Disclaimer: I do not own "Falling Skies."
Ten: So What Now?
"I want to take back my wish," Matt said as soon as the red signs with "Boston University" emblazoned in white came into view.
The kid had barely slept a wink and yet was full of energy like an energizer bunny. In fact none of us had after spending another night camped out on the floor—this time in a gas station. A part of me thought we were slowly moving through every type of commercial building like a bad tour of Boston. I supposed a mall or a library was next. The library wouldn't actually be too bad at least there were books.
"What are you talking about?" I asked, and Matt looked at me in outrage. Apparently, I had forgotten something that I wasn't supposed to forget.
"My wish!" He exclaimed as we tucked the bikes behind some bushes for safekeeping.
We had seen more people on this side of the river, mostly adults in larger groups of a dozen or so. The bikes had elicited even more attention as people stuck their heads out of the Brownstones and hospital doors as we flew passed them. We had only stopped twice too. One time a ship had flown overhead and dropped a small neutron bomb in the distance towards Winthrop, and two more had lit up the sky toward South Boston minutes before.
"Oh that wish?" I lied, laughing. "I wasn't ever really going to make that wish."
"Well good cause I take it back now that we're here!" He said, narrowing his eyes and running to catch up with Hal who was leading the way across the common.
"What's he talking about?" Jimmy asked.
"Matt? He's always on about something," I shrugged. I mentally added that if he was going to be sticking around for any length of time that he would see for himself, but Jimmy was a tagalong. I was surprised he had come at all, and he had every right to leave at any time.
"Dad's office is this way," Hal announced.
The classrooms were empty, and the air inside was stale. No one had come in or out of the building recently, and I was reminded of all the times Hal and I would come to play during the summers in the office while Mom was working. Hal would end up running off to the gymnasium to shoot hoops, threatening to punch me if I told, while I killed a few games of solitaire and minesweeper.
After that we would get hotdogs and ice cream because it was the only thing Hal and I could agree on. Then, Dad would drive in the wrong direction on the way home, pretending he didn't realize just so we could pass by Fenway. Hal would boast that one day he was going to play there, joking that he wanted me to attend every one of his games one day and sit in the red seat just so he could have a whole stadium cheer when I got hit by a baseball.
He thought he was being funny, but the joke ended up being on him. He could pitch a ball without a problem, but when he was the batter up, the whole field moved in. Baseball was his kryptonite. It only took him a half season before he gave up on his dream of Fenway. The part that sucked for me was that he took all the focus he had on baseball and transferred it to lacrosse, going from an average player to the star of the whole team for the next eight years.
"What's he a professor of?" Jimmy asked as we climbed the stairs.
"History," Hal replied.
"American History," I corrected.
"Whatever," Hal grumbled.
"He's a history buff in general though," I shrugged, and Hal glared back at me. "Don't get him started on anything you don't want to know everything about."
"But I like hearing Dad's facts and stuff," Matt said.
"That's because you're hearing everything for the first time," Hal said.
"Well at least I'm not old like you!" Matt laughed, running ahead of us.
"Fine, try to keep up with an old person like me!" Hal said triumphantly, taking off down the hall with Matt running to catch up.
"Last one's a rotten egg!" Matt called back at me, and Jimmy looked at me, waiting to see if I would take the bait.
I didn't. I knew what was coming. I knew the minute we breathed in hot air when the door was opened. I knew as every last hallway was empty, and every classroom was locked up tight. No one was here. Dad wasn't here. He was long gone, and I wasn't surprised when the heavy feeling of acceptance settled in my stomach.
Mom always said Dad was amazing—a great guy, a wonderful husband, and an even better father. So when he promised to be just an hour behind us on the highway, Dad had kept his word. Most likely, we had passed by his car upturned and charred beyond recognition along the way days ago.
Jimmy held back when we reached the office, leaning against the doorframe as I entered. Matt was already inside, standing forlornly with his arms hanging by his sides without purpose. He was lost as our final hope was dashed. Hal was sitting in Dad's desk chair with his head in his hands.
"He isn't here?" Matt said in confusion. "Where is he?"
Hal didn't dare meet Matt's eyes.
"You promised you'd find him!" He accused. "You promised to find him alive! Remember?"
When Hal remained muted, Matt screamed out of anger before seizing the paperweight off the edge of the desk. Before he could chunk it and create a permanent gash in Hal's skull however, I pried it out of his hand. He kicked the desk, huffing as he sat in the chair meant for a student. Hal leaned back in his own chair, fiddling with everything in reach.
"You lied," Matt mumbled after a while.
