Monday, 10 June 2019

JCT Chapter Thirteen: Striking The Hour.


The two teenagers were alone in the Alien Ship, surrounded by people they knew, but more alone than they had ever been. All of Curtis Creek was held suspended in cages, all those that escaped the net were being hunted down, and nobody who escaped would have been stupid enough to try and come into the Alien Ship. It was only a matter of time, possibly a matter of seconds until they found themselves under attack from the crew... And the only hope they had to free all the people they loved was a piece of Alien technology that they could only guess at.
Marie was still looking at the Black Gizmo as they went toward her family, still motionless above the deck. "Jake, the buttons on this thing are different." She said in a hushed tone. "I don't know how..."
"Turn it over." He said. "The three triangular buttons are on the other side."
Marie did so and brightened. "Ah! Okay, now how..." She looked about too. No ladders, no steps, nothing to stand on, so there was no way to reach her family. "There's gotta be a way." She lifted the Black Gizmo and started hitting buttons.
Jake's hand flashed out and stopped her. "Whoa. Careful. Just hitting buttons is how Pierce worked it out. We gotta be smarter than Pierce, right? Plus, what are the odds that there's someone else on the ship that's gonna notice you hitting buttons on one of their toys?"
Marie's eyes flashed, and she kept hitting buttons anyway. "Tick-tock, Jake, tick-tock!" She kept pushing buttons.
Boom! More explosions in the distance.
Jake checked his watch after many seconds, and set his jaw. "Marie... I don't think it's working."
Marie looked sick, looking from the Alien Device to her family. "What do we do? We need... I don't know. We need something!"
Jake thought for a second. "We need help." He said, as though bracing himself. "We need someone who knows how to use this thing. Someone willing to tell us."
"Well where do you plan to get one?" Marie demanded.
Jake was already moving. "You won't like it."
Marie followed him... all the way to Mayor Grady's compartment. "You're right." She said simply. "I don't like it one little bit."
Jake still had the Red Gizmo, the one that they had taken off Jess... and likely the only one they knew how to work. Jake held it up to Grady's 'cage'.
"This. Is. Not. Good." Marie said seriously. "He can't be trusted."
"He said he got into this to protect as much of this town as he could." Jake countered. "And now the entire town is captured or on fire, and he's in a cage. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what happened since we escaped Jail."
Marie bit her lip. "Maybe." She admitted finally. "But... what you said? About how that might show up on some readout somewhere in this ship? That wasn't wrong. And if that's the case, then they'll know. If they want to stop us, all they have to do is close the door. We might only be able to get one cage open. Quite frankly, I don't want to waste our one chance on this rat traitor."
Jake was surprised at the anger in her tone... and was surprised to find himself just as angry. But it didn't stay his hand. Jake pressed the button combination on the Red Gizmo, and Grady suddenly sagged against the inside of his compartment. But Jake didn't see the telltale trickle of mercury coming from his ear. "Well, this was probably a bad idea." He hissed through his teeth. "And I don't think it worked. The Implant didn't drain out."
"We woke him up, that's all we need." Marie waved it off. "GRADY! Wake up!"
Grady gasped for several seconds, leaning against the clear wall of his cage. The clear material misted under his breath, until Grady lifted his head and looked at them both. "So." Grady said finally. "You two were supposed to have Implants in your heads, were you not? So how come you're walking around?"
Jake held up the Gizmo. "Like you don't know." He taunted. "I guess you're feeling pretty betrayed, feeling foolish, wondering why you didn't see this coming..."
"Welcome to the club." Marie nodded with him.
"Betrayed?" Grady scorned. "It was you lot complicating matters that screwed up the deal."
Jake and Marie rolled their eyes. "Yeah, we sort of figured you'd say something like that." Marie said brightly. "But seconds count, and we won't shed any tears if we turn around and leave you here right now."
"Not one single tear." Jake confirmed.
Marie held up the Black Gizmo. "How do we use this?"
Grady's eyes flashed. "Where'd you get that?"
