Red Sky At Morning

Red Done

 

Fox has been secretly in love with his best friend, Tobias, since grade school. But even though Fox has served overseas, he hasn’t worked up the courage to do anything about his feelings.Then, an alien ship appears in the pre-dawn sky and bombs San Francisco.

Then, an alien ship appears in the pre-dawn sky and bombs San Francisco.

The only time Fox has felt safe is when he’s with Tobias. But with the aliens attacking, there is no room for anything other than survival. To save himself, and the man he loves, Fox will join the fight against the invaders.

But the aliens aren’t what they seem. The real enemy is closer than what Fox and Tobias could imagine…

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

 

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whynotboth

Red Sky At Morning: Chapter 4

< Previous Chapter

Fox

The humming sound of the incoming bomber was so deep it felt like it was vibrating all the way to Fox’s bones.

Up in the mothership, several hatch doors had opened at the same time. As Fox watched, several smaller bombers flew out and arranged themselves in a neat diamond pattern.

Within a few moments, they were strafing the city.

And one was going to fly right over them. Shit.

Fox looked around, but the neighborhood was rubble and ruin. No good place for a shelter. Nowhere, except for down in the basement.

He’d seen what bunker busters could do. He was probably about to crawl into his own coffin, but it was better than being caught out in the open.

Tobias had frozen, watching the oncoming bombers with an open mouth. Fox shoved him forward. “Down in the hole. Get down there!”

With that, he bent and lifted a fallen 2 x 4 and shoved it to the side. It helped widen the gap to the basement a couple more inches. Tobias might be able to squeeze in.

Fox yelled down, “Lizzie, we’re coming in! Make room!”

“What?” Lizzie yelled, her voice edging on a shriek. “No, get me out of here!”

Ignoring her, Fox shoved again at his friend. “You first, Tobias. I’ll be right down after you.”

But Tobias, brave and stubborn, shook his head. ”No, it’s too tight of a fit. You go first. I’m smaller, I’ll get down there quicker.”

Fox glanced again at the sky. The plane was coming fast.

He wasn’t the only one who saw: Screams of terror rose from half-standing buildings blocks away. People who were stuck inside, and unable to do anything but watch the oncoming wave of bombers. They had moments. No time to argue, and Tobias was just stubborn enough to fight him.

Cursing, Fox grabbed the edge of the 2 X 4 again, this time for support, and shimmied into the dark remains of the basement feet-first.

It was a tight fit. So tight, he feared he was going to get stuck halfway in, halfway out like an old Winnie the Pooh story. It wasn’t a laughing matter, but Fox choked back a half grunt, half laugh anyway as he wiggled and pushed himself down. Somehow, he slipped through, managing to scrape his ribs all to hell in the process. It didn’t matter. His feet dangled in midair, and he looked down, but couldn’t see ground. He just hoped he wasn’t going to fall on Tobias’s little sister. He let go.

He fell only a foot or two before they hit the floor. Luckily, it wasn’t on Lizzie.
As soon as he touched the ground he called back up, “I’m down!” Hurry, Tob!”

Tobias slid down with much less of a problem than Fox had.

That was a good thing, because the eerie humming from the bombers was getting stronger. The planes had to be almost on them. Landed with an ‘ooph’ just as the bomb struck.

There was a crack of white light. So bright that even though Fox closed his eyes and shielded his head, he was able to see it through his eyelids.

The whole world—the walls, the floor under him, the air in his lungs, felt like it were shaking apart.

And through all that, he felt Tobias—bony and lean—pressed against him. Fox used that as an anchor for his own sanity. It felt like the entire world was splitting apart around them. Everything except for Tobias.

Then, as suddenly as it started, it all stopped.

There was another boom, further off as the planes flew on.

These are different from the munitions we used in the war, Fox realized. Weaker. But why?
When he’d been in the field, there would be a palpable side-effect to loud explosions: Sometimes his ears would ring even when he had hearing protection.

Yet he clearly heard Lizzie whisper, “Are we still alive?”

“Looks like it,” Fox replied. “This sure ain’t heaven.”

He unwound his arms from around Tobias—he’d practically been hugging him, and he missed the feeling of his body the moment he stepped away.

Tobias straightened and gave him a sideways sort of smile. Almost… almost as if he had been thinking the same thing.

“Are you alright, Lizzie?” Tobias asked, turning to his sister.

