A YEAR UNDERFOOT — entry #65

A Year Underfoot

 
October 9th, 2033

The night was clear and the moon was nearly full when I broke camp and headed northeast with nothing on my mind other than the air base and how to hit it. I followed State Road 33 east for a few miles until it turned true north and I parted ways with the asphalt and struck out through the canyons and the scrub.

I’d only gone about a half mile in when I looked up and there they were lining the next rise, troopers, thirty of them, armed to teeth and coming at me from all sides. There was no escape. They closed their circle and that was that. I’d been had. I was prepared to die.

They stripped me of my gear and beat the living snot out of me instead.

I was dragged back to the road and was tossed into a transport like a sack of trash into the back of a garbage truck. I landed face down, sprawled out along the floor as the heavy door slammed shut and the interior plunged into darkness.

The transport lunged forward and the moaning started.

It was not mine.

I was not alone.

I took stock of my injuries. My jaw was sore, but not broken, neither were my arms, legs, hands, or feet. With the exception of my ribs and my wrist, I came out of the beat down in fairly good shape. Bumps, bruises and a good gash on the skull, – nothing that time couldn’t heal. I’d be okay.

The folks lying around me, well, that was another story. Most of them would be dead by morning. There was nothing I could do for them. Their fate had long been sealed.

I inched along the floor toward the figure nearest to me. It was a child of maybe ten, or eleven, and as I drew closer a small and fragile hand reached out to me. It was a girl and she was badly burned, and scared and not long for this world. I drew closer still and whispered to her it was going to be all right, but we both knew it was a lie.

“I don’t want to die alone.”

Those were her first and only words to me as she passed on a few minutes later. I held her hand long after it had gone cold and cried like I never had before.

Rest in peace, little one.

An hour later we stopped and I got to my feet. I figured we were at the first checkpoint along the interstate and the next stop would be the air base itself. If the opportunity arose to run, I was going to take it.

At least, that was my plan.

Ten minutes later we stopped a second time and I readied myself to make a break for it. The hatch opened and in the split second I had to decide, the decision was made for me. The entry way was filled with the oversized frame of an angry trooper. His massive arm reached in and grabbed hold of the first person he saw, and yanked him back through the hatch.

Then, a scream, a terrible piercing scream. Followed by silence.

One by one, they came for us, some went willing, but most did not. And, when they came for me, I made a break for it.

I ran toward the trooper and dove for the small gap between he and the door-jamb. I slipped past the awkward, unsuspecting beast and found myself dropping through the air. It was twenty feet to the ground and when I hit it, I hit it hard. My tuck and roll technique was lacking and I nearly passed out from the pain as I slammed into the base’s hard surface.

Somehow, I found my feet and ran. My chest heaved and my ribs ached something fierce. My breathing was rapid and shallow and I felt like I was having a heart attack, but, I knew better. I had broken a few ribs, and probably my left wrist as well. I would live.

Then all hell broke loose. Klaxons blared and lights flashed.

I kept moving and I kept my head low. I ducked into a hangar and slipped into a dark corner and took stock. I was on the base, but I had no weapons, no explosives and more than a handful of angry troopers on my tail.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

Those three words became my mantra.

I’d slipped into a freight hangar and as I scurried into the shadows a plan began to gel. Some of this stuff must be destined for the battleship, right?

I sat and watched the tarmac and got a feel for the rhythm of the freight yard. It was busy, and seemingly chaotic, but there was an underlying sense of order to the operation, – in an alien sort of way.

All right, what am I looking for?

The answer came in the form of a large composite container with an elaborate crest stamped on the side. I had seen that crest, that particular symbol before. A flash in a vision. It was the mark of Threak royalty. Someone of royal lineage was near, perhaps they were aboard the battleship?

It was as close to an answer as I was going to find.

I crept toward the flat back container. It stood twenty feet tall by twenty feet wide and sat at the head of the next queue waiting to be loaded.

Clutching my wrist and ribs, I ran across the smooth floor and sidled up alongside the container and looked for a way in. I had no idea what I was doing. What I was looking for? A latch, a lid, a button, a lever, what? Precious seconds ticked by and I was no closer to breaching the container than when I’d started.

The grunts of approaching troopers hastened my decision to filter back into the freight, but as I turned to run I was driven to my knees. I had twisted my ribs the wrong way and had to pay the price. The pain was excruciating, but I dare not make a sound. I had to hold it in. My face twisted in pain. I leaned back up against the container. Even if I could get inside, what could I do? I could barely move.

I heard a freight loader approaching and I struggled to my feet. It was then I realized it wasn’t just one container on the skid, but two, loaded side by side, – with a sliver of space in between. If I could squeeze between the two and work my way to the middle of the skid, I just might be able to hide in the shadows and stow aboard after all.

I climbed up onto the skid and jammed myself between the two containers, fully aware should they shift in transit I would be crushed like an ant underfoot. If that’s how it ends for me, then that’s how it ends for me. I had to get on that battleship and this was my ticket. This might be my only shot.

I waited, and I waited. It was all I could do. Sooner or later this load was heading out and I was going with it. Come hell or high water I would be on that ship.

Fifteen minutes passed and there I still sat. Fifteen minutes became twenty, which turned to thirty, and before I knew it a full hour had passed, – and still no movement. Other freight was being loaded. The warehouse was buzzing with activity. What was going on? Had I gotten it all wrong? Was it possible I’d found the back end of the line? Maybe this skid wouldn’t be loaded for days? Maybe it was incoming, not outgoing? Maybe…?

The skid jerked and snapped forward. I was on the move.

