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Inhabitable | Invasion Survivor Book Two | Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

The pilot turned to look at Paige, and she nodded. “Bring it down,” she repeated.

Something passed between them at that moment, but Paige noticed the determination on his features.

“Everybody strap up! This is going to be a hell of a ride!” the pilot yelled.

Some of them were already in their seats, and the rest followed quickly as the pilots started adjusting the plane for landing. The secret service agents hesitated, but Tilley managed to persuade them to sit down as well.

They were having a strange standoff, despite the danger.

Paige could see Dave out of the corner of her eye, conversing quietly with the pilots, but she couldn’t dedicate her full attention to that at the moment.

“We will never be safe if their spy is with us,” Angela said, trying to reason with Paige.

Paige needed to find a way to take the gun from her mother, and for that, she needed another set of hands. She glanced at Dave, hoping he would look her way. Miraculously, he did, so she pleaded with him through her eyes, willing him to understand that she needed help.

“Mom, you need to calm down and stop treating AJ like he’s the enemy. So far, he’s done nothing but try to help.”

Dave frowned, but Paige was relieved when he whispered something to the pilot and slowly started making his way toward the trio.

“He’s with the Shadows,” her mother insisted, getting agitated again.

Paige didn’t know how to stop her mom. All she could do was stand between her mother and AJ, working as a human shield while praying her mother wouldn’t try anything drastic.

“No, he’s with us. The spaceship is messing with the plane’s electronics, Mom. That’s all.”

All this time, AJ stayed behind her, even though it was obvious he wanted to engage. Paige prayed with all her might he wouldn’t move, and she’d gotten lucky so far. That would only set her mother off even more.

To her horror, Paige watched in disbelief as her mother started to raise her gun again, but Dave came just at the right moment and hugged her. “I’m with you, Mrs. Moon,” he announced nonchalantly.

The plane started tilting, making all of them unstable on their feet. In that moment of confusion, Dave quickly took the gun away from Angela. When the plane stabilized again, Dave lunged and grabbed AJ by the back of the neck.

“You’re coming with me to the back of the plane where I can keep an eye on you, Shadow.”

Paige instantly freaked out. How could this happen? Dave was supposed to be on her side, not helping her mother. She could barely deal with Angela. There was no way she could defeat Dave as well. She needed to find a way to fix this, make him realize he was making a mistake. But as Dave started walking past Paige, dragging poor AJ with him, he winked. That tiny gesture completely calmed Paige down. It’s all just for show, for my mother, she realized.

It seemed to work. Her mother looked pleased. “I’m glad that at least your boyfriend thinks with his head,” Angela said, walking over to her seat next to Willow.

Paige didn’t bother to contradict her. Instead, she stashed the gun Dave had picked up when AJ lost it and sat down herself. Dave kept the gun he snatched from Angela so he could keep up the pretense of holding AJ hostage.

There was a lot of turbulence as the pilots tried to bring the plane down at that speed. They all started bouncing around as if on a carnival ride. Their bags started flying around, and Paige had to duck several times to avoid getting hit by something. Willow closed her eyes, gripping the armrests with such strength her knuckles went completely white.

“Everything is going to be all right,” Paige told Willow.

Paige pretended to be brave for her sister’s sake, even though her stomach had other ideas. She felt nauseated, and her heart was beating incredibly fast. As if that wasn’t scary or dangerous enough, the power went out once again.

“Mom, I’m scared!” Willow cried out, burrowing her head in her mother’s shoulder. In return, Angela put an arm around her.

 Paige closed her eyes, leaning back against her seat and silently praying for a good outcome. She couldn’t die like that, not after everything they’d been through. This is not how my story ends! Paige said as the desperation crept into her soul. She was powerless to stop it. All the other obstacles in front of her were something Paige could overcome, fight against, but she didn’t know what to do now. There was no way for her to win this one. Surviving wasn’t up to her here.

We’re all going to die! With that realization, Paige opened her eyes to look at the faces of all the people who had followed her on this crazy journey. Her little sister was crying while her mother tried to soothe her. still Angela looked fierce, as if a plane nosediving was only a minor inconvenience. Paige really admired her mom at that moment.

Tilley and the agents had the exact same expressions on their faces. If they were scared, Paige couldn’t tell. From where she sat, she could barely see AJ. Peter was as scared as Willow, and Dave was doing everything in his power to calm him. He’s a good brother, she thought with sadness. She wondered if this would be their final moments.

Paige felt fortunate that she’d met him at that train station. She certainly wouldn’t have made it this far without him.

The plane stopped it’s shaking, jolting upwards as the power flickered back on.