“I think so.” There was a slight movement in the shadows as his sister stepped forward. She had her arms clasped around her middle as if she were cold. She shared Tobias’ dirty blonde hair, blue eyes, and lean frame. At that moment, she looked a lot younger than fifteen.

“And… And Mom and Dad?” Tobias asked. “Were they in the house, when—”

“No,” Lizzie said right away.

Tobias sagged in relief.

Fox did, too, letting out a long breath. One tiny bit of good news. He’d always been close to Tobias’ parents, having had dinner with them practically every other night when he was growing up.

“It’s Tuesday,” Lizzie said. “You know Dad always teaches on Tuesdays, and Mom said she was heading down to Santa Cruz for lunch with her friends.” Her lip quivered. “I was… looking for something. In the basement, I mean.”

Vaping in secret, Fox translated, having been a rebellious teenager himself.

“Thank God,” Tobias muttered, a hand raising to cover his eyes.

“What’s happening?” Lizzie blurted. “I thought we were having an earthquake. It’s like the entire world’s exploded. Do you know what’s going on?”

Fox and Tobias exchanged a look. No one wanted to say aliens out loud.

“There’s… an attack,” Tobias started.

“What? What kind of attack? Are the Russians–”

Fox decided the kindest thing would be just to tell her. “I don’t think so. Lizzie, there’s a big honkin’ ship out there, hovering above us.”

“Well, it landed on Telegraph Hill,” Tobias said.

“A ship?” she looked confused.

“It looks just like a space ship,” Fox said. “And those planes are dropping… I’ve never seen munition like that.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I think it’s an invasion.”

She kept looking back and forth between them, a strange look on her face like she was on the verge of calling them liars. But the at the grim nod on her brother’s face, she slowly put her hand up to her lips.

“Are you guys serious?” The gaze she turned on Fox was pleading. “Really? Are you saying… aliens? Really?”

He wished he could have lied. Could have made it easier for her. “Really.”

He half expected her to break down crying, but Lizzie was made of tougher stuff. She drew herself up, squaring her shoulders, even though her eyes were suspiciously watery.

“So then… what do we do?”

“I still think they’re herding people down to the Wharf,” Tobias said. “So whatever we do, we don’t go out there. We don’t do what they want.”

That sounded like a solid start to Fox. “We need information.”

“My phone’s not working,” Lizzie blurted. “I’ve tried to call 911, and Mom and Dad, but all the networks are busy.”

Good thinking. Fox felt like a grade-A fool. He had a cell phone and had left it back in the apartment. From the constipated look on Tobias’s face, he had done the same.

“Do you have the internet?” Fox asked.

“Yeah. Of course,” she said in the special ‘duh’ tone that only teenagers were experts in accomplishing. “But, I told you, there’s no signal.”

“Huh. Maybe they’re using signal jammers?” Tobias said. “Cell phone towers have a range of three to nine miles, generally. Sometimes up to twenty if you really push it. There should be a lot still standing in the city.”

“Yeah, there’s no way they took out all the cell towers already.” Fox agreed. “It looks like they’ve just been targeting tall buildings and houses.”

And not very well. This house had suffered one direct strike and what he supposed was a second, very close hit. “Whatever they have now, they’re using something low yield,” Fox said.

Tobias turned to him. “Why do you say that?”

“Because I’ve seen what our boys have, and this basement wouldn’t even be standing.”

Tobias frowned and stared across the room, his eyes slightly unfocused. Two of his fingers ticked against his thigh in thought. Fox had seen him do that a lot when he was trying to puzzle an error out of a stubborn line of code. He always thought it was endearing.

“But they’re loud,” Tobias said. “And flashy.”

“And they do some damage.”

“That would make sense if they’re trying to scare the daylight out of people. You know how ranchers will sometimes fire blanks to get a herd of cows to move?”

He didn’t disagree. “What for?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?”

“Food?” Fox suggested. “Like, to slaughter?”

“Shut up,” Lizzie snapped, cutting in. Tobias flinched as if he’d forgotten for a moment she was even there. “Oh my God, you guys are gross.”

Fox and Tobias exchanged a meaningful glance, but fell silent. There was no point in upsetting her.

“How could this have happened?” Lizzie asked, after a few moments. It was clear she didn’t care the silence. In the dark gloom of the basement, the distant crack-shatter of bombs, the air suddenly became thick with tension. “Why the hell would aliens or anybody attack San Francisco?”

