Inhabitable | Invasion Survivor Book Two | Chapter Twenty
“Mom! Willow!” Paige whispered as she ran to hug them. Willow was beaming with happiness to see her and met her halfway.
“Paige! You’re here!” her sister exclaimed, hugging her with all her might. Paige was pleased to see she had her bracelet, and that comforted her.
Paige heard the girls greet each other, which only warmed her heart further. Tilley was alone in all this. She had no one with her from her family. Willow was the only person she knew.
Once they parted, her Mom winked at her.
Yeah, she’s still strange, Paige thought to herself. She felt cheered up by that for some reason.
Checking her mother over from head to toe, she noticed her glow and wondered if she was all right. She swallowed as she wondered if she had the black mass inside her now as well.
Paige wanted to ask about that, but AJ interrupted her. “Paige. We don’t have much time.”
He looked impatient, glancing behind himself ever so often, and Paige couldn’t really blame him. There would be enough time for catching up later. The aliens were after them right now, and whatever they were going to do, they needed to do it quickly.
Paige was beyond grateful AJ had a plan because she wasn’t capable of shouldering that responsibility at the moment. Again, she was reminded of how safe she felt when he was by her side.
AJ led them into a room. Cylindrical holes covered one wall, and Paige wondered what they were for.
“Those are emergency evacuation capsules,” AJ explained as if reading her mind. She nodded, grateful he’d provided her with that information. “You’re not going to use them. It’ll draw too much attention to you.”
Moving past the capsules, they entered another room, but this one was a bit smaller and round. Paige looked around nervously, expecting to see aliens, but there were none there. The room seemed to be completely empty. Several advanced computers lined the walls, and there were five circles on the floor.
“These are the transport beams they used to bring you up. We can use it to go back down.”
“I can’t go without Dave. I’m sorry,” Paige told them. She turned to run away, but a strong hand stopped her.
“Paige, you can’t go back,” AJ pleaded.
“I have to. Now let me go AJ,” Paige snapped.
“Just go with the gang, and I promise I’ll look for him,” he tried to bargain.
“Wouldn’t you be too busy blowing the ship up?” she challenged.
AJ gritted his teeth. “Have I ever let you down before?” he argued, and Paige really wanted to hit him for trying to guilt her into listening to him.
“Take care of them,” Paige said instead.
“Paige,” her mother interjected.
“Mom, don’t. Dave saved me, us, a lot of times. I owe this much to him.”
To Paige’s complete surprise, her mother simply nodded. “Be careful, honey.”
Paige nodded in return. AJ still wouldn’t let her go, and she looked at him expectantly. He sighed. After several tense moments, he reluctantly let her go.
“I’ll be back. I promise,” she said before running out of the room. She hoped like hell she could keep her promise.
So where to start the search? Paige wondered.
Dave wasn’t at any of the places they’d searched so far. Maybe it was time for her to get a bit more creative. There had to be a part of the ship they were overlooking.
Then inspiration smacked her in the head—sort of.
As she ran, she crossed paths with a fellow worker. He looked at her like she’d committed some mortal sin. Fixing her face to appear more lifeless like his, she straightened her shoulders and continued walking without uttering a word. The worker continued on with his business. When she was sure he wouldn’t suspect anything, Paige started to follow him. It was a long shot, but it was also the best option she had.
She followed him around for a while and was about to lose hope when he entered something that resembled a locker room. Before the door closed, she got a glimpse of Dave. He was putting on the same green uniform she was sporting.
He’s in there! Paige thought to herself, but it was too early for cheers just yet.
She waited on pins and needles for him to exit, and when he did, she grabbed his hand.
“Dave, I’m so glad I finally found you. Let’s go. We have to hurry,” she blurted out all in one breath.
But even though she gave him a little push, he didn’t move. He frowned as he looked at their joined hands.
“Go where?” he asked in a tone of voice that wasn’t quite right.
That was when Paige realized the significance of the uniform he was wearing.
“Dave?” she asked tentatively.
“I’m late for my post, but I think you should go to physical maintenance. Your Host is malfunctioning,” he informed her coldly. As if he was disgusted by the contact they’d shared, he picked up her hand with his free hand and removed it from his body.
With that, he left. Paige could only stare after him, frozen in place.
Dave was gone, she realized. He was a host, being controlled with the black mass inside his body.
She snapped herself out of her moment of despair, refusing to cry as she willed her legs to start moving again.
Paige ran after Dave. She was determined that he was coming with her! Time to see what my new upgrades can do!