"Off the guard at the front door." Jake told him. "We call it the Heavy Duty Version. We're betting we can march the entire town out the front door... Anything to add?"
"The Black One is for Shipboard control. It can't remove the Implants." Grady told them. "And frankly... that's fine, because if you try to get everyone out, you need the Implants too."
"You'll never be able to get them all moving without that control." Grady explained. "Most of them still think they're asleep in their beds." He pointed at the Gizmo. "Touch the tip to the glass. Either of them. It's how you open the cages."
Marie sent Jake a quick glance, and he nodded. She touched the tip of the Gizmo to the clear wall that stood between them and the deposed Mayor of their Town. An instant later, the wall was gone. It didn't retract, or swing open... it simply evaporated into nothingness.
Grady stepped out of the cage gingerly and took the Black Gizmo swiftly. Marie's hand came up like a gunslinger and she pointed the can of Mace at him. "Show us where Jake's family is." She warned. "Or we put you back in the box."
Grady led the way. He was looking at the cages every second, but seemed unmoved by the cargo as he led them through several turns back and forth. He never doubled back, apparently sure of where he was going.
Sure enough, very quickly, Grady led them to a cage that contained Jake's parents.
"Where's Ben?" Jake demanded.
"If you don't see him, then you know as much about that as I do." Grady said tightly, as he pushed buttons on the Black Gizmo, Marie making careful note of how, miming the same sequence on the red one.
Jake took the Black Gizmo off Grady the second his family started responding. It was a different than the other times he'd woken someone up with the Gizmo. It was slower, more like a dizzying emergence. His family was barely aware of their surroundings.
Marie lifted the Red Gizmo she got off Jess and pointed it at them. "It's not working." She told Jake. "I can't get the Implants out."
"You wouldn't." Grady agreed. "The chrome ones are for field use, so it can disappear the evidence for you, including the Implant. But the color coded ones are for use on board the Ship only."
"How come you weren't so baked when we got you out?" Jake demanded.
Grady reached out and pulled Jake's wrist over to check his watch. "I was only under for about twenty minutes." He waved at the dazed couple in the compartment. "Another couple of hours and they'd never get their own names back. The effects will pass with time."
"So glad to know what an expert you are." Jake growled and called through to his parents. "Mom? Dad?" Jake called urgently. "Can you hear me? Where's Ben? Do you know where Ben is?"
His father seemed drugged, almost delirious. "Wha? ...bout Ben?"
Jake sent Grady an accusing look, and the Mayor put his hands up. "No other way. It's a result of the signal. They're sending it over the whole town." He held up the Black Gizmo. "The counter signal that this puts out is stronger, but much lower range. Your family is stuck between stations."
"Which means the rest of our families will be too." Marie finished and took the Black Gizmo off Grady, leaving her with both of them. "Which means our grand plan for freeing the town just went out the window." She touched the tip of the Black Gizmo to the cage door. It opened smoothly. "We're on the clock now. Someone will have noticed."
Jake nodded, and turned to ask Grady. "How do we... GRADY!"
Their illustrious Mayor had taken off, running for the way out.
Jake sent Marie a look, and she shook her head. "If they're going to be coming for us, we can't waste time going after him." She said. "How the hell do we find the few people we need to save in all this?"
Jake looked around, as his family blinked vacantly. Then he noticed the next compartment, and he brightened. "Hey! It's Mrs Seyfried."
Marie blinked. "Your next door neighbor?"
Jake pointed left and right. "In fact... I think the compartments are laid out according to streets. Which would make sense if they were taking people a street at a time."
"I thought they were going by family." Marie started scanning the shelves.
"Well... maybe both, I don't know, most families live together..."
Marie handed Jake one of the alien devices and looked around, drawing the odd map in her head. "I should be able to find the others. Zack lives... lived, closer to me than to you, I can get his dad out."
Jake gripped the Red Gizmo and nodded. "I'll find Jess' Parents, and try to corral my family too. This thing might work their Implants now that they're moving again."