"I'm sorry," Hal said, and I didn't blame him for not meeting Matt's eyes. I wouldn't either.
I roamed around the room absentmindedly. Nothing had changed here. It was as if time had stood still. Every picture was in place, and every book was lined up neatly. Even Dad's briefcase was still sitting wide open in its spot on the corner of the desk with his paperwork inside and the leather-bound book that he used for lectures on top of that.
The book had always been a kind of mystery to me—something that was Dad's and Dad's only and thereby something I would never bother touching. For a moment, I was just about to be brave and reach out and touch it until Matt spoke.
"He's dead isn't he?" Matt mumbled, staring hard out the window.
Hal didn't answer. I didn't answer. Neither of us wanted to be the ones to confirm that he was dead. Whether it was because it would crush Matt even more or ourselves I didn't know. I nearly jumped when Jimmy spoke, having almost forgotten he was with us.
"Would he be anywhere else?" Jimmy asked.
It was a reasonable question. It was one I would have asked had I been him, but if Dad wasn't at home or BU, he was gone most likely.
"Probably not," Hal admitted.
"My…my mom," Jimmy said with the words catching in his throat. "She kept Jessie and I home from school that day, and we waited for hours in our basement for my dad to come home. We thought he was dead, but he wasn't."
"What happened?" Matt asked, turning in his chair.
"He came home the next morning. He was hurt, but he was home."
"Jimmy? Do you think our dad is alive?"
"There's always a chance. Right?" He replied nervously as he looked between Hal and me for permission.
"Yeah, there's always a chance," Hal agreed before tearing out a piece of paper from Dad's notepad.
He scribbled words on it, and we all came in closer to see.
"Dad, we're alive and will look for you no matter what. –Hal, Ben and Matt," Matt read out loud.
"What're you going to do with it?" I asked.
"Tape it to his door, so that if he comes back he knows we're alive."
I nodded my agreement, and he added the date at the bottom.
We closed the door after that, leaving the office the way it had been when we arrived only minus Dad's lecture book that I had stuffed into my bag when Hal and Matt weren't looking. I felt wrong taking it, but considering we might not come back, I couldn't bear to leave it behind. Dad would want it when we found him I reasoned. It was like his third arm, and a part of me hoped that the only reason he had left it behind was because he had intended coming right back.
Maybe, Jimmy was right. He was alive somewhere and trying to find us, or maybe, I was just becoming naïve like Matt. Either way, it didn't matter because it was too late to return the book now as we went to retrieve the bikes only to find that they were gone.
"Where the hell did they go?" Hal ranted, kicking in aggravation.
We all twisted and turned around like idiots with Matt shrieking as he pointed his finger across the common.
"Look! Look! They have them. They stole them!"
I would have thought he was crazy unless I hadn't seen the blur of our bikes disappear around the corner. Taking Hal's cue, I ran with my gun at the ready. Jimmy and Matt followed dutifully in our wake. It was a bizarre chase as the bikes disappeared around another corner before heading directly down the street, and they braked suddenly, allowing us to catch our breath and move on as if the thieves knew we were tired.
They were taunting us. Why the hell were they taunting us? Thinking perhaps I was crazy, I looked around suspiciously, fearing that we were going to stumble upon another massacre. Maybe, the aliens had some mind control trick that they had inflicted on the two men in order to steal our bikes and lead us straight to the mothership. It sounded insane, but I was just about to inform Hal of my suspicions when the bikes came to a screeching stop outside the gym.
The men got off and ducked into the building before we even hit the stairs, leaving the bikes available and within our fingertips. Both Hal and I came to a halt as Jimmy and Matt caught up.
"It's a trick," I said, looking around frantically.
"What the hell?" Hal panted.
"Should we take them?" Jimmy asked tentatively.
They were tempting, being only a few feet away and lying on their sides at the top of the slight hill on the sidewalk wrapping around the gym. Only a few steps and then we could be out of here, escaping on our own bikes from the thieves who took them. I didn't even realize I had taken a step up the stairs when I felt Hal pull me back.
"Look at the windows," Hal commented, and I took notice for the first time of the building.
All the windows were all dark, having been spray painted over in black. One of the doors opened suddenly then, and we all jumped backwards.
"They're goading us," I said, and unsure of whether I was being courageous or stupid, I recklessly took the bait.
Hal kept calling me from behind, but I walked right up to the door anyways, sliding it open with my back.
"You didn't have to scare the kid Harrison!"