“Dave wait up!” Paige yelled, and it got the response she wanted.
Dave turned to face her. With all the force she could muster, she punched Dave in the jaw. His feet were knocked out from under him, and his body slammed down to the floor.
Paige was instantly worried the force was too much and that she might have killed him. Luckily Dave’s chest was still moving up and down. She gave a relieved sigh as she saw him breathe.
She took hold of his boots and dragged him along the floor towards the others. Paige was getting Dave off this spaceship one way or another.
“Stand in those circles. Quick!” AJ commanded.
Paige looked at him curiously. “Why?”
“Listen,” her mother snapped.
Unwilling to waste any more time, Paige did as she was told. Soon, she could hear the pounding of boots on the floor. They were coming!
“Quickly! Just do as he says!” Angela snapped and glared at her daughter sternly while standing in a circle.
Paige got on one of the circles, pulling Dave motionless body onto it.
Everyone except Peter stood on a circle. Peter sat on one, but rose once he saw Paige.
She watched AJ, but he didn’t move to stand on any of them. Instead, he stood by a control panel.
“AJ, what’s going on? What are you doing?” Paige asked a bit impatiently.
“I’m activating the beam’s connector. The floor beneath you will open, and the beam will safely carry you back down. Just don’t move, ok?” he explained, not lifting his eyes from the screen. I can’t believe what he just said.
“Wait, AJ! What about you?” Paige demanded. “Aren’t you coming down with us?” Her voice sounded a bit shaky, but she hoped no one realized it.
“No, Paige. You go down first, and I will find you,” he replied, pausing for a moment to flash Paige her favorite smile. “I’ll meet you at the Maryland NASA base, where your Dad works.”
“But how will you get down?”
AJ shook his head. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll find an escape pod.” AJ’s voice was shaking, too, even though Paige could see he was trying to control and hide it as she did moments ago.
The beams surrounded her, and everything turned blue as Paige looked through the light. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt her eyes at all. She watched in amazement as the floor opened beneath their feet.
Dave’s body was tugged away from her. The Hosts had arrived and were trying to keep Dave on the spaceship. AJ fought with the Hosts, and Paige used all her strength to keep Dave in the beam of light, but she wasn’t strong enough.
“I’ll protect him!” AJ yelled. The next thing Paige knew, she was swiftly moving down through the beam with her mom, Willow, Peter, and Tilley right by her side. Dave and AJ were still on the spaceship.
* * *
The beams faded, and AJ sighed in relief that they were gone. They were safe—at least, for now. As he stared at three Hosts, wondering how the hell he would get out of this mess, he realized he didn’t have much hope for himself. It was three against one, and by the time he beat them—if he beat them—more would certainly come.
Then again, he’d already won. His goal had been to save Paige and her family, and he succeeded.
“This doesn’t have to be your last day,” Francis said.
AJ was about to silence him, but something in his gut told him not to. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, if you’ll listen to me for five seconds, I’ll help you get out of here.”
AJ took several steps back as the Hosts descended upon him. “Why would you want to help me?”
One of the Hosts rushed forward, and AJ ducked, narrowly missing a punch to the face. He retaliated and hit the man hard in the stomach before jumping back.
“If you die, I won’t have a host. Good ones are hard to find, and I’ve become rather interested in you. I was just starting to get used to all the little annoying things you do—like ignoring me. That’s my favorite. Now, are you going to listen to me or not?”
The Host he’d punched had recovered and was stalking toward him with the other two closes behind.
“Do it. Help me. But just so you know, I’m not giving myself up to them, and I am getting out of here with Dave alive. Got it?” AJ said.
He could hear Francis laughing in the background of his mind. “See? Why would I want to miss this…? Just follow my lead. If you can find your way around this ship while using my knowledge, you can fight, too.”
The Host AJ had punched ran forward, and this time, AJ felt incredibly confident. He dove to the floor, tumbling over once before throwing a leg out. The man tripped, and AJ pounced on him quickly, smashing his head against the floor.
Just as he was about to stand, another Host grabbed him from behind. He wrapped his arm around AJ’s neck and pulled. AJ elbowed him twice in the ribs, forcing the Host to loosen his grip.
The last Host charged at him while he was still held by the other. He lifted his leg and kicked the charging opponent hard in the chest, throwing him back several feet. He used the momentary distraction to release himself from his captor’s hold.
AJ spun around and kicked the man in the side of the knee, dropping him to the floor. He hit the man hard in the back of the neck, and AJ could hear the sound of bone breaking. He doubted it would kill him, given their fast regeneration time, but it would paralyze him long enough to get free.
