Updated: May 23
One day aliens came to Earth, taking over people's bodies, crawling in through the mouth. The prison doors were open, and no one knew what to do next....
Credits and Copyright.
By Derwin Lester II Original Copyright©2015 DGL II Publications First edition. Copyright©2015 DGL II Publications Second edition. Copyright©2017 Divided By Zero Third Edition. Copyright©2022 Divided By Zero Books All Rights Reserved. Written by Derwin Gerald Lester II Edited by Cassie Poormokhtar Cover art by Derwin Gerald Lester II Original Photography by Mary Beth Lester All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Michigan Day 12 I walked into the church. I hadn’t been inside one in a while, so I felt a little self-conscious about it. I believed in God and was baptized into the church when I was twelve. I asked for forgiveness of my sins, and I still thanked Him whenever He helped me. I followed the game as He saw fit. “You shall have no other gods before me,” He said in the bible, and I complied. If you didn’t comply and ask forgiveness of your sins, you lost the game. Those were the rules. The thing I never understood about the church was why they tried to dress it up in nice, fluffy overtones. God loved all His children; this was true. But if you crossed Him, He wasn’t going to be polite about it. As I looked around the main worship center, the tables overturned and the dead sticking out of the men’s room, I felt a twinge of sadness for the world we had lost. I didn’t know if we could ever get it back. I walked towards the first hallway leading out of the worship center to my left. The power was out, but I saw candlelight flickering shadows off the wall. “Hello?” I said. A crash, and then, muttered curses. “Shoot, I always knock over the candles.” I heard as a man came around the corner. He was a well-dressed man who looked like he hadn’t changed his clothes in several days. Or taken a shower either, judging from the dirt smeared all over his face. He was a white guy, like me. Standard suburb upbringing from the looks of it, a head of hair and set of glasses on his face. His nose was way too long, but there was a ring on his hand that spoke of his triumph over adversity. From the looks of this man, he should have had a nice, quiet life. Not be in a poorly lit church with a pistol tucked in the back of his pants. “Hello,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say in the situation. And from the way he kept staring at me, I don’t think he did, either. “Are you…are you with others?” he asked. I shook my head. “Me neither,” he said. “You been in the cities at all?” “I started in Detroit, but I got out of there as fast as I could. But I suppose that’s what everyone did. What’s left in this town?” I asked him. He shook his head. “Just me.” The light from the candles wavered across that giant nose of his. “Ever since word came from the TV that they had control of the government, the town just ran for the wood line. Some ran south, some went north; some went to the army recruiting stations. “Although, I would imagine they have control of the army by now, too. Even the senior pastor of this church ran for it. I…it didn’t seem right to leave for some reason. My wife left, and my kids went with her, but I couldn’t leave the church. I told them it had been too good for us, but they didn’t care. They said there would be more churches, but the way things are going, someone has to protect the ones who are here already if there are going to be more. And…I didn’t know where else to go. Then the power went out a few days ago. Then you came.” He relaxed a little. Sometimes, it was just good to tell your story to someone. “Do you work for the church? Did you work for the church?” I asked, correcting myself. He gave me a sort of half nod and said, “I’m one of the assistant pastors. Not all the way trained, of course.” I could see he wasn’t giving himself enough credit, so I told him, “Well, Pastor, you were the one who stayed. I think that probably counts for something.” “So, what do you do?” he asked me. “Are you with the authorities…were you with the authorities?” I laughed and said, “Nope. Escaped convict.” “What did you do?” he asked. “Killed three people.” I lit a cigarette. “Did they deserve it?” he asked, which was surprising. “Well, I thought so,” I said. “One of them raped a girl I knew, while the other two watched. They sent me to jail for life. Then about three days ago, the power went out in the prison, and then someone opened up the doors and let us all out. Some of the guys left, and some of them stayed. We all knew something was going on in the outside world. I had an ex-wife out here, so I decided to look for her. In fact, she used to go to this church.”
“Are you planning on hurting her?” the pastor asked, his chest puffing out a little. He was brave, but he had never been in a fight in his life. I shook my head. “Are you going to hurt me or damage church property in any way?” he asked. I shook my head. “Good. Come on in and have a seat,” the pastor said. I followed him into an office with lots of important looking books in it and a very expensive looking computer. Not that it was good for much of anything anymore. “Is this your office?” I asked him. He nodded. “It used to belong to the senior pastor. I guess that makes it mine now. And that makes me Senior Pastor,” he said, chuckling; he reached under the desk and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. “That used to belong to the senior pastor, too?” I asked, smirking. He shook his head and told me, “Nope, this is mine. You want a snort or not, smartass?”
I nodded, laughing a little. I was going to like this guy. The pastor grabbed two shot glasses out of his backpack. Each glass said, “Operation Enduring Freedom” and he filled them up. He looked at the shot glasses for a second, then handed one to me. “To the future. May it always belong in the just and righteous hands of the Lord. And if not in those hands, keep it out of the hands of the bureaucrats.” I smiled and said, “Here, here!” Then we downed the shot. I coughed a little more than he did. After I recovered, feeling less than manly over such a poor display of alcohol consumption, I got tired of beating around the bush. “So my wife’s in the basement, right?” The pastor looked at his feet and started to stammer.“ No, I don’t…” I shook my head, putting my palms up and facing them towards him. “I kinda figured that one out when you asked me if I was going to hurt her. But you don’t want me to see her, yet, right? You want to make sure I’m telling the truth, and that’s fine. I can respect that. Listen, you were in Afghanistan?” I asked. “Yeah. ’06 to ’08. Were you?” he said. “No, I was in Iraq in ’07-’08. What did you do in the service?” His eyes lit up a little bit. “I was a light-wheeled vehicle mechanic in the army. You?” “I was infantry; we were in Victory Base and the Green Zone in Bagdad a lot of the time.” As I said this, the dead bodies in the back of my head wanted to come out of the cage I kept them in. I hated remembering. “It was bad, probably just as bad in Afghanistan. Over in Iraq, people would kill each other over little things like food. Well, from what I can tell, it’s going to get like that very soon, if Detroit and the rest of what I’ve seen are any indication. People are just starting to realize what’s happening, and soon, they’ll start panicking for real,” I said, taking another puff on the Marlboro Light. “This isn’t for real?” the pastor asked, his left eyebrow raised. I shook my head and told him, “The few people I’ve seen out of their homes still think that Uncle Sam is going to send in the Marines and take out those guys from the TV. But what they don’t understand is that anyone in the Marines or the Army who isn’t under their control right now is running for the safest place they can find and trying to figure out some way to detect them. But you know that. And, I think by now, you can tell I don’t want to hurt anybody; I just want to see Lucy. Can I go see her? I’ll even leave my rifle.” I took the sling off my back and laid it on the ground. He nodded. I was surprised that he didn’t ask if I had a pistol on me. I did, but I wasn’t going to volunteer it. We walked down the stairs and into a small guest room. Candles lit the room, and a woman’s smell flooded my senses. The comforting scent of a beautiful woman who had been missing from my life for a while--it was enough to make a man step in front of traffic just to protect her. It was my ex-wife. She was curled up in blankets on a mattress on the floor. The pastor walked over to her and bent down. “Lucy, wake up. There’s someone here to see you.” Lucy moaned gently and opened her eyes. She looked at me and smiled. “You took his gun away?” she asked. He nodded rather proudly. “Ask him about the pistol he keeps strapped to his ankle,” Lucy said; she stood up and stretched in her pajamas. I looked at the pastor and winked. I pulled up my right pant leg and showed him the pistol there. He held out his hand, like I was going to just give it to him. “Nope,” I said. “You got yours in the back of your pants. Only fair.” Lucy put her hand on his shoulder, making him relax a little. Beautiful women tended to have that effect. “It’s ok; he’s not going to hurt me,” she said. “You did a good job.” He nodded, still looking me in the eye; his resolve to protect a woman unwavering. I could see the decency in him. Then he turned to her, smiling diplomatically. “I’ll be upstairs if you need me.” After he left, she turned to me and laughed. “Be nice to him, Robbie. He’s a sweet guy.” I lit another cigarette. “Maybe. I think he means well.” I agreed with her. Then I smirked and asked, “He’s not exactly your type, is he?” “Is that your way of asking me if I did anything with him?” She pouted, both her hands on her hips in that angry way she used to do when we were married. “For your information, I have been single for five months now, which was your idea anyway, since you said you’d never get out. But no, I didn’t do anything with him. I don’t think he’d know what to do with himself if he got the chance. His wife had him on a pretty tight leash. I’m surprised he stayed.” I nodded. Then I reached for Lucy and pulled her close. I put my arms around her and kissed her, gently, just the way she liked; it made her smile. It brought me back to my wedding day. “You were always good at that. Why did you come for me?” she asked. I let go and she bent down to put her shoes on. “Knight in shining armor, I guess,” I said, feeling like I was sixteen again. But she always had that effect on me. “Remember the last time you did that? Got yourself into trouble on account of me,” she said as she leaned in and placed a hand on my chest. “Well, I figured the worst that could happen was they would lock me back up. But…” I said. “There’s not anybody left to lock you up,” she said. I nodded. “Then we have bigger problems, don’t we?” Lucy asked. She pulled the cigarette out of my mouth and took a drag. “What are we going to do?”