“We lost a lot of altitude, but I’m bringing it down” the pilot informed them. “Hold on. This is going to get bumpy.”

Paige was slammed against her seat again as they plummeted toward the Earth, despite their best efforts. She couldn’t help but glance through the window, regretting it immediately. They were a lot closer to the ground than she hoped. She felt like they would crash any second, making a huge crater in the ground. She knew that was just the fear talking, but she couldn’t help herself. They flew past some houses, and to Paige, that felt like a small miracle. She couldn’t be sure if anyone was inside, and she didn’t want any more innocent blood on her hands. Every person she’d killed that day was an innocent. While they were blood thirsty and had attacked her first, they didn’t ask to get infected. They were innocent. In those moments, when she felt close to dying herself, that didn’t sit well with her conscience.

The plane wavered as they started hitting treetops. Deafening noises from within the plane and outside made it so Paige couldn’t even hear her own thoughts.

She could hear trees breaking and branches scraping the outside of the plane, mixing with the sounds of a secret service agent praying and Willow and Peter crying.

Suddenly, there was a massive jolt that started bouncing them so violently that it knocked all the breath out of Paige’s lungs. Her head bounced against the seat, and even though she was strapped in, she was gripping the armrest as if her life depended solely on that action alone.

They hit the ground hard. The plane barely slowed as it slid across a grassy field. Paige’s seatbelt bit into her waist to the point she felt like screaming as she was slammed forward. A blur of green could be seen through the window once they’d left the outskirts of the woods, or what was left of it after they’d crashed.

Eventually, the pilots managed to slow the massive machine, and they tilted to the left, fully stopping. There was a moment of silence when everyone cautiously looked around to make sure they were still alive. Once everyone was accounted for, they all cheered.

I can’t believe we actually made it, Paige thought to herself. To say that she was relieved would have been a gross understatement. Looking out the window, despite the dusk, Paige could see the trail of destruction they’d made.

“That went well,” Tilley commented dryly, and Paige grinned.

The light that suggested they could take their seat belts off started blinking, and Paige couldn’t help but giggle. It turned into a full-blown hysterical laugh, but she didn’t care. The rest of the gang joined in, each of them in shock.

“It’s good to be alive,” Dave mumbled through the cackles, and Paige couldn’t agree more.

She stretched as she stood, and Willow came to hug her.

“It’s all right, Willow,” she said, trying to calm her. “We’re ok.”

“Come on,” Angela commanded. “We don’t have time to waste. Your father is waiting for us.”

Dave opened the door and released the evacuation slide. They left the plane, one by one. Paige glanced back at the plane. She was impressed it wasn’t in worse shape. It was no wonder why it was used as an Air Force One. In the distance, Paige could make out the outline of the city with a silver spaceship hovering over it.

“Now what?” Dave asked, looking at that same location.

“What is wrong with you?” one of the pilots asked as he advanced toward Paige. Dave and AJ formed a wall in front of her. “You almost got us all killed!” he continued to yell.

Paige shooed the boys away, so she could meet the pilot head on. “I did what I had to,” she argued back.

“I should put a gun to your head to see how you like it.”

“If that will make you feel better, go right ahead,” Paige snapped. “But it wouldn’t change a thing!”

He shook his head in disbelief while he shook from rage.

The other pilot approached his colleague, trying to calm him a bit. “What’s done is done. We’re here now, and we better work together to survive.”

“I really was just doing what I thought was best—for all of us, what are your names?” Paige said, losing a lot of her initial fire.

“Whatever, friends know my name,” the first pilot grumbled then flipped his ID card away before Paige could read it. She quickly looked at the other pilot’s ID card, his name was Edward Jackings. “You keep her away from me,” he told Edward, moving away from the group.

“As I said before, where to now?” Dave asked.

“My father is waiting for us at the NASA compound,” Paige responded. She just needed to figure out where that was from here.

They were standing in the middle of a field. There was a forest on three sides around them, but she could see outlines of a road on the fourth side, at the end of the field.

Maybe that’s our best shot.

“Maryland is that way,” Edward provided, pointing towards the city where the spaceship was. By the looks of it, that’s where the road Paige spotted would lead.

Great, Paige thought. They really couldn’t catch a break. Still, she couldn’t complain too much. They were all still alive, so that was a plus.

“There’s a spacecraft at NASA in Maryland?” the other pilot asked in disbelief.

She nodded in return. “Yeah.”

“Now what?” Tilley asked, repeating what Dave had asked earlier.

