little party had been so lucky.
"The Greys had us pinned big time. I only had two shots left in the gun..." Pierce explained. "So I blew up the Jeep."
"That was you?"
"Yeah. Really got the Little Grey Man's attention too." Pierce said with a disturbing glee.
Jess sent Jake a look. "I knew he was a pyro at heart."
Zack put his head in. "The storeroom's been trashed. There's a smashed window in the back." He said. "Looks like someone was looking for food. They wouldn't have found any."
His reminder of the situation got them all working again, and the five of them made a quick search of the building, checking entrances, barricading doors. There was a First Aid Kit in Marie's bag, and another in the Diner, and what injuries they had were cleaned and treated.
Zack refused to meet Jake's eyes. Jake was wrapping his best friend's ankle, and they didn't say a word to each other for almost five minutes.
"I thought you were behind me." Zack said finally. "I thought... If I'd known you were staying in the building, I would have..." He trailed off, not really buying it himself. "No. I guess I wouldn't have."
Jake said nothing for a while, trying to think what words he could say that would not make it worse. "It cost us nothing." He said. "We didn't realize that Maggie was already dead, and... well, then we did and we left. It made no difference to anything."
It was true, but it wasn't what Zack really wanted to hear. What he wanted to hear would have been a lie. They were best friends, practically family... And Zack had run away.
"We've never been in a scrape like this." Jake admitted. "But pretty much our entire lives, we've been getting in over our heads, and getting each other out of it."
Zack shivered. "I was scared."
Jake nodded. "So was I."
"Hey guys?" Marie called from the Diner. "I think you might want to take a look at this."
The normality of the Diner was somehow even more jarring. Jake had spent a good portion of his life in this room, sitting in his favorite booth, eating with his friends...
And now with the lights off, and two cars burning outside, it seemed like a joke from another lifetime.
Marie was hiding, pressed against the window frame, looking out over the town. The others crept over to join her, staying back a little from the windows, but they all saw at once what she was talking about.
The Town Hall was clearly visible at the far side of the Festival Square... and parked on the roof was an alien craft.
"The Mothership?" Pierce guessed.
"Oh there's gotta be a less cliché name for it than that!"
"Call it whatever you want, but I'll bet all the money in my pockets that the Saucer Drones came from that thing." Pierce retorted. "And I'll be willing to bet that the Sleepwalkers are all being taken into it."
It was big, and its wings reached over the sides of the Town Hall. It was big and black, and triangular in shape. It was shiny and seamless, and it was parked on the roof of the Town Hall, the triangular shape pointed down Main Street, the Clocktower at its back.
"It looks a little like a stealth bomber." Zack commented. "No lights."
"The Saucers had lights." Jess whispered. "It was how they scanned..."
"If you think we can just walk up there... I don't know, Jess; that's a long shot." Zack hissed. "Hey... who's that?"
Everyone ducked and peeked out the window. Almost a dozen people walked two-by-two, male and female, down the middle of the main street, until they reached the front door of the Town Hall. The door opened, and a familiar face arrived at the entrance.
"Father Rorke?" Jess hissed. "The Town Priest is in the middle of this?"
"I'm not even surprised." Jake snorted. "The entire Town Council. The Mayor, the Sheriff, the Padre, and the Editor of the paper."
Marie nodded. "The ones we all come to with our problems, or if we want more information. The ones we ask if we think there's something bad going on in this town. The Greys chose their allies well."
Father Rorke was at the door to the Town Hall with a large clipboard. He looked over the townsfolk that were assembled in front of the steps and checked his clipboard several times. He was flipping back and forth between pages and Jess snapped her fingers. "It's the Town Census!"
Now that she'd said it, it seemed so obvious. "Of course!" Jake hissed. "He's... checking the Grey's manifest! They know who got Implanted, and they're comparing to the list."