Day 258 Michigan They marched in step. In rank and file, platoon formations of thirty. They just kept coming for miles, but none of them said a word. Maybe it was the confidence of their domination over most of the planet. Maybe they just didn’t have anything to say. Not a word for their god or themselves. All I could hear was boots in step. “Holy shit,” Beth said to my left. The other two: Sally and Frank stood in silence, while the invading army marched on outside the office window. The three of them had come in from the north to our Kalamazoo base a week before. They seemed to be able to handle themselves in a fight, so I decided to take them on a scouting trip I’d been planning, right into the alien stronghold. The enemy army looked like humans, marched like humans, killed like humans. But there were aliens inside them. We knew they were operating out of Detroit, but no one had gotten close enough to get a good look. Mostly, we had been fighting and running.
“I can’t stop shivering,” Sally said, standing behind me. I turned to her, concerned. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I don’t know, Robbie. I can’t t-t-tell you," She said, her teeth chattering.
I nodded. The mission was over. We were at the fifth floor of an abandoned office building. It seemed like a good spot as any to hide from the thousands of Puppets that marched outside. I turned to the group and said, “All right, time to go.” “Wait, we haven’t found what we came here for, yet!” Beth said. I shook my head. “You see Sally? The mission is over. We’ll get one of the squids next time.” She didn’t like it, but that wasn’t my problem. I looked at Sally and saw her eyes start to twitch. I had to move fast. We grabbed our backpacks that held our gear and left. The stairs at the back of the office complex went all the way down into the basement, which led into underground tunnels built decades before. We had to climb down a half mile of ladder to get to them, but the tunnels were better than the sewer. Five miles through the tunnel later, we found the access hatch that led to an ice cream shop. I was the first up; I pointed my rifle forward as I looked behind the ice cream display filled with spoiled fudge. “Clear!” I yelled to the group. They echoed it back as they searched the rest of the shop. I wasn’t worried about Puppets with the squids inside them. They tended to be pretty stupid and couldn’t hide for shit. But when the squids hatched out of their eggs, they tended to lie in wait for anyone. The group had stopped to sit on some parlor chairs, except for Sally. She leaned in on the ice cream display and sneezed blood. “Holy god!” Beth said. Sally’s head lolled up, and she started to make a gurgling noise. I raised my rifle and shot her three times in the head. “No!” Frank yelled, reaching for my weapon. I pointed it at him and shouted, “Look at her!” Sally’s body lurched up, directionless. The squid had trouble operating a human body without a working brain. “Grab her arms!” I said; I lowered my rifle and grasped her left hand. A piece of brain fell out and hit me in the face. I didn’t want to know if a little bit got into my mouth or not. I’d worry about that later, when I couldn’t sleep. As Beth and Frank wrestled the body to the ground, I pulled out two zip ties. Moments later, the hands and feet of Sally’s body were bound together, and I crushed the neck of her body with my left boot, making it deflate with a sickening crunch and destroying the vocal cords. I had to keep it silent. I knew seeing her body like this was going to kill Lucy. She didn’t have many friends before the invasion, and she was getting close to Sally. But Sally shouldn’t have gone off by herself. I didn’t know when the damn alien got her, and I didn’t care, because now we had our squid. Three days later, a cup of coffee steamed in my hand. I didn’t drink it hot. My tongue was sensitive, something Lucy used to tease me about when we were kids. But I hated it cold. There was a perfect temperature that I found after I let it cool for a few minutes. Sometimes I let it cool for too long, and it was ruined. Happened about fifty percent of the time. I finished telling Lucy everything that had happened in Detroit. All the anger and rage that got me through that was gone, replaced with the guilt that one more person I was responsible for died. The part that scared me was every time one of them died, I felt the guilt a little less. Lucy finished her noted and nodded, putting the pen down and closing the notebook. She then stood up, walked around the table and kissed me on the forehead. “You are a good man, and I love you. Don’t you forget that.” “Any word from the last outbound?” I asked, squeezing her hand. “Three parties made it to human lines and returned. Outbound Two successfully dropped off the squid to the right people; although, they didn’t know what it was. Outbound Four did not make it to the border and returned with the personnel they were going to drop off.” “Why?” I asked. “The commander said they could make it to the border and back, but not without losing half the refugees. He said he would plot an alternate route and try again in three days,” she said. I rolled my eyes and groaned with frustration. “That’s forty extra mouths. Aren‘t our food supplies getting a little low?” “We’ll figure something out,” Lucy said. “I hope so, babe. Otherwise we’re going to have a problem.” I closed my eyes for just a second. I opened them and found everyone was gone. The lights were out, and I had a blanket on me. I smiled and folded the blanket up and put it on the chair. As I walked into the living room, I saw the pastor sitting on the couch, reading his bible and making notes on a separate sheet of paper. He was trying to see if we were in the end times or not. “How long have I been asleep?” I sat down next to him. “Fourteen hours. I was starting to get worried,” he said. “Is that why you had the bible out?” I asked. He laughed and shook his head. “What are we going to do about this food problem, Pastor? And don’t say the Lord will provide, because He also says He helps those who help themselves. So, will He provide, or will He provide once we help ourselves? Or is there some sort of celestial welfare program I can get on, because that would be fantastic.” He smiled and shrugged. “God isn’t much of a socialist.” I nodded. “There has to be large food stores left in the local towns. Maybe we should send an outbound to go check them out.” “Sounds good. We’d have to do it in a way that didn’t lead them back here,” I said. “Yeah, we could do that,” he said. I nodded and lit a cigarette, enjoying the edge it took off from my nerves. “So, he’s awake, finally,” Lucy said from the doorway. I looked at her and saw a piece of paper in her hand. “Yep. Did I miss anything cool?” She nodded her head. “We got word from the government, Robbie.” I stood up, amazed. “The government? The United States government? What did they say?” She unfolded the piece of paper and read it. “To James Robinson Cordwood and associates: Without you, this war would be lost for many people. Keep fighting, so that one day, we might rejoin you. You give us hope.” Lucy turned the paper over. “It’s from the Vice President of the United States.”
Lucy smiled in that bright way she had and kissed my forehead. “So, about this food thing. What do you want to do?”
Day 538 Transcript from radio broadcast Radio Free America
“Hello again, everybody, and welcome to Radio Free America,” the announcer said. “We’re happy to be on the air and give a voice to the cause. We want to thank all our human forces out there, fighting the good fight well into the second year of this war. We heard from the President of the United States today. Take a listen."