I felt the loader slow down as we reached the warehouse dock and I closed my eyes. If they went over this skid with a fine toothcomb my plan was over before it had even started. If not, I was still in the game.

It could have gone either way.

I waited, but the loader never stopped, instead a junior logistics officer waved us right along. He wasn’t about to delay, if even for a second, a shipment destined for a Royal.

Some things are the same all over.

A minute later, I was on a shuttle headed for the battleship over Los Angeles.

And, I still didn’t have a plan. How could I? I had no idea I’d be here.

When the cargo bay door closed I was as alone as I had ever been before. Vulnerable, nervous, and scared, – only the task at hand kept me going. I slipped out from between the containers and felt my way around. I was searching for something, anything that could help me cause some havoc on board the battleship.

The shuttle’s engines screeched to life and soon after a second, more pronounced sound filled the cargo bay. A sort of hissing, like that of air being forced and filtered, reverberated through out the ship and my breathing instantly became labored, – and the temperature in the bay dropped appreciably.

The atmosphere was changing to suite the Threak’s natural environment.

I hadn’t thought of that. Could I even breathe on a Threak ship? Or, would I freeze to death first?

The first lurch of the shuttle toward the tarmac put it all in play for me. I had to get out of there. My chest burned and my breathing slowed. I felt my way forward and located the forward wall of the bay. Somewhere along the surface was a control panel, – I’d seen it on the way in, just before the hatch sealed and the interior fell black. If I could just….

The nose of the shuttle lifted sharply and I fell back, crashing hard into the corner of a shipping container before slumping to the floor. My ribs had taken a direct hit once again and I writhed on the ground in pain.

I couldn’t breathe. Between the broken ribs and the lack of oxygen I was suffocating.

I lay on the ground, gasping for breath and groping in the darkness. I knew that if I didn’t get up, I was a dead man.

I rolled to my knees and struggled to stand, – my ribs fighting me the entire way. With my broken wrist clutching my broken ribs, I pushed forward and staggered ahead. The ship was still on the rise, but the pitch had begun to flatten and when I reached the forward wall I felt along the smooth surface for the large square panel.

What I found shocked the hell out of me.

And, I wasn’t the only one.

As soon as my hand brushed up against the panel, the wall slid open. At first, all I saw was daylight, big, bright, beautiful daylight. But, as my eyes adjusted, reality set in and I found myself standing in the doorway of the shuttle’s cockpit, – which was currently occupied by a trio of troopers who were none too pleased to see me.

“Charge!”

I yelled it out. I actually did. And, then I did, I charged. I had no other options. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t duck back into the cargo bay. I couldn’t stand there and feign invisibility. I had to go on the offensive. I had no other choice. I charged.

The cockpit was laid out in a semicircular fashion with the trio at the helm sitting equidistant from each other. Buttons, levers, and flashing lights lit up the flight control panel laid out before them, and although I had no idea what button did what, I went after the panel anyway. I flung myself between two of the troopers and ran my hands up and down the flight panel, pressing as many buttons and pulling as many levers as I could.

It worked.

The shuttle dove and rolled sharply to the right, pinning the troopers to their seats, allowing me to do more damage, as long as I could hold on.

The nose of the ship violently lurched upward, throwing me back off the control panel and clear across the crowded cockpit. I landed on my back as the nose then pitched downward and started a slow roll toward the ground. I was bounced onto my stomach and I grabbed hold of the bottom of the door-jamb and held on as we began to spiral.

Meanwhile, two of the troopers had managed to pull themselves back into their seats and were feverishly attempting to regain control of the shuttle. The third, with a mad rage in his eyes, went after me. He reached out and grabbed hold of my left leg and pulled me toward him, but before he could claim his prize, the ship the pitched violently to the left and he lost his grip. He stumbled back into the instrument panel as I fought my way back to the door-jamb and took hold.

Our descent began to flatten. The troopers were regaining control of the craft, but did they have enough time?

In a word, – no. It was too late. We were in the trees.

As the nose of the shuttle crashed through the tops of the pines, I heard mighty limbs scraping and snapping along the sides and underbelly of the doomed shuttle. The craft bounced and shook violently with each jarring strike. The troopers gunned the engines and tried to pull her up, but it was too late, the die had been cast. Try as they might to keep the craft in the air it was a lost cause.

All I remember of the crash is the sound of branches snapping, troopers screaming and klaxons blaring.

Everything else after that is a blank.

Which leads me to the here and now.

I’m alive, – obviously, and on the mend. I was found by a hunting party led by a guy named Wolfe, Dan Wolfe, who pulled me from the wreckage and brought me back to a campsite he’d carved out of the coastal forest for his family. His wife, Maureen, a former nurse, went about the business of setting my wrist and wrapping my ribs, and when I finally came to a few hours later I knew right away I was in good hands.

Dan tells me we’re about twenty-five miles east of Santa Barbara in the northern portion of the Los Padres National Forest. He also tells me there are at least twenty other camps he knows of within a day’s walk, with more camps springing up every day.

I had no idea.

Beside Dan and Maureen there are nine others here, three men and six women, ranging in age from fifteen to fifty. Most are family, but the two youngest are a pair of sisters Maureen found wandering in the scrub a few weeks after the invasion. I haven’t met everyone yet, but they seem like real fine people. They certainly have taken good care of me.

As far as my health goes, I’m breathing easier and keeping my ribs immobilized while not missing out on a meal is a true blessing. No doubt about it. To be honest, I didn’t believe this kind of hospitality existed anymore. Now that I see it first hand I’m ashamed to say I’d thought otherwise. I owe these people my life.

amazon.com/a-year-underfoot

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About paul nevins

Fiction writer, reader and baseball fan.
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