Pierce reached into his waistband and pulled out Maggie's Gizmo. It was tarnished in a few places, and the handle was shorter. It seemed older than the one they had found on their own.
"It doesn't work." Pierce said. "Or at least it won't get rid of the Implants. Maggie proved that. They couldn't shut her down, but they could still track her. Our plan is still the same." He started counting on his fingers. "Our original plan: Jess and Jake go in with our Gizmo. The rest of us go after my dad and try to get another one, come in independently and do the same."
Jess looked out the window. "I'm looking at it, and I think we might actually have a shot at pulling that off." She turned to Jake. "You, me, and Marie are on that list too. The Padre knows that we know, but he might not know we got the Implants out."
"So... what? We stroll up to the front door and pretend to be sleepwalking?" Jake said in jaded awe. "Well... I salute your moxie. But I don't know, Jess. That's a long shot."
"Worse than hoping to sneak in a window?" Zack asked logically. "The building is guarded. The only place they let people in is the entrance. You walk in the front door with a crowd, you at least have a shot of going unnoticed."
"So what do we do?"
Jake bit his lip. "What we planned to do." He said finally. "When we were at the cabin, we decided we had to come back for our families. Maggie told us they'd all be at the Town Hall..." He waved at the Spaceship. "And now we know why. We go in there, and we get our families out... and anything else we can do to help, we do that too."
Without a word, everyone glanced at Zack. He stared right back at them without a word.
"It's a pretty vague plan, Jake." Marie pointed out. "We don't know anything about the inside of that thing."
"We know where it is. That's more than we knew when we first decided to come back to town." Zack told his girlfriend.
"Maybe we can pull it off, but not if we go for any more than the minimum." Pierce said suddenly. "Maybe we can get your parents out, but we can't get the whole town."
"How do you figure that?" Jess asked him.
"They have a quota." Pierce said. "Grady said so a dozen times. We've got plenty of cattle farmers around town, ask any of them what you do when you have a quota to meet. You always have a few extra head of cattle than the numbers you need, in case something happens. We take a few out of that ship, like just your families, maybe it's too much trouble to come back for them. We try and be heroes..."
"And they get in our faces real fast to stop us." Jake nodded.
Marie raised a hand awkwardly. "We get our families out, and they've still got quotas to meet... doesn't that just shift the problem? They don't keep my folks, but they take someone else?"
Long silence.
"I want my family back." Jess said finally. "I want my family back, and if that means someone has a bad day... Well, the sun's vanished. We're all having a bad day!"
Jake was a little surprised at her vehemence, but none of them spoke a word against it.
Pierce nodded. "We don't have a better plan. You still got The Gizmo?"
Jake reached into his jacket, and his face froze. He slapped at his pockets quickly.
"Oh my God!" Jess hissed in horrified disbelief. "Where is it?"
Jake's face split into a grin and pulled The Gizmo out of his back pocket. "Right here, I was just messing with you guys for my own amusement."
Jess slugged his arm hard, the blood returning to her face. "Jake, I swear, you ever do something like that to me again, and you'll never get any further than first base."
Jake grinned at Pierce despite himself. "Well, that was a short honeymoon. So to speak."
Pierce grinned back. "I'm going after my dad."
"You still armed?"
"Lost my guns in the scrap at Tracy's place."
"The Sheriff will still have a Grey with him. Maybe more than one." Jake pointed out. "You've seen their weapons now." He paused. "I wouldn't risk it."
Pierce nodded. "Yeah, just like I wouldn't risk going into the freakin' Spaceship! But he's my dad, and I gotta... I don't know, but I have to be the one who does it... whatever 'it' turns out to be."
Nobody could bring themselves to argue with that.
"You're right though." Pierce agreed. "Going after my dad is risky, going after the Greys that are no doubt watching him is suicide." He bit his lip. "Zack, what are the odds your dad has a gun somewhere in here?"
"No chance." Zack said simply.