"Hi everybody. Ole smiling Joe here. I tell ya, we had it all wrong about our new alien friends. I got to know them pretty well lately, and I realized they’re actually some pretty good folks. Hell, I even had a barbeque with their leader the other day, and we worked out this peace treaty that I’m about to put before Congress, if I can ever find them. But our new friends should be welcomed with open arms and trusted completely. I know I trust them. Why don’t you?"
“You heard it here first, folks. The former President of the United States is currently a puppet person. The Vice President has had her blood tested by government officials and they have detected no traces of iron deficiency. She’s human, God help us all. “To any and all listeners out there, especially in the New York City area, the wagon train leaves at midnight. I repeat, the wagon train leaves at midnight. “In other news, the Government of the United States has instituted a one hundred percent draft for all men aged sixteen and over. This will last for the duration of the conflict with the aliens. “There was a mushroom cloud over the cities of Los Angles and San Francisco yesterday morning. It is unknown if it was cause by the aliens or the government. “Scientists in undisclosed locations have determined that the aliens cannot infect any species on Earth besides humans. So, don’t worry about your dogs, everybody. They’re still your best friend. “United States Forces retreated out of Ohio and into Kentucky today in an effort to regroup after the defeat at Cleveland. The Army Chief of Staff had this to say: “‘We are Americans, and this is our home. They’ll have to dig me out of the last bunker on the last hill with the last round in the chamber pointed straight at them before I consider giving up.’ “And to our listeners up far north, behind the lines. I just want to say, we are always thinking about you guys and are proud of each and every one of you. You are the true heroes of this war. As the man once said, the work goes on, the cause endures, the dream still lives, and the hope will never die.”
Year Eleven Arizona
It was hot. But that didn’t bother me too much. I just smiled and looked at him as he squirmed in his chair. “Too hot for you?” I asked. Sweat dripped off his face like a leaky faucet. I lit a cigarette. They hated tobacco smoke. Drove them nuts. The Puppet, with his hands tied behind his back, coughed violently. As the cough subsided, he asked, “Must you smoke that in here?” The disdain and impatience was reward enough for my troubles. I nodded and took another puff. “We had such hopes for your race,” he said, breathing deeply. “Now I see we were wrong.” I blew out a large cloud of smoke in his direction. “Well, it seems like you were wrong about a lot of stuff. You guys almost had us at the beginning,” I said. “Almost. We should have destroyed your world from orbit.” I shook my head, chuckling. “Now that’s a shame.” I puffed on the cigarette to fill the room with more smoke. “I thought you guys were here, because you loved us.” He laughed and then coughed some more, spitting blood on the floor. “Yeah, that was The Father’s idea,” the Puppet said. “He got here before the rest of us and said that your people had this thing called love. If we used that phrase in place of what we really meant, your people would go along with just about anything. He was about fifty percent correct. There were places in Europe where we just had to say some nice things and offer some promises of tolerance, and we had whole legions. They were more than happy to shut off their satellites and dismantle their military. But here, some of your people are so violent and paranoid that if they caught on that we were taking over, we had to kill them.” “Because you’re the non-violent types,” I said. He sighed deeply with defeat and looked to the ground. “It was for the young ones.” “Young ones?” I asked. “There was only one hundred and six of my race left. We looked for a world that would work as a place to repopulate our people,” the Puppet said. “We needed host bodies for the young ones to grow in.” “So, they aren’t fully mature?” I asked. “No, they’re not. That’s why they can’t handle anything more complicated than a rifle without our control. If one of us is in the area, we can control masses of them to do complex things like fly helicopters. But by themselves, they are still simple children,” he said. I laughed, harder than I had in a while. It was starting to make sense. “We were wondering what happened. You had the Army on the ropes there for a few years. Then, all of a sudden, POOF. Nothing. Bit off a little too much, huh? Tends to cause a stale mate.” “Our young ones have trouble in your warmer climates. That’s why we took the northern half of the continent inside the first year. Just because we haven’t pushed you out of Georgia yet doesn’t mean we aren’t going to. We’re still winning.” He said this with the confidence I wish I had, sweat dripping from his red hair. “I read this body’s mind after I took it over. He’s why you’re here. He was working on a bacteria compound to kill my people. And I know that your government was pinning all of their hopes to end the war on him.” I blew more smoke in his face, then crushed the cigarette under my boot. I enjoyed seeing the Puppet in pain. Gave me some of my confidence back. “Doesn’t mean you’re winning,” I said. He smirked and said, “Oh, yes, it does. They aren’t going to be young ones forever. In about six years, their higher brain functions will kick in, and they’ll be like us. The leaders among them will develop even sooner. All my people have to do is hold on and keep yours in the deserts of this world till then.” “Your host bodies are wearing out. Your young ones aren’t taking very good care of them. Won’t the host bodies die before they mature?” I said. The Puppet’s eyes started to roll into the back of his head. “You stupid animal…that just means they are growing stronger by absorbing the human…and then we…will overwhelm your people, even if they are in the deserts.” Blood came pouring down his nose, and I saw a slimy squid looking creature struggling to get out of his mouth. I raised my pistol and shot the squid three times. Then I shot the body twice in the head and once in the heart. I shook my head. “Goodbye, Ryan,” I said, walking out of the room. The grey cloud of cigarette smoke followed me outside into the bright sun of the day. The pastor was leaning against the wall. “I’m sorry, Robbie.” I shook my head and told him, “It wasn’t like he was my brother, right? I mean, that’s what you tell yourself when they get taken over. You don’t know them anymore.” The pastor nodded. “So what do you want to do, Robbie?”
Year Eleven Minnesota
“You think it might work?” Lucy asked me, nervous. “Yes, of course, it will work. The generator still works,” I said. “But the gas, maybe we should—” She began, but I cut her off.
“Lucy, you’re going to give up the first Christmas celebration we’ve had in years, because you’re worried about a little gas?” I asked. She gave me a fake dirty look with her hands on her hips and a pout, just like she used to do when we were in high school. She walked up to me and said, “Well, I‘m just worried…” I held her hands gently. “You are always worried. You’re my wife. I understand that. It kinda comes with the job.” I leaned in and kissed her. “It’s my job to tell you when to not worry,” I said. “And I’m telling you to not worry. We can spare the gas, and we can spare the food.” She nodded and said, “Ok, Robbie.” I walked over to the window of the cabin and looked at all the snow. Once upon a time, there would have been tracks and plowed roads and snowmen and school buses. There’d be schools. There’d be people. The pastor walked into the cabin, forcing the door open as he pulled out the bag. “Are they here yet?” he asked. I hadn’t seen him so excited in years. He must have been one of those kids that loved Christmas. It was hard not to. “No, not quite. They said they would be here as soon as possible,” Lucy said.