Marie turned to go and hesitated. "Are you sure we... I mean, Jess was with us because she wanted to save her family." Her expression never changed but her voice grew colder. "It's not our fault that she elected to try another method."
Jake chewed on his lip. "If we find them, we take her parents with us."
"Are you sure?"
Jake glared. "Marie!"
"Not because of that." Marie shook her head quickly, realizing what he was thinking. "It's just that we'd move faster with a smaller group." Marie gestured at the cages. "There's no guarantee we wouldn't get them both killed if we tried to take them with us. Of all the people in here... Jess' family might be the only one with a shot at being released."
Dead silence.
"Marie, look around." Jake said finally. "This whole night... nobody has ever come out of this ship. Grant and Lockett said that the Saucers are destroying hiding places and transport, the Greys are hunting anyone they haven't already scooped up as sport... Even Grady was in a box. Whatever they don't have a use for, they're killing off." Jake gave her a look. "And if we're talking about how we'd move faster without them? Then why aren't we talking about leaving Zack's dad behind now that he's..."
Marie's face changed, and she nodded. "Okay. Okay, we take them with us. If we find them."
"Wait." Jake said suddenly, and drew the gun from his waistband, holding it out to her, grip first. She took it gingerly.
My Parents, Jess' Parents, Zack's dad, Marie's Parents, plus Marie, plus me. Jake thought as they returned to their search. Nine people. Almost a typical number of sleepwalkers for a trip into the Ship.
"Move fast!" Marie told him, as she started to run down the length of the shelves. "Because if I can't get everyone out in time, I'm voting we leave Jess' Parents here anyway as punishment for raising such a spoiled twit."
"Fine, we'll save them." Marie said without slowing down. "But I get to tell them what their spawn did."
"You got a mean side." Jake observed, but he was already moving too, in the opposite direction. "Mom, dad, you guys gotta hustle."
Deanna was still dazed. "Huh?"
No time! Jake hit a button on the Gizmo and his parents immediately fell into step behind him, following along without a word. As scared as he was, Jake couldn't help but glance appreciatively at the device. Every teenagers dream. A Parental Mind Control Device.
The revelation that the shelves were laid out like a road map of their town sped the search considerably. Jake mapped out the town in his head, looking into each cage, with his family shuffling along behind him, following without being aware. Jake found the cages with Jess neighbors quickly. But when he came to the compartment that should have held her family, there was nobody in it. Her family was not locked up.
Because she cooperated, or because they weren't marched in here like the rest of them? Jake asked himself. It wasn't the only empty cage in the shelves. Some people had apparently escaped... or died trying.
He heard movement and hurried to the edge of the shelves. He saw Marie's parents sleepwalking down the outer edge of the cargo hold, toward the open Spaceship door. They were just shuffling toward the door. After a moment, they turned the corner and Jake could see Zack's father in step behind them... but there was no sign of Marie guiding them.
After a moment, Jake looked to Zack's father. "Mr Washington... Duke, when we get a minute..." He said softly, though he knew the older man couldn't hear him. "I need to tell you something about your son."
There were two gunshots, from deeper in the ship, and Jake spun in horror.
Marie came around the far end of the shelves at a run, and saw Jake. "Jake! RUN!" She shouted down the length of the cargo hold, and Jake quickly keyed the Red Gizmo, making his parents move. Jake looked back over his shoulder and saw that Marie was running in his direction, with the Black Gizmo in her hand. As she ran past Zack's motionless father, Marie quickly pointed the Device at him, and between the two of them, they got everyone they loved moving in the same direction.
And at the far end, deeper in the Ship, was a big Grey Alien. It saw them and trilled furiously. It was already aiming the weapon. Jake didn't know if it could shoot them at that distance, but he grabbed his mother by the shoulder and hauled her around the corner of the shelves quickly. Zack's father had been deeper in the maze of shelves, and there were enough turns and twists to maneuver the three adults through. He caught a glimpse of Marie popping out of cover to direct the older man to follow her, and Jake kept moving.
