Ghosts in the Machines
Rated T: For sci-fi action, peril, language, possible drug use and violent descriptions.
Summary: What if every attempt you made to return home was futile? How would you cope with being trapped on a planet that was not your home, trying to avoid being captured by the ones who still perceive you as a criminal; and your life lies partially in the hands of an Astrobiologist, her step-son and whoever else you meet along the way? Because let's face it Klaatu, you've changed the world for two people for the better, not to mention you've saved them from the G.O.R.T., but you've also turned New York into an apocalyptic catastrophe in the process ... You are not one of them. Your body is human but you are not. How will you survive as one of them, assuming there is no turning back, no escape? Who can you trust, where can you go? Your choices are few and far in between, Klaatu, and your invasion was only the beginning. There were others who wanted the Earth for a more greedy purpose. And now every country is breaking out into a war over resources setting into motion a chain of events, destruction and demolition. Will you save us Klaatu, or die trying?….probable slight Klaatu/Helen. Inspired by H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds (albeit not a crossover).
Disclaimer: And you all should know that I own nothing, save my creativity and the plot…and maybe whatever original characters you meet along the way.
Escape New York
SHE was frantic and scared. Yes, she was running scared. The world around her was an impending doom of disaster. The pavement cracked, cars flipped and tilted on their sides with steam seeping from the boundaries of their hoods. A delivery truck crashed through a grocery store, the glass shattered and scattered everywhere. A light pole was resting atop a small vehicle where there was debris, garbage and everything in between all over the place. How ironic, she thought, how the G.O.R.T. had left everything. Now Helen Benson was running like an escaped convict with her young step-son. Yet, in all of this they weren't alone; together they carried an unconscious male form.
The city alarm was ringing madly, sounding off like a bout of sirens. Some rubble fell here and there from damaged buildings and there was an aura of death reeking through the air. It was an oblivion of Hell. It certainly wasn't the Manhattan that they had always called home.
They rounded a car, its hood bent and buried into a brick wall that was brutally scathed. Inside was a grim scene; a man, his wife and a mural of splashed blood all over the windows.
"Don't look!" Helen told her step-son; but he knew very well it was there. It made young Jacob feel queasy and sick inside.
As they trailed on, she often asked herself in secret: So what's the plan, Helen? What are you going to do? Are you making the right choice? As of right now, she wasn't so sure of herself anymore.
They seemed burdened with this male body whose arms were draped over their shoulders and whose legs dragged along the streets, who groaned weakly in his groggy inactive state. But they couldn't leave him, Helen had concluded, to do so would've been cruel. He was vulnerable no doubt, his body battered and maybe broken. What survivors remained were more than likely in a frenzy, and whether or not they would spare him was a chance Helen didn't want to risk. The way she saw it, they could all three very well be seen as society rejects now.
The streets were bare of life. Everyone, or rather, those that lived, must have been fleeing to the shelters or hiding in their dwellings because every building they passed looked dark and lifeless inside. The gloom of the streets daunted them with dread, worry and fear; fear of what was laid out before them. Here it was, plain as day, a real life New York demolition just like in those End Of The World Thrillers.
There was also another possible dilemma to dwell on; the Military coming their way, searching for survivors and in the heap of things finding her and the alien. She didn't know for certain what they may do - should they be discovered - but waiting around to find out would be a foolish endeavor. The only sensible thing she could really do now was literally try to escape the city altogether before the Military had time to block the bridge - which is what they'd probably do in order to keep track of things.
In that moment, Jacob halted abruptly, nearly collapsing to the ground. Helen stopped too, looking with concern at the breathless child.
"Mom," he gasped, "Mom, I've got to take a breather."
"Okay." she said, speaking the same breathless volume. Helen had been so entangled within her thoughts that she'd nearly forgotten her lungs, and his.
They both knelt against the brick wall of an apartment flat, leaning their backs against its hard walls with Klaatu bent over between them. Helen tried to keep him upright with her arm, while allowing her other hand to glide over her temples. Already it felt as if they had been running nonstop for days - but really it was only an hour.
"Mom," Jacob began, "what are we gonna do with him…with Klaatu?"
Helen glanced him warily. Ever since their flee from Central Park, they hadn't spoken a word. It was rush and run it seemed, up until now. Her step-son could read her clearly though, knowing she was baffled and overwhelmed.
"I don't know." she confessed. There wasn't any point in lying to him and pretending to have all of the answers when clearly she didn't. "I'm just trying to get us home right now."
"Then what?" Jacob asked, furrowing his brows. Insecurity was written all over his face.
"We can't stay," Helen swallowed, hoping to catch her breath, "we'll have to leave."