He looked a little disappointed. “Well, I guess this just means we have more time to set up.” He opened the bag and pulled out an inflatable Santa Clause. I laughed. It had been years since I saw tacky Christmas decorations. “Where did you get that?” I asked. He shrugged and said, “Wal-Mart.” I shook my head, loving that dumb bastard like a brother. “And here I just thought you were looking for booze.” The pastor gave a thumbs-up while he kept blowing up the Santa. I walked upstairs and into the room Lucy and I were staying in. There were pictures and letters that came in from the last supply drop from the Feds. I picked one up. It was a letter from the Assistant Mayor of New York City: I would love to take credit for what you people did, but I can’t seem to find a way. So I’ll just have to settle for owing you my life along with the other forty thousand, nine hundred and ninety seven others you helped get out of New York. Thank you. I smiled. Some days it was good to be me. I went downstairs and found the reverend hanging up little strings of elves he liberated from an elementary school. As I got to the bottom of the stairs, I heard Lucy talking to the pastor. “Does this feel weird at all to you, Pastor?” she asked. He stopped and cocked his head to the left. “In what way?” he said. “I don’t know. I mean, a Christmas party?” she said. I understood where she was coming from. It just didn’t seem to fit the color scheme of darkness that was our life. She added, “Shouldn’t we be planning our next move or something?” “I understand where you’re coming from, but it’s been eleven years. I think we can enjoy ourselves just this once,” the pastor said, smiling; he finished with the last elf and climbed down the ladder. She held her hands up in defeat, laughing. “All right, I’ll try to have a good time,” she said. “I promise.” He grabbed a candy cane out of his bag and started sucking on it. “t‘ats ‘ood, ‘ucy.” He walked up to the Christmas tree and grabbed some popcorn that was on a string. He must have gone all out. Where did he get this stuff? An hour later, I walked into the kitchen and found Lucy putting the finishing touches on the turkey. “Hey there, sweet thing,” I said in my best silly-sultry voice. “You wanna see what a real turkey baster looks like?” She laughed at that as I slipped my arms around her. “I can’t play right now. Go play with the pastor,” Lucy said, patting me on the right hand. I let her go. “But he’s not nearly as fun to see naked.” It didn’t work, of course. She slapped me on the ass and said, “Scoot.” I walked back into the living room, and I heard three knocks come through the front door. I knocked back on the door four times. Then we started knocking back and forth, three knocks then four. I opened the door and laughed. “Damn, Frankie, it’s good to see you again.” I hugged the big black dude in the leather coat. From behind him came a small voice. “Daddy, move,” the gentle voice commanded. Frank Tompkins moved and I saw a very smart looking five-year-old girl with dark brown skin. “Hi, I’m Tasha.” Tasha held out her hand and I took it, smiling. It had been a while since I had seen a kid. “Hi, Tasha. How old are you?” I asked, giving her hand back. She smiled and said, “Four.” I looked up at Frank and asked, “She’s four, huh?” He shrugged with a proud smile. “I didn’t even know you had a family, Frank.” “Don’t worry, he tried to send us south of the border,” a woman said as she walked up behind him. “Frank, go get the rest of our bags. Tasha, go take your bag upstairs and place it in one of the empty rooms. I’m Jean, by the way. Frank told me about you guys after New York. He said you guys met in Iraq?” I nodded and said, “There was a pretty bad sandstorm, and we were both stuck in Balad for about a week. Then I ran into him during the initial planning meeting on the New York exodus.” Jean took off her scarf. “Well, it’s nice to finally meet you, Robbie. Frank tells me that your wife is here?” As she took off her coat, I held out my hand for it. She gave it to me and I put it up on the coat rack. “Well, ex-wife. But that’s essentially the same thing. Just less of a legal hassle when I leave her for a younger model.” “I heard that. And you will pay.” Her voice came from the kitchen. That just meant she was going to be the one to tie me up tonight instead of the other way around. “Is she still cooking the dinner?” Jean asked, chuckling a little. “Yeah,” I said. Lucy was always cooking one thing or another. Much of the time she would pack a spare lunch for the outbound crew. “You think she’d mind if I helped her?” Jean asked, excited. Another woman who loved to cook. Good for Frank.
“Not at all.” Jean went into the kitchen, and the chit chatter of two cooking women began. They must have been starved for pure girl talk. Frank walked in with two bags slung over his back and a box in his hands.
“Damn, Frankie, you need a hand with that?” I asked. “No, ‘m good,” I heard come from behind the box. He set it down and took the bags off his back. He pulled out several gifts wrapped with honest to god Christmas paper and placed them underneath the tree that the reverend was still decorating. Then he reached into the box and pulled out an electric train set and started to put it together. “Hey, Robbie.” I turned around and saw Bruce Brownway. I didn’t even hear him come in the door. But ever since New York, he had been quiet. “Bruce, how ya doin?” I said, walking up to shake his hand. But I could tell how he was doing by the way his eyes darted all over the room. “Is there somewhere we can talk?” Bruce asked. I nodded and took him upstairs to the room Lucy and I were staying in. I closed the door. “What’s going on, Bruce?” I asked. But all he could do was look at the ground and just stare. He tried to speak, but I could see the tears forming in his eyes that kept him from doing so. I had seen that look before and knew what it meant. I put my left hand on his shoulder. “Go. You deserve it. You’ve done your part. No one will hold it against you.” He looked up at me, shame in his eyes. It was unwarranted. I owed that man my life. “Really, I mean it,” I said. “You are always going to be family. In fact, why not stay for dinner with us? We have more than enough to go around.” But he shook his head. I nodded with understanding and said, “All right, Bruce. When all this is over, I still owe you a drink.” He smiled, the first weak smile I had seen out of him in a while. “With as many times as I’ve saved your ass, you owe me thirteen.” He handed me a bundle of papers and said, “This is a list of personnel and supplies that are going to be transferred over to your people in Michigan from Fort Wayne. They should get there inside a month. I told them to spilt up and take the long route. It’s mostly the younger ones without families. But they’re good kids, and they tend to listen to you when you tell them to do stuff.” I nodded and shook his hand one more time. “I’m happy to have them,” I said. But I had to offer one more time. He took a bullet for me in New York. “You sure you can’t stay for dinner?” He shook his head. “Well, all right, Bruce. Take care of yourself, man. Good luck.” Bruce laughed and said, “Remember what the first sergeant used to say?“ I laughed. Our old First Sergeant from Iraq was a weird bastard. “You never need luck when you’ve already cheated,” I said, reliving the glory days a little. Then Bruce slapped me on the shoulder and walked downstairs and out the front door. I headed downstairs and into the living room and found Frankie putting the finishing touches on the train station. “Daddy, is it done yet?” Tasha asked from the kitchen. He nodded and said, “Yes, Tasha. You can come in now.” She came inside the living room and giggled. “Oh, Daddy, it’s so cool!” She got down on all fours and started playing with the train set. I tapped Frankie on the shoulder and said, “I need to talk to you for a minute.” He looked up at me. “All right.” We stepped out on to the back patio. I lit a cigarette. “What’s up? I take it this has to do with Bruce?” I just said it. “He just gave me all his people and supplies. Bruce himself is going south.” “Are you serious?” Frankie asked, scratching his head. I nodded. “Well, you heard about his wife, right?” I asked. “She died in the New York exodus, right as we were leaving. Got hit by a truck.” “Yeah, but I mean, to just dump all his people on you, when we need a group in Indiana for personnel transport,” Frankie said. “Well, there aren’t really that many people left, are there? When was the last time you had more than one outbound group?” I took a drag of the cigarette. “Yeah, but there weren’t that many people in Oregon before the war, anyway,” he said. “Well, there were a lot of people in Michigan before,” I said, puffing on the cigarette three times to calm my nerves.
I wasn’t technically in charge. There wasn’t really a chain of command, we were just groups that survived and started fighting as best we could. I tended to take charge and try to work out problems as they came up. Sometimes people listened.
“That’s kinda the reason I called this meeting of the leadership,” I said.
Frankie shook his head and said, “And, here, I thought you just wanted to have a Christmas party.” I shrugged. “I figured why couldn’t we do both?” Lucy opened the sliding glass door; a carrot in one hand and a half cut potato in the other. “ Is everything all right, guys?” She looked at me. “What happened to Bruce?” “I’ll tell you at dinner, babe,” I said, changing tactic. “Till then, don’t you worry your pretty little head about it” I reached over and messed up her hair. She dropped the vegetables and smacked my hand away. I pulled her close. “God, I love you,” I said. She smiled and kissed me. “You better tell me later,” Lucy said.
