Inhabitable | Invasion Survivor Book Two | Chapter Fifteen
“Paige! Dave! I’m coming!” Dave could hear AJ yelling, and he was never so glad to hear another guy’s voice before.
Dave couldn’t move at all. The shadowy slime gripped him so tightly, he was sure it rearranged some of his internal organs.
“Paige!” he shouted.
She was trapped as well, but he couldn’t see her anymore, even though he could hear her struggling. The black wave gripped him by the neck, making him choke. He couldn’t open his mouth anymore, and that made him panic even more. It carried him out of the building and onto the street effortlessly.
Despite the darkness the whole city had plummeted into, Dave spotted that he was not the only one being carried away.
But to where? he wondered.
Paige had asked what they would all be used for once captured, but Dave was now the only one who would have the inside knowledge. At least, he hoped he was the only one of them who would find out.
Since he couldn’t hear Paige or AJ, Dave prayed at least those two managed to escape somehow. Whatever happened to him next, he was grateful Peter wasn’t there with him.
Mrs. Moon was one fierce lady, so he was glad his little brother went with her. She would protect him; he was sure of that.
Suddenly, the lulling stopped, and Dave was practically spat out. He smacked hard against the concrete, and when he finally caught his breath and climbed to his feet, he saw something very interesting indeed.
Inside of a circle made of black, shadowy goo was a lot of trapped people. They were being ushered toward some unknown destination. They looked as scared as he was as they called out for help or for a loved one.
“Paige?” he called out, but no one answered him. He hoped that meant she wasn’t there at all.
He refocused on the wall made of the black mass, trying to find a way to escape. Naturally, the first thing he tried to do was to try to break away from that prison. As he bolted, he bounced back against the wave, crashing to the ground once again.
“Damn,” he grumbled, rubbing his back.
Maybe next time you should think before acting. Save yourself from a couple bruises.
“You can’t break through,” a girl informed him.
He hadn’t spotted her earlier, but that meant nothing. Dave had been a bit distracted while inspecting the moving cage he was trying to escape from.
He stood up again, wincing in pain that had resulted from the last throw. It really did a number on him. Dave and the girl had to continue moving since the goo was forcing them down the main street.
“Yeah, I figured,” he replied, dusting himself off. Like that would make a difference on his already ruined clothes. “Do you have any idea where’s this thing is taking us?”
He looked up and wasn’t that surprised to see that the mass was escorting them directly under the spaceship, toward its center. Dave looked back at the girl when she didn’t say anything.
She only shrugged. She was maybe a couple of years older than him with royal blue hair. She didn’t act hysterical like the other people trapped with them.
Then again, everybody responded differently to stress.
“Great, another surprise. Love those,” he deadpanned, and she laughed.
“Really?” she asked, still smiling.
“Oh, yeah, this whole day has been a blast for me,” Dave replied.
“It looks like it,” she responded, gesturing toward his clothes. “I’m May, by the way.”
“Dave. Nice to meet you,” he said then frowned. “Was that a weird thing to say considering we’re captured by the alien equivalent of slime?”
May smiled again. “Totally weird.”
Just as she was about to say something else, the massive spaceship above their heads decided to wake up. A beam of light blinded them as it shot down toward the ground. Unfortunately for them, that wasn’t all it did. The light was a force that was able to levitate humans, pulling them toward the ship.
That was everyone’s cue to freak out. The people who were already captured started screaming and struggling, and those on the ground followed suit. Even though it was already tested and proven that no one could break the circle, that didn’t stop a lot of people from trying again.
“Mom!” a very distinct scream reached Dave, and it froze all the blood inside his veins.
He knew that voice. He started running toward the source of it, but it was hard to locate in a sea of terrified people.
People were shoving him on the way, making him stumble.
“Willow!” Mrs. Moon shouted back.
Oh no, they were all caught.
Dave saw a glimpse of them and ran even faster, running over anyone who got in his way. As he reached the spot where he’d seen Angela, he realized he was already too late. Willow was trapped in the beam, and Angela held onto her, trying to break her free from it. But it did no good because they were both too far away from the ground.
“Mrs. Moon!” Dave shouted at the top of his lungs in an effort to be heard over the chaos.
“Dave! Oh, Dave! Not you, too,” Mrs. Moon spotted him instantly.
“Is Peter here?” he asked while he looked around frantically.
“No, he’s with Tilley,” she called out. That put him at ease instantly. “Paige?”
“Safe,” he replied, though he didn’t know that for sure. He could only hope that was true.
Mrs. Moon shouted something else, but he couldn’t hear her any longer. They were too high in the air.