"Leave?" Jacob questioned. "Where then? Where will we go?"
"Anywhere but here." She wanted to escape the confinement of a prison. This city of rubble was like being enclosed in a sewer. She wanted to find the open countryside, breathe cleaner air maybe, then go from there. What she didn't know was that there was about to be a global conflict that would spread throughout the country, every country, every city, every small town. A dark depression was on the rise, one unlike any other in history. She wasn't seeing it now, but it would come to her when her mind was clearer.
"Why?" Jacob asked.
"Jake, just don't question me. I've got to get us out of the city, okay? The Military might come. They might find us. It's possible that I could get into some serious trouble for assisting an alien."
"But you convinced him to give us another chance!" Jacob exclaimed. "They don't have any reason to lock you up!"
"I wish it were that simple. But they weren't there to witness it along with us. They don't know. They might not see it the way we do. And if they find Klaatu, he could be in even deeper trouble…danger maybe."
"So," Jacob sighed, "what are you saying, Mom? That we're going to be living like wanted criminals on the streets from now on?"
"Not necessarily. I'm hopeful that Professor Barnhardt can help us. If anyone knows the situation as well as ourselves, it should be him…I hope."
"Hope…well, what if he can't do anything?"
"Then we'll find another way."
That conversation was cut short when they suddenly heard the ruckus of human vocals humming towards them somewhere down that street. An old man, bristle bearded, only partially clothed with a fine board in his grip was the first they spotted. His wild eyes were almost red and he was shouting,
"Halleluiah! The world's come to an end! That'll teach us! That'll teach us sons of bitches!"
Helen gasped and immediately she and Jacob stood, struggling to bring the unconscious Klaatu to his feet. Behind the old man came a small band of followers, all of them about as half-witted and insane as he. They noticed them against the brick flat and the old man offered,
"Come! Come join us!" he wheezed inbetween laughs in a lunatic state-of-mind. "Let's all go have a riot in front of the New York Times! That'll give em' something to print up!"
"But the press is probably shut down." Jacob whispered to Helen, who shushed her step-son before speaking to this man.
"No thanks." she told him kindly, trying to hide her fear beneath her firm expression. Fortunately, the lunatic shrugged and left with his band of followers. It was then that Helen and Jacob, along with Klaatu, dispersed from that side of town - at least the man was rational enough to let them alone, Helen thought.
After they had walked several feet away from that spot, Jacob halted, bending down to retrieve a small pole laying lifelessly on the ground.
"I think I'll hang on to this, in case we have anymore encounters." he said.
"Good idea." his step-mother noted.
There was a small resentment in Helen, seeing as how everything was now. She didn't want to feel this animosity, but being only human she couldn't really help it when she glanced at Klaatu; but aside she pushed it, locking it away for the time being to keep her mind focused on what was really important: Keeping them safe and out of sight.
By late noon, they had arrived home tired and worn, only to find the place dark and un-lively, not to mention the surprise waiting inside. Halting briefly on the street outside, Helen and Jacob ranked the place. It looked the same as it was, but there was a feeling about it that settled something unruly within their hearts, a sensation of being harassed, exposed and invaded. Nothing inside was in its place - the house had been deserted and had become vulnerable to the obvious case of ransacking. Its walls reflected cold emptiness and the couch was tilted on its backside. Everything else, the lamps, the vases, the photographs of their family, it had all been tossed and thrown everywhere by inconsiderate hands. The place was unlit and a draft seemed to float throughout the air. After deciphering it all, they advanced from the door entrance to push the sofa upright and lay Klaatu upon it.
"Oh God." Helen sighed once Klaatu was in place on the sofa. "Look at this place." She rolled her hand atop her head, feeling overwhelmed even more than she already was with all that was going on.
"Who did all of this?" Jacob said, picking up a broken picture frame that held a now bent photo of his father.
"Nothing's been stolen." Helen concluded. "Maybe someone was looking for me." That alone was a scary thought. "We can't stay long, Jake."
"What about Klaatu?"
"I'll look and see if anything's broken. He did take a terrible fall from that Sphere." she replied, coming close to the alien's side.
Jacob watched silently as his step-mother handled Klaatu with cautious hands. Each touch brought on a small writhing wince on the left leg and upper left shoulder - the side of which he had tumbled on - and she came to the conclusion that it was fractured; but it hardly felt broken. Feeling and pressing against his skin revealed to her the inner genetic makeup of any human being. Perhaps that should have relieved her more, but instead it frightened her. He was so complex, so strange. How was it possible, to take on such a form as this?