Pierce frowned at the Spaceship. "If I asked you guys to wait a bit so I could reload, how would that affect the plan?"
"Well, I'm not sure this qualifies as a plan, but... The Diner is a good spot. Too good to lose." Zack said quietly. "We wait here too long, they'll notice us. We go now, and you're running around in circles across the town, we might be out by the time you try anything."
Pierce said nothing, he just looked at them.
"So... I guess we'll have to go with you." Jess said finally.
Jess pointed at the steps as the two rows of people went inside. "They're not taking the whole town at once, so whatever they're doing, it works on a timetable. We either wait here for the next group and hope we don't get noticed, or we sneak out like we snuck in." She looked to Jake. "No offense, Jake; but if I'm going in there, I'd like to be armed too."
Jake winced. "I've never, ever, carried a gun in my life. Nothing more than an air rifle. I don't approve of them. Don't believe in them."
Pierce couldn't help the bitter smirk. "A week ago, none of us believed in Aliens."
The five of them slipped away from the windows and made their way through the back.
"If they're walking people in the front door in groups, then it means they can't just 'beam us up'." Jake said. "They have to make more than one trip. However they're getting people from the Town Hall into the Ship, they have to organize it to avoid the logjam."
"That'll give us time." Pierce agreed. "Okay. Where in town do we go to arm up? Anyone who's awake will be holding onto their guns right now. Anyone asleep won't care. Who was on that list and has a weapon?"
Jess grinned. "Pierce, as it happens, there's one place in town that has stuff to spare."
The five of them kept the buildings of the town between themselves and the Spacecraft as much as possible. It likely wasn't going to do a whole lot of good, but they felt better having something in the way.
Mrs Blanchard's house was dark but intact. The kids crept up to the back door.
Almost before Jake could knock, the door opened, and the barrel of a shotgun pointed out at him. Jake grabbed it on reflex and aimed it upward a little with a shout.
Mrs Blanchard pumped the shotgun and glared at him. "What are you kids doing out this late?"
"Late?" Pierce retorted. "It's nine o'clock in the morning. The fact that the sun didn't get the memo has nothing to do with it."
"Haven't you heard, Mrs Blanchard?" Marie said with a wry smirk. "The world is ending."
"I'm flattered you thought of me." Mrs Blanchard drawled. "Well, you better get inside before one of those UFO's see you."
"Just so you know?" Jake said as they all came in. "UFO means Unidentified Flying Object. We know what those Saucers are, they're Drones built by extraterrestrials. So you can't really consider them... to be... unidentified..." He trailed off as everyone just looked at him. "Which... is not really important right now."
It was the first time Jake had been in Mrs Blanchard's house, and he knew it didn't normally look like this. The furniture had all been pushed against the windows and doors, except for the front door, which had new braces and locks bolted into it. The living room was filled with everything from canned goods to jewelry, after a week of bartering. Blanchard herself was packing a hunting knife around her leg, the shotgun, and a bolt-action hunting rifle, the kind every family in farming country had to bullseye rabbits and foxes. The stairs to the second level had been lined with planks of wood with nails stuck through on every third step. The windows on the ground floor had similar spiked boards across the inside of the windows.
The whole house was set up to repel an invasion, and Jake knew it would last about three seconds if the Drones found them.
"So, what are you all here for?" Mrs Blanchard asked coolly. "Everyone comes to trade this week, what are you lot after?"
"Guns." Pierce said shortly.
"Ha!" Mrs Blanchard found that to be amusing. "Of all the weapons in town, four of them are here, and I don't dare let go of them. What? You think those Things come in my back door and I can offer them a trade?"
Something banged upstairs. Everyone jumped, except for their host, who didn't seem surprised.
"Mrs Blanchard." Jake tried. "You obviously know what's going on out there."
"Tracy came to me a few hours ago." She explained. "She asked me for food and shoes, and in exchange she told me what was happening outside. You want help, you should talk to her."