“Don’t worry. My sister always figures something out,” Willow assured her with little success. She smiled proudly at Paige anyway, which made her heart melt.

At least one of us thinks I’m doing a good job.

“We shouldn’t go with them, Miss Tilley,” one of the agents told her. “It’s too dangerous.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Tilley waved her hand. “We have better chances if we stick together. Besides, Paige was right until now, so I’m going with her no matter what.”

“Come on, Paige,” AJ jumped in. “You’re our leader, after all, so lead.”

Paige shrugged. “We don’t have a choice but to walk the rest of the way,” she informed her ever-growing group of people.

It was funny how she’d started this journey all by herself, and now there were a few people at her side. Some of them were twice her age, and yet they all followed her lead.

Must be because of the gun, she thought to herself, but she didn’t dare repeat that joke out loud.

Steeling herself, she started to lead everyone towards the city and the road she’d spotted.

She hoped that once on the road, they would possibly find some kind of a working vehicle. Dave was a master for finding sweet rides after all, and hot-wiring it wasn’t a problem anymore since both Dave and Paige knew how to do that. Paige suspected the secret service agents knew how to do that as well.

Paige missed their minibus so much at that moment.

“My feet hurt,” Peter complained.

“You’ve barely made ten steps, man.” Despite his words, Dave’s voice was full of amusement.

Peter looked, pleading, and Dave actually laughed. “Would you like a piggyback?”

Peter nodded, and Dave put his little brother on his shoulders.

“Better?” Dave asked.

“Yes, but I’m hungry, too,” Peter replied.

“Here,” Paige said, opening her backpack. “Have an energy bar.” He happily took it from her hand, and she pulled another out. “Anyone else?”

“I’m hungry, too,” Willow replied, and Paige provided her with one as well.

Willow looked at the offering. “I’m so going to miss these,” she said a bit wistfully.

“Yeah, me too,” AJ said. “And Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream.”

“Dave?” Paige prompted.

“Tootsie pops,” he said without a thought.

“It’s KitKats for me,” Tilley jumped in, everyone gave a small moan in agreement.

“How about you, Paige?” Tilley asked her.

“Big Mac,” AJ and Dave said at the same time. They looked at one another and laughed. Paige joined in.

“But that’s not sweet,” Tilley countered, not getting the joke.

“It doesn’t matter,” Paige replied. “They’re right. I It’s the thing I would miss the most.”

The light conversation continued for a while. It felt like that was what they all needed to blow off some steam. They needed a few moments to relax after everything they’d gone through.

Once they walked out of the grass, they stood on the edge of a highway.

Yes! Paige cheered. That meant they were one step closer to their destination.

The road was littered with a ton of cars and all at a standstill. People inside were yelling at other cars, and some had even abandoned their vehicles to stare up at the spaceship, which was getting bigger the closer they got to it.

A woman who was getting out of a large family car caught Paige’s attention. She was young, maybe in her thirties, dressed in overalls that were covered in paint. She looked like she’d been redecorating when all this madness started.

“Excuse me, miss?” Paige asked politely.

The rest of Paige’s entourage looked at her questioningly. Since she hadn’t shared her plans with the group, they couldn’t know where she was going with this.

The woman turned toward her, and Paige noticed terrified twin boys in the back seat. They had matching blue outfits, and they looked cute as buttons. Paige smiled and waved at them, but they lowered they heads as if embarrassed to be caught looking.

Instantly, the siblings reminded her of the baby Paige left with the sick mother in the center. Fortunately, that story had a happy ending. But what about this one?

She couldn’t help but wonder if the twins had caught the virus. The mother looked healthy, but that could change in a flash.

Will those sweet boys have to die? Paige spiraled and had to take a deep breath to calm herself.

She shuddered at the thought of any innocent child getting the virus. Damn aliens, sending down an evil bug to wipe us out. Babies who haven’t even had a chance to live. How many more innocent lives are going to be lost?

This was not going to happen here and now, not if she could help it!

“What do you want?” the woman asked, and that stopped Paige from spiraling further.

“Is your car in working order?” Paige asked as Dave came to stand next to her.

The rest of the gang held back, and Paige was grateful. There was no reason to overwhelm the poor woman.

“The power in all the cars stopped running. Nothing is working,” she explained. Carefully, she reached into the car and took the boys out. They looked to be about two years old as far as Paige could tell since they were walking well on their own. But they stayed by their mother’s side.

The mother held her sons’ hands and looked at them cautiously. She certainly seemed to be wondering why Paige stopped her in the first place.

“The aliens must have blasted some kind of EMP and made all the computer system useless,” Dave chipped in. “Can I look?” Dave asked the woman, gesturing toward the hood.