“We aren’t sure of anything right now, other than they’re hostile,” Fox said.

“San Francisco is a major economic hub,” Tobias said. “And… think about it. We’re sitting close to the San Joaquin Valley, which is like the salad bowl of California.”

“So?” Lizzie asked.

Fox stifled a smile as Tobias rubbed the side of his face. Again, his other hand ticked in the air as if in thought. “So, that means natural resources close by. Okay, so there’s not a lot of fresh water around–most of that is diverted from watersheds in the mountains, but if they have desalinization plants on the mothership, that’s not a problem. The Bay Area is also huge for shipping, which means there’s a lot of supplies already in the harbor at some state of transit.”

“I don’t think aliens came for the Toyota parts from Japan,” Fox said, mostly just to needle him.

The glance Tobias shot him in the half gloom was halfway between amused and patronizing. “But there’s other stuff. There are a few oil refineries, and… I’m not a military guy, but it seems like this area is pretty easy to defend, right? They took out the Golden Gate Bridge—”

Lizzie made a surprised sound at that. Fox had forgotten she hadn’t seen what they had.

“And it’s not like anyone can drop a nuke on us ala Avengers.”

“Why not?” Lizzie asked.

“Jet stream,” Tobias said with confidence. “It goes from East to West, and the fallout would be carried through the United States within a couple weeks..”

Fox stared at him for a moment. “I don’t care what they say about you, Tob, you’re pretty smart.” Which felt like the understatement of the day. Fox had tried to make a career out of being in the military, but at his core, he’d always been a meat-head. Tobias had and would always be the brains of their partnership.

We’re not partners, said a stubborn voice somewhere inside of him. We can’t be partners like that. It’s not fair to either of us.

Maybe I’m gonna die, maybe we’re all gonna die in the next few hours, came another thought, clear as crystal. The cold fact of it didn’t scare him. Fox had faced death a number of times in his life. And maybe he’d never really come to grips with it, but the knowledge he was going to die had never scared him.

No, the only thing that really frightened him was seeing Tobias hurt or killed.

Standing, Fox decided there needed to be a change of subject. Morale was important.

He’d learned that the hard way, too.

“Okay,” he said. “What’s in this basement. Got anything useful?”

Lizzie scoffed. “You’re in luck if you want Christmas ornaments.” She gestured to low shelving on the other side of the room. The cheap plastic stuff that lasted a few seasons after you bought it from Walmart. Made from faux chipboard and that bowed in the middle with too much weight. Of course, it hadn’t been properly secured to the wall, and had fallen flat when the first shiver of the first bomb had hit. Now, the shards of sparkly Christmas ornaments littered the floor. Fox made a mental note not to step over there.

“Mom and Dad still used the pantry upstairs for emergency storage?” Tobias asked darkly.

Upstairs, which was now obliterated.

Lizzie nodded and sat down on a clean patch of cement, curling her knees up to her chest.

Great.

Next  chapter  coming soon! 

Red Sky At Morning: Chapter 3

 

< Previous Chapter

 

Tobias and Fox ran down streets that should have been familiar, but now looked like a war zone.

Tobias glanced over his shoulder and up at the mothership as often as he could. It stayed where it had landed, on top of Telegraph Hill. Now, every few minutes a dark hatch opened and a smaller version of the ship swooped out.

These smaller ships were the size of Harrier jets Tobias had seen flying to and from military bases all his life. Nimble and fast, once clear of the Mothership, they flew low over the city.

As they flew, they dropped globes of light that shined so bright it made Tobias’s eyes water. The globes fell like bombs, and as soon as one touched a building, that building exploded.

Tobias couldn’t see a rhyme or reason to what was targeted, except that the tallest of the buildings—the ones that practically scraped the underbelly of the Mothership as it landed—had already been taken out.

The skyline of San Francisco was being reduced to rubble, one building at a time.
Where’s the Army? he wondered. The National Guard? Someone? Anyone?

The roads were choked with screaming, fleeing people. Their fear was like a tangible taste in the air, and if Fox had not been beside him—cool and steady—Tobias might have been one of them. His heart was beating like he’d downed three energy drinks, but somehow he was able to keep his head. It helped to look at this… this invasion analytically. As if it were a problem he could solve.

Some people had jumped into cars and seemed determined to drive out, but the cars were bumper to bumper with no movement at all. Others took bikes or electric scooters. He and Fox hoofed it on foot.