"We did." Pierce said shortly. "She didn't make it."
Something banged hard again upstairs, and everyone tensed.
"What is that?" Marie demanded.
Mrs Blanchard glared at them. "None of your business."
Pierce and Jake traded a look, and both of them headed for the stairs. Mrs Blanchard had the shotgun pointed at them immediately. "Freeze!"
"Shoot us!" Pierce dared her without breaking stride. Mrs Blanchard chased after them, and everyone rushed upstairs. The banging was coming from the first door on the right, and Pierce kicked the door in without hesitation. "Oh, hell."
Everyone came running and framed themselves around the doorframe to see what was inside.
It was a girl.
She was about nine years old, wearing nightclothes and socks... And she was sleepwalking. She had been tied to the bedframe with her own sheets, and was trying to walk to the door.
Mrs Blanchard reached out pointedly and pulled the bedroom door shut. "My daughter. Melony." She said shortly. "She's staying with me this week... I have no idea if her father is like this, but I'd like to think if he was awake, he'd be here."
Jake reached into his jacket and drew out the Gizmo. He looked to Zack, who nodded. So did Marie, so did Jess. Pierce put a hand up. "We got something to bargain."
"What's that?" Mrs Blanchard asked with interest.
"No!" Jake scorned. "What are we going to do? Hold the kid hostage?"
Pierce shrugged. "We've gotta look out for ourselves. That's all anyone is doing here."
Mrs Blanchard leaned forward sharply. "If you brats have something that can help my girl, you tell me now. Remember, I'm still holding the gun."
Jake was about to speak when Pierce sent him a deadly look. He glanced at Zack, who shook his head slightly. Marie's nodded her approval, and Jess glared hard, as if daring him to tell the truth over her objections.
Mrs Blanchard saw the significant looks being traded back and forth, and lowered the gun, a little embarrassed by it. "I'm sorry. We... We're all just trying to keep our own safe tonight."
Jake approved of that answer, because it was exactly what he felt. "We're planning on doing something stupid and brave tonight. We were hoping to improve the odds." He pulled out the Gizmo. "This is what we used to turn the Implants off."
Mrs Blanchard gripped the shotgun. "I'll trade you the guns you need, for that Thinga-majig you got there."
"Gizmo." Jess corrected promptly.
"Oh yes, that's much more official." Marie snorted under her breath.
Jake held the Gizmo close. "I need this one."
She aimed the shotgun at him. "You don't seem to understand your bargaining position. Maybe you haven't heard? It's the end of the world."
"You can have this one." Pierce said suddenly. He held out the older device, the one he'd taken from Maggie Gunn.
"You've got two? What the hell were you worried about?" Mrs Blanchard turned that over in her head for a moment. "I want proof they work as advertized." She said finally.
"Of course." Pierce said smoothly and put the older one back in his pocket. "Jake, show the woman how it works, would you?"
Jake suddenly realized what he was planning, and felt sick about it. But Jess gave him a look that told him not to push the issue now. Jake pushed past everyone and went into the girls bedroom. He swept his own Gizmo up to her head and hit the button combination. A moment later, the child stopped dragging herself against her ropes and went still.
"What's he doing?!" Mrs Blanchard demanded. Jake glanced over his shoulder and noticed Jess and Marie were holding her back. "What's he doing to her?!"
Melony was still, on her feet, just staring into space for a second, as a trickle of something metallic came from her ear. Then suddenly her eyes focused, becoming aware. She had a stunned, disconnected look on her face, as if surprised to find herself standing up, let alone tied to her bed and surrounded by strangers. "Mommy?"
Mrs Blanchard let out a sob of relief and pushed her way past the others to wrap her daughter up in a hug.
Pierce was unmoved, holding out Maggie's older alien toy. "Do we have a deal?"
Mrs Blanchard looked back to them and nodded. She was unwilling to take her arms away from her daughter any longer than absolutely necessary, and she snatched it off him quickly, hugging it to her daughter's body. "Take anything you like."