I felt my stomach plummet as the woman's voice greeted me as soon as I stepped through the door. She looked tough, in her thirties with a gun slung over her shoulder and wearing camo. I suppressed the urge to gulp uncomfortably. A few men stood behind her looking just as tough as her with set jaws and similar apparel. She stepped forward, and I stepped back involuntarily, causing the door to close behind me, and I hoped that wouldn't turn out to be my fatal flaw.
"You told me to lure them here!" One of the younger men who had apparently stolen our bikes protested.
"Don't mind Harrison. He's an idiot," The woman smiled, dismissing Harrison's offended expression with a wave of her hand. "I'm Captain Lisa Hardman. It's nice to meet you," She said warmly as she extended her hand.
"Ben Mason," I said after hesitating for a moment. I didn't shake her hand though, but she didn't even seem to notice or at least care as she pulled her hand away.
"Well Ben, welcome to BU safety zone. I'm in charge here, so you going to ask your friends to come in or should…"
I felt the door hit me then, knocking me out of my confused stupor as Hal barreled inside, aiming at Captain Hardman and the others.
"What the hell Ben!" He exclaimed. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
"Are you?" Captain Hardman asked. "Son, if you don't lower your weapon I will have one of my men seize it from you."
I watched not one but all of her men directly behind her slide their fingers over the triggers, and Hal wisely lowered his weapon, looking at me warily.
"Who are you?" He demanded, not letting go of his gun though I hadn't either.
"Lisa Hardman, I'm a captain with the United States Marine Corps . I'm in charge of the BU safety zone."
"There are safety zones?" Hal sputtered.
"Not officially, but we do know of one more still holding at Fenway since the invasion. I assume there are more out there."
"Really? The only large group we've seen. They were…" I shook my head.
"Massacred?" One of the men mumbled softly, and looking at his face, I knew whatever his story was that it hadn't been good.
"Yeah," I nodded.
"So…so this is it for your safety zone?" Hal asked skeptically, looking around.
It wasn't much just an entryway really. There was plastic curtain hanging across the entrance like at a construction zone, and as if accepting the challenge, Captain Hardman nodded to Harrison who drew back the plastic a few feet. Hal and I stepped forward reluctantly, and for a moment, I felt like I did last week on the morning before the ships had even entered our atmosphere, before we had knowledge of anything outside our own narrow scope of the world.
I had rushed down the stairs for breakfast, being already late for school. I stole Hal's toast without his notice, and he blamed it on Matt. Matt ratted me out, and Mom sighed because she was worried we were all going to kill each other that night. Dad told us that was fine so long as we didn't mess up the house. Especially the carpets—Mom had added. It had been normal.
Looking out, I felt normal again. There were people, and they were alive and not surrounded my aliens. They were walking and talking and lying down on treadmills. A few little kids were playing on the rock wall rising up the center of the building with the different levels wrapping around it. People were eating on the stairs, and even though the broad daylight was blocked out from the covered windows, lanterns and candles lit the building with a bright yellow haze.
Hal let out a shuddery breath of relief, and I laughed when I looked at him. Was he thinking the same thing as me? Did he wonder if Dad was possibly here? Did he feel the same small burst of hope that had hit me as I walked past the plastic curtain?
"How many people are there?" Hal asked, looking over the rail and then looking up.
"Give or take fifteen hundred," Captain Hardman said from behind us, and I turned to find her and her men staring at us. I supposed we did look like kids in a candy shop with our jaws dropped open and our eyes open wide.
"That's a lot of people," I commented.
"It is. We've had about fifty, sixty people pour in every day since the invasion."
"And the others?"
"Most are from the university—a lot of students and professors…"
"Professors?" Hal asked, turning his head around so fast I thought he would get whiplash.
"Yeah," One of the soldiers said, stepping forward and pointing below. "See there's a whole group of them right there."
I looked down, seeing the men and women he was pointing too, and desperately, I hoped that Dad was among them.
"I don't see him," I told Hal.
"Let me get Matt and Jimmy…I left them hiding by the sign…" Hal said in a rush before running back outside.
"He's my brother, Hal," I explained to the soldiers. "And this is our brother Matt, and our new friend Jimmy. We met him on our way here yesterday," I introduced as Hal came back though the door not a moment later.
"On your way here?" Captain Hardman asked.
"We came from Somerville," Matt nodded.
The soldiers looked at us with nothing but a mix of surprise and worry at the admission.
"Why did you come all the way from Somerville?" Captain Hardman asked, looking to Hal since he was the oldest. "You could have been killed!"
"We came to find our dad," Hal explained. "He's a professor here."
She nodded though clearly not impressed by our judgment, "I guess that explains why my men reported four kids on bikes heading into the school."