But even with all the chaos and the panic, the screaming people and crying children, Tobias didn’t understand why all the traffic on the roads had stopped dead. Not until he and Fox reached the top of their neighborhood hill and looked out.

It was hard to see clearly through the smoke and dust haze of fallen buildings. Harder to grasp what his eyes were telling him.

The Golden Gate Bridge now had a huge gap in the middle of its span. Snapped metal struts streamed down to the bay.

God, he didn’t want to think what it had been like to be in a car on that bridge…
Distantly, Tobias heard himself say, “They probably took out the Bay Bridge, too.”

Fox stared out with a blank, assessing look on his face. “Probably.”

“Why?” Tobias wondered.

“So no help can get in.” There was a slight ‘duh’ tone in Fox’s voice.

Tobias shook his head, but not because he disagreed. “For isolation, yeah. No one can come in, but no one can get out either. That’s important.”

He felt Fox’s gaze like a physical weight. “Why do you think so?”

Tobias shrugged instead of answering. He felt a little like an idiot. Actual honest-to-God aliens were attacking. What other motivations did they need? But it was easier to concentrate on the why, then if his Mom, Dad, and Sister were alive or dead.

Another bomber swooped low a few streets away, taking out an apartment building. With a low droning buzz that could be heard over crumbling concrete, it swooped out to the bay before it circled back to the mothership.

Fox had already moved on several paces ahead. He stopped, realizing Tobias wasn’t following and turned, his brows furrowing. “Tobias, you okay?”

Oh yeah. I’m just freakin’ awesome, Tobias wanted to snap. Aliens are real and are attacking us. How can you ask me that?

But what he said was, “We’re all moving east to west.”

“Well, yeah.” Fox was looking at him oddly now, as if he was afraid Tobias was losing it.

“No, I mean everyone is being herded east to west. Every bomber is circling around that way, moving us like we’re cattle.” He looked around at the beeping cars, the traffic, the people running past him, some holding the hands of children. Others carrying bags of their belongings.

The furrow between Fox’s eyebrows deepened. Then he looked around, and from his pressed lips, Tobias thought he saw the same thing, too. “The only thing in that direction is the pier. Fisherman’s Wharf, and the harbor. Everyone will be trapped in on one side of the city.”

“Exactly.” He let out a shaky breath. “Right up against the bay.”

“Yeah but Tob, we’re not going in that direction. Your family is just a few blocks away.”

“I know that, but—”

Tobias stopped as the sound of gunfire filled the air no more than a few car lengths away. A man with wild red hair wearing a tank-top and board shorts took grim aim at the mothership with a pistol in his hands. He fired another rapid round of shots straight up. If the bullets had any effect on the mothership, Tobias couldn’t tell.

The shots sure had an effect on everyone around him, though. People scattered right and left, hunching over to protect their heads as if afraid the man would turn the weapon on them.

Tobias was frozen, but Fox was not.

Swearing, Fox charged the man. The redhead started to turn, but Fox got there first, gripping his wrist and twisting, hard. The pistol fell to the ground with a clatter. The man cursed and tried to swing at Fox with his left hand. Fox ducked swiftly, then popped up again to strike palm out to the side of the man’s face. The man fell, and Fox kicked away the gun.

“What the hell, man!” the redhead snapped.

Fox’s kick had knocked the pistol underneath a parked car. Quickly, Tobias shuffled over to grab it and stuff it into the large pocket of his hoodie before backing away. He’d never so much as touched a gun before, and found it heavy and warm from being fired.

“You idiot,” Fox said to the redhead, keeping the man distracted while Tobias shuffled away. Fox was at least six inches shorter than the other man, but in that moment Fox seemed… larger. More intimidating than Tobias had ever seen from him before. “You’re not doing anything but scaring the hell out of a lot of people.”

“That’s my gun! You have no right—”

“If you got a firearm, then you have the responsibility of using it correctly. Shooting wildly at a big ship in the sky isn’t going to do any good. What the hell you think is going to happen when those bullets fall down again?”

“That’s my property, bro! You can’t just take my stuff!”

“Call the cops, then,” Fox said coldly.

The redhead cursed and staggered back up to his feet. With a thrown middle finger in Fox’s direction, he staggered over to where the parked car was and started pawing around for his pistol. Tobias didn’t want to be around when he realized he’d already taken it.

