How could Jessica have done this to her? Why had she up and disappeared without even leaving a note or anything! Sarah was furious, she just knew her girl was going to get herself killed, even if she had Ma-ne-ah and her Furball with her there were just too many dangers. The world had become a very unforgiving place since the event. She looked at a picture of Marty, herself and Furball standing in front of the entrance to Cheyenne Mountain. Had she really been that young? The picture had been taken during the first year when she was only twelve years old. Furball clung to her shoulder his ears perked up, eyes bright. How many more years would she have with her beloved companion? His fur was steadily turning silvery gray and thinning in spots.
“Dad, what am I going to do with her?” She asked the photograph. Unfortunately he wasn’t around to give her advice anymore.
Furball was asleep in the next room; she could feel wisps of his dreams as he snored.
Sam came in the room and put a hand on her shoulder, he was worried about his daughter too, and said “Nobody’s seen them.”
Sarah sighed, “I don’t think she’d be that careless. You know she figured out a couple of years ago how to mask other people’s memories. I just don’t know how I missed it. She obviously had been planning this ‘little adventure’ for a while now.”
Sam sat down in a chair next to her and held her hands in his. “We’re going to find them, I promise you.” He smiled, and the scars on his face wrinkled.
Sarah never would completely forgive herself for that day when they ran into a pack of Fast Claws. He should have died that day. She pulled him in close resting her head on his shoulder, “I know… but I just hope we don’t find her dead or worse pregnant.”
Sam rubbed a hand through his beard, “Oh… I hadn’t thought about that possibility. But… can humans and Thii-Ru mate?”
She shrugged, “I don’t know. So far each species has kept to themselves. I don’t even know if it’s genetically possible.”
He kissed his wife’s cheek. “So do you have a plan to find them?”
“Well they took two motorcycles, so they probably are sticking to the cleared roads. My guess is they’re headed to Spokane, Kennewick or Boise.”
“I don’t know but didn’t our girl talk about wanting to see the ocean?”
Sarah nodded, “Well let’s get someone to watch the kids, and see if Amaya can break out the Cessna.”
Sam nodded, “I already called and left a message with her husband.”
Someone knocked at the door. It was their neighbors, Ra-ha-ma, and Ma-na-han, Manny’s parents.
Ra-ha-ma looked pale; her skin was more green than usual. “We come to say sorry.” She said in her stiff English.
Sarah squinted, “Sorry why?”
“Our son, stole your daughter and…”
“Nonsense Jessica went willingly. I’d even bet she convinced him into going.”
There was another knock at the door, Sarah looked up. James Jr, and her younger brother Luke were at the door, armed and ready for an expedition. Sarah thought both James and Luke’s resemblance to both of their late fathers was uncanny.
“What are you two doing here?”
Luke spoke up, “Sis, we’re here to help find your daughter.”
“News travels fast around here.”
“You know what they say, small village…”
“Big hell. I know.”
James sighed, “I was the one who let them out the front gate. I was on duty…”
“Trust me; you didn’t let her do anything. She’s already a more powerful psi-mage than I’ll ever be. She could have left you a vegetable if she wanted to.”
Ra-ha-ma volunteered to stay behind and take care of the rest of the children, Marty Junior, Ja-se-ma, and little William. She wasn’t a fan of leaving Jamestown, plus she also was the only person in the settlement who really knew how the shield generators worked.
The phone rang. Sam picked it up, “Hello?”
“We can be wheels up in an hour.” Amaya said.
“Great, we’ll meet you on the runway.”
The rain had abated and the odd trio headed out toward the airport. They left the motorcycles in the bank and headed out on foot. Manny insisted on it. The plane wasn’t in the New Jamestown inventory so it could be Masters, humans, or Thii-Ru who might not be friendly. They traveled light, rifles, side arms and small packs loaded with minimal supplies.
“Jess hurry up.” Ma-ne-ah said as he waited for her to adjust her shoulder bag.
“I’m trying, keep your ta-ne-pa on.” She said as she adjusted the strap on her bag that carried her ammo.
Scruffy disappeared amid the tall grasses as he scouted ahead using his nose and ESP to his advantage.
They continued toward the airport walking down the vacant city roads passing by The Washington State University campus. Occasionally they would pass scavenge team markings on buildings that looked promising. It was eerie to be walking through the deserted town, riding on the motorcycles everything passed quickly. Where walking one could examine the empty buildings and see the tall grass and trees choking the man-made structures. Everywhere there were reminders of what the Masters had done to the world. Bicycles lay abandoned on the paths, rusting cars parked to never be started again in front of buildings the air had long since leaked out of the tires.
Twenty minutes later they arrived near the airport. Ma-ne-ah pulled out a pair of binoculars and scanned the hangars, as he lay in the brush, “There she is a twin engine airplane that isn’t rusting. But I don’t see anyone near it.”