"Hey, we aren't kids," Hal protested, and even I knew how lame he sounded as he spoke. A few of the men snickered at him, and I actually felt a little bad for Hal.
"Yes we are," Matt piped up. As always, he had impeccable timing as the men only busted out laughing. One glare from their commanding officer set them straight though.
"Sloan, take them downstairs and see if you can sort them out and find their dad."
A guy with blonde hair and a friendly smile came forward, and I knew he had been picked because of his general sense of pleasantness. They didn't want to scare people away first thing which was why I assumed they hadn't cornered us at the office with all their muscle and guns. It was better to let people find it out for themselves—especially kids and especially kids with guns. Hal probably would have taken a crap shot at one of them if they had come at us.
"What's his name?" Sloan led the way with us on heels. Captain Hardman and her men pulled the plastic closed again.
"Tom Mason," Matt chirped up instantly at the potential of Dad being here. "Do you know him? Is he here?"
"I don't know," He smirked weakly at Matt, and I kept looking around furtively for the back of my dad's head in the crowd. "I'll take you to the wall."
"The wall?" Hal asked.
Sloan nodded as we took a turn at the stairs, heading straight down the first hall and stopping in front of a wall plastered with paper. There were lists and pictures covering every inch, and small objects were even set alongside it or taped amongst the papers. Candles were lit all the way down it as well.
"First ten feet's present and accounted for then missing then…" Sloan finished, and I knew what wall it was.
It took up the largest section and wrapped around the corner even. There was a list for every surname based upon first initial from A to Z, and each list was pages and pages thick. Some were so thick that they had been tied together since a staple wouldn't even go through. What was disgusting was the list of the unknown. They had been numbered like cattle with descriptions scrawled beside that.
"Check the accounted for…first," He instructed, and that was the only word that stuck in my head as Matt rushed forward.
"First?" I whispered. Sloan saw my hesitation and came to stand beside me and Hal.
"If you boys don't see his name on the list, check down there," He nodded to the list of deceased. "If you find him there or see him in the unknown, let me or someone dressed in uniform know. There's only a few of us from our company and another that made it, so if you don't find one of us, find someone with a sash on their arm—any color. Got it?"
"We'll be able to take you down to see him if he's in the gym," He shrugged grimly. "I'll let you guys be. Good luck buddy, nice meeting you." He said, ruffling Matt's head as he walked away.
"Thanks Sloan!" Matt called after him in excitement.
Matt's excitement died away quickly though as we moved down the wall, scanning the accounted for, then the missing, then the deceased. I wasn't really sure if it was a bad or good thing that we hadn't found him. All I knew was that, he wasn't here in any way, and when the candles began to extinguish one-by-one as the night drew on and the four of us found ourselves wedged between two racks of dumbbells while most everyone was asleep, Hal swiped a candle from a nearby table and pulled out a packaged cupcake from his bag.
"I've been saving it," He said. "Happy Birthday man."
"Thanks," I smiled, and Matt pulled at his lip.
"Hey Ben," He began. "You know what I said about the wish? You think you can still make it for me…that is if you don't already have another one…"
"Yeah, I can do that," I agreed, and the two of them sang happy birthday to me while Jimmy watched silently with his knees pulled up to his chest.
When they finished, I blew out my candle and made a wish that I would find dad alive. It was only when I had unwrapped the cupcake that I realized I should have tacked on the word "soon." It didn't matter now. What was done was done, and what was going to happen unfortunately was. The point was that I had tried.
"That's yours," Hal said, pushing away the piece of cupcake that I offered him.
"I can't eat my whole cake alone," I reasoned, shoving it into his hand and giving Matt some as well. "I have to watch my physique."
"Yeah, don't want to actually put some flesh on your skinny ass," Hal laughed.
"What do you know?" I countered. "You're a kid."
"Jerk," He sighed before lying down on the cold floor. Matt curled up as well with his pack under his head, leaving me to sit alone.
Jimmy had his head, resting on his arms now with his eyes closed, and I knew he couldn't have fallen asleep yet. I looked down at the cupcake in my hand and tore it in half, holding it right in front of his face. I was right that he was awake as he opened his eyes and sat up.
"D'Artagnan," I said.
"What?" He shook his head.
"He was the fourth musketeer," I said. "Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan."
"Oh, gotcha," He said, taking the cupcake. "Thanks."
He lied down after that beside Matt and I squeezed between Hal and the dumbbells. We were all quiet, but from my position on my side I could see everyone's eyes still open. Another day was over. Jimmy's family was gone. Mom was gone, and Dad was MIA without a clue as to where else he could be. I sighed heavily when Matt voiced the concern we were all thinking.
"So what now?"