The woman simply nodded.

Dave put his little brother down. Peter immediately went to stand next to Willow while Dave jogged a couple of steps to the front of the car and fumbled with something on the driver’s seat. He released the hatch that unlocked the hood. Opening it, he started looking around, and AJ joined him.

 They started talking among themselves, but since Paige wasn’t car savvy, she lost them when they started throwing words like valve adapter, vent caps, or timing belt.

Movement beside her caught her attention. Her mother was holding her bag of dirt protectively, visibly pleased it had survived thus far.

Paige groaned. This is so not the time and place for that! she thought in exasperation.

Angela smiled, walking toward the woman with her babies. “How old are they?” She inquired, making sweet noises while trying to calm them down.

It was obvious the boys didn’t like being surrounded by strangers, and Paige was sympathetic. The only things boys that age should worry about was what to play with next, not being on the run from an enemy they’d all thought was purely fictional up until now.

The twins looked at Angela curiously.

“They’re 26 months old. This is Aston and Evan,” the twin’s mother said.

“They are beautiful,” Angela complimented.

“I just hope we can get to my parent’s house before the virus catches up with us,” the woman said.

Paige noticed her mother clutching the bag again as if she was contemplating something. Everyone was silent apart from AJ and Dave who chose that moment to return.

“I don’t know what they did, but the car is completely useless,” Dave announced, destroying all Paige’s hope.

“Yeah, they really mean business,” AJ added, frowning. “It’s probably the same thing they did to the plane.”

“Great,” Paige mumbled, not looking forward to the long walk they had ahead of them.

Angela smiled at the woman as she took a small bag of dirt from the larger bag and handed it to the other mother. Paige hadn’t noticed before that it was packed in smaller portions.

“This will help keep your babies healthy,” her mother said.

Having a closer look, Paige noticed it wasn’t dirt at all. It was composed of dried herbs. She took one small bag for closer inspection. Even through the wrappings, it smelled kind of sweet, like honey. Paige could have sworn she remembered that smell from her childhood.

“Cook one teaspoon and mix it with water. If your babies are anything like mine, mix it with chocolate milk. They’ll drink it all up. Each teaspoon lasts six months. But if you or the boys already have the virus, then there isn’t anything you can do. There is no cure,” Paige’s mom explained in one breath.

The woman nodded and didn’t even question what Paige’s mother had just said. “Thank you,” she replied. She held it tight in her grip as she hurried off with the boys along the highway.

Paige wanted to stop her, ask her if she wanted to come with them, but she moved away too quickly. Dave looked at her, confused, nodding toward Angela and her magic dust, but Paige just shrugged. Everyone else in their little group stared at Angela in astonishment.

One of the pilots asked, “Does that really work?” He eyed the bag dubiously.

“Of course, it does,” Angela replied instantly, raising her chin. “My eldest daughter gave it to me.” She started handing out little bags to everyone in the group except AJ. “Of course, Paige and Willow don’t need it. I’ve been giving it to them all their lives.”

“Mom, give some to AJ,” Paige complained, thinking how her Mom was being beyond rude.

“No, his type is what brought the virus here. I’m not giving him anything. I’ll never give anything to a Shadow,” she snapped back.

 “Take mine,” she offered, but he shook his head. “It’s fine,” Paige reassured him.

“But you need it,” AJ insisted in return.

“No, apparently, I don’t. She’s been giving this to me my whole life,” Paige countered. Eventually, he accepted her offering. Paige looked at all the people around her. “I think it’s probably best to keep moving. We don’t have a lot of time to get to Maryland.”

The gang slowly continued with their journey. There was a big curve in the road, and once they reached it, they started into the abyss of people.

So, this is where all the people from the abandoned cars ended up, Paige realized.

They were moving forward, toward the city just like Paige’s gang intended to.

“Be careful and stay close together,” Angela warned. “We can’t be sure what kind of crazy people we’ll encounter.”

Paige nodded in agreement since that was on her mind as well. Mixing with the rest of the people, Paige couldn’t help but observe them. Some looked scared, some were angry, and some were glum. Several people were even bloody and marked, looking like they’d gone through hell. But that doesn’t mean they’re infected, she reminded herself. She looked the exact same way.

“Let go!” Tilley suddenly screamed.

Paige turned just in time to see one of the secret service agents fighting a man who was trying to grab hold of Tilley. His face was bloody, and he was snapping with his teeth as if wanting to bite her. The other agent came at the man from the other side and shot him in the face point blank. The crazed infected man’s jaw stopped working—there was little of it left.