I should have sent my family to the door as soon as we found them! Jake berated himself. He hadn't done it because he didn't know what would happen if they weren't close to his remote control.
It was a frustrating terror that he couldn't make his charges shuffle faster. He was being hunted, and he was trying to escape in slow motion....
And then he managed to get them all around the turns of the shelf maze, coming into full view of the open door...
Where he found Marie locked in combat with an Alien guard. He had no idea how it had got around them, but it had managed to get in their way, and it was aiming its weapon at Marie's father. She was trying to pull it off target, in too close to make a move for the gun in her waistband. Jake shouted angrily at it, trying anything to keep it distracted for a moment, when Marie struck out at the creature.
Marie hauled off and swung the Black Gizmo as hard as she could, trying to hit the Alien... and she missed completely. It was enough to get the Alien to duck away from her, and Marie scrambled back awkwardly.
The shot came from her opponent and hit Marie's hand, still holding the Black Device. It went flying as Marie almost tossed it away, waving her wounded hand frantically, trying to get the goop off. Jake could hear the drops on her skin sizzle, and Marie started to shout in sudden pain.
The Grey had rolled to it's feet and aimed its weapon again; and Jake reacted, running forward as fast as he could. In a move that he'd only seen in the movies, he got up some speed and jumped, swinging his feet forward to hit the Grey in the small of the back feet-first. Both he and the Grey hit the floor, though the Grey went down harder.
Marie's hand was actually smoking, and Jake could see the damage growing across her fingers. She wasn't in any shape to keep fighting. Without thinking, Jake tossed the Red Gizmo to Marie, and turned back to the Alien. Without a word passing between them, Jake knew he would give them all a chance to escape. Marie keyed the device with her good hand, and their families kept moving, not even reacting to the battle going on around them.
Jake turned back to the Alien that was getting back to its feet. It was an odd sort of combat. The Alien was two feet shorter, and armed. Jake was physically stronger, but focused on escape. The Aliens' center of gravity was lower, and harder to knock down, but its body was lighter, and easy to toss...
The Alien tried to aim again, and Jake grabbed the wrist as tight as he could, trying to aim it away from him desperately. A moment later he felt his feet go out from under him, and he dropped to the floor, the thing from another world on top of him.
The Grey got right in his face, and Jake felt the big black eyes hit him full force. Strangely, the suffocating fear he had felt before was absent, taken over by the rage bubbling up inside him. These things had tried to kill him many times over, had killed his best friend, had burned his whole town... and now he had one of them in his grip.
"Jake!" Marie shouted, but he barely heard her.
The Alien realized it wasn't going to win a wrestling match and tried to get back far enough to shoot. Jake suddenly found a chance for the offensive and took it. Teeth bared and eyes blazing, Jake flashed a hand out and found he had a grip around its neck.
The Grey trilled harshly, and Jake put all his strength into rolling them both over, so that he was on top. One hand was holding off its weapon, the other hand was at the Grey's throat, and Jake did the only thing he could do. He slammed his forehead into the Grey's face.
The Alien's head bounced a little between the blow and the deck. Jake suddenly felt a wave of impossible rage seize him, and he struck again, slamming the creature's head against the floor. And then he did it again. And then again. The Grey in his grip trilled weakly, and he slammed it again.
Jake rolled on instinct, and found he was being shot at. From the other end of the Cargo Bay, the Alien he had seen within the Spaceship was shooting at him. Jake rolled away from the fight he'd just won, and looked around. Marie and their rescued charges had escaped the Ship and were out on the roof.
Jake took the chance and bolted out the cargo hatch door, in clear view of his attacker. Marie was ahead of him, but not by much, she was bouncing up and down on her toes, trying madly to will their families to shuffle faster.
Despite himself, Jake looked back to the Ship, some instinct he hadn't expected making him hesitate...
Something leaped down from above, from the outside of the cargo door, and landed squarely on Jake, bringing him down.