With Jacob's assistance, she removed his coat and shirt with little trouble to bandage his shoulder. During this procedure, she found that the left side of his ribcage was bruised and she wrapped a thick gauze around him snuggly. The leg was wrapped afterwards and she could only hope for the best. Helen was no doctor, she wasn't even qualified to be a nurse, but taking Klaatu to a medical hospital would not only be unreasonable with everything like it was, but risky too. She had to keep him secret.
"Mom, what about those little nano things that swarmed the city? Didn't they go inside of Klaatu?"
"Yes." Helen replied nervously, trying to button up the alien's dress shirt.
"What if they're still in him? What if they start coming out and swarming us?"
"Jacob, I don't know." Helen was growing agitated and Jacob was all the more concerned, pouring out questions that he desperately wanted answers to.
"What are we going to do with him? He's heavy. We don't have a car anymore and we can't stay here."
"Jacob I don't know!" she reiterated it more sharply this time, her harsh voice laced with exhaustion.
Jacob retained his silence and looked away, fighting the tears that wanted to play at his eyes whilst casting them down at the resting alien. But it wasn't Helen's impatience that grieved him, or even the way she yelled. It was this…all of this.
She knew it was overwhelming for him. It seemed like just yesterday he was a normal kid without a care in the world, save his depression and longing for his father - and quite literally that was true. Now they were faced with being not only two out of very few survivors in this city, but they were trying to run away, to hide somewhere - not to mention they were still accompanied by the same alien who brought all of this on them - of course, according to Klaatu, the humans had brought it upon themselves…it was just still so hard to see it that way; in his perspective that is.
"I'm sorry." She rekindled her calm nature, gently rubbing Jacob's back. "I don't mean to come off so harsh. I know you have a lot of concerns right now and you have every right to feel that way; but I'm doing the best I can, for both of us." Saying this brought many new realities to Helen and she acknowledged them with a great deal of dread. "The world's a different place now," she went on, "people aren't going to be the same they were before all of this happened."
"Apparently." Jacob grunted, recalling the lunatics earlier that day.
"There isn't going to be any open stores much, no fun at the park, no gaming and not even schooling."
"The schools being closed isn't so bad." Jacob smirked at her and he could see a small smile spilling on her face, but it dispersed quickly as she went on.
"Jacob, a lot of things have been demolished and," she hesitated, "the country, if not the whole world, is more than likely going to go into a deep depression." There it was; the facts coming to mind.
"So has our life, our family. It wasn't enough that we were already miserable with Dad being gone…now we have all of this to worry with. We can't even stay in our own house without fearing the Government."
"Wait Jake, that's one thing that I believe has gotten stronger in all of this."
"Our little family."
Jacob looked at Helen - the shine in her eyes was a bout of oncoming tears.
"You and I love each other no matter what, and no matter what I'll be there with you."
"Promise?" he asked.
"Of course I promise." she smiled, reaching to stroke his unruly hair. "Do you believe in me?"
"Yea." Jacob grinned. "I believe in you if you believe in me."
"With all my heart." Helen assured him before leaning forward to kiss him on the forehead. "I think we'll be okay for a few hours." she said after breaking away and turning back to the sight of Klaatu. "We'll give him time to rest. Hopefully he'll be awake by night. If he is, we'll leave then."
"In the dark?"
"We're less likely to be seen, in case someone may be looking for us."
"I hope they aren't." Jacob said, exhaling deeply.
"Me too. Maybe the good thing about all of the damage is it may keep them preoccupied…the Military, I mean. I imagine they'll be out searching for survivors for a while. But if they find us, they'll recognize Klaatu and even myself. I'd hate to know what they'd do to me for 'helping' an alien who nearly wiped us out of existence." She tried to chuckle, wanting to take light of a dark situation, but Jacob knew how scared she really was.
"Mom," he began, wanting more than anything to release her mind from any tension.
"Do you think we can open up a can of ravioli? I'm starved."
"Sure. I'm on empty myself."
Night rolled around and Helen was upstairs packing, stuffing things like flashlights, comfortable clothes, towels, a first aid kit, soap, bathroom tissue and whatever else she could make room for in the hiking satchels they used to take along on mountain excursions.
Jacob was downstairs, slouching in his father's old recliner whilst drumming his fingers anxiously on the nearby lamp table. His heavy eyes were firmly trained on Klaatu, who, for the most part, had managed to sleep peacefully. In a way, Jacob dreaded him, and at the same time he was waiting hopefully for him to wake.
