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Authors: Edward W Robertson

Breakers (26 page)

BOOK: Breakers
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"Some of the plants are still coming in," he said. "I think we would have been by next spring, summer. There'd be more than enough preserves to see us through then."

"Why in hell would you want to run off and join the army when you got a house and a garden above the sea?"

"Why are you so quick to run off after one setback?"

She gave him a hard-eyed gaze that looked for a second like it would lead to punching. That look burned off, replaced by a flicker of humorless laughter. "It wasn't the first." Her tone was worn-out, resigned. "You think anyone got off that beach? Besides me?"

He shook his head. "I don't know."

"Anyone who ran got hunted down. They always are. Only thing for us to do is melt into the wilderness and hope they'll let us live in peace."

"Well, no matter what Axl Rose says, this isn't exactly the wilderness. We have to go."

Absently, Sarah stroked her upper arms. "That's too bad. You built something special here."

"It only took a few months of work. We can do the same somewhere else."

She gave him a long look, heavy with an emotional calculus he couldn't integrate. "You could, couldn't you."

While Sarah slept that night, Raymond combed the neighborhood until he found a third bicycle. He didn't see any sign of people or aliens during the hour he was out. On the way back, he heard the whine of a jet engine, but it was far off, obscured by the dark and the mist.

He woke to the sound of screaming. Sarah lay in bed, pale and sweating, the muscles of her arms and legs as tight as piano strings. He checked her wound. It had scabbed about an inch below her surrounding skin, but it looked no worse from when he'd helped change her bandage a few days earlier. Raymond gestured Mia out of the room.

"I think she's infected."

"Her skin doesn't look red."

"It could be something internal. Or in her bones. I don't know, I'm not a doctor-man."

Mia swept stringy hair from her face. She'd kept up combing it, but they'd had to ration their water more strictly since Sarah's arrival, and she hadn't bathed in days. "We've only got so much medicine."

"We've got boxes of it."

"Enough to last another forty years?"

He set his mouth. "If we don't give her anything and she dies, you get to haul her corpse out of here by yourself."

"Jesus." Mia laughed, startling him, "Did you ever think we'd be having a discussion like this? Threatening each other with dead bodies? What happened?"

"I don't know." He laughed with her in a way that felt very strange. They gave Sarah an antibiotic twice a day, parceled out painkillers. At night she staggered to the latrine and Raymond helped her back to bed. Mia set up three packs with food, water, meds, lighters, knives, extra socks and shoes, a knife and fork and spoon, lightweight blankets. She packed the pockets of three coats with extra gear—needles and thread, boxes of ammo, a small wrench set and spare nuts and bolts for the bikes, some string and wire and flashlights and matches.

Not that Sarah was in any shape to ride if something happened. Without speaking, he and Mia had agreed on that much. They hadn't again broached the topic of what they'd do if they had to leave and she couldn't. No use risking a fight over something that might never happen.

He began to hope that decision would stay hypothetical as Sarah's health picked back up. Over the next couple weeks, she was walking on her own, if weakly, and coming out to sit beneath the deck to watch them work the yard or to smile down on the dark waves. He asked her about the BRR on a few occasions, including where exactly they were located, but she brushed him off each time.

"I think you're nice people," she said over the ruffle of surf. "Fact, I know you are. Most: people would have left me by that beach to learn who's better at scooping up dead meat: outer-space aliens or California sea gulls. You wouldn't give the BRR up to the invaders. Not like most."

Raymond sipped his water. "Then what's the problem?"

"You're good people. I can't help good people sign up to get slaughtered."

"Don't you think that should be our decision?"

She gave him another one of her long gazes, full lips parted, eyes flickering with a strange mercy quickly quashed. "Me and my boyfriend went into the movement together. Adam. Looked a little like you but more muscle. He'd been in the army—Iraq. 18 months. We lived in Bakersfield, which fell apart as fast as anywhere else. Didn't matter with Adam. He got us out before the worst hit and found us a farm by the hills. It's pretty dry there. I didn't see how we'd last any longer than it took the apples to rot off the trees.