Jake thrashed, not able to see his attacker, not able to get a grip on anything. Stupid, Jake! You know they can climb! He kicked out, bucking his body to try and get the weight off his back.
The Alien was tossed clear, and Jake jumped up. He had half a second to see Marie finally getting their sleepwalking relatives back to the window, where they would be safely out of sight, out of weapon range. Marie was at the window, beckoning Jake to abandon the fight and just run...
The rooftop at Jake's feet had been hit by the shot, and it caved in slightly. Jake's foot went through the roof, and he was trapped. Marie looked back in horror, indecision making her freeze.
"Go!" Jake yelled at her. "Run!
The Grey was on him instantly, putting him flat on his back against the rooftop. Jake felt the Alien Weapon get pushed into his nose, making him freeze. The Grey calmly looked from him to Marie, who was herding their families into the tower, down the stairs to safety. The Red Gizmo was clearly visible in her hand.
The Grey noticed that Marie had another Device at the window and trilled something to itself. It didn't sound happy.
And then suddenly the clocktower struck the hour over their heads. Jake had never been this close to the bells before, and they were surprisingly loud. The Grey barely reacted...
Until the top of the clocktower exploded.
The Grey looked up in shock, and Jake struck, lashing out as hard as he could. His fist slugged into the side of its large round head. As before in the cornfield, there was the feeling of his knuckles sinking into something softer than a skull should be. In the same instant, the debris came raining down on them, and both Jake and the Alien went in opposite directions, trying to save themselves.
Jake rolled and suddenly felt the surface beneath him tilt, and then vanish. He had rolled right off the edge of the rooftop. His hand flashed out blindly and managed to get a grip on the edge of it. The Town Hall jumped and quivered as wreckage from the tower started to bounce off the roof... and break through... and some hit the Ship. He could hear the stone and brick bouncing off the hull, sounding like someone was hitting a huge resonant drum.
Jake held on as tight as he could with one hand, and then reached up and grabbed the edge with his other hand...
The Grey appeared, leaning over the edge of the rooftop. Jake was slowly learning alien expressions. This one was eager. It saw Jake, hanging helpless, and reached down to pull his grip off the wall...
Marie came out of nowhere and gave the creature a swift shove from behind. The Alien overbalanced, and went off the edge of the roof, right past Jake, straight to the ground below.
Marie reached down quickly and hauled Jake back to the rooftop safely. They looked down and found that the Alien hadn't been killed by the fall. It was already up and hissing at them. It's throat moved in and out as it trilled angrily up at them.
"Not good. Not good!"
"Our families?" Jake asked first thing.
"I sent them walking down the stairs." Marie said quickly. "I think the Sheriff's plan worked. With the Clocktower gone, I guess the signal was-"
"I have to go back in." Jake interrupted.
Marie froze. "What?"
"Ben." Jake said thickly. "Ben's not out yet. He's still in there somewhere, and I can't just leave him behind." He took Marie by the shoulders, and turned her around. "Go. Get my mom and dad outta here."
Marie pulled Jess' gun out of her waistband and pushed it at him. "Take this."
Jake took it gingerly, not liking the feel of it in his hand. It was a cold, deadly thing, and he didn't like having it. He looked back at the open door, and swallowed thickly, gripping the weapon tightly.
Marie leaned closer and put a soft peck on his cheek. "Be safe." She said quickly. "I can't lose you both tonight."
Down at ground level, the Alien was getting up again, and even the earthlings could tell how furious it was.
"Go!" Jake shouted, though he didn't really need to. Marie took off for the window, which had shattered in the explosion. The top half of the tower had fallen to the left, coming down in front of the Town Hall.
The Grey was clambering up the side of the wall.
Jake ran back the other way, toward the Spaceship... And the world suddenly seemed to drop into slow motion as things started happening quickly.
Jake got a good look through the open door of the Spaceship at the cargo hold, and realized that all the people of the town within had suddenly been released from whatever spell they were under, and were waking up.