“The infected are among us,” the agent holstering his gun said. “Stay alert.”

Just as he said that, another man attacked him from the back. He charged into the agent so hard, he lost balance and fell head first to the ground with the infected on top of him. The other agent did what he must and dragged Tilley away. Without a thought, Paige reached for her sword and cursed loudly because she didn’t have it anymore.

So, she gripped her gun instead.

The infected man was just about to bite the agent, so she charged in. Using the butt of the gun as a weapon, she hit the infected man in the head before repeating the move. That certainly made him pause long enough for the agent to throw him off. With their positions switched, he was able to shoot his attacker in the head. But they didn’t have time to take the win as more infected came at them.

Several car doors squawked open, and suddenly, they were surrounded. Paige raised her gun right way, showing they weren’t such an easy pray, and that made them pause.

“Well, shit,” Dave grumbled, gripping a tire iron.

Where did he manage to get that? Paige wondered, remembering that he, too, had to leave his weapon at the base.

“I second that,” AJ drawled without humor. He reached inside a truck next to him with a bed full of lumber and grabbed a plank.

“Protect the children,” Paige said, but it wasn’t necessary. Everyone instinctively gravitated around younger ones in the group.

The agent who protected Tilley moved where Peter and Willow were.

“Here you go,” Dave said to one of the pilots as he threw his gun to him.

The pilot caught the gun and moved to protect the children. Once everyone was in place, Paige charged, and she could hear that the others following suit.

A real-life Barbie was closest, so Paige decided to deal with her first. The poor woman didn’t have a chance. She was more than likely crazed because of the virus, but it was obvious she had no fighting skills, allowing Paige to plow right through her. Though she was focused on her own fight, Paige saw Dave and AJ team up, trying to take down a guy who looked like a professional wrestler. The sounds of grunting, fighting, and the occasional gunshot filled the air. Paige was in the zone, and it took her a while to realize when it stopped. They’d killed every last one of them.

Paige quickly looked at her companions and was relieved to see everyone was still standing.

“That was fun,” Dave said, coming to her side. His hands were bloody, and he tried to wipe them off on his jeans.

“Is everyone ok?” Paige asked, and an echo of yeses came back to her.

“Thanks for your help,” the agent that was attacked said, offering her his hand.

A bit taken aback, Paige took it. “No problem,” she replied.

He smiled lightly. “I’m Conner, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Conner,” she replied politely. A strange camaraderie formed after that, and Paige was glad. “Come on, let’s go!” Paige yelled.

“What if there are more of them?” Willow asked. This was her first real brush with the infected, and she was understandably scared. Her eyes were big, and she was shaking.

“We’ll deal with them just like we did with this bunch,” Paige replied with a confidence she didn’t feel.

Like they needed another thing to worry about. They had to reach the NASA compound before the last spacecraft left the planet. That is stressful enough, thank you very much, Paige thought. She didn’t know how long her father could stall the launch, but she hoped it would be long enough.

And the people holding him hostage? Paige prayed he managed to get away from them as well. She couldn’t help but wonder who might have been holding him hostage, but she imagined they would find out soon enough.

Paige picked up the pace. “Come on. We have to hurry,” she urged. “We have to catch that space shuttle.”

“And have a tea party later,” Dave added, giving everyone a laugh.

He hugged her as they started to walk, and Paige laughed, too, jabbing him in the ribs. He released an oomph sound and looked at her a bit shocked.

“What? Did I hurt you?” She didn’t intend for it to be that strong.

“Nah.” He waved his other hand. “It’s all good. You just surprised me,” he added, winking.

AJ approached from the other side. “You better watch out, man. If she’s throwing punches that easily when in high spirit, you don’t want to see her angry, trust me,” AJ teased.

“Oh, I know,” Dave replied in the same manner. “I especially wouldn’t want to stand between her and a Big Mac.”

She jabbed him again, only this time she intended it to be with a bit of sting. He winced, but she immediately felt guilty about it.

“I’m not that bad,” Paige said, defending herself.

“I was there when you hit Johanna Kawinski in the head,” AJ challenged.

Dave gasped in exaggerated shock, waiting for the punchline.

“It was in PE. I tried to pass her the ball. It was an accident!” she said, defending herself again.

“If you say so,” AJ replied with a massive grin.

Paige started to feel something she’d never experienced before. The impending doom of wondering what was going to happen temporarily left her. It felt as if everything was at peace while she had her family, Dave, and AJ by her side.

If only River could see me now, crossed Paige’s mind as they walked ahead, together, toward the unknown.

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