I turned to Frankie. “You guys are fuckin' weird, you know that?” he said. I smiled. “We get that a lot.” I walked back into the kitchen. I could smell the turkey cooking, and the mashed potatoes, and the beans; it all mixed together in a perfect way that made me remember what life was like before. There was another knock at the door. I opened it. It was John Greene. “Hey, John,” I said. “Glad you could make it.” “Well, you know me. I never pass up a free meal,” he said. I looked behind him and asked, “You came alone?” He looked at the Christmas decorations and said, “Well, I thought this was more of a leadership gathering than a Christmas party. If I had known, I would have brought a date.” “You mean your wife?” I asked. He smiled rather coyly and said, “Maybe.” I laughed. “Dinner’s almost ready.” He nodded and said, “Good, I’m starved. I think Vargas and his family were behind me by a few miles. They should be here pretty soon. So, how in God’s name did you get the gas for all this electricity?” “It was all just kind of sitting there,” I said. It took a little bit of work, but we found more than enough. He raised his left eyebrow and asked, “So, you just figured why not throw a Christmas party deep in enemy territory?” I shrugged. John laughed. “You were always a crazy bastard. What kinda booze you got, or is it home made?” “Bah! There will be no bathtub booze at my dinner table, sir!” I said. I walked into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle out of the freezer. “There will only be…Jameson!” John hugged me, and I laughed. “I love you,” he said. I patted him on the arm. “I know, buddy. Now let go before my wife gets jealous.” I turned and looked at Lucy, who was standing behind us in the dining room. “We’re just good friends, babe. I promise.” She rolled her eyes and finished setting the dinner table. I wished I had some Coke to mix the drinks with, but sometimes, you just had to make due. I walked into the living room and sat in a chair next to John. I handed him his drink. That first drink was strong, but that was ok. It was Christmas. “So, how is your wife doing?” I asked John. “Jane is doing good. She runs the logistics for the Pennsylvania operation. And our first baby’s due in a few months.” I slapped him on the arm and said, with great joy, “Well damn, that’s great John! So, I guess me and Lucy are the only ones without kids now.” “Looks that way,” John said. “But, to be honest, you guys are probably doing the smart thing. We all know what could happen. No kids gives you guys less to worry about. I’d send Jane south to the human areas, but I think the Pennsylvania operation would fall apart without her.” I nodded with agreement. “I don’t know what I’d do with Lucy. She always…” I began as there was a knock at the door. I got up and went to the living room to open it. “Good God, you are still ugly,” Vargas said, standing in the doorway with two large duffle bags in each arm. “Jose, shut up!” I heard from behind him, and a smack across the back of his head. “Damn it, wife, I swear I’ll leave you to get eaten by bears,” Vargas said as he walked upstairs, the weight of the duffle bags not affecting his stride. “I’ll remember that when you want me to drive on the way back to Massachusetts,” Kelly said. Vargas rolled his eyes at me as he came downstairs with empty arms. “Look what you made happen.” “It’s not my fault you’re an idiot.” I shook his hand. “How was the trip over here?” I asked. “Long. It took us two weeks. Why Minnesota?” Vargas wondered. “It’s lightly populated, little interest to the puppets, and they don’t have a lot of operations going on in the area. Seems like if we were going to do something this would be a good place to do it,” I said. “Uh-huh. Jesus, you talk a lot. Where’s the food?” Vargas asked while a five-year-old Hispanic girl ran into the cabin and grabbed my leg. “Uncle Robbie!” she said. I smiled and picked her up and kissed her on the cheek. “Hey, Sara. How ya doin’, sweetie?” She giggled and squealed, in a high voice, “Uncle Robbie!” I put her down and she ran into the kitchen. I looked up at Vargas. “Food’s in the dining room. I think this is everybody.” “What about Bruce?” Vargas asked on our walk into the dining room. I shook my head. “Bruce decided to head south. He sent his people over to my camp.” Vargas took a deep breath. “He never was really that into it after New York, was he?” As we sat down, I nodded. “But you know what? That doesn’t matter anymore. We have an honest-to-God Christmas celebration going on here,” I said. “Mr. John Greene would like to say a few words. John?” I said, looking at him. He nodded. John was always good with giving a toast. With his glass raised and a cleared throat, John said, “We do not honor ourselves. We do not tell ourselves we do great things. We do necessary things and hope that we are right for doing them. We do not call ourselves heroes, because we know that we are merely in the company of braver men and women and are lucky to be counted among them. So, here’s to being in the company of heroes.” A murmur of “the company of heroes,” came from around the table and then John nodded and took a bite of the turkey that Lucy had made. “Oh my God, Lucy, this turkey is fantastic,” he said, with encouraging nods all around the table. Lucy smiled, with all the pride she used to have when she cooked for a large group of people. Family, mostly. Like today. “So, besides getting away from it all and eating an amazing turkey dinner, why are we all here, Robbie?” John asked, taking another bite. There were plenty of potatoes and turkey, so everyone had more they could possibly eat. But we all knew this might be the last Christmas dinner for a long time. I took another drink of my Jameson and wiped my mouth. “I want us to start working together to destroy high value targets.” Vargas cocked his head to the left. “What about refugee evacuation?” “I don’t think there are that many people north of the border, anymore, Vargas,” I said. “Not enough that they should be our primary focus. If we find them, then great. We’ll take them south. But we’re not going to be actively looking for them like we were.” “Are we going to be getting any more support from the government?” John Greene asked. “Other than the basic food and intelligence drops, maybe a little more guns and ammunition. Not a whole lot,” I said. “Well, yeah, I mean, they just retreated out of Kentucky yesterday. That just puts us further behind the lines…anybody ever wonder if Bruce had the right idea?” Vargas suggested. Everyone looked down at the table. We had all thought about it at one point or another. “I mean, if we were smart we’d pack our things, get our families and head as far south as we could get.” The table was quiet for a few minutes, each trying to gauge the reaction of the others. No one wanted to be the first to speak. Then Lucy spoke. “I think we should blow up Indianapolis.”
Everyone else around the table thought about it and nodded.
Lucy held my hand and smiled. “How about it, Robbie?”
Chapter Six Year Twelve Michigan
I poured him a drink. It was nice having company over. I had been saving this bottle for about a year now for a special occasion. A random group of human survivors showed up out of the middle of nowhere seemed special to me. “You want ice?” I asked. “Where did you get the ice? Where did you get gas?” Fredrick Harris asked. “Well, we’ve been operating in this area for a while now. We know where all the good stuff is. Your wife tells me that you guys operated in Alaska all this time?” I asked, handing him the rum and Coke. “Thanks. Yeah, but we didn’t know there was anyone else outside of Alaska. We haven’t had any contact with the rest of the world since the broadcast. I thought we were all alone in this,” he said, looking through the drink in his hand. “How long did it take you to cross Canada?” I asked, lighting a cigarette. “About three months,” he said. “We waited till the summer, since they wouldn’t be quite as strong when it was warmer and all. But I was surprised to find you guys here. We saw a bunch of signs. We weren‘t sure if it was a trap or not.” I laughed. “Those are still up? Those were for refugees, back when we were still running people south of the border.” He was taken aback. “Border…” Harris said with confusion. “What border?” “The government of the United States, what’s left of it at least, is holding land from Tennessee to Oklahoma, down to the tip of South America. We aren’t