"I think he could have done it. He'd done some stuff in Iraq, which is hardly any wetter—digging wells, outhouses, all the things you have to do to make living in a shithole a little less shitty. Anyway, it was just the two of us. You don't need a ton of good land to feed two people.

"We saw the ships a few months later. Don't know what they were doing way out in BFE. Checking out the old oil fields, maybe. They sure spent a lot of time poking around the derricks. Their mistake. Third time they came by the same field, Adam was waiting for them. Mowed them all down with an M-16, then dynamited their ship. When another one flew in to see what had got the first, he and his buddy Chris took
out, too.

"Long story short, he talks me into joining this resistance group he's heard about on his ham, and the two of us and Chris drive off to this lake outside LA to find this group of ex-Marines and navy and so forth. At first it's mostly scouting the aliens out, intel, and we can't believe the things we're seeing—groups of people rounded up and executed in the streets, others hauled off in these makeshift handcuffs for God knows what. Once we get a read on their movements, we start hitting 'em. Taking down their scouts. Adam booby-trapped their patrol routes with IEDs. Took out more than a few. Learned a few things, too. They look an awful lot alike, you know. Not just because they're fucked-up aliens. Their height, their features, their claws—hardly any difference from one to the other. Like they're clones, or hive-born.

"Then they started to crack down. Kicked our asses whenever we tried to penetrate the city. Somebody in charge gets a brilliant idea for an amphibious smash-and-grab down in Redondo. Me and Adam were on the same boat along with the rest of our platoon. Had an engine, but we paddled in to come in under the radar, so to speak. We got the salt-spray coming in with every splash and the waves weren't big but you feel every inch in your stomach. Whole place is dark. The breakers start to push us in hard and the next thing you know we're grinding sand. We jump out into the surf and rush up to the rally point at a lifeguard station.

"Only Adam doesn't make it. This blue bolt just cuts him down right above the tideline. His head, it makes this popping noise, and my face is stinging and hot and I'm standing there wearing his brains, his skull. I'm screaming. Everything's going to shit—lasers, bullets, shouting, aliens up on the ridge just wasting everybody. I don't even remember what next. Then I'm running up the ramp, I'm up on the sidewalk, and one of those blue flashes lights me up, too."

She'd been gazing out to sea, to the constant wash of waves over sand. She turned to him now, fixing him with fever-bright blue eyes.

"If Adam couldn't make it, if he just dies there like he was nothing at all, what shot would

"Not much, probably." He didn't know what else could be said. They sat in silence until she started shivering. He helped her inside.

Maybe her infection broke. Maybe lifting Adam's weight from her shoulders made each step a little lighter. Whatever the case, within days Sarah was up and about on her own, if visibly thinner and paler. Raymond fed her more spinach with her salads, slaughtered one of the chickens and left the fat on when he cooked it. She began to smile, to help them weed the garden at night, sprinkling water on the peppers and lettuce and herbs, sweeping out the ground floor and the back porch without asking.

She looked good. On the mend. Strong enough to walk, if not to ride a bike for more than a few blocks.

Just when Raymond thought he might be able to talk her into leaving with them—to Colorado, if not the BRR forces—the aliens came to the base of the hills, spraying long plumes of fire from their racketing, hemispherical tanks. The world erupted in heat and flame.



He wanted to kill them.

Cold, cruel vengeance. To kill every living thing in that alien city growing from Earth soil. Walt imagined wrenching their tough-skinned limbs right from their sockets and snapping them over his knee. Stabbing their bulbous squid-eyes. Slashing open their bodies and watching their knotty guts and mucosal blood soak into the desert floor.

Not very wise, attacking a camp of hundreds by himself, armed only with a pistol and a couple of knives. Not very wise at all. But he wanted it so bad it felt as if he'd already done it. He spun through the possibilities—rush in, shoot as many as he could, steal a ship, blast off—but he wouldn't know how to fly it, would he, and they would just track him down and destroy him. Sneak in under cover of darkness instead, knife them in their beds (did they have beds?), skulk away. That one was at least plausible. He had the idea their eyes, for all their size, weren't so good. Before killing it, he'd crouched immediately below the one he'd fought in the stream, and it hadn't seen him until he moved.