Dave couldn’t let them go there on their own. When the first opportunity presented itself, he allowed himself to be captured and hoped he could reunite with Willow and Mrs. Moon once they were on the ship.
A very big part of him was freaking out since he was about to board a real fucking alien spaceship, but he forced himself not to dwell on that fact. If only his ten-year-old self could see him now.
Just like always, fantasy was one thing and reality was something else entirely.
* * *
Paige was still stunned that AJ would put himself in that position for her. AJ chose her momentary stupor to look around and noticed a small abandoned Mom and Pop kind of a store. He quickly pulled Paige in its direction.
“Let’s get off the streets,” he said.
AJ didn’t even have to break in. The door was open since the entire city was demolished, and he pushed Paige inside.
Looking around, Paige realized she could still see in abysmal lighting. She wondered if the virus had somehow upgraded her instead of making her sick because of what her mother had done to her all those years. That thought made her smile as she entertained the thought of being more than human.
What other upgrades would I get? Am I going to become a superhero like in my favorite movies? Oh, which character would I become? It would be awesome if I was the Scarlet Witch! I’d be able to blow up their spaceship!
They moved through the store, looking for a good place to hide. It was still night, and Paige needed to hide from the Shadow Men until daylight came.
They found a stock room in the basement. AJ closed the door behind them. It wasn’t a big area, and there were boxes lined up on the floor along the walls. They took a couple and sat on them.
It was dark in there, but she could make out the shapes of things in the room. Paige couldn’t get the image of Willow and her mother out of her head. Seeing them captured, feeling powerless to help them, broke something inside of her. That whole day, she’d tried her best to get to Willow and her Mom. She’d wanted to keep them safe. She’d tried to get to her dad, but ultimately, she failed.
Instead of being with them, she was now hiding in a basement.
With an alien, an enemy. She rebelled against her last thought because it was too cruel.
Despite her harsh words earlier, she didn’t see AJ that way. She’d majorly freaked out after learning the truth, but once her brain started to function again, the real truth was revealed. Paige didn’t feel unsafe with AJ. He’d proven to her many times over that he could be trusted. Just a half an hour ago, he’d saved her life.
“AJ,” Paige said, finally breaking the silence.
“Yes?” His reply was tentative, as if he was preparing himself for another freak-out. She couldn’t really blame him for it.
“Do you know how to get on the spaceship?” Paige asked, trying not to get her hopes up.
“Yes, I do,” AJ replied flatly.
Something felt weird with his tone, and she had to keep herself from asking questions because she couldn’t quite see his face. He was hiding it from her.
“Have you been up there before?”
“No, I’ve never been. But I’ll be there soon,” AJ replied, confusing her further.
“If you’ve never been there, then how do you know how to get on it?” Paige challenged.
“I’m sure I know how to get on it,” he said.
“Really? And how exactly do you know?”
“I just do,” AJ replied stubbornly, and Paige became beyond frustrated with him.
“I don’t believe you’re going to get my mom, Willow or Dave,” she snapped back. She could sense there was something he wasn’t telling her. She was sick of all the secrets and lies.
Paige knew he wanted her to remain calm, so maybe that was why he told her he would go to the ship in her place. They wouldn’t get caught. If that was the case, she needed to know now.
She got up when he remained silent. “I can’t do this with you. I need to help them,” Paige announced.
In a flash, AJ jumped up and grabbed hold of her hand. “Paige, stop. The Shadows will get you. Don’t you understand? Just stay here until the morning, ok?” he pleaded, a bit frantic.
He really is that worried for me.
“I want to find my mother and sister!” Paige was adamant.
“I’ll find them for you,” he repeated his promise.
“I can’t see how you can do something like that,” Paige countered. She wasn’t trying to be difficult on purpose. This was just too important to joke around. “‘I know’ isn’t an explanation. Give me a normal answer. Please,” Paige said, urging him to understand.
“Paige,” AJ started with a sigh. “How else am I supposed to tell you I know how to get there?”
That made her frown. “Just tell me how you know the way,” she insisted.
AJ looked at her long and hard, and even though it was dark, Paige could see the determination on his face. He would do anything to convince her that he was on her side. That somehow warmed her heart.
“All right,” he said in defeat. “I’ll tell you everything.”
Paige nodded, urging him to continue.
“They communicate with me. Actually, one of them communicates with me. I call him Francis. It’s a long story, but he tried to boss me around in the beginning, tell me where to go, what to do, but as it turns out, I’m not a very good listener. While he’s in my head, I know things. That’s how I know I can enter the spaceship—because he does. You can’t come, ok?” He said all that in one breath, and Paige needed a moment to process everything he’d told her.