They took a handheld radio, two handguns, some ammo, and a holster. Jake had a foul taste in his mouth as they left her house. They walked down the street quickly, and turned the first corner they came to. None of them said a word until they were out of sight. "We sold her a lemon." He said darkly. "We gave her Maggie's Gizmo. The older one. The one that ran out of juice ten years ago."
"She had you at the end of a shotgun, Jake."
"Melony didn't."
"You want to go back?" Jess challenged practically.
"I go back and confess, she'll probably blow my head off on principal." Jake shook his head. "I could have told her the truth. She'd just got her kid back. She owed us."
"Yes, she did." Pierce said agreeably. "But we decided to play it safe with that Gizmo, because we don't know how much juice it has left. We know they can run out of power, because Maggie told us so. We decided to use it sparingly, until we could get another one... which was the whole reason for coming here and getting some weapons." He adjusted the straps of his shoulder holster and tested how fast he could reach the handgun he carried. "And by the way? That's not your Gizmo. It came from my father, remember? I'm letting you carry it, because if I die doing this, then you still got a chance."
Jake shivered as Jess checked the safety on her own gun. Jake hadn't wanted to go near the thing, let alone be the one to carry it. The girl he was fast falling in love with slid the weapon into her waistband, with fire in her eyes. "Let's go, Jake." She looked back to Pierce. "Good luck with your dad."
Pierce nodded evenly, and for a brief moment, Jake felt a chill, realizing how alike the two of them were now. They were both focused, hard, almost eager to face what came next.
"Okay." Marie said, mindful of the growing tension. "We've got two guns, one extra clip each, one flare gun from the fishing shack, the Gizmo, duct-tape, a baseball bat, a map of the town, a radio, tuned to the police band..."
Pierce took the radio and gave Zack the baseball bat. "I don't know what'll happen if you get into that Spaceship, but on the off chance everything goes well, leave a note for us at the Diner." He said to Jake and Jess. "If I can get another Gizmo off my dad, I'll come in after you, but I'll go there first. If I see a message, I'll assume you made it out and come looking for you instead."
"What about us?" Zack asked.
"You can come with me, or you can stay out of my way." Pierce said. His eyes were stone.
Jake sent Marie a look, and the girl nodded discreetly. She and Zack would go with Pierce, and make sure they could stop him before he did something he couldn't come back from and started killing people.
There was a moment as everyone realized this was it. This was the moment their little group would split up and go off into the dark. Very possibly the last they would all see of each other.
"Well..." Jake said finally. "Good luck."
Pierce returned the look. "To you as well."
And then, before they could say anything... The handheld radio suddenly crackled to life. They could hear the echoes of the loudspeakers in Town Square, even the faint sound of radios in people's houses too. Across the silent ghost town, there was suddenly a familiar voice. "Jess?"
The girl turned to stone. "Dad!" Everyone was frozen in place, staring at her in disbelief. Across the town, from every speaker, her father was making an announcement.
"Jess, they're not angry." Her father said. "They understand that what you and your friends are doing is only because of your mother and I. Your mother is here with me, Jess; and we're both safe. I know how worried you must be."
Jess spun, looking for some way that she could run to his side, and Jake grabbed her again. "Don't fall for that! They've mimicked your father's voice before."
"You don't know that! Neither of us saw if he was there or not!" Jess pulled away roughly. "He could have been looking for me all night!"
Pierce grabbed Jess by the shoulders and shook her hard. "If your dad has been looking, it's because the Greys want him to."
"Kids, what are you going to do?" The voice called over the radio with authority. "You can't win, you can't escape... and I think you're starting to realize you can't hide. They have the run of the town. You have nowhere to go. There's nobody who can help you. There's nobody left in town you can run to."