sure why, but it seems that the puppets don’t do too well in the deserts, so those lands seem to be holding. But the southeast has been in retreat for the last few years. Pretty soon they’ll be fighting it out in Texas,” I said. Harris smiled at the news. “So, there’s still a chance, huh? I thought we had lost already.” “There’s always a chance. Although, at this point, it’s a last chance, a Hail Mary at the end of the game. But I have a few ideas.” He smiled. “Like what?” I shrugged. “So, how many people do you have with you?” “Eighty-four. We had over three hundred when we left Anchorage. I thought we were the last people left on the continent. I don’t know what I was expecting to find, maybe just passage to a boat, so I could sail to an abandoned island. Maybe take the wife with me, who knows?” he said. I laughed. “I know what you mean. I divorced mine almost nine years ago, and I’m still with her.” He nodded with fierce determination, the look of a man who had been given his second chance. “So what are you going to do?” I pulled out my pistol and shot him three times in the head, then once in the heart. Fuck. I hated cleaning up after a dead puppet. Lucy walked in after the gunshots, her pistol at the ready. When she saw his dead body on the ground, she holstered it and said, “We got the rest of them. There were about sixteen from his group that were puppets; the rest were human.” I put my pistol back in the holster. “Good,” I said. “How long is that Special Ops team from getting here?” “Their lieutenant is waiting for you in the conference room,” she said. I hugged her and then walked out of my office at the old GM factory in Kalamazoo and into the conference room. There was a young man there waiting for me. He looked at me like I was some sort of superhero. I always hated that. “Robbie Cordwood.” I held out my hand. He shook it. “First Lieutenant Greg Trent, sir. United States Army,” he said with pride, letting go of my hand. I looked at his face. He couldn’t have been more than twelve when the Puppets came. “Sir…we’ve heard of you. At the Infantry Officer Basic Course in Mexico City, there’s a class based on you. Professor Brownway says he knew you,” Trent said. I lit a cigarette and chuckled. “Bruce Brownway? Yeah, he used to run the Indiana Operation. Good man. So, he teaches a class on me, huh?” The boy nodded. “It’s called how to disrupt enemy operations behind the lines and get away with it. The way he says it, you pretty much run the human element above the border.” I never took compliments well. “We all do our part, L-T. Can I call you L-T?” I said, trying to change the subject. “Sure, sir. Are you prior military?” he asked. I nodded, saying, “I was a lowly enlisted punk a long time ago. But, anyway, what can I do for you? It’s been twelve years; I can’t believe that just you six are my reinforcements.” Trent was experienced. That much I could tell just by talking to him. He had a look of quiet confidence that so few men could pull off, and I was pretty sure Trent wasn’t even trying. He stood tall, making his five foot three stature seem almost intimidating. But when he responded, a look of hopeless optimism came through his face. “Yes, sir. We are your reinforcements for the Indianapolis operation. And, to be honest, you’re lucky to be getting anything. Resources are spread pretty thin, and there’s a lot more going on at the front than you.” I nodded. The kid had guts and knew how to tell a person to fuck off in a professional manner. He was going to make a good general one day. “All right, I’m sorry. We’re obviously happy to have you guys. The leadership meeting is tomorrow morning. Do your guys have a place to sleep yet?” I asked him. “Yes, sir,” he said, accepting the subject change. “Sergeant First Class Jackson is my number two, and he got with your quartermaster. We’re good for the night.” “Sounds great, El Tee,” I said. “Get some sleep, time hack is 0500 tomorrow morning.” The next morning was quiet. The staging area for the convoy was outside the headquarters building, which used to be a Toyota factory long ago in a previous life. Outside, the vehicles stood in a line. There were six Humvees in various states of repair. All of them ran, for the most part. In front of the lead vehicle stood Vargas, John Greene, Frank Tompkins, Lieutenant Trent, Sergeant First Class Jackson and myself. For half a second, I took a deep breath before beginning the convoy briefing. “The object is the breeding pen at downtown Indianapolis. There’s six breeding queens in the country, and two of them are there. What little intel we have says they’re across the street from one another, in CVS on one side and a Walgreens on another. They’re going to have layers of puppets standing guard, and one out of ten of those should be able to fire a gun. The rest will just rip you apart with their hands. “So, the name of our game will be distraction, while the drone-operated planes full of the life giving gasoline crash into each building. Seems easy enough, right? Well, let’s hope so. The convoy will leave in five chalks; each chalk commander will have their instructions and the map to get to where you need to be.” “Any questions?” Vargas raised his hand. “Does the enemy have surface to air capabilities?” I shrugged. “Not to our knowledge.” “What’s the plan if the drones fail?” Vargas asked. “We have enough C-4 to destroy the city. The breeding pen is at the intersection of 16th and Meridian. I’ll be in Chalk One. We, along with Chalk Two, will come up from the south Meridian Street and hit them from that direction. Chalks Three through Five will hit them from the north along Fall Creek Parkway and then the fourth chalk will break off, head down to Alabama Street and hit them from the East. We shoot our way in and blow the shit out of the place. Then, we run for it. Sound good?” There as a collective nod from the group. “All right everyone, mount up!” I walked to the four-seater, up-armored Humvee I was riding in. The chalk commanders performed a radio check, and then I did the same with them. We were good on comms. We could do this. Twenty-four hours later, I was standing underneath the I-65 South overpass, cursing my luck when the enemy shot the two planes full of gas out of the sky. I lost comms with the other Chalks. Lucy was beside me, firing her pistol at the incoming puppets while I ran to the next car for cover. After I crouched down, I unslung my AR-15 and stood, firing, covering Lucy once she joined me. We were slowly making our way up Thirteenth Street, and the puppets were starting to get pretty thick. I had a bag of extra magazine rounds, and Lucy had the C-4 for the backup plan. We were coming up on the house of former President Benjamin Harrison, slowly but surely. The puppets in front of us were only able to use their hands, since they weren’t mature enough to fire weapons. There were sixteen of us advancing in groups of two, one man firing so the other could run for cover. There were maybe three hundred puppets ahead of us, but they just kept running into our bullets. The only problem would be when we ran out of bullets. An explosion came from the west. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it caused the puppets to run towards it. There were only a hundred or so in front of us now. A car horn blared behind me. I saw Frank Tompkins in the driver’s seat, a terrified look on his face.
“Fucking move out of the way!” He screamed. Lucy and I dived behind Benjamin Harrison’s house, and the car Tompkins was in drove into a crowd of thirty puppets, then exploded. I looked around and saw three of the teams that had gotten caught in the explosion. Tompkins tried to get out of the car in time, but he lay dead next to the vehicle. His face was scorched black, and his left hand missing. I could see pieces of his brain leaking out of his head. But we had a clear path. “Advance!” I screamed, and we ran up Delaware Street, cutting west up on Fifteenth Street. There was a pocket of puppets in front of us, at least twenty-five. I looked to my left and saw the burnt out husk of a minivan. It looked safer than the rest of the neighborhood, so I dived behind it; I grabbed my last grenade and threw it. The whole world shook, and my eyes couldn’t focus for a second. The pain in the back of my head was getting bigger, and I fell to the ground. My eyes tried to stay open, but the last thing I saw before the black took over was Lucy standing above me, screaming my name.
