On the roof of the Town Hall, fourteen people were lined up at the entrance to the big black Spaceship. Jake and Marie were at the back of the line... And an Alien with a Gizmo was standing watch at the entrance to the Ship.
Now that Jake had a closer look at it, it seemed bigger than it did from the ground. It wasn't as flat as it seemed, and clearly had more than one level to it on the inside. The door to the Ship served as a ramp, and the interior was filled with what looked like large rows of shelves, arranged like Supermarket aisles.
The Alien took a position at the head of the line. It had another Gizmo. It was the fourth one that Jake had seen, and it was the first one wielded by an Alien. It was larger, and colored black instead of Red, like theirs. It looked more like a weapon than a tool.
"Ah, the heavy duty version." Marie commented under her breath.
The Alien looked thoroughly... bored. It was hard to read the posture of something from another planet, but the Alien seemed more interested in looking over the scenery than the people it was taking prisoner. The big black eyes gazed coldly over the town as the Saucers moved in a pattern, knocking down buildings as they went. They weren't shooting at everything, several buildings were being left alone...
In fact, the creature barely looked at the humans as it waved them through. The sleepwalkers lined up at the ramp, and the Alien waved his Gizmo at them, sending them up, two at a time. The two at the front of the line would step up the ramp, and wait. A line of green light projected from above somewhere, and scanned over them. Jake saw it and was reminded of the X-Ray Machine.
The two people that stepped up both stayed still as the scan rolled over them. A moment later, the two of them started walking again, heading in different directions. The Alien at the entrance was still watching the Saucers attacking things for a long moment, before it noticed that the entrance was empty. It waved the Black Gizmo again, and the next two stepped up to the top of the ramp. As before, the Ship scanned them at the entrance, and they walked into the Ship, apparently heading to different places.
It took a few minutes each time. Jake wasn't sure what the Alien was waiting for, but he could hear things in the Ship moving about each time someone entered. His visibility was limited, but each person that entered seemed to be pointed to a different location.
"This is why there's a delay between groups of Sleepwalkers." Marie whispered. "They're not just herding us into cattle cars, they're processing us, and that takes time."
Jake and Marie were at the back of the line. It took ten minutes to get to the front of it. Jake didn't dare change his posture or expression, though his eyes kept flicking to the Alien every few seconds. The more he looked at it, the more something started to dawn on him. He wasn't afraid of it any more. He was still scared, but he wasn't panicked. The suffocating fear was gone.
It's because you've gotten a clear look at them now. He told himself. It's because you have a decent idea of what's happening now. Well, not exactly, but more than you did when it was just scary lights going off in your head. It's true: You fear most what you don't understand.
There were only two people left in front of them, and Jake could feel Marie tense. The Alien was close enough to reach out and touch.
Jake was suddenly struck by something. The Aliens weren't invading anything. The Aliens that he had seen were armed, but they had been lousy shots. They were outfitted with Drones that could hunt, but they'd been following around the Sheriff to find people they had missed... and they had trusted most of their busy work to the same people they were abducting... And now at the very front door to their Spaceship, the one Alien guard was barely looking at his own prisoners.
These guys aren't invading soldiers. This isn't some lethal alien conquest, this is... what?
Jake and Marie were the last ones to enter the Ship. Jake tried to peek out the corner of his eye at their guard, tried to time his motion to the swing of the Gizmo.
He caught the barest glimpse of Marie moving, and quickly stepped forward with her. At the entrance to the Ship, he got a decent look inside it for the first time. The area beyond the door was split up into rows as he'd thought. Rows of large shelves.
Jake peered without moving his head, trying to get a clearer look, but at that moment the light from above scanned over him. A moment later, it scanned again. There was no alarm, no buzzer. The light scanned a third time...
The Alien trilled a little to itself and turned around, suddenly noticing the two of them for the first time. Jake felt his heart speed up so fast it hurt his chest.
The Grey looked closer at the two of them, and chirruped something in curiosity. A moment later, the light scanned over them once again...
Whatever the scan came back with, the Grey trilled a little in surprise, and came forward to take a close look at the two teenagers. Jake could feel the weight of those malevolent black eyes pressing against him again, stripping him bare with one glance.