The signal! Jake realized. The signal came from the tower!
The townsfolk were losing it. Upon waking up, they knew instantly that something was wrong, and it didn't take them long to realize what. Even from outside the Ship, Jake could see things happening within. There were lights switching on, illuminating the cages clearly. He could see all the people he had ever known in his life screaming, beating at their cage walls, trying to force an escape...
And he could see a few dark, inhuman shapes running about them, apparently panicked.
Jake started to feel a shred of hope, as he saw the odds improving. All the Greys seemed to have Gizmos of their own. If he could get one, he could run the length of the cages and free them all. With the Signal gone, the Ship would suddenly be faced with a prison uprising.
As he ran back toward the Ship, he felt the rooftop start to shift under his feet. The raining debris of the tower had done some serious damage, and the teenager ran as fast as he could on his aching, wounded legs. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a familiar grey hand reach over the edge of the rooftop, as the one Marie had knocked to the ground climbed his way back up.
Jake froze on his feet, under the shadow of the Spacecraft, but still well short of the cargo bay door. He swung the gun around and fired twice, missing completely, but scaring the Alien back below the edge of the roof.
Unwilling to waste more seconds, Jake turned back to the ramp... and saw it was moving. The cargo door was closing, the ramp lifting up to close tight against the hull. Jake poured on as much speed as he could, hoping to catch it. He leaped for the edge of it and missed, looking up in frustration as the door closed.
For a moment, Jake cast about, looking for some other option, when it suddenly struck him that he wasn't alone on the roof. The Grey had climbed back up, and was possibly the only creature in town that was less happy to see the entrance to the Spaceship shut tight.
The Grey trilled angrily and lunged at Jake, who brought the gun around quickly. The shot was close enough to strike the creature in the arm, the force enough to spin it around and knock it off its feet.
And then the world suddenly tilted on its axis. Jake gave a shout of shock as the roof of the Town Hall suddenly seemed to bounce upward. He dropped flat on his face, feeling the rooftop shift again beneath him, as the eerie green light from above seemed to grow brighter for a moment.
Jake realized suddenly what must have happened, and rolled over onto his back to make sure. Above him, the Alien Spaceship was taking off. There was no roaring of turbines, no sound of engines... He listened and could pick up a faint humming that slowly grew louder, as the lights on the Spaceship glowed brightly for a moment, and then went dark. The hum dropped to nothing a moment later.
Jake felt his jaw drop open as the spacecraft, so big and terrifying, simply glided upward, almost without a sound. Within moments, it was just a dark, featureless shape against the unnatural Aurora, just like any one of a million grainy UFO photographs. At a distance, it didn't even look real.
Funny... Some distant corner of Jake's mind noted. If I'd seen that shape on the internet, I would have thought it was fake...
But the Ship was leaving, and somehow, Jake knew it wasn't coming back. Jake rolled to his feet and craned his neck back miserably. "Goodbye, Ben." He whispered. "I'm so sorry."
As horrifying as it was to think that the Ship had taken off... Jake swiftly realized it was worse for other species. The Last Grey was staring up at the sky in disbelief, arms outstretched toward the rising Spaceship, screeching at it hysterically as they just left the creature behind.
Jake weighed his options, and bolted for the window back into the building, even as the Town Hall itself seemed to shift and weave on it's foundations. He dove through the window, just as the Alien seemed to realize that it still had a shot at revenge, if not escape. The Grey hissed at him, and gave chase.
The stairs were creaking, warped from the collapse of the tower above. They were starting to give under Jake's sneakers, and he knew they wouldn't last. He flew down the stairs three at a time, trying not to put too much of his weight on them. He took the last four stairs at a leap and froze at the turn.
Jess was coming up the staircase to face him, with an Alien weapon clasped in one hand. Her eyes were bloodshot from Marie's spray, her face was blotchy, her hair was wild and she looked savagely at Jake. "I'm not playing around anymore, Stargazer!" She raged. "I have so had it with you!"
