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.