Jess looked up and saw a few seagulls flying around nearby. “Hold on a minute.” Scruffy already knew what she wanted to do. In moments he placed his paws on her head and they linked. They focused in on one nearby seagull and they were flying.
Jess never could get used to the transition from her body to that of a host but the nausea usually wore off after a few moments. She glided across the air currents in the body of her feathered host. In moments they were on the tarmac near the parked airplane.
“What do you see?” The Thii-Ru man asked.
Jess felt annoyed, “Hold on a minute will ya?”
Her arms felt strange with feathers instead of fingers. She took her borrowed body to the air again and searched for the passengers of the plane. A few minutes and a couple hundred feet up she found them. “Manny, I’ve found them. Three humans they just came out of an airport building. All male, heavily armed. I’m going down for a closer look.” A few moments later she said, “This young one looks kinda cute.”
Ma-ne-ah shook his head, “Where are they?”
“Heading back toward the plane. You should be able to see them in a few moments.” She took a sharp breath.
“What is it?”
“Fast Claws, approaching… fast from the north. They’re hiding in the tall grasses. We’ve got to warn them?”
“How do we do that without getting shot?”
“I’m working on it.”
David was excited to be on his first exploration mission. Being a second generation Ohioan he hadn’t ever left their settlement before. The old salty men he was working with kept treating him like a newbie but he was determined to prove himself.
The airport was interesting but he really wanted to visit the abandoned stores and houses but that would have to wait. They were scouting for the later teams that would come in trucks. He adjusted his Galil rifle as he looked for threats out across the airfield. A seagull caught his eye flying low nearby. He watched it for a moment then turned back to see where his two companions were, they were still busy fiddling with the plane.
Wings flapped and he turned to see the seagull standing only a few feet away from him on the tarmac. It wasn’t afraid of him, odd. He waved his arm to shoo it away but it just stared at him.
“Shoo bird, get outta here.” It didn’t move.
He was about to go back to the plane when it spoke, “You’re in danger.”
“What? Who said that?” He asked.
“I did.” The gull said as it shook its wings.
“No, no you didn’t birds don’t talk.”
The seagull rubbed its head with its wing. “Look David I don’t have time to explain, I’m getting a bad headache. Have you and your men run into Fast Claws before?”
“Fast Claws? Are you talking about those hairy vicious alien… wait why am I talking to a bird? And how do you know my name?”
“Yes those vicious alien beasts that will rip you and your men to shreds. And you aren’t talking to a bird; I’ll explain everything later if you live.”
“If I live? What?”
Jess flapped the Seagulls wings. “You’ve got about twenty seconds before those things show up and eat you and your team. Look to the north.” She flew the bird toward where the Fast Claws were coming, as she hoped he watched the bird go just as the first monster broke through the vegetation.
“Max! We’ve got Grendels!” He yelled to his team lead.
Jess disengaged her mind from the seagull and returned to her body, she felt sick, her head was pounding and drops of sweat rolled off her forehead. Scruffy complained that they had remoted the bird for so long.
Then the shooting started. Caught out in the open the Fast Claws had the advantage on the men. Their Beechcraft plane offered little refuge, they had no choice but to stand and fight. The men fired automatic weapons struggling to keep the monsters at bay undeterred they charged.
“Manny shoot!” Jess yelled.
He aimed his scoped PSL rifle at one of the Claws trying to flank the men. Two shots flew down range, the heavy soviet rounds found their mark crippling the creature. Jess flicked the safety off her SKS carbine as she climbed off the ground and ran out onto the airstrip.
Ma-ne-ah swore in his native tongue. He aimed at another running beast but his shots went wide. Jess covered half the distance to the airplane when the men saw her. One of the gray haired men pointed his rifle at her and she saw the muzzle flash. It took her a moment to realize he was shooting at her. She hit the pavement weeds growing up through the cracks struck her cheek drawing blood. She looked up as a Claw pounced on the shooter. He screamed and blood sprayed as the beasts massive toe claw slit his throat. Her SKS barked as she fired at the monster, it staggered away bleeding.
David put a second fresh magazine into his Galil and looked for something to shoot but the Grendles were gone. He scanned the area when he saw gurgling blood sputter out of his leaders throat.
“Max no!” David pulled a wad of cut bed sheet out of a pocket of his vest and knelt pressing the makeshift bandage on the deep wound. With each heartbeat more of his precious blood shot out of his carotid artery.
Jess approached and the other man pointed his rifle at her.
“Don’t shoot!” She replied as her rifle fell on its sling.
“Slowly remove the rifle and set it down!” The man with streaks of grey under his ball cap ordered.
Jess complied and the wooden stock clattered as it landed on the ground.
“I’ve got a good shot on him.” Ma-ne-ah messaged to her.
