Daylight crept into the football stadium. Jess woke when a beam of light hit her in the eye. Her chest was cold; she realized that Scruffy must have slipped out of their sleeping bag earlier. She sat up and looked over at Ma-ne-ah’s sleeping bag, he wasn’t in it either. Her t-shirt was a bit wet, one downside to sleeping with a fuzzy bed warmer. In a couple of minutes she managed to get a clean shirt out of her backpack, this one had the words, “Capital High” emblazoned on the front of it.
Jess couldn’t see her two alien companions so she closed her eyes and focused. Her consciousness expanded out leaving the realm of physical senses. Her mind radiated the telepathic waves that she had been taught how to harness at an early age. She couldn’t really explain how she did it, seeking came instinctively.
She found them near the end of the field kicking the oddly shaped ball at the big yellow fork. She finished getting dressed inside the sleeping bag, an always fun proposition, but she really didn’t want Ma-ne-ah to get any more ammo for his… boy thoughts.
She wandered over to where they were playing. “What are you boys doing?”
“Oh good morning Jess.”
“Sun warm, spirit.” The Furball said as he clutched one of the leather balls.
“Thanks scruffy.” She turned to Manny, “So what’s for breakfast?”
He kicked another ball toward the post, it fell short. “Well we’ve got a lot of rice and beans, some flatbread, and jerky.”
“Mmm sounds delicious.” She said flatly. “Can’t we find anything in here?”
“Twenty six year old meat sausage things? Mmm fresh off the grill.”
“Hunt meats?” Scruffy suggested.
“Yeah, there are probably plenty of animals we can hunt around here.” The Thii-Ru man said as he kicked another ball. It sailed through the air and bounced off the pole. “Da-nah-ja!”
“Manny! There’s no need to swear.”
The trio cooked rice and beans on a small alcohol stove. Eating the tasteless mush made Jessica hunger for fresh meat again. Her mother had talked about such good food before the event, spices and sauces that they could only dream about. Jess chalked it up as yet one more reason to hate the Masters. When the gardens were lush and green they would have spicy jalapenos, tomatoes, and watermelons.
The trio got back on the bikes and hit the highway to the next town. Jess noticed a sign that read, “Welcome to Washington.”
Jess didn’t really understand why there were so many states with different laws. Growing up she was taught a fair amount about the history of the United States. But subdividing the country never really made much sense to her. One day she asked grandpa Marty about it and he said it was a good thing that they weren’t lumped together with California. She pressed him further, and he complained about laws restricting firearms. She asked why anyone would want to keep people from owning such important tools for survival. He had explained that the world had been full of evil people who wanted nothing else but to control and enslave others. That’s why the New Jamestown charter had been written to safeguard the freedoms of his children and grandchildren.
“Jess, we’re coming up on the town slow down.” Ma-ne-ah said through their open link.
“Umm, right.” She said as she eased up on the accelerator.
They noticed more signs of the scavenge crews, any place that looked like it could hold anything useful or interesting had the codes spray painted on the walls. It became a game to decipher the meanings. Some of the codes told the follow up scavenge crews to move on. Others said there were still resources to be had inside. A few places had the codes sprayed out and new ones put in their places.
Grandpa Marty and his crews had been busy, every building they rode past that wasn’t obviously gutted by fire or collapsed had some sort of code on it. A couple of deer were spooked by their diesel engines and fled across the road. If there were deer, that meant there would probably be something that preyed upon them.
“Scruffy, are you feeling anything hostile out there?”
He shrugged mentally, “Dogs, cats, deer… murcielagos!”
Scruffy looked up from his perch on the tank bag, his eyes wide with fear.
Jess wrenched on the throttle, the engine roaring to life. “Ma-ne-ah Bat Men!”
The Thii-Ru man looked up from his handlebars. Spotting a small flock of the vicious alien creatures. He gunned his bike and followed Jess. “We need to get off the road! We’re sitting Rhinos out here!”
Over the din of the rolling tires and the piston engine he could hear the blood curdling scream of their pursuers. Something scratched the top of his helmet and he tucked down closer to the bike as he willed it to go faster. Why they hadn’t painted them red he had no idea. Red vehicles always went faster.
“Manny! Up ahead! Building on the left!” Jess yelled with her mind.
They ripped through the parking lot, and made it to the back entrance. Thankfully it had a wheelchair ramp and glass double doors. Jess rammed her bike through the fancy glass door and it shattered into a cloud of glass cubes. She hit the brakes and dumped the bike through the rope barriers. In seconds she had her SKS rifle out, as Manny plowed through the opening. His front tire struck the side of her downed bike and he fell nearly killing her.
One of their pursuers hesitated at the opening, its wings beating furiously to keep the three foot tall beast aloft. Jess flicked the safety down and jerked the trigger. Her shot went wide punching a neat hole in the flapping beasts wing membrane. She adjusted her aim and squeezed a pair of rounds off. The flying nightmare collapsed in a heap.
Scruffy had his little .22 caliber handgun out and began firing through the windows at the mob swarming to get inside the bank.
Ma-ne-ah’s fired his .44 magnum dropping two of the screeching fiends. The Murcialagos seemed surprised at the gunshots. The surviving fiends scattered out of the kill zone, and were gone before any more shots could be fired.
Once they were sure the immediate danger was over Jess leaned up against a dusty counter. “What is this place?” She asked.
Ma-ne-ah was still feeling the effects of adrenaline pumping through his body. He reloaded his .44 from a speed loader and holstered it. “I’m not sure. But I don’t think we should go outside just yet, so we might as well check it out.”
They made their way toward a counter with a sign that read, “Next teller please.”
“Ma-ne-ah, what do you think a teller is?” Jess asked, “Storyteller?”