The house was lit by candlelight - the power wasn't fully in working order - and the little wax candles that were displayed on the coffee table illuminated Klaatu's face in little dancing flickers with their flames - it unnerved Jacob terribly. The alien began to stir then and the boy jolted up in a flash, cautiously nearing the alien while keeping a safe distance as he listened to his groans. Klaatu fell silent after a second or so and when Jacob dared to come ever closer, trying to listen to his breathing, the alien's dark eyes shot open and the boy nearly toppled over the coffee table in the frenzy of it all.
The alien laid still for time's sake, taking in all that was around him while his eyes blinked in a small bout of twenty counts at least. He was clearly uncertain of his surroundings, maybe even confused judging by the expression on his face. The glance he at length cast towards Jacob made the boy suspicious that perhaps, in that fall, Klaatu had suffered more than mere fractures and that he could have very well received a hit to the skull, causing him to forget the child's face - luckily, Jacob was wrong.
Klaatu roused, pulling himself up and wincing terribly all the while. As he did, Jacob yelled for Helen to come quickly; she did, clattering down the stairs in eager haste where she galloped to the den, holding her speech at first and rushing to Jacob's side where she wrapped an arm about her step-son's neck. When Klaatu took note of her, she too began to fear the flame in his eyes.
"Why am I here?" He demanded it with firmness. Helen struggled for words.
"Well," she stammered, "when the Sphere was leaving, you suddenly fell from it."
"It's lucky that Mom and I stayed around watching. We brought you home afterwards so the Military wouldn't get you."
"The Military." Klaatu repeated it, seeming to recall things in his daze. Then he said, "The Military can do no harm to me, unless they use an efficient weapon."
"But we-" Jacob tried to explain, "we just didn't want them to find you. We were try-"
"I know what you were doing and why. And I thank you." the alien cut in, speaking a tone un-pitched.
Helen's sigh was of relief. She still had that subconscious fear that Klaatu, being as unpredictable as he was, would find their attempts more of an offense than generous hospitality - thankfully she was wrong.
"I have some canned foods in the kitchen." she offered. "Would you -- do you want something to eat?"
His reply was a silent nod of the head, a brief one at that. The two humans assisted him to the kitchen and helped him to the table.
Helen began rummaging through the cupboards, offering him several different things, attempting to make him feel welcome. Most everything he refused until she uncovered a can of tuna - that he accepted - and he ate it vigorously. Helen and Jacob sat near him and watched in silence as he gormandized the canned fish, requesting another can once finished. After he accounted himself to be content, Helen explained the situation, telling Klaatu her plans for fleeing New York and why. He became wary in hearing this.
"Jacob and I want you to come along, if you will. I just don't think that staying here is smart for either of us."
Klaatu was reluctant at first, his mind bursting in thoughtful contemplation. Other than being stranded, he was faced with yet another choice: To follow the lead of a human being and escape a city that could very well prove to be a trap, or risk being caught.
"I will go." he said at last. "I have no other choice but to accompany you. You're the only humans I can trust right now," he paused, "and it is liable that I won't be getting home anytime soon. All of the Spheres have left, I am afraid."
There was tension in his hands and trouble in his face, Helen could see that quite vividly. In a way, it saddened her for him, yet strangely, at the same time, she found herself feeling guilty of being glad for his having no choice but to stay. Maybe because she believed that three heads were better than just two.
"Klaatu," She wanted to comfort him in the best way a human such as herself knew how, "Jacob and I are more than happy to have you…as a travel companion. I Promise you can trust us. We'll be a team."
"Can I?" His eyes wavered upon the sight of them, and he seemed to be reaching out for a form of reassurance.
"Klaatu," Jacob stepped up, wanting to clarify something, "I know I messed up, and I'm really sorry. But it's not going to happen again, I swear."
"It is alright, young Jacob." the alien sighed. "Everyone is…entitled to make mistakes."
"Even your people?" the boy asked daringly, but Klaatu replied gently.
"Yes. I think I can be an example of that."
Helen could only be hopeful that in that awkwardly admitted phrase he was referring to his lack of good judgment for the human race.
Not long after that conversation Helen finished packing, with Jacob's help of course, and they made preparations to leave. To their advantage, there were three bikes in the storage room, one of which was Mr. Benson's, and its condition was practically brand new.
They all straddled the bikes, and Klaatu seemed to manage fairly well despite his wounds and the difficulty he had wobbling about. Each rider had a backpack. Klaatu wore the one stuffed with canned goods, boxed foods and water - things that wouldn't spoil easily. Helen was sure to bring a bundle of blankets and pillows, strapping them to the back of her bike.
It was in the night that they left. They were indeed tempted to stay in the house so that they could at least have the comfort of a bed once more; but after finding the place ransacked, no one was comfortable enough to do so.
To Be Continued.