Mate Them, Book Two
Copyright © 2018 by RJ Richards
The straps of Jake’s backpack were digging into the curves of his shoulders. They’d been doing that all morning and all afternoon, and Jake was getting damn sick of it. What had been nothing more than a slight irritation as the sun rose in the sky earlier in the day, was fast becoming a deep annoyance now that the sun began to dip its way down into the horizon.
He frowned as he ran his fingers underneath the straps to try and adjust them. The fabric that he’d sewn into the underside some months past felt thinner than it had in a long time. It was wearing out. That meant that Jake would have to find some new material soon to cushion the straps.
His frown deepened. That was easier said than done.
He rolled his shoulders as the backpack settled into a slightly more comfortable position. It wouldn’t last for long, and he knew that when he pulled the backpack off, the skin around his shoulders would be red and inflamed.
How much longer would he have to carry it? He looked up at the sky. The sun was fast falling below the skyline. Another hour maybe and it would disappear for the night. Jake wanted to make camp long before that. He had to find a spot soon and start preparing himself for the darkness ahead.
He rolled his shoulders again as he looked around. He wasn’t as familiar as he’d once been with the area that he now found himself in. It had been, what, maybe a year since he’d come this far inland? It hadn’t changed much so far as he could see, but then, why would it? Almost no one lived out here anymore; they hadn’t for a very long time. The only life that Jake had encountered in the five days since he’d left his settlement on the coast was the kind that he could easily catch and eat. And, those life forms were not the kind to change the area. They might burrow in the ground, might even make a nest here or there, but they couldn’t alter the landscape. Only his people had ever done that.
And maybe the aliens, too.
Jake couldn’t help the shiver that ran through him at that thought. He cast his gaze around the area, looking for… what?
Proof that he was still alone?
Confirmation that the only life out here was him and the critters?
Of course, nothing moved. Nothing had really moved for the entirety of the time he’d spent on this crumbling road.
He looked down at it. At the surface that he’d been walking for five, long days, and would likely continue to walk for several days more. He knew that it had once been a deep, black surface, made of something called asphalt. But, over time, nature had worn away at it until it was now a mixture of light, gray stones and yellow and brown branches. Some of those branches had crackling, brown leaves on them. Had they once been green? Maybe, but surely it was a very long time ago now.
Jake frowned once more and looked up from the road. It went on for hundreds of miles. It had once been a road that connected many parts of the country. When Jake first joined the resistance, agreeing to do what he could to help them find the supplies they so desperately needed in their fight against the alien invaders, the leader—Cal—had shown him a map that crackled like the leaves on the branches. The road he now stood on had been part of that map. He remembered thinking that it would take months to walk the entire length of it, and then some.
His mission wouldn’t last quite that long. He was hoping to be home before the month was through.
With that thought in mind, Jake moved across the road and made his way up a small incline that led to a scrubby bunch of bushes. Something was rusting in the middle of them. Jake could see jagged spikes of metal pushing through the earth under his feet. He thought it was likely that there was a vehicle of some kind buried under the incline. That wasn’t unusual. Even this far inland had not been spared when the tsunamis had rushed in and swallowed everything in their path.
Jake kicked at the earth. It was compacted, wouldn’t be moving for him any time soon. Didn’t matter, the supplies Jake were looking for wouldn’t be buried under the ground, they’d be in one of the buildings up ahead, the tall ones, the ones that had survived the chaos that had destroyed what had once been a great and impressive city.
Jake placed a hand against his head to shield his eyes as he looked out at the buildings that he’d been told were once called skyscrapers. How far away were they? A day, two, maybe three? He planned to check each one until he found what he was looking for, and then he would loop around and make his way back to the settlement on the coast where the resistance had their camp.
Jake swiveled a hundred and eighty degrees, looking back at the path that he’d walked, at the place he called home. Of course, he couldn’t see the settlement from here, but what he could see was them.
Right there in the sky.
A shiver ran through Jake again. How could it not? Adrenaline always hit when he looked up at something that had once been unbroken blue and white, sometimes even gray, but was now marred by a huge spaceship dominating the skyline.
They called it the mothership. They suspected that it was where all the aliens waited. For what, the resistance did not know, and Jake certainly didn’t. But, in the seven months since the mothership had arrived, halting in the sky not far from their settlement, not a single alien had come down from that ship and into the settlements.
Sure, they saw scout ships, strange, metallic spheres that roamed the land, doing who knew what, but those ships were unmanned. There were no aliens aboard them.
No, the aliens were all up there… and so were some of the humans... some of Jake’s own people.
Jake swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat at that thought. Fact was, and though he would never admit it to anyone else in the resistance, it both scared and intrigued Jake to think that there were people up there, on that ship, and who knew what was happening to them?
Because, they had to be up there, where else could they possible be? It had been just seven months since the aliens had arrived, since that mothership had entered the atmosphere and released those strange scout ships, but in that time a lot of people had disappeared.
It was just one at first, then two, and then before they even realized what was happening it was a hundred or more, all taken from the settlements along the coast.
One day they were there.
The next they were gone.
Maybe if this had been a few decades ago, a time back when the world was full of billons of people, they wouldn’t even have noticed it. Back when cities like the one Jake now found himself in were still standing, before the seas had swept in, before the energy crisis, and before the devastating and likely final, world war, maybe it would have been different then.
It wasn’t though.
And so, the resistance.
And so, Jake’s mission.
What he was doing today, and in the days ahead, would help those people up there trapped on that ship. Jake wasn’t quite sure how. He wasn’t exactly high up in the chain of command, but the resistance was planning something. To get the job done, they needed a special kind of wiring. Jake was going to find that for them. He was going to help. Despite knowing next to nothing about the aliens, about what was happening with them, what they were doing, Jake didn’t see that he had much choice.
He kicked the earth again before turning around and making his way back onto the road. He walked along it for maybe another half hour, moving faster than he had done in the previous hours, even though those damn straps continued to dig into his skin.
Eventually the road curved around another large incline and that was when Jake saw it. A small shack up ahead. It was not something that had survived the chaos but something that had been built since then, something built by the travelers that had once roamed their way around the old cities.
It wasn’t anything like the impressive buildings that still stood ahead of him, wasn’t even as secure as the structures they’d built in their settlements, but it was somewhere safe for the night ahead, somewhere that Jake could rig up his water collection system, could set his traps for the critters that slunk around during the night, and somewhere he could rest ready for another day of non-stop walking.
Safety… Jake shook his head. An alien ship marred the skyline behind him, an old city, full of crumbling structures, wild animals, and who knew what else, waited up ahead.
Safety was not something that Jake had expected when he signed on to the resistance. He doubted it was something that he would experience again until the aliens went back to wherever the hell they had come from.
Jake was sure that in some way he helping that happen.
What else could he do?