Jake didn't even hesitate. He ran down the stairs even as they came apart beneath his feet. Jess pulled the trigger as he charged her, but he was close enough to push her arm off target. The alien weapon pointed downward...
The goo hit the landing between them and both of them jumped apart, before it could splatter on them too. The splatter missed them and hit the wooden floor of the staircase. A moment later it started to sizzle, and they both heard the wood creak.
Jess and Jake stopped struggling for a moment, and looked at each other, then down at the floor they were standing on. Without a word they both bolted in opposite directions. Jess climbed for the next level up, Jake running for the ground level. He didn't know where she was going, and he didn't much care anymore.
Jake reached the Main Corridor and hesitated. The building was creaking, with large cracks appearing in the walls. He could see the cracks racing their way down the corridor ahead of him, and he knew the building wouldn't last for long.
Ben! He thought frantically to himself. What about Ben?!
The hallway was empty. So was the lobby. So was the Main Hall.
Huge chunks of the ceiling were falling down all over the place, and Jake hissed in frustration, before finally running for the door.
He reached the Front Entrance and discovered there was someone left inside after all. Father Rorke was slumped, face down in the foyer, his body reaching for the door, and his back caved in from the Alien Weapons.
Jake hissed, frustrated, and jumped over his body to the door, almost bouncing off the wood. He wrestled with it a moment, and discovered quickly that it had been locked up tightly since he'd come in.
Every second, the groaning and creaking from the walls got louder. Jake ducked low with a shout as a crossbeam exploded down through the ceiling, bringing half of the floor above with it. Jake gave up on the door and kicked out a window.
He barely made it through before the Town Hall caved in behind him.
Outside the building was no better. Windows were exploding as their frames collapsed inward. Debris was sliding from the roof as the supports gave out.
Jake ran from the collapsing building, when suddenly he heard a familiar sound.
Jake jumped back instinctively, tripping over one of the chunks of debris. He fell backwards and landed flat on his back. Above him, he could see the Alien had already escaped. It hadn't chased him, it had just waited for him to leave the building. As the brick walls cracked and splintered around it, it climbed headfirst down the wall. Jake couldn't perceive any change in expression, but he could tell: This thing wanted to kill him.
Jake rolled as the creature fired again. The walls of the Town Hall were collapsing, and the Creature pounced down, landing neatly on all fours on the ground, about ten feet away from Jake.
Not particularly strong, but nimble enough. Jake thought, snatching up a hunk of broken brick. But he knew it was over. It was over, and the ending was going to hurt like hell. He had no cover, nowhere left to run, the only building he could hide behind was caving in, and he was trying to fight off Alien Zap Guns with a broken chunk of brick. The only thing left was for them both to go down swinging, and he already knew who would win.
So did the Alien. It was taking it's time aiming its weapon, making very sure of the shot.
"Odds are that the Mothership won't be back for you. So just in case nobody's said it yet?" Jake groaned, at the end of his strength. "Welcome to Earth."
The Grey trilled again, and for the first time, Jake understood what it was saying. It sounded frustrated, outraged, and beneath it all, betrayed. "We were trying to help you people!"
It started to fire...
...when there was a sudden eruption of light and noise, blasting out from behind the Alien. They both spun to look and found the Police Van screaming toward the Grey. The Alien tried to swing its weapon around, but too late.
Jake felt his jaw drop as the Police Van ran the Alien over. An instant later, the passenger door opened and Marie leaned out. "Get! In!"
Jake wasted no time on surprise and did so, as the Town Hall finally collapsed completely. The ground was still quivering as the driver floored it and the Van roared down the dark, empty street.
Jake looked to the driver's seat. "Pierce?!"
Pierce gave him a cocky grin from behind the wheel. "Where to?"
"I could kiss you, you heroic bastard!"
"On that note, where the hell is Jess?" Pierce demanded.
"Last I saw her, she was inside." Jake waved that off. "Marie? Did you find her family?"
"Did you look?" Jake prodded her.