“I have to come with you,” Paige replied after several moments of silence. “They’re my family.”
AJ shook his head. “No. It’s impossible, Paige.”
“Why is it impossible?”
“Because you don’t have the black mass in you, and I do.”
AJ has the black mass inside of him. How many truth bombs can one person withstand in a single day? Apparently, a great deal of them.
She sighed. “How do you know if you have the black mass inside you?” Paige asked softly.
It was obvious this was something he’d struggled with and had difficulties speaking about. She wanted to show him how grateful she was for everything he’d done for her and told her.
“I just know it. Francis told me. So, I definitely have it.”
“When? Why? Who’s Francis?” Paige blurted out, wanting to know everything.
“To be honest, I don’t know when it happened,” AJ practically whispered. She moved closer to him, gripping his hand, and he continued to speak. “It was like the voice just kind of turned on when I got infected with the virus at school. The virus worked like a switch, and when it entered my body, the switch turned on. Francis is the name I gave to the voice in my head.”
He’s hearing a voice?
“Was that what the virus was for?” Paige asked him next, trying to connect all the dots.
“The virus was intended to kill the humans and to activate the infected simultaneously,” AJ answered, his voice going soft and low.
“But why do they need it? Why do they turn humans into Shadow Men?” Questions were pouring out of Paige’s head. Suddenly, she was starting to understand so many things.
“I think your mother was dead on. They can’t function in the daylight. They need a human host. They basically live in the infected humans to be able to function during the day.”
Wow. Paige had heard and seen a lot of scary shit that day, but that chilled her right to the bone.
“They live in the infected humans?” Paige parroted, still having problems grasping that truth. “Why can’t they function in the daylight?” she wondered out loud.
“I’m not quite sure, but I guess it’s because of their surface,” AJ replied. “It reflects the light and blinds them. That’s probably why they avoid the sun, why they don’t come in the morning.”
It fit with what little truth she knew. It all made sense when looking back at her childhood. That was why it was safe to come out of the wardrobe when they were little.
That was why her mom let them be normal, happy kids during the day. There was no danger for them during the day. Now things had changed. The aliens had sent a virus, enabling them to inhabit a human’s body. No time of day was safe now.
Once Paige snapped back to reality, she noticed that AJ appeared sad.
“You know what I am to them?” he asked her suddenly.
Paige shook her head. “No, what?”
“A slave. I’m a slave to them. That’s what they’re going to do to all the people who are being transported up to the spaceship. The people will be infected, the black mass inserted into them, and they will work for the Shadow Men. They’re collecting people like you.”
That startled her. “What do you mean? Collecting people like me?”
“Those of you who have the golden aura around them. The ones that can save humans. They need to take the ones like you.”
“AJ, why didn’t you let them take me? If you’re one of them, then you must want to take me…” Paige could feel her heartbeat beating out of control as she spoke.
“It’s because you can stop it. It makes you different from the black mass. I won’t take you because I’m not like them. I don’t think like they do.” He paused, taking a deep breath. “They did this to me—I didn’t want them to do this to me!” She could hear the tears in his voice, even if she couldn’t see them. “Sorry,” he mumbled immediately.
“So am I,” Francis whispered.
“I know you said you just suddenly know all these things, but how, AJ?” Paige was aware she was repeating herself, but she couldn’t help it.
He pondered over that for a moment. “I think it happened during my sleep. I think the link between me and Francis stayed open, and I ended up inside his head.”
That made sense, in a completely terrifying way. “What else did they do to you besides making you their slave?” Paige asked.
AJ shrugged. “I sort of had an upgrade. I’m faster, stronger, and unbreakable. It’s pretty amazing, and the only good thing about this.”
“I think I’ve been upgraded, too. I can see really well in the dark.”
“She has been upgraded. The effect of the virus in humans is different than it is in Seedlings,” Francis told AJ.
“I think you’re right. The virus works in a different way on Seedlings. A better way,” AJ explained.
“I didn’t say better,” Francis added.
“I know that’s what you meant.”
“Then would you watch the door, please? Because unlike you, I’ve not yet been fully upgraded. I really need to sleep,” she said, abruptly changing the subject.
Paige thought about that—not fully upgraded… She’d fought a man and a woman who were physically superior to her and still won.
“Yes, of course, but Paige—”
“No buts,” Paige interjected. “You need to know that I’m going with you, no matter what.”
There was nothing or no one that could stop her.
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