Marie struck, lashing out suddenly. She kicked at the Grey, who darted back with more agility than Jake would have expected from the thing. Jake lashed out too, managing to grab the things' wrist before it could bring its weapon around to aim at Marie. The skin felt cool and clammy and unnatural in his grip, and Jake almost let go of it instinctively.
Marie brought up the can of Mace and nailed the Grey right in the big black eyeballs.
The Alien shrieked in a pitch that made Jake's ears hurt. It forgot all about both of them very quickly, thrashing around at the sudden agony of its oversized eyes on fire.
Jake was terrified, but struck out, backing Marie. The Grey was blinded, swinging around its weapon. Jake grabbed the weapon arm, and pulled, yanking the small body off its feet. The Grey was lighter than Jake expected, and he actually tossed the creature off the edge of the roof.
Jake and Marie were suddenly alone on the rooftop, breathing hard. They ran to the edge and looked down. The Alien wasn't moving, its large round head twisted at an unnatural angle by the drop.
"I wonder if that's fatal for them too." Marie said in an unnaturally thin voice.
Jake pulled her away from the edge, and they both sat awkwardly on the roof, short of breath, suddenly exhausted. The two of them had been going from adrenaline to exhaustion over and over.
"Are you out of your head?" Jake hissed. "I mean are you just completely insane and I never noticed until now? The rest of them will be on us any second and we don't have any idea how long this will take, what we're looking for..."
"It'll only take us thirteen minutes." Marie said quickly, hurrying to the Ship door, looking for more Aliens within.
Jake spun to look at her in shock. "How do you know that?"
Marie checked her watch again. "Because in fourteen minutes, the clock will strike the hour. Pierce's dad had a double-cross of his own planned. He's rigged the clocktower to blow up when the minute hand hits twelve."
Jake looked at her, eyes bugged out.
Marie sighed and explained quickly. "I lost track of you after the blast, and I figured... that you must have died, taking the Saucer down. I didn't know what else to do, so I figured I'd try and find Pierce. We found each other just as he caught up to his dad, and... Turns out the Sheriff isn't quite so willing a collaborator as we thought."
Jake felt his heart speed up again. "So, stuff happened while I was out cold, huh?"
"Oh yeah." Marie nodded.
Jake hesitated. "We put Jess in the clocktower."
"So we should hurry." Marie said simply.
The two of them hurried into the Spaceship. The feeling of walking up and down shelves grew stronger once they were inside. Each shelf was ten feet wide, with five feet between them. Jake craned his head back to try and see how tall they were, but up above, there were no lights, so he couldn't tell for sure. He tried to compare the inside of the Ship to what he'd seen of the outside, and was surprised at what he came up with. The majority of the spacecraft was nothing but storage space.
"It's a cargo ship." Jake said suddenly.
"That's what I think too." Marie nodded. "It... whoa." Her voice dropped in sudden horror. Jake looked. The shelves were made up of compartments... And every compartment was full of people. They all stared blankly ahead, eyes open. They were all breathing slowly, not moving, not speaking. Some of the compartments only had one or two people, some had five or six. Each compartment was sealed with a thick transparent material. Jake dared to run a finger over the clear wall and it felt like smooth glass.
Marie shivered as she looked into the nearest compartment, and the woman with silver hair within. "It's Renata." She said softly. "Remember, she used to give piano lessons?" She rubbed the back of her neck. "I never really did practice."
"Me neither." Jake shivered. "Their eyes are open. They're just... standing there, looking at us."
Marie slipped her hand into his. "Let's get moving. We gotta find our families."
The two of them moved up and down the shelves quickly. Three levels on each shelf, which made the shelves reach up into the high arches of the interior. Jake had trouble counting the compartments, since they were oddly shaped, but he recognized every face.
Rosalie Persaud. Keith Lafond. Yvonne Pridemore. Robert Flannery. Emma Corum. Steve Slade. Phillip Vest. Amanda Hennessy. Ruby Canning. Lawrence Jewell. Jesse Suh. Florence Gipson. Fred Travers. Jacob Navarro... Jake knew them all by name, knew them all like family.