The five of them looked around, expecting an attack any second. The street hadn't changed, but suddenly felt a lot more menacing. They knew it was an illusion, because the loudspeakers had to be working all over town. Jake wondered idly how many people were left free and safe in Curtis Creek. Homes had been left burning without anyone even trying to put the fires out. Somewhere out there, there had to have been a survivor...
Unless he's telling the truth. Jake thought bleakly. We left Mrs Blanchard almost five minutes ago. We hear explosions every few minutes...
"Jess..." The speakers proclaimed. "Nobody has to get hurt. Now you know what you're up against, and you have to know you can't succeed. I know that you're with your friends because you trust them... even love them. But if I had been there, I would have told you not to put yourself in danger; even if your friends insisted. Jess, come in from the cold. Your mother and I are worried about you."
Jess chewed on her lip, eyes getting big as dinner plates.
"You want to find us? You don't have to be in danger for that. They can't Implant you again. There's nothing to be afraid of. If things continue as they are... you could get hurt. Please, Jess? Listen to your father? I'm right here, and I miss you. If you want to find us, you can do so... right now."
Jake shook his head hard, as if to clear it. "We should get moving."
"What if he's telling the truth?" Marie said suddenly. "What if they're not worried about broadcasting to the entire town because... there's nobody else hearing this?"
Pierce and Jake traded a serious glance. Dangerous thoughts. Get everyone moving!
And then the radio crackled again. "Jake?"
Jake froze. "Ben!"
Ben's voice called over the radio to his brother. "It's okay, Big Brother. Don't be scared of them. This is so cool, Jake! I'm in a spaceship! An actual spaceship!"
Marie grabbed Jake's wrist. "Don't you fall for it either!"
"Jake, I'm sorry about what happened at the cornfield." Ben said. "Jake, you'll love this place. Come and see it!"
"He knows about the cornfield." Jess was clearly ready to believe it. "This isn't a recording of anything!"
Pierce lunged, and snatched the radio off Jess, smashing it on the pavement. The loudspeakers kept going, but too far away to be clear what was said.
"What the hell!?" Jess demanded furiously. "What if it was your dad next?! Or Marie's? Or Zack's?"
"That's exactly what I'm afraid of. Guys, we can't trust anything the Greys tell us, and make no mistake, they're the ones that were talking." Pierce said firmly. "We took that radio in the hopes we might overhear something useful. What they were saying? That wasn't useful, it was poison. We may not have much of a plan, but it's gotta be a better idea than surrender."
"He's right." Marie and Zack said together. Jake let out a shuddering breath, conceding the point with a nod.
"What if it was them?" Jess asked softly.
"Then they're alive and we better get to the Town Hall to see if we can get them out of there." Jake said seriously. They all started moving... Almost all of them.
Jess said nothing. She didn't speak, didn't move... and after a moment, everyone realized she wasn't following them.
"Jess?" Jake said in surprise. "What is it?"
Jess looked at him sadly, and pulled the flare gun out of her backpack. "I'm sorry, Jake. I'm so sorry." She aimed it straight up.
Marie let out a low moan. Zack swore under his breath and Pierce lunged for her...
Too late.
The flare arced brightly into the sky, lighting up the whole street. Jake stared at her in disbelief. "Jess!" He shouted hoarsely, horror and disbelief making the sound of her name sound like a curse. Jake suddenly looked a million years older as the girl he'd fallen in love with turned to face him with deep sadness.
Her long blonde tresses gleamed blood-red under the light of the signal flare, but her eyes were cool steel. "You guys better run while you still can." She told them softly.
Jake sagged, looking at her like he didn't recognize what he was looking at, dimly aware of the others pulling at him, trying to drag him back, away from her. He heard chittering in the distance and fear gave his legs permission to move again.
The last thing Jake saw was Jess turning to face a pair of Aliens, her hands raised in willing surrender as they closed in on her, lit up by the hellish red sun that fell slowly from the sky.
The flare burned out soon after, swallowing them all in darkness.


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.