Year Twelve Texas
I opened my eyes. I was in a dirty hospital. There was a faded sign that said, “Brook Army Medical Center,” and when I looked to my left, I saw her sleeping in a chair, holding my hand and resting her head on my arm. I smiled, not knowing what was going to happen. But if she was with me, I knew I’d be ok. “Lucy?” I whispered. She woke up and said, “Robbie!” And then she reached down and hugged me. “OW!” I said, feeling my ribs move in a way they weren’t supposed to. Lucy got off me. “Sorry, baby. Are you ok?” I laughed, regretting the extra movement. “Well, no. What happened?” “You were too close to that grenade. We got you out of there and killed one of the breeder queens. The other got away,” she said. I looked around and asked, “Are we in San Antonio?” She nodded, her face puffy from crying. I hated seeing her like that. Beautiful women should never have to cry. “You guys went a long way,” I said. “Well, if you die, then I’m in charge. Screw that,” she said, kissing me gently. I kissed her back. She broke the kiss and placed her head on my chest. I put my hand on the back of her head, stroking her hair. “How…how many people did we lose?” I asked, fearing the answer. She took a deep breath. “We lost over a hundred. Vargas lost the whole Boston operation, except his daughter. They’re on their way down here now.” A tired looking doctor walked in. “Hello. I understand you are Robinson Cordwood?” he said. I nodded. “Well, I would just love to shake your hand, sir. You got my wife out of New York.” I smiled at him and shook his hand. “What do you got for me, doc?” “Well, you have a number minor burns and scrapes, all easily treatable. You have three broken ribs that will heal with plenty of rest and relaxation. You might not want to play with grenades for a while, since you gave yourself a nice traumatic brain injury. But the scans don’t point to any real serious damage, so as long as you take it easy you should be fine.” I nodded. “I think I can deal with that.” He frowned, flipping the chart over. I knew there was something else. I hated hospitals. “We did some blood work, and we found something. Your wife said you smoked, and had for several years. I don’t want to alarm you; we may be wrong, but we might have picked up some of the precursors to cancer.” Lucy squeezed my hand. I didn’t think I’d live this long. “But there are a number of options. Our facilities aren’t what they used to be, but the government said that you get priority treatment, so we are authorized to do use as much of the hospitals resources as we need to. There are a number of tests, and there are radiation treatments, if it comes to that. On the other hand, the cancer can go into remission for several years, or it can take effect tomorrow. But I believe it’s best if we don’t postpone treatment.” I squeezed Lucy’s hand. “So, how long will that take? Will I be out of here in a few weeks maybe?” The doctor shook his head. “If there are signs of cancer, and if the radiation treatment works, it might take months or maybe years. There’s no way to tell on this one.” I nodded and said, “Well, doc, we’re here on official business, so how about this: give me a couple of nights to think it over, and I’ll get back to you.” A week later, Lucy came to get me. I was starting to feel a little better and was walking down the river walk. It was just like I remembered. There were people and lights and noise; it had been so long since I had seen any of it, I couldn’t help but smile. Lucy was on my arm, with the pastor behind us reading his bible like he always did. It was good to have a man of God around. Tended to make the organization look legitimate. We came to a bridge, and I looked at the directions the girl at the city gate gave us. We turned left and continued walking until we reached a tall building that said, “HYATT” on it. We walked in the river entrance and were greeted by a small, friendly looking girl. She held out a device with a short needle on it, and we all put our hands to it one at a time. There was a sharp prick, and then the girl looked at the device, then she turned to the large gentlemen behind her with AK47s and said, “They’re human.” The gentlemen lowered their weapons. “Welcome to the Hyatt,” she said. “How can we help you?” I took out the piece of paper I was given by the border captain and handed it to her. Then I said what he told me to say. “We’re here for the five-thirty conference meeting on the gas shortage.” She looked at me with quiet respect. “Right this way, sir. I’ll show you to your rooms, and then I’ll have room service deliver the daily special.” I nodded. Lucy said, “Thank you.” We followed the girl up the stairs to the top floor and walked into our rooms, which were bigger than any house that I had ever lived in as a kid. The girl closed the door and walked into the room. “This is the deluxe suite; we have enough water available here for all three of you to take baths, and you can eat three times a day at the dining facility. We have a daily laundry service. We even have up to three hours of electricity reserved for you if you want to watch a movie or television. All the comforts of home.” I smiled. I thought about watching a little TV later, maybe after the conference. “Thank you, ma’am,” I said. She looked at her shoes for a second, then looked back at me. “You guys were at the New York exodus, right?” We all nodded. She continued, “Well, my brother was there. He got out, because of you and your people. Thank you.” She gave me a look that said she would love to thank me in a more personal fashion, and then she left. I blushed, because sometimes you can’t help it. Lucy laughed. “You’re lucky I’m not the jealous type, ex-husband.” I turned to her and held her hand. “Cause you’re way hotter. Plus, you know how to use high-level explosives. Remember Grand Rapids?” I asked. She smiled. “Yeah, I remember the big boom.” I smiled and said, “Big boom.” And then I kissed her. The pastor behind us rolled his eyes. “You two are fuckin’ weird.” Then he left. I shrugged and looked at the bed. It was a real bed, and it was an honest to god 4-star hotel, and we had a room all to ourselves. I think she had the same idea as me, especially when she pulled the handcuffs out of her bag and pushed me onto the bed. About an hour later, I woke up and found myself still handcuffed to the bed and naked. The pastor walked in, took one look at me, and went back out the door. “Hey baby?” I called. Lucy walked out of the bathroom and said, “Yeah?” As she dried her hair and then put pants on. “You wanna un-handcuff me?” I said. She smiled and got the keys out of her bag and sat on top of me, one leg on either side. “I thought you hated it when I un-handcuffed you?” she asked, fake pouting. I nodded. “Baby, I love the handcuffs. I love the studded collars. I really loved the whips and chains you used to have at your mom’s house when we first got together. But I think we need to get ready for the conference.” She pouted, in that way she used to do when we were teenagers when she was trying to get what she wanted. “Please? We gotta go to work. We can play more later on tonight, ok?” She nodded and unlocked the handcuffs. About an hour later, we met the pastor in the conference room on the fifth floor. He took one look at us. “We’re almost late.” I held up one finger and smiled. “Almost.” I walked into the conference room. There was a table in the far back of the room and a podium at the front. There were seats marked, “Cordwood Party” with two other chairs around it. We sat down, and the room started to fill up. I looked around and saw a few familiar faces from New York, but mostly, it was new people. A man in an army uniform with stars on his chest walked in and stood at the podium. I recognized him immediately. He was in charge of Iraq when I was there. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I, first off, would like to thank you all for coming. I know it wasn’t the safest trip to the border for you folks, and we can all admire that. Secondly, I want to share with you a figure the guys in personnel recovery gave me. One hundred thousand. That’s the low estimate I’ve been given on the number of people that made it into human territory, because of your efforts. You’ve fought the good fight, and you kept the faith. And we can’t be prouder of you,” he said, smiling. I was waiting for that other shoe. “But things have changed. For the past year, there has been a cease-fire of sorts; after we told the aliens that if they were caught in any of the lands we controlled, then we would set off every nuke in the area and make that land useless. And, with that in mind, the aliens have agreed to terms. We won’t completely destroy North and South America, and they will stay out of the territory we control. Which means, for us, we will be south of Oklahoma and west of Louisiana. “Now, here’s where it involves you,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Since this effectively puts an end to the war for the time being, the government of the United States can no longer officially support your actions to the north. There will be no more mass evacuations of people, but I doubt there are that many large groups left. There will no longer be officially supported resistance movements by our government.” I rolled my eyes and raised my hand. “Sir, permission to speak freely?” I asked. I didn’t need to ask it technically, but it was his meeting. Couldn’t hurt to be polite. “Go ahead.” “Sir, I’m really bad at reading between the lines. Could you just tell us the government’s unofficial but real position, and we’ll all promise not to tell anyone you told us.” I looked at him, and he looked back. Then he laughed. “All right. If you want to go up north and cause as much havoc as possible, we will not stop you. In fact, we will encourage you. But you will be on your own. We will no longer send you weapons or supplies. That’s officially. Me, personally, I’m going to see that you people get as much as you can to kill as many as you can. But the bottom line is this: For the moment, the war’s over. You are free to send for your people and come here and start new lives. There are government jobs here for you; mostly training the civilian populations to do the exact same thing you’ve been doing for the past few years. We can promise three meals a day and a place to sleep. Hell, you might even get paid once in a while. You can’t get a better deal than that nowadays. “Or you go back north and stay, and continue to stir up as much trouble as you can with minimal support from us. And, one day, if we do our jobs right, we may be able to retake it all and find you. Maybe. It’s a shitty deal, I know. But it buys us time. And you operating up north would keep them on their toes, make them remember where they are and who they are dealing with,” he said. “Listen, don’t give an answer right this second. Go out on the river walk, have a good time, think it over. Let us know in the morning. Thank you all again for coming.” He got out from behind the podium and left. The room was quiet after that. We all looked around at each other, not sure of what to say. John Greene stood up. “Well, if they want me in a nice, safe job behind the lines, I can’t argue with them too much. Good luck to the rest of you.” He grabbed his coat and left. Many of the others didn’t say anything at all. The idea of an end to the war, at least for a while, was almost too good to pass up. Each had to consider the responsibilities they carried as leaders. The safest route for their people was to go along with the cease-fire and head to Texas as fast as possible. That was an option. Maybe the best option. I looked around. The room was empty, except for Lucy, the reverend, and myself. “What do you want to do, Robbie?”