The kid who had the locker next to his. The guy who stocked shelves in the market. The woman who worked the register at the video store. His science partner. His first grade teacher. His next door neighbor. His first workmate...
Jake felt his breath catch at every step, every compartment held another part of his town, another slice of his life...
He looked to Marie, and saw the same thought on her face.
"We can't just leave them." He whispered.
"We can't save them." Marie said back, looking ill at the fact. He knew she wanted to save them all as badly as he did. These people weren't strangers, they were his whole world.
They searched up and down the shelves for several minutes. Jake checked his watch every three seconds, looked over his shoulder just as often. They would have moved faster if they'd split up, but neither of them dared it. For all their fear, there was no sign of other guards.
"Jake." Marie called neutrally. Jake looked, and felt a grim cruel smirk rise on his face.
Mayor Grady was in one of the cages. It seemed only fitting.
There was no sign of the rest of the crew. It almost felt like the two of them had the run of the place. The only suggestions of what an Alien Spaceship would look like on the inside came from movies and television, and this ship held none of the trappings. There were no artistic arches, though the ceilings were high. There was no slime on the walls, no vents hissing with steam. Nor was it polished clean, with glowing lights. The Ship could have been a human cargo plane if not for the cargo it was hauling.
And still there was no sign of anyone moving, human or otherwise.
"I can't get over how easy this is." Jake whispered.
"Easy? You call tonight easy?" Marie hissed back.
"Yeah, I do. These guys flew a billion light years, can snatch planes out of the sky, can Implant people right in their brains without them even knowing about it... and we're able to get in just by knocking out the guard at the door and pretending to sleepwalk?" Jake retorted. "They got Drones that can be fooled by spot fires because they only see in infra-red, and they trust their manifest to humans? Does this seem like an Evil Alien Overlord style operation to you?"
Marie looked around. "I get the impression that this is... low-tech. At least for them. We've only seen the one Grey since we came in. I don't think these guys are the hard-core Alien Invaders. I think they're... what? Truck Drivers?"
Jake looked up at the cages again. "Cattle Trucks to be precise. They come, they collect the herd, they check their inventory..."
Marie shivered. "You don't think... I mean, they wouldn't really use us for food, right?"
"I don't know... but I think humans are low on their list of priorities." Jake said. "At least, based on what I've seen so far. They barely seem to notice us. Or care. I heard that a bunch of them are out hunting whoever didn't get Implanted, and they're doing it for sport. So... Rorke said there were only eight Aliens as crew. Maybe a few less by now? There's a lot we don't know."
"Well... fine. Because we happen to be very high on our priority lists. The rabbit escapes the tiger because the rabbit wants to live, and the tiger just wants a snack." Marie finished the metaphor grimly, before she rounded the next shelf and her face changed. "Jake!"
Jake hurried to join her and froze. Her family was in one of the cages, clearly visible. It was on the second level, at least five feet over their heads. Too high for them to reach. Jake cast around again, looking for a way up. Marie gripped the Red Gizmo they had taken from Jess, chewing on her lip.
Jake held a hand out. "Wait. The Black Gizmo that the Alien was using at the door... The one you called the Heavy Duty Version?"
"What about it?"
"Well... If it is the Heavy Duty Version, then what are the odds it could get the entire Town outta these cages and off this thing?" Jake suggested carefully.
Marie's eyes lit with a sudden inner fire. It was the ultimate prize. The chance to get everyone out safe. Their town was burning, but the people in it were largely intact. A little luck could save them all. The two of them almost sprinted through the ship to the entrance, and found the Big Black Gizmo right where the guard had left it. Marie snatched it up.
They both made a quick study of it as they headed back inside. "Shouldn't we be seeing more people?" Marie asked suddenly. "It has to be... I don't know, but shouldn't the next load of people be sleepwalking in right now?"
"Maybe Rorke is stopping them now..." Jake bit his lip. "Or maybe there's nobody else coming."
That little statement stopped them both cold.
"If there's nobody else coming... then there's nobody else left." Marie said softly.
Jake held her gaze. "There's us."