“Adam! We can’t keep going into the river! The current is too strong?”
“Not long, just a ways…” Adam replied. As the crew jumped into the water, the Weeches reached the banks.
“Deeper,” Adam said. “Deeper…”
The current pushed as they walked further into the river. It reached their waists.
“A little more,” Adam said. The crew lined up as the Weeches stepped into the water.
“For a pyramid,” Adam shouted.
“A what?” Cindy screamed.
“I’m not standing on anyone’s shoulders!” Cindy said.
“Not shoulders,” Adam shouted back. A ‘V.’ Form a ‘V!’” Angela to the head, Cindy! Stani! Behind Angela! Matt, Aria, Chess! Line up! Now, Professor! Norry! Stand with me! Now everyone, push against the current. Use each other to break the water tension and strengthen our resistance to the current. And move! Deeper now! Together! We have to move past the current.”
As one, the crew pushed through the current as the surface rose to their chests. The Weeches continued to follow through the river.
“Now,” Adam said. “Watch.”
The moment the first Weech stepped into the current, the water ripped him apart and shoved his feet out from under him. More followed, each Weech proceeding through the river on their own. The crew watched on as each Weech were ripped to shreds by the current and pushed down stream.
“Adam!” Chess called. “We can’t do this forever!”
“No, we can’t!” Adam said.
“When I say jump,” Matt shouted.
“No!” Aria, Adam, and Norry cried.
“Do you have a better idea?”
The crew looked among themselves, each waiting for the other to form a plan.
“Alright then!” Matt said. “When I say jump…Jump!”
The crew jumped and the current pushed them down the river and away from the landing site. The Weeches proceeded to follow, but the current too quickly pushes the crew down the river.
“Ada—” Angela tried to scream, but swallowed a mouthful of water.
As the current tossed and turned the crew, Adam battled the water’s course and reached for his boot. From within his boot, he withdrew a long silver tube. The water pulled him under, and Adam forced his head to the surface, aimed, and fired a claw like hand toward the banks.
“A Dale—” The water pulled Matt under the surface.
“Hold o—” Adam’s head went under. He resurfaced. “Hold on!” Adam screamed.
The Professor grabbed Adam’s arm and reached for Norry who grabbed a hold. Aria and Matt came next as Chess grabbed Norry’s belt.Cindy grabbed Chess’s hand then took hold of Angela’s hand. Angela reached and took hold of Stani who was most concerned about keeping her bazooka above the water’s surface. Pressing a button, the line fed by the silver tube churned, reeling the crew in on the line.
“I’m a fish! I’m a fish!” Matt squawked, delighted by the human chain they had formed in the water.
One by one, they reached the bank and pulled themselves ashore. In turn they plopped to the grass, gasping to catch their breath as they rested there in the grass.
“Remind me,” Chess said. “To punch Matt when I have the strength to move.”
“Hey, Captain,” Norry said from the ground. “How about we call it a night?”
“Yeah,” Angela said between breaths. “Let’s do that.”
“Is this even safe?” Aria asked.
Silence stretched over the crew.
“Safe,” Matt mused. “Is anywhere safe anymore?”
“Come on then,” Norry said, pulling himself to his feet. “Let’s build a fire. Check supplies. Build a shelter.”
“I’ll scout the area,” the Professor said rising to his feet.
“I’ll go with him,” Chess said.
“I’m going hunting,” Cindy said. “I’ll see if I can find some wildlife in the area we can snare.”
“Hold on, Cin,” Stani said. “I’m coming with you.”
The crew dispersed as Angela and Adam began counting supplies.
“Come on, Garlic Man,” Norry said. “We can cut down some of these larger pine branches to form a lean-to for the night.
“Right-o,” Matt said rising to his feet.
“Alright,” Angela said. “What do we have with us? What did we loose?”
Aria rose to her feet, hugging her arms tight to her chest. Several steps behind Norry and Matt, Aria wandered into the trees and began picking up dried needles and dead branches from the ground. She located a fallen bird’s nest and dried grass she added that to her pile. Shivering, she returned to the clearing where she had been laying and carefully positioned the tinder and kindling into a respectful collection. Ignoring her pile, she wandered back to the trees, this time wandering blindly through the forest.
She was certain she had heard her father call. Aria settled on a thin birch that had fallen. A bit of pressure in the right place would be enough to break it into sizable pieces. She hoisted an end of the birch and positioned it onto its own stump as the last several hours ran through her mind. Aria dropped her foot down on the log, but it only bounced in response.
Aria kicked again, releasing a short shrill. The log only bounced. Again and again Aria kicked as images of her father and Caius raced through her head. Aria kicked. The Weeches closing in…
The Space ship.
Aria fell to the ground and sobbed, shuddering at the chill in the air, angry with her own limitations.
Aria gasped, and gazed at Mad Matt, standing in just his loin cloth, his boots, and the scarf.
“What do you want?” Aria said, sniffling as she shoved the tears away.
“No need to hide the tears, love. You’re right to have them.”
“Yeah, and what do you know about it? About any of it?”
“You’ve lost someone close to you. That much is apparent.”
Aria hugged her knees to her chest. “I shouldn’t be here,” she said.
“No,” Matt said. “You shouldn’t. None of us should.”
“I just want my father back. Instead, I’m here with…I don’t even know what this is! It’s madness! That’s what that is!”
Matt settled on the ground beside Aria and sighed.
“Bristol,” he said.
“I’m from Bristol.”
Aria studied Matt’s face as he recalled a life long since lost.
“I was on my way home from work when the invasions in England started. The Prime Minister was the first to go and our cabinets. The royal family. I wasn’t feeling well that day, so I left. I don’t think I had ever been so happy to have a stomach bug. If I had stayed…If I was feeling well, I never would have left early and missed the slaughter. I would have died right alongside my co-workers.”
Aria gazed, too stunned to answer.
“They took out the media first. I learned that later. They realized an attack would be best if the public remained ignorant. No one saw it coming. No one knew…We all were sitting ducks.”
“If the media was taken out, then how did you know? About the Prime Minister and the governments and the royal family?”
“Because, love,” Matt said. “I was working with the Prime Minister to arrange the formal meeting of Weech to human civilization. I rolled out the bloody welcome mat for them. Every media source, every government body was organized in the same building when they launched their attack. Everyone in a position to communicate and rule, wiped out in a single move. No one saw it coming. No one was prepared or even aware of the attacks that would follow. No TV, no radio, no newspaper, no satellite…no Internet or phones…All of it gone. Our only sources of communication was word of mouth. Not very effective when reporting on a full scale invasion.”
“You were captured by Caius?”
“Why? What did he want?”
“Can’t tell you that, love. Can’t give Caius any more reason to hunt you down.”
Aria looked to the skies and Matt rose to his feet.
“Do you think my father is alive?”
“If he’s anything at all like you, he is.”
Aria watched as Matt headed back to the camp, sitting for a while longer as she stared up at the sky.
“Just beautiful,” she muttered.
Standing, she brushed the leaf litter from her backside and repositioned her foot onto the weakest part of the log. Finding her balance, she bounced lightly, ready to shift all her weight onto the log when a cold hand clamped down on her mouth, twisting her arm around and into her back, and holding her head back into a cold hard chest.
“My clan is positioned and ready,” breathed Caius. “You move. You fight. They kill.”
Caius added a soft kiss to Aria’s ear.
“Come,” Caius said. “Someone has requested a meeting with you.”
Caius opened his mouth and sank his canines into the flesh of Aria’s neck. She felt herself fall limp into Caius’ arms and all the world went black.