Year Thirteen Illinois “So, you will keep your word?” he asked, taking a seat in the abandoned Kentucky Fried Chicken. I was still so amazed by the whole situation that I couldn’t do anything but say, “Yes.” He relaxed and said, “Good. Can you please not smoke?” I put the cigarette out and sat down across from him. “I’m sorry; I understand the deal, but why?” I asked. “Well, you’re eventually going to win. I’m sure of that now. You’ll come up with a way to either make the planet uninhabitable or kill us in mass. I told the others that invading your world would be a mistake. But the Father didn’t listen, so what can you do?” I nodded. “Ok…how did you guys do it?” “We split up. I went to Detroit, the Father went to Illinois, and my brothers went to Europe and Asia. After they pacified the other continents and had the rest of the world contained in the Middle East, he came over to America.” “So it’s just us and the Arabs left?” I asked. He nodded. “Holy shit. Pastor, I hope you’re getting this down.” The pastor glanced up from the notepad he was writing on and then continued to scribble as fast as he could. “So, what happens to people after they are taken?” I asked the puppet in front of me. He looked like a kind, old, black man, someone you’d want to talk to and ask for life advice. “Most of the thought processes, what your people refer to as souls, are cast away and deleted. But, a few exceptional ones are added to the Hive Mind. Father says, it is a way to add to the culture that the young ones will create once they reach maturity,” the Puppet said. “So, how long have you been on earth?” I asked. He started counting fingers. “Hmmm…fifty years before the war started? Something like that. I don’t remember exactly.” I shook my head. “Fifty years, huh?” He laughed. “Our first attempt was the hippie radical movement in the sixties. We figured that if we could convince you to drug yourselves into submission than there wouldn’t be much of a war. But, the hippies lost; because I told them we were focusing on the wrong people. We should have gotten the military under our control, then worry about brainless, unwashed masses.” I looked at the Pastor. He was still scribbling. “But, anyway, that was just the first attempt. There were a few others, corporations and such. Our last one was the Islamic Jihadist Movement. They were the most easily convinced, making the hippies look almost intellectual.” “So, you guys just said, fuck it and declared open war?” I asked. He shook his head. “By the time we made the news broadcast in America, we had most of Africa and Asia already. We were working on Europe. We had the luxury of using the people in Asia as mobs to distract the Europeans. The dry, warmer climates in Africa were difficult, but we had the jihadists in such a stir, it didn’t take much to get them to kill each other and then themselves. The hot, wet parts of Asia were unpleasant, but the moisture in the air provided enough to keep us going. “In Europe, we convinced most of the nations to disarm themselves by sheer peaceful sentiment. Except for the British and the Germans. Those two groups always were a little paranoid,” he said, laughing. I kinda liked this guy. “And the sad part about the British and the Germans is that they had a conscience, and they didn’t want the blood of hundreds of thousands of their own people on their hands. Especially the Germans. They were gone by the first year,” he said. “How can I know you’re telling me the truth?” I said, watching a mouse run across the KFC floor. “You gotta give something good.” “All right. I’ll give you my father’s host body. And then, you will leave me alone to live out my time?” he asked. I looked at the Pastor. He nodded at me, and I shrugged. “You have my word,” I said. But then again, I’d say anything to know where the head of the beast was. The puppet across from me leaned in and barely spoke the name in my ear. Son of a bitch. He brought hope and change, all right. Lucy voted for that guy, too. “Really?” I asked. He nodded. “And if we take him out?” “The young ones all die. The host bodies too.” I nodded. “Thanks.” Then I pulled my pistol out and aimed it at his head. “But you said you’d keep your word!” he said, before I put three rounds in him: two in the head and one in the chest. The pastor closed the notepad. “What’s our next move?”
Chapter Nine Oklahoma Year Thirteen “I’ve heard of you, Mr. Cordwood,” he said across the table from me. “Well, I always knew one day, I’d be famous. What all have you heard?” I asked. “That you spent time in a Detroit Correctional Facility for the killing of three of your own species. That you were a soldier in your people’s army before the Peace of the True Understanding came. And that you have conducted continuous terrorist operations ever since the Peace of True Understanding came to this world.” I laughed as the waitress who wore almost nothing brought me a beer. The man across from me didn’t consume liquids. Well, not anything a human would anyway. “Yeah, Detroit was fun. Not as much fun as the last three weeks have been. Were you there in Chicago? When those bombs went off and destroyed half the city? Terrible shame.” He raised one eyebrow. “Shame? You were the one who set them off. You killed your fellow man, how could you be so callus?” “I just thought of it as a going away present to you guys. And, besides, there’s not a human left alive north of the border,” I said. I looked at my beer and saw the faint powder settling in at the bottom. I looked up at him and smiled as I slid my beer to the side. “So why are you here? You wanted to meet me in a neutral location. What do you want?” “We want you to work for us,” he said. “We need a spy on the human side.” “So, you want me to become one of you? I don’t think that’ll work as a spy. They have detection systems at the border now. I’ll be shot and burned at the first wire,” I said. I wasn’t expecting a job offer. I must have been doing more damage than I thought. “No, Mr. Cordwood. You would not go under the transformation and rebirthing process for this. We need an actual human there. Not one of us.” “And what do I get in return?” I asked. I figured they must have had the place surrounded. If I rejected this deal, they were going to take my body, anyway. “I mean, what type of guarantee do I get that you won’t stick one of your squid things down my throat?” “Oh, Mr. Cordwood, the guarantee wouldn’t be for you. It would be for Lucy.” “Who’s that?” I asked. He looked at me, an amused look on his face. “Don’t play that game. We know she’s your ex-wife. The deal is that in exchange for your services, we agree to stop looking for her. She gets to pick a spot out in the middle of nowhere and grow old and die. By herself. She is not allowed to procreate; she is not allowed any connections with you or what’s left of your race. She must become a non-entity. And you will become one of us when your services are no longer needed. That is the deal.” “That’s a shitty deal.” I said, laughing. Guess they didn’t know she was already pregnant. Then I tried to change tactic. “Hey, are you the Father?” “Excuse me?” “Are you the guy in charge? I told that little dude I talked to that set this up that I’d only deal with the Father. Are you the Father?” I asked. I coughed hard and looked into my hand. There was just enough blood to confirm what that doctor in San Antonio told me. “…Yes. I am the leader of my people.” “You control all of your people? On the whole planet?” I asked. “Yes. I control the people on this world. I am the Father.” I nodded. I looked around in the bar. It was filling up fast with different types of people. But they all had the same blank stare on their face that the man in front of me wore. And, here, I was hoping to see Lucy one more time. “You should take our deal, Mr. Cordwood. You owe your race nothing. You killed three of your own people. You obviously want nothing to do with them. And they wanted to lock you away for the rest of your life. They don’t think enough of you to let you be around them. Why support them the way you do? Why do you risk your life for them? It makes sense to become one of us. You wouldn’t have to worry about anything, Mr. Cordwood. We wouldn’t judge you for your past crimes. All of the murders would be forgiven,” he said. “I wouldn’t go to hell, because I would live forever in the Hive Mind? Is that what you’re saying? Your God would forgive my sins?” I asked with tears in my eyes and my lip quivering. I slowly took my left foot and pressed down on the bag by my feet. The thing that looked like a man across from me smiled. “Yes. I am the god of my people, and all of your sins would be forgiven by me, personally. You would not go to hell. In fact, some would say the peace you get from the Hive is almost like heaven. And, you wouldn’t have to worry about Lucy. All of her needs would be taken care of. She would be safe.” The man across the table from me cocked his head to the left. “So, Mr. Cordwood, what do you want to do?” I laughed. “You know, I get that question a lot. People always ask me what I want to do, but it’s never what I really want. It’s what I think is best for the group, of course. But me, personally, I don’t think I’ve made a decision for myself in seventeen years.” The thing that looked like a man across from me smiled. “What would you like to do for yourself?” “You know, I always loved to write when I was a kid. I could have been pretty good at it, if you guys hadn’t come.” He nodded. “Well, we actually do have literature of a sort in the Hive. We can create new legends, in a way. It’s hard to explain, but you will be able to create new stories and document others in the Hive.” I smiled, more excited than I had ever been. Don’t oversell it. “What type of stories?” I asked. I felt the vibrations from the bomb by my feet growing stronger. Any second now. She should be across the border with the pastor. I love you, Lucy. Our Father, who art in heaven, hollowed be thy name… The End.
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