Still, risking his life to kill a handful of aliens hardly seemed worth it. The blue cones in the distance could house at least a couple hundred of them, and with no sign of their scout ships, let alone the mothership or invasion fleet that must have carried them here, he had to guess Earth now housed several thousand of the creatures at the very least. Not worth it. If he still had the itch to stomp some aliens after he made it to LA, he had the feeling they'd be around.

He rose to a low crouch, meaning to slink along the brush and weeds until he'd cleared line of sight, when a large, dust-spewing version of the hemispherical vehicles trundled to the edge of the buildings, parked a short ways from a tall, spindly cone-tower, and disgorged 25-odd naked humans into the sunlight.

Walt sunk back down behind a prickly brown bush. He watched as, in what he took to be the universal sign of oppression, three aliens with rods or guns of some sort herded the people into a simple pen—he couldn't see the wires, and for all he knew the creatures used force fields to fence off their livestock, but it was a rectangle set off by a series of twenty-foot poles, anyway, and the captives stayed inside even when two of the aliens disappeared into the nearby cone-tower.

The humans milled about, some cupping their hands over their genitals, others not bothering. A couple of people tried to talk, but from what Walt could see, nobody was much interested in chatting.

The first person to sit down did so after just five minutes, easing himself onto the flat dirt. He was joined over the next few minutes by a couple of others. The bulk stayed standing for nearly an hour until, within the span of a single minute, all but three of the captives lowered themselves to the ground.

Walt sipped water, chewed some crackers. The late afternoon sun had been plenty warm while he'd been walking but was now wholly neutral. He'd spent enough weeks in these high deserts to know that, an hour after sunet, it would be downright cold.

Maybe the woman who started throwing rocks had reached the same conclusion. Maybe she simply didn't like being penned like a human chicken. Walt couldn't say. He just watched as the woman knelt, scooped several somethings from the dirt, and began hurling the somethings—rocks, most likely, but it was too far to see—at the tall poles.

The woman stopped a moment later and tipped back her head toward the blue cone-tower. She slung out her arms, waving violently, possibly shouting, then knelt for more rocks. When she resumed throwing, it was at the tower.

A blue line speared from the structure, so brief and faint Walt couldn't be certain he'd seen it. The woman crumpled straight down. Around her, the others leapt up screaming, crowding away from the sudden death.

The sun was most of the way to the hills before the aliens went in the pen to bring out the body.

Activity elsewhere in the city calmed down, the ground vehicles parking along the unpaved streets, most of the aliens dispersing into the steep, conical buildings. The people gathered into a huddle just before sunset. After, most of them filed one by one to a corner of the pen, where each squatted for a minute before drifting away to a seat in the dirt.

Walt already had his plan, so much as you could call it that. He watched through the settling darkness. A single light popped on from a high corner of the pen, casting the field in a twilight of long shadows. The rest of the camp or city or whatever the hell it was sat under a similarly half-hearted light. Lack of resources? Or already complacent that nothing and no one would be coming at them from the darkness?

Walt napped. He woke a couple hours later, watching the tower while his brain and body woke up. This time, he took his pack with him.

He moved past the camp, then cut across the open field, pausing at intervals to scan the grounds through his binoculars. No searchlights fanned out from above. No alarms wailed through the night. When Walt was within a quarter mile of the pen, one of the vehicles lumbered from the far side of the city heading for the highway. He dropped prone, waited for its bluish lights to swing onto the road and fade into the distance.

He crawled the last hundred yards on his belly. Dust swirled in his nostrils. Rocks jabbed his stomach. This close, he could make out the wires enclosing the pen, electric or something like it.

Everyone inside looked asleep. As he crawled up to the pen's edge, a young woman lifted her head, arms barred over her breasts.

"Who's out there?"

"Shut up," Walt hissed. "Put your hands above your head."

Hesitantly, she raised her hands, shivering. With her back to the light, it was too dark to get much of a look, but Walt smiled anyway.

BOOK: Breakers
8.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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