A quiet intake of breath. A slow exhale. My finger squeezes the trigger. The shot finds its mark, punching a hole in the mirrored face of an alien soldier.
Hutch stands up with me and we approach the target. Twenty yards out and the 9mm slug managed to hit the foil-covered dummy head dead center. Rex gives a few last minute pointers to some of the other recruits before coming over to us.
"John, Hutch, you boys have come a long way in a few days. I've got a job for the both of you."
Rex talks about the particulars of our mission. I'm still not too keen on leaving my grandfather's place, but Rex is so damn convincing. He says it's my duty to protect these people. Hutch says it's my chance to get some revenge. I don't know if that's reason enough to turn vigilante.
"Captain, what good are guns going to do? You've seen how useless they are against those things."
Hutch brings up a good point. I'm sure the Captain has his reasons.
"While we haven't found the aliens' weakness yet, by God we will. But for now, these weapons aren't meant for them. These are wild times boys. People act strangely, try to take what's not rightfully theirs, try to prey on the weak."
Rex slams a fresh clip into his sidearm and replaces the magazine in a pouch on his belt.
"It's our job to protect them. Now let's go over the plan again."
It's just after dawn. We've watched their patterns. The aliens are least active during the early twilight. Maybe they sleep after all.
"The caravan's ready. Just stay calm, listen to what I say and stick to the plan. We'll all be just fine."
Rex is riding shotgun in my Grandpa's Jeep Cherokee and I'm the wheelman. Rita and the kids, AJ and Tyler are in the back seat. The cargo space is packed with food, water, ammo and other supplies. On top of the pile is my grandfather's old hunting bow and a quiver of arrows. I don't know what made me grab it. Nostalgia I guess.
We're the lead vehicle in a wagon train of sorts. Four more vehicles trail behind us. Hutch is bringing up the rear, driving a big SUV filled with most of our supplies.
The streets are eerily silent as our convoy moves out. Rex keeps his eyes peeled skyward, looking down side streets at every intersection. I've got navigation duty since I've lived on these streets my entire life. Rex wanted locals with a level head and dead-eye aim for this mission. Hutch and I are now his sergeants, along with a fellow named Riley, and Max, a teenager from my block. A tough, middle-aged woman named Erica rounds out Rex's company.
"Left up ahead."
Rex doesn't even look down but somehow knows the streets as well as I do. I neglect to mention that fact to him and continue driving down the twilit streets. All seems to be going smoothly.
Rex's voice has an edge to it. It takes me a second to figure out why. Up ahead at the intersection is a man. He's shirtless, running toward us in the middle of the street. I keep my speed steady. It feels like we're crawling along at a snail's pace.
"Please, God please help me!"
I can hear the man screaming through the closed doors and windows. He's much nearer now, coming around my side of the Jeep.
"Help me, please!"
He tries to open my door. His eyes are wide with horror. I take my foot off of the gas.
"Don't you do it. Drive."
Rex's voice is cold and even. I turn my eyes ahead and drive passed the terrified man. I glance back to Rita and the kids. Thankfully they're still asleep and she appears as calm as could be expected. In the rearview mirror I see the shirtless man stumbling to each of the cars in turn. Each of them follow my lead.
"You did well, John. Stick to the plan."
I nod and make the left turn. As I do, I steal a last glance into the mirror. Hutch's car has stopped. There is a widening gap between him and the next car ahead. There is a struggle at the driver's side door. Men pour out from the side streets and boarded up store fronts. They wield makeshift clubs and knives, a few with rifles.
"We need to stop!"
Rex stares down my heroic outburst. I fight to keep my foot on the pedal. The conflict builds in my chest, but still we continue on our path, leaving the fewest of us to the bandits.
"We need to get these people to safety. Hutch made his choice. It's for the greater good."
My brain rebels and my body responds. Jamming on the throttle I rocket the Jeep forward, praying that our convoy can keep up. Thank God I know these streets.
"There's a tunnel up ahead. Still shut down from an old construction project. We can take refuge there for a while. It shouldn't take too long."
I don't know where the words or the courage came from, but I know in that moment what I need to do. I return Rex's stare and he concedes, he understands. Rita speaks up from the backseat.
"What shouldn't take too long?"
I can't answer her. All of my will is intent on making it to our temporary shelter and getting back to Hutch as soon as possible. Rex takes the initiative.
"We're going back for Hutch and the others." He looks at me. I nod. He cinches up his gear. "Never leave a man down."