“Come on,” he said quietly to Fox. “Let’s get out of here.”

Fox nodded, and they started jogging.

“That idiot,” Fox said once they were down the road aways. Then he spit to the side, adding for good measure, “Pendejo.”

“Just let it go,” Tobias said and nodded down to his hoodie. “He’s not going to find it.”
Fox didn’t seem to be listening. “Idiots like that always have more than one gun, and it’s probably not even registered either.” He stopped as they came around the block, finally entering the neighborhood where he and Tobias had grown up.

Those were good times: Back when Fox’s father was alive, and had a good job at the University. Fox’s father died of a heart attack a few years ago, and his mother couldn’t afford the high mortgage on one small income. She’d had to move herself and Fox out, but they remained fast friends.

But for years they had lived and played on this street. Tobias knew every corner, every inch and hiding place as only a curious little boy could.

He almost didn’t recognize it now.

For some reason, the bright bombs had hit this area particularly hard. The townhouses were built wall-to-wall, with barely a foot in between them. So when one fell, it had damaged many of the others.

Where Tobias his parents house stood was now a pile of rubble, indistinguishable from the remains of at least four other dwellings.

“Oh my God,” Tobias breathed, running forward. “Mom! Dad! Lizzie!”

He picked what he thought had been his house and started lifting away some of the rubble. Fox was at his side, helping out. There were no neighbors around. Had they fled? Been caught up in the explosion?

Tobias called their names over and over again, hoping for a sign. A sound. Anything.
His family couldn’t be dead. They couldn’t be.

Something shifted underneath a sheet of drywall. Tobias thought he heard the sound of a high voice yelling back at him, or maybe it was just the ringing in his ears.

“Fox! Help me out with this!”

Fox was at his side in a moment. Together, they lifted the sheet of drywall up, which had been pinned under several beams of wood. He thought he saw the corner of one of his mother’s favorite paintings sticking out. That had been near the kitchen, right? He couldn’t remember.

Underneath the drywall was a dark gap. And out of it came a high, scared voice. “Help! Oh God, help me! I’m down here!”

“Lizzie?” Tobias yelled, hoping against hope that it really was his little sister. “Where are you?”

“I’m here in the basement!”

“Are you hurt?” Fox demanded.

“No.” She just sounded exasperated now. “Just get me the hell outta here.”

Yep, that was his sister all right. Tobias realized there were tears running down his cheeks. He let out a bark of a laugh: high and just a bit hysterical.

The gap to the basement was pretty small–Too narrow for Fox’s wide shoulders. Luckily, Tobias was smaller. “I’m going`down there,” he said to Fox. “Hold my ankles so I don’t slide in, okay? We should be able to pull her out—”

That’s when he heard the drone of an incoming bomber.

 

Next Chapter >

Red Sky At Morning: Chapter 2

< Previous Chapter

 

Tobias

It was complete chaos outside the door. Above the blare of hundreds of car alarms, Tobias heard cries from scared and frightened people. Children.

Bits of plaster and dust covered everyone, making him think uncomfortably of news reports after 9/11. Everyone seemed to be running to or from somewhere, all with the same confused wild eyed expression.

The apartment building next door was rubble; reduced to broken plywood and old bricks. There were people under there. Some people had already started to dig using hands or simple garden tools.

Tobias stepped forward to lend a hand. He doubted anyone could still be alive in all that, but maybe…

Fox’s hand on his shoulder stopped him.

“You can’t, Fox said. “Look, I know you want to help, but the attack is still going on. You need to keep safe.”

Tobias wanted to shove him away. How could Fox be so cold? But this was the side of his Fox that Tobias had seen here and there since he’d come back from the war. Detached and remote. Not the friend he’d grown up with. But a new, scary man, who knew what it was to fight for his life and might of liked it.

He was also the man who had been to war and had come back alive. And, if the stories that Tobias had read on the Internet were true (because Fox refused to talk about it) he was also the man who saved every one of his team members.

Over Fox’s shoulder, Tobias saw the strange ship hanging in the air. It looked like an ominous cloud, except for the red and blue running lights along the sides.

“What we do?” Tobias asked.

Fox turned to frown at the… UFO. “I don’t know what that is, but I’m sure our boys are scrambling to meet it. Right now we have to take care of ourselves. This attack is in over — that was only a first run.” As if to punctuate his words, part of a building two blocks away fell onto a truck that was going crazy with its car alarm. The car alarm stopped.