After taking two hits to the face from his final opponent, AJ ducked down and rammed his shoulder into the final Host’s stomach before taking him down to the ground. He chose to end things quickly, as he had with the last, and severed the spinal column.
Breathless, AJ stood and looked over at Dave. “Francis, thanks for the help, buddy.”
“You did all the hard work. Are you ready for some fun now?”
AJ narrowed his eyes. He wasn’t exactly sure he wanted to get involved with Francis and anything he considered to be “fun,” but his instincts told him to go with it.
“Why the hell not?”
* * *
There wasn’t enough time for Paige to start worrying about what was happening as the ground rushed towards them. They stopped just inches above the ground and gently hovered there. Paige looked around in confusion.
Now what? she wondered. She decided to take a tentative step forward, and that did the trick.
Stepping out from the beam, Paige watched as her mother and the rest of the gang did the same. Peter even grinned as he jumped, and Paige was reminded of Dave once again. They had that same smile, and her stomach tightened.
They stood in the same place the beam had taken them from in the first place. In the middle of the deserted main street. Paige looked up at the sky as if needing to be reassured the spaceship was still there, and it was. She hoped and prayed to see AJ and Dave coming down after them, but they didn’t appear. Anxiety built inside her.
Please, AJ, she silently begged as she looked at the spaceship above.
“Paige, I don’t think he’s coming,” Willow said sadly, accurately guessing what was on her mind.
“Come on.” Angela placed her arm around Paige’s waist and took Willow’s hand with the other, slowly leading them down the road. The city was so quiet that the buildings around them took on an eerie presence. Paige felt exposed. She wanted to hide just like her mother had always suggested.
“I’ll keep you safe, just like when you were little girls,” her mom said, trying to reassure them. “Remember the wardrobe I used to hide you in? Those were the good old days, heh.”
When she said something like that, Paige could never be one hundred percent sure if she was joking or not.
“But what about AJ and Dave?” Paige asked, not bothering to hide her whiny tone. She wasn’t yet ready to let the spaceship out of her sight.
What if he changed his mind? Paige hoped, glancing at the spot they’d landed, but nothing was there except an empty street each time she looked.
“Let’s hide in this building. Don’t worry about him. AJ said he’ll look after Dave, and that boy had better!” her mother replied.
“Will we be safe there?” Tilley asked.
“Yes,” Angela replied with confidence.
With that, their little chat about AJ was over. Her mother’s behavior regarding AJ was all over the place, but she couldn’t expect anything different from her. After trying a few doors, their mom found a door that was open, and she ushered them inside. Reluctantly, Paige followed her sister into the abandoned condo while holding hands with Peter. Not many people remained in the city, and Paige was painfully aware of that. This apartment was small and full of boxes. It looked as though the tenants had only recently moved in and didn’t even get the change to fully unpack. Her mother immediately went to check for a wardrobe and found one that was nearly empty. There was also a small window that looked out toward the spaceship, and Paige parked herself next to it.
She stared out the window, waiting for an escape pod. The hope that AJ and Dave would join them any minute now still hadn’t fully abandoned her.
“Paige. He told you he’d meet us at the NASA base, don’t you remember?” Her mom tried to reason with her, but it was useless. She sighed. “You’ll meet him there. We only need to get there in time. We can’t be late.”
Paige simply nodded in return.
At that precise moment, the spaceship suddenly exploded in an earth-shattering BOOM. The detonation was so strong that the whole building shook at its foundation, and the glass windows shattered.
Paige instinctively turned away, protecting her head, but she could feel a few shards finding their mark. Ignoring the pain, Paige jumped back up to the window only to see a massive spaceship in flames.
He blew up the ship, Paige couldn’t believe it even though the proof was right in front of her. He blew it up! Where are they?
The spaceship began to plummet to Earth, and a trail of thick black smoke followed it. Fiery parts of the wreckage found their way to the ground faster and caused even more damage in the already ruined city.
The whole thing crashed in the opposite direction of their apartment building, causing an additional earthquake. Paige couldn’t take looking at the wreckage anymore. She crumbled to the floor, hugging her legs tightly.
“Paige… Paige! Get up and look!” Angela announced.
She laid there for a few moments, terrified to move, but her mother dragged her up. She got to her feet and looked out the window. To her surprise, Paige saw a smaller spaceship flying away. It was an escape pod!
Paige jumped for joy. “He did it!”
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