"Yes. You didn't find them either." Marie told him, and froze. A shadow passed over the Jeep, and everyone ducked instinctively. The Ship wasn't coming back in their direction. In fact, it was getting harder to see at all.
"Why are they leaving?" Pierce demanded.
"If I had to guess? It's because they're cutting their losses." Jake told him. "They have what they need in the cargo hold already, and they only have a crew of about eight or so. We torched at least one with the tower."
"Plus another one or two at Tracy's house." Marie put in.
"I think Grant and Lockett got another, Marie got one more on the way in, plus the one you ran over." Jake added. "So whoever's left flying that thing figures they got what they want, and they'd better get out while the getting is good."
"Wow." Pierce grinned. "You guys have been busy."
"Marie." Jake demanded. "Where's my mom and dad?!"
Marie slid the observation panel into the rear of the Police Van back. His family, and hers, and Zack's, were all in the back, slowly coming around. "The Police Van was the only vehicle left in the area that could carry everyone. I'm just amazed the Gizmo I had could get them all in line that far. I thought the Tower coming down would have released them all."
"My dad said it was a question of range versus power." Pierce said.
"The Mayor said the same thing." Marie mused. "My Gizmo was closer?"
"They set up the high-power, long range transmitter up the clocktower, but they didn't have the juice turned up to max until tonight." Pierce said, glancing at Jake. "But you already knew that, didn't you?"
"I figured." Jake nodded.
"Yeah... At the newspaper, when you heard the radio, you looked ready to kill someone." Marie suddenly remembered.
"I figured it had to be something to do with them, because Mayor Grady put so much work into repairing the radio, when he had the loudspeakers working the whole time. He needed the Tower set up as a transmitter..." He looked to Pierce. "And your dad knew that, which is why he rigged the tower to blow. Once the Clocktower was blown up and the signal was gone, Marie's Controller was able to keep the ones in range under control, since they still had the Implants in their heads."
"You don't really think of Space Alien tech having those kinds of limitations." Marie almost laughed to himself.
"You don't think of them as bored truck drivers either, but that's what we got." Jake shot back.
Marie was looking out the window. "Jake?" She asked plaintively. "Where's the sun?"
"Did you see that?" Pierce asked suddenly.
Jake tensed. "See what?"
"Wha's happenin'?" A voice slurred from the back of the van.
"I think it was another vehicle... travelling with the lights off." Pierce glanced over. "And I think Jess was driving it."
Jake bit his lip. "Where does she think she's gonna go?"
Pierce was about to answer when he turned the corner and swiftly forgot what he was about to say. The Main Street was gone. Along both sides were the businesses, some of the homes, leading up to the Town Hall. Jake looked around blankly. The Diner, the Supermarket, the Library...
It was all on fire. The entire centre of their town, from the scorched Festival Grounds, to the exploded Town Hall. Every building they could see was blazing away, unchecked and unstoppable.
Jake could hear Marie sobbing quietly beside him, and then he lifted his hand to his face and realized he was crying too. His town was burning. The street he walked every day, the Diner that his best friend's family owned, the Supermarket where he had his first job, the Clinic where his mother worked...
The Greys had marched almost everyone he knew and loved into cages, and destroyed whatever they had no use for.
"Truck drivers!" Marie choked out. "Truck drivers!"
"What's she mean?" A voice called from the back, but Jake couldn't tell who.
He slid the panel open and answered anyway. "This wasn't some big scale invasion. There were less than ten of them, only one Ship, and they made a lot of mistakes."
"Good for us." Pierce breathed.
"Bad for us!" Marie snapped. "This wasn't an attack, it was them going grocery shopping! That's why they pulled out, they didn't want to take any great risks. It's because they didn't need to! Not this time!"
"This time?"
Jake explained it. "What Marie means, is that less than ten aliens with a cargo hauler took our entire town straight off the map. What happens if an actual warship comes knocking one day? Or more than one?"
That unsettling thought brought the conversation to a stop.


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.