The alien man coughed, “I don’t know this place looks too stiff to be a place of entertainment.”
In a few minutes they got behind the counter. Ma-ne-ah found an open drawer, inside were stacks of bills. He pulled a few out and examined them. “Old money, and lots of it.”
They had been taught about pre event money in school. New Jamestown didn’t really use any kind of money. They had used a ration system in the early years, but after things stabilized and the community grew a bit larger trade and barter were used. Ammunition being small and easily traded became one of the main barter staples.
Jess took a bundle of twenty dollar bills and stuffed them in a pocket. “It might make good toilet paper.”
Scruffy scampered across the counter tops leaving footprints in the dust. He headed over to an open massive steel door and disappeared inside, his flashlight spilling out the doorway.
“Come Jess, Ma-ne-ah.” He said from inside the vault.
The room was lined with metal boxes; one was open sticking out from the walls. Jess shined her light inside, it was full of papers. “Why would someone stick paper in a steel box?”
“I don’t know. So many things your people used to do before the event were so du-nee-ah.”
“Yes I know, but what…” She stopped as she tossed birth certificates on the floor. “What’s this?” Jess asked as she pulled out a padded purple box.
“Open it and let’s see?”
Inside the box was an ornate silver necklace inlaid with diamonds. It was a little tarnished but still relatively shiny. “Wow it’s beautiful, I wonder who wore it?”
Manny stooped down and picked up a birth certificate. “I’d say it was probably Dawn Louise Franklin. Born in… 1963. So she’d be what, over seventy years old today?”
“Yes but not even fifty on event day.” Jessica took the necklace out of the velvety box and paused. “Ma-ne-ah do you think we should… you know.”
“I don’t know… I just feel weird stealing from the dead.”
Scruffy sitting on a step stool offered, “Dead no care… things.”
Jess sighed, “I know they can’t take their things with them when they die, but we really only have been scavenging things to keep alive; food, gear, weapons, those sorts of things. I don’t need this to survive.”
Ma-ne-ah put a hand on hers, “Why don’t you try it on for just a moment?”
Jess thought about it, she could tell Manny really wanted to see what she looked like wearing the jewels. “Alright, but just for a bit.” She untied the bandanna she had been wearing and stuffed it into a pocket, she slipped the cold metal against her skin and tried to clip the hasp behind her neck but found she couldn’t quite figure it out.
Ma-ne-ah slipped behind her and clipped the necklace together. The silver hung from her neck and tried to find its way inside her cleavage. It felt odd wearing such a large metal thing around her neck. Mom always wore grandpa’s old locket but it was tiny in comparison.
“Turn around, let me see.” He said.
Jess turned and could tell he liked what he saw. “I… I can’t wear something like this it’s too flashy and impractical.”
Ma-ne-ah smiled, “I think that’s the point. It’s not meant to be practical, just beautiful.”
Jess blushed as she took off the necklace and put it back in the box. “No I don’t.” She said.
“No you don’t what?” He asked.
“I don’t look beautiful.”
Then it hit him, he hadn’t said it but he had thought it. “Umm, I… yes you do.”
Jessica didn’t like where this was going, “Hey we better get moving.”
Scruffy hopped up on the young woman’s shoulder, “Beauty Jess, for human.”
She rubbed his head with her knuckles, “Coming from a little ball of fluff that means a lot.”
Jessica examined the dead bat men. They looked vaguely humanoid but their fur; pug nosed snouts and leathery wings made them look oddly alien. She wondered how intelligent they were, they acted more like animals than men. Grandpa had told her about the time they had attacked their helicopter, and the bats sometimes made incursions in the sky above New Jamestown, but she hadn’t ever seen one up close before.
Ma-ne-ah plugged his nose. “That’s gross little buddy. I thought they stunk when they were alive. Those things have got to be full of diseases.”
As they began picking up their bikes Scruffy felt something off in the distance that made him pause. He scrambled up on top of a managers desk and looked out the filthy cracked windows. Dark clouds were coming in fast. In minutes heavy rain was falling.
“I don’t want to ride out in that.” Jess said.
“Fur wet, evil.”
Ma-ne-ah laughed, “The smell it makes is evil too.”
Scruffy clicked his teeth together and shook his tail.
“Boys cut it out.” Jess said as she shook her head. “Do you think they know we’re gone yet?”
Manny shrugged, “If they don’t they should by nightfall.”
“Do you think they’re going to kill us when they find out?”
“I’m worried about your mom she might get mad enough to turn me into a vegetable.”
Ma-ne-ah sighed, “Your mothers and your telepathic abilities always scared me when we were growing up.”
Jess cracked a mischievous little smile. “Oh I know. Remember that time when she caught you with your fingers in the apple pie?”
“How could I forget, I had nightmares about that for weeks afterward. I thought it was going to come to blows between our moms.”
“You pissed your pants.”
“Hey I was only seven years old.”
“Whatever. I thought she was going to turn my brain inside out.”
Jess chuckled, “Well she did apologize for that.”
“Just because my mother forced her to, She threatened to take it to the council.”
“Hey she really did feel bad about overreacting. But you had to admit you never tried stealing pies again.”
“True, but I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
Scruffy wandered around the bank, he was getting bored listening to his companions petty thoughts. Above the noise of the rain Scruffy heard a machine noise. It took him a moment to find the source and bring it into focus. He ran outside past the motorcycles and dead bat fiend bodies and looked up in the sky.
“Scruffy, what is it?” Jess asked.
The little furry alien pointed up in the sky, “Flying machine.”
“What?” They both asked as they scrambled to the shattered doorway.
In the sky heading toward the town’s airport was a light twin engine plane.
Jess wiped a lock of golden hair out of her eyes, “I don’t think we’re alone anymore.”