“I have a sniper on you. Shoot me and your head will explode.” She said with more trembling in her voice than she would have liked.
“Bullshit!” The older man yelled, “You’re bluffing.”
“Carlos what do I do? Max is dying!” The younger man yelled at his companion. The bandage was soaked through with blood. David pressed as hard as he could on the wound without crushing his throat. They dying man’s mouth moved but no sound came from his pale lips.
Jess pushed out her thoughts to him feeling for his last words. “David, I love you. Be strong. I… I’m sorry I won’t be…” His thoughts faded and moments later his body became an empty shell. His sightless eyes stared up at the gray sky.
Tears filled the younger man’s eyes. Max had practically been a father to him since his had died when he was a child. Eventually he regained enough composure to ask, “Who? Who are you?”
Jess took a breath trying to calm down. “I’m Jess, from New Jamestown.”
“New Jamestown where’s that? Never mind, why did you try and kill us?”
“Those things… the Grendles you set them upon us.”
“Then why would I try and warn you?” She sent with an image of the seagull to his mind.
“What are you?”
Jess sighed, “I’m what we call a Psi mage.”
“A Psi what?”
Carlos still covering her with his AR spoke to his companion like she wasn’t even there. “It doesn’t matter what she is first and foremost she’s a female.”
David shifted his bloody fingers on his rifle, “What do we do with her then? What about the directive?”
The older man coughed. “The directive always applies.”
“What directive?” Jess asked.
David spoke to her, “GHP, or Generational Human Propagation.”
Jess took a step back when she felt what these men called GHP away from polite company, “Get Her Pregnant? What the hell?”
Carlos stepped toward her, “Sorry darlin’ but you’ll have to come with us to the Ohio.”
She took another step back. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Yes you will.”
“Are you going to do shoot me? If ovaries are that important to you guys you won’t risk damaging mine.”
She focused on Ma-ne-ah lying in the weeds, “Manny? I could use some help here.”
“Hold on I don’t have a clear shot.”
Furball was furious, “Kill men!”
“The survival of the human race is more important than the desires of any one individual.” Carlos said as he approached.
“Sounds a lot like tyranny to me.” Her Browning Hi-Power was still underneath her jacket. They couldn’t know it was there.
“We can do this the easy way or the…”
“I’ll take the hard way.” She said as she pulled out this pistol her thumb sweeping the safety off. “Now back off! I’m not going anywhere with you Ohio boys!”
“Put the pistol down!” Carlos demanded as he aimed down the sights of his AR.
“Not a chance you Ju-te-me!” She replied, “Manny take him out!”
“Keep moving back see if you can get him out from behind the plane.”
She took a step back the two men moved forward again, in a deadly dance, where one slip of the trigger finger could mean death. Even minor wounds could kill since there were no hospitals, surgeons, or antibiotics.
“Flee!” Scruffy yelled as he appeared on top of the airplane. He fired his little .22 pistol jerking the trigger sending wild shots into the tarmac. The two men scrambled away from his fire.
“What the hell is that thing?” David yelled as he swung his rifle up and fired at the furry creature.
Scruffy dropped the empty pistol, and drew his bowie knife. He leapt from the plane landing on Carlos. He tried to thrust his knife through the man’s chest but got hung up the thick nylon webbing. Jess couldn’t get a clear shot Scruffy on the man’s chest.
The former Navy man batted Scruffy to the ground and planted a boot on his little body. He squealed helplessly as the thick rubber sole pinned him down.
“Drop the gun!” David yelled as he pointed his rifle at the back of Jessica’s head.
Carlos scowled, “Drop it or I’ll turn your little friends brains inside out.”
Jess sighed and lowered her weapon letting it hit the runway. “Let him go and I’ll come with you willingly.”
“That ship has sailed young Miss. We’re going to take you both.”
“I don’t have a clear shot, but I might be able to wing the one holding scruffy in the leg.”
“Do it.” A split second later a shot hit the ground inches from the Hispanic man’s leg sending fragments of pavement into his calf. Scruffy managed to get out from under the boot and scamper away.
David grabbed Jess and shoved the muzzle of his rifle into her back. “Tell your sniper to stop or I’ll shoot.”
Jess trembled with fear, “Done.”
Carlos crouched behind the landing gear and called out. “Sniper! We’re taking your lady friend, if you fire upon our airplane we’ll return her to you from two thousand feet. Comprende?”
Jess spoke for him, “He does.”
“Good now get your ass on the plane.”
In minutes they were airborne. Jessica’s spirit sank as she felt her furry companions thoughts fade away in the distance. She closed her eyes and tried to block out the dead body lying on the floor of the plane behind her.
“Find you, kill men. Scruffy promise.” Was the last thing she could feel him say. She just hoped that he could somehow deliver on his promise.