Thank goodness for small mercies.

Then something clicked.

It felt all at once as the shock had fallen away from Tobias. He was going on maybe two hours sleep, having passed out in the middle of the application build last night. That was his excuse for not thinking before. What was he doing just standing here?

“Oh my God,” he said. “Mom and Dad and Lizzie.”

Fox didn’t look surprised, which irritated him.

“Tobias, we—”

“I’m going after them.” He wrenched away from Fox’s grip. “Are you coming with me or not?”

Fox looked around, assessing. For a moment Tobias thought he was going to argue. But Fox only said, “We can’t take a car. The roads are a mess, and it’s too visible. Are you ready to run?”

“Yeah.”

“Then follow me, and do exactly as I say.”

Who made you boss? Tobias wondered. But something about Fox’s cool distance, the way he wasn’t crying and yelling like everyone else on the street, made Tobias feel more sure of himself as well.

I’ve gotta remember this, he told himself. Once this is over… if I ever find myself in a sticky situation again. I want to be just as calm as Fox is, now.

But before they could move, a noise filled the air. It was as if the sky above were vibrating. All the atoms and molecules knocking together. A hum so deep it seemed to shake the tiny bones in Tobias’s ears.

Tobias tilted his head up to look towards the UFO. One by one, the people on the street, even the hysterical ones, stopped and stared.

The ship was descending. Slowly, or maybe it just looked that way—Tobias vaguely remembered that large objects looks slow when they moved even, when they weren’t.
It descended downward, blotting out the sun, and putting them all in the shadow.

A new thrill of apprehension zinged up his spine. “Is it going to land on us?” Tobias asked.

Fox frowned. “It’s going to land on something.” He pointed. “Look at the ships.”

For second, Tobias didn’t know what Fox was talking about. Then he spotted what looked like a rectangular port or door open on one side of the side of the ship.

Smaller versions of the larger UFO flew out from it. They had triangular bodies and fixed wings, like pictures of stealth fighters he’d seen.

The mothership was still descending. Now, Tobias could see rivets and seams that made up the belly of the ship. The aliens did their construction human style, or some things were universal.

The ship descended lower and lower until, with a crack, the belly of it hit the top of the tower on Telegraph Hill. The tower didn’t have a chance, and collapsed in another rising puff of dust.

Tobias found himself clasping Fox’s arm, hard, as if the other man could steady him.
Slowly the mothership ground to a halt with a squeal of bending metal. The bright blue points along the edges that Tobias guessed were engines shifted into a duller hue, then flickered and went out. The spaceship had landed.

The invasion of San Francisco had begun.

 

Next Chapter >

 

Red Sky At Morning: Chapter 1

 

Fox woke with a scream locked behind his teeth.

Looking around wildly, he saw without registering the four bland walls of his bedroom. Through the predawn light outside his window, he saw the pattern of brickwork of the next building over.

When his shitty apartment building had been built, there had been a view all the way down to the harbor. Now, Fox looked straight into his neighbor’s living room.

That familiar sight finally snapped him out of the last of his nightmare. He wasn’t out on the field. He was back home, in San Francisco, where he’d lived for the better part of three months.

In his overpriced, crappy-ass apartment which was one step from a tenement house. Of course, this being San Francisco, he paid a premium for it.

Muscle by muscle, Fox made himself unclench. There were some deep breathing exercises the shrink at the VA had half-heartedly tried to teach him, but they never did anything.

Pushing the thin sheets aside, he forced himself to his feet. No way he was getting back to sleep. It was time to start the day.

His throat was dry as a bone. Padding across his bedroom in his boxers and a white tank top, he paused at the mirror. His face was sweaty, but his momma’s Latino heritage gave him a tan enough complexion that he didn’t look as pale and wan as he felt on the inside.

Three months out of the service and his dark hair was starting to curl at the edges.

He ran his hand back to order it a little, then braced himself before he stepped outside.

Tobias, his roommate, was in the living room. Just like Fox had figured.

Tobias wasn’t some crazy early riser—he hadn’t bothered to go to sleep yet. He liked to keep programming hours, and that meant he often didn’t get to bed until he’d hunted down whatever bug he was after.

Fox paused long enough to admire him from the back. Tobias sat at their breakfast counter, perched on the edge of a stool which stood balanced on two legs. He wasn’t a tall man, but there was a leanness about him that Fox liked.

True