Jayk stared matter-of-factly into the young man’s dark eyes, “Give me your hand and let’s try it again.”
He didn’t know the first thing about leadership, but somehow he had gained the trust of these people. He reached out with his hand and helped the guy to his feet. He knew only one thing: practice. And when he spoke, they listened. Jayk would teach them everything he knew in a few weeks time, the rest they had to discover on their own. He had learned the names of those who would be fighting with him against the usurpers. There was Ideo, Zara, Anya, Oso, Iri, Ur, and many more he had only barely gotten to know.
Po, the rugged fellow who he had fought in the wastes, was tall and muscular. His skin was dark and shined like glass. He kept his head shaved bald with his sharp blade and maintained a serious gaze whenever speaking. Rensa was the gamine with wild hair tangled in coarse strands and matted together like rope. She was playful and bold, a mischievous young woman, but there was a darkness about her that shrouded a heart of kindness she refused to reveal. Then there was Dade whose constant banter was insufferable but his lean body and sinewy muscles allowed him to move quickly and his fists were as powerful as bricks. They would spar frequently, the four of them, and prepare for a time when they would launch an attack on the enemy.
It would soon come.
Jayk sat with the others for many hours poring over the volumes of maps they had created from the numerous surveys conducted gathering information about the gardens and slave encampments.
“The gardens crop up frequently, so the maps aren’t always up-to-date. We’ll begin by striking this one first,” Po explained, pointing to the nearest garden, “Rescuing as many humans as we can and bringing them safely back to the bunker.”
Jayk sat with his hands folded together, his eyes closed, listening intently as the men and women around him discussed the methods by which they would mount their first offensive.
“We’ll strike at night and use ground cover and mountain ridges as defense against detection.” Po stated realizing that no plan like this had ever been devised by them previously.
“The canopy of airships that darken the sky during the day have grown increasingly more frequent, and the emerging gardens threaten to expose our location. There’s also the legions of Sky Reaper foot soldiers who patrol the wastes. It’s just a matter of time before they’ll be right on top of us, then there’ll be nowhere for us to hide.” Wax spoke in words as hard as stones, “The time has come to put an end to the invasion and take back our world.” He finished.
The time had come. The resistance had been formed. And Jayk found himself at the vanguard. Scavengers, rebels, and survivors, they had formed a close bond of comradery forged in the crucible of mutual suffering.
Po paced back and forth in front of the rabble of men and women clutching their tools. Rensa propped a crowbar on her shoulder, it had become a favorite of hers. Each one prepared to push back the usurpers and send them running. They listened with courage in their eyes.
“People, we embark on one of the most difficult tasks we have yet to face. I have known all of you for some time. Some of you I’ve raised since you were teenagers, others came to me as adults, but I have learned from each of you just as much as I have taught you. We will soon put that knowledge to the test.” Pausing, he reflected on the reasons that brought them to this moment, “The enemy has been amassing forces in our backyard. That threatens our very existence. We have been safe only because we have been hidden. That time is over, we can no longer hide. Remember, we didn’t bring this war to them, they brought it to us! But, we will be bringing them a message: This is our land! And nobody’s gonna take it from us!” He moved back and forth while he continued to speak, “We are powerful and fearless, and we will not back down! Every single one of you is a force to be reckoned with, you are tough and ready, like never before! This is what you’ve been preparing for. Each of you will be tested, and each of you will show your courage! It’s okay to be scared. They don’t bury the scared, they bury the dead.” He stopped pacing and faced them, “Now, it’s up to you. This is the turning point, people. Our planet has become a graveyard and we will fill it with the bodies of our enemies!” They banged their tools, axes, blades and hammers one against the other. A clamor of iron against metal rose from the crowd.
Po was the natural choice to embolden the people. Jayk was still considered an outsider, even after all the time he had spent working closely with them. Po was grand and electrifying and galvanized them into a single force. Whatever they were before this, Po’s speech awakened something inside them.
He finished, “Simply surviving is no longer enough — we must strike at the heart of the invaders and reclaim what is ours!” After a rousing speech and a cacophony of cheers that erupted as he ended, they broke up into squads. Jayk had read about American military strategy as a youth and was fascinated by it; but now his knowledge was being put to the test.
“We have broken into battle groups in order to keep from exposing our numbers. We will determine when to strike once we get there and maintain the element of surprise.” Jayk stated as he walked through the groups.
He knew the size of the alien’s army was greater than his, that their technology was far superior, and that while they would be on foot, the enemy would have airships. They would be behind in every sense, but what they lacked in power, they made up for in spirit.
After all, this was their home and they meant to take it back.
“This is our home and we cannot allow these creatures to murder our families and enslave our people any longer!” Jayk could hear himself saying as he gazed at the fire burning in their eyes. As he concluded they raised their weapons, beating their fists into the air, and issued an heroic salute.
They were divided into five troops. Po and Jayk took the front as Dade, Rensa and Ideo held the rear and flanks.
In the time that had passed since his premature birth from the cloning chambers, John had grown quite accustomed to setting traps for rats and snakes, catching rainwater in plastic jugs, and searching the city for valuable items. Sometimes, he’d come upon something useful, like a sewing kit or binoculars, but most of it was garbage. He had taken up residence in the lobby of one of the old hotels, a magnificent twenty-four story structure with a hollow interior reaching up through the center of the building. The rooms spiraled upward around the walls each with their own balcony. From the palatial floor of the lobby he could see all the way up to the penthouse. It was a dazzling display of architecture, and gave John the height he needed to build an indoor fire without running the danger of smoke asphyxiation. The lobby was a promenade furnished with handcrafted chairs and tables from a nonextant era. It had taken him a week to remove the rubble that blocked the entranceway, enough to where he could crawl inside; but once he had, he found a dazzling jewel practically frozen in time. He had even accumulated a decent wardrobe of sturdy outerwear. It had been roughly six weeks and still no sign of human life.
He found that he talked to himself more and more now. He was completely alone except for the creatures. He had seen them combing the ruins of the city. They communicated in grunts, snorts and wheezes, kind of like cows or elephants. He’d avoided them, for the most part, but was beginning to believe he would need to confront them if he ever hoped to figure out what happened to the rest of the population. He had begun preparing the previous week for a reconnaissance mission to follow them the next time he found a few of them alone. Now, he just watched and waited.
John was a good looking man, roughly thirty-three years old. His head, shoulders and torso had the proportions that commanded attention. His normally close-cropped Marine cut had been allowed to grow and become a glorious mane of thick raven hair. When he walked his legs bore out the proportions of his body; and his lightness on his feet revealed his Native American heritage. He had the easy bearing, and physical grace of a man five years his junior, with wide-set imperious eyes, and a distinctly bronze complexion, having been out in the wasteland for so long under the oppressive desert skies, he had become a figure to behold. Growing up, John had considered himself an outcast, which forced him to be made of sturdier stuff and gave him the emotional strength to be content alone. When he joined the Marine Corps he finally found a place where he felt he fit in. After all, the Marines were the misfits of the armed services; as a result his brothers in arms had become his family. His mother was a deeply spiritual woman and had taught John much of the healing arts. A medicine woman for her people, she was one of the few who carried the knowledge passed down from her lineage. His father desperately loved his mother and him, but had died of a lung infection when John was still a small boy. He went off to Parris Island and never looked back. Even after joining the military John retained his mother’s respect for nature and all of the animals that inhabited the Earth. but, he needed a purpose, and his purpose was protecting his people. He needed something to devote himself to, because at his core he was a rebel and a rebel needs a cause.
The days had been passing by relatively quickly. The orange skies intensified the heat produced by the sun, but at night the desert was bone-chillingly cold. By the short days, and the procession of the sun low in the sky, he determined it was probably fall moving into winter. Finally, while sitting on the roof of a building reading books and eating a can of peaches in sauce, he thought he saw something in the distance. He grabbed the binoculars and watched them marching toward the city. A band of people, a few hundred in total, all dressed in rugged coats and heavy pants. Peach sauce dribbled down his chin and beard as he lay flat on the rooftop to conceal his position. “Well, this is an interesting development.” He thought aloud. He didn’t know who these people were, or why they were here, but they seemed to know where they were going and stayed together in formations of smaller groups. When they entered the city they spread out while protecting their numbers. He continued watching them as they moved cautiously between the buildings. He got a close look at a few of them as they passed, each of them carrying weapons fashioned from tools, not a single rifle or handgun among them. He watched as they passed through the city.
He wanted to follow them. He wanted to call out to them, to let them know that he was there, that he too had survived. But, he decided against it. These people were on a mission, and one that didn’t involve him. They would have to come back through, and if they did, he thought, he just might join them. Until then, he decided, it would be best that he remain where he was until he could get a better handle on the situation. Besides, he had a mission of his own.
They were moving across the wastelands using abandoned buildings and empty cars for cover whenever they could. At night they slept in camouflaged tents always keeping an eye to the sky watching for enemy ships. Soon they could see the edge of the garden. The journey to the garden had been a rough one. Each night as they slept Jayk could feel anxiety welling up inside of him. The emotion became stronger the further the distance grew from the compound. Were they capable of taking on an entire horde of these creatures? He had battled with a few alone, but only a handful and only in familiar settings. They were launching a full-on frontal assault on enemy ground, in completely unfamiliar territory. Something twisted inside him. He wanted to get it over with and return to the bunker. Home. The word was foreign to him. Ever since he was born, home had no meaning for him. Home was wherever “they” weren’t. After the death of his parents and friends he had been avoiding them. Now, he was deliberately taking a stand against them and had convinced others they should do the same.
He sat with his broadsword across his lap honing the blade with a whetstone contemplating strategies and attack maneuvers
He was startled from his daydreaming by a touch on his shoulder. He turned to see Ideo’s face staring down at him. Her cold, serious eyes penetrated him inquisitively. There was an aristocratic nature evident in her every move. And her long, slender features and shimmering black hair, like spun silk, hung softly as if defying gravity. She was beautiful to behold.
They were bivouacked just outside the garden on a stony crag overlooking the slave encampment.
“Jayk,” she mewed in a soft tone as she sat down beside him. “So, we’re finally here. Do you think your men are ready?”
“I certainly hope so,” he said, “but, we’ll find out soon enough.”
She flashed him a sneaky smile. Her Asian eyes glanced knowingly and then darted away toward the sky, “Can anyone truly be ready for it? War is something you prepare for, but it’s just an idea, until it’s time to be a warrior. You’ve given them the best training you could have, now it’s up to them.”
Her voice was soothing.
She unzipped one of the pockets of her pants and reached inside. They were dark and stained and seemed tired from great use. Emerging from within the depths of the pocket and folded in her hand were two small bottles that resembled eye droppers. She held them both out to him and he took them. “A little something I concocted. Two chemicals that, when mixed together, form a powerful explosive.” She smiled mischievously as his eyes widened, “I call it impact gel. Alone the two chemicals are inert, however when combined they form a jelly-like substance. You rub it in your palm and it heats up and generates an unstable molecular compound. The compound itself is harmless until force is applied, only a few pounds of force is necessary, like the force of being thrown against another object, then … BANG!” her eyes lit up as she mimicked an explosion with her hands; she was proud of her invention.
“How much do you need for the blast?” He asked her.
“Just a small amount of each, depends on what you’re blowing up. Only a few drops will turn a concrete wall to dust,” she replied happily, “But, be careful with it. It could be a while before I find the chemicals to make more.”
He held the two bottles in his hand as if touching them together might ignite them. “Where do you find the chemicals?”
“My home. The Free City of Solos.” Ideo replied smoothly, “I should take you there sometime. It’s amazing, you can get anything you want there. Well, almost anything.” She said wistfully.
“I’ve never heard of it before.” Jayk commented.
“That’s a good thing. It means they’re doing their job of staying hidden.” She smiled knowingly. “The people who need to know, know where to find it. It’s not like it’s on any map.”
He handed the bottles back to her. “Thanks for the offer, but this is the only weapon I need.” He grabbed his sword hilt, giving her a wink.
“Suit yourself, but I’m telling you it’s gotten me out of quite a few jams in the past.” As she replaced the bottles back into her pants, she remarked on his skills, “I saw you practicing the other day in the exercise room. You’re quite good. My father loves the sword as much as you do. He refers to sword fighting as a dance between two men,” she said slyly, “It sounds better in Japanese: “Futari no otoko no odori””
Jayk smirked and replied, “No, it doesn’t.” And they both shared a laugh.
She said to him demurely, “Maybe you could meet him some day.”
He examined her features, the burn scars along her arms, the dimples of her cheeks. She was hard and soft simultaneously. There was a quiet strength that possessed her and he was intimidated by it. He felt so alone in this world, unmoored and without a place. She sat there silently as she stared off toward the garden.
“The day will come,” she started, “when humans will once again rule this planet.” She seemed angry for a moment with her eyes tense, filled with indignation.
“You really believe that don’t you?” He asked.
She didn’t look at him, but continued speaking, “Of course I do, and so should you!”
He looked down for a moment and picked up a handful of debris, “This is still our planet.” She observed him quietly and nodded her head then left him there alone with only the memory of her words.
“Am I being too negative?” He quietly wondered. “I guess being alone has made me cynical.” Something stirred inside him and he was filled with more determination than he had ever felt. This could quite possibly be the end of humanity, but Jayk refused to go down without a fight. He was fueled with hatred for the enemy. This hatred had consumed him and he would use it to become single-minded in purpose. He was intent on destroying them for taking his family.
It grew in his bones. He allowed the feeling to pass through him and reignite the fire that had smoldered inside him for so many years. They murdered his parents and for that they would pay. He rose quickly and decisively. For a moment he just stood quietly on the edge of the rock face, staring at the deserts that had shaped his personality. He decided he would draw on the skills that he had learned as a child of the wastes. Feeling they had rested long enough, he became concerned that fear was beginning to settle in the hearts of the men, and if so that fear would seek to jeopardize their mission. The time to act was now. He went to Po’s camp. Po was in his tent seated in the Lotus position with his hands on his knees. His eyes were closed as he meditated, breathing in and out gently.
“Po, it’s time. The sun is setting. We have the element of surprise. We should mobilize the men and prepare for our attack.” He informed him. Po must have seen the anxiety in his eyes because he asked if he was sure of his decision. “It’s now or never, we risk the men losing interest or deserting.”
Po agreed with a solemn nod. He stepped out of his tent and called to his men, “Jayk has decided it’s time to attack.”
As the day turned into night John heard a low rumbling in the sky. Jumping from his resting place he ran to a small hole in the wall that served as his window to the world. Time, he was sure, had deteriorated the walls of most of these structures and he was almost certain they had seen their fair share of war themselves. Once outside he looked up to see it. It was obviously aerodyne but hovered as effortlessly as a ship with the weight of a balloon or blimp. With no discernable propulsion system, it however produced a low-pitched resonant frequency as it moved through the sky; a plangent roaring sound, unlike a whoosh or a whirr but more like a heavy droning, something like the reverberating wow and flutter caused by a phonograph. It was a silver-white metallic color, organic in appearance, with a bulbous front-end that gently sloped into a turned back resembling an airfoil. And it had an obvious ethereal quality; alien. It was heading in the direction of the group who passed through, but unlike an intercept course it moved slowly as if it were carrying supplies. He trailed it with the binoculars until it disappeared over the mountains. Something new must be going on over there, he assumed, because he had never seen one of those airships before. This fed his curiosity.
The army gathered their weapons and began out on foot toward the garden. Nightfall crept up on them as they made their way down the craggy rock face and into the plains basin. A twisting pathway would lead them in circuitous fashion to the mouth of a small river that served as a source of water for the encampment. Large sewage and waste reclamation pipes led out of the compound. Beyond, Jayk could hear something moving toward them in the distance. They waited patiently in the foul air. No one made a sound as it came closer. Po had been watching them from the foot of the mountains surrounding the garden. Overhead, Jayk heard the distinctive droning of one of their vessels returning to dock beyond in the distance. Huge chunks of dry earth fell from the landing gear as it opened above them, cascading to the ground. He couldn’t stand waiting any longer and ran toward the ship. Jayk rushed the slave encampment and found himself surrounded by twenty of the beasts all towering above him with their great slabs of legs planted firmly to the ground. Alone, he had handled three before, when they were ready for him, but this time he had caught them off guard. He drew his sword and dagger and thrust himself upon the closest one, going into a blind rage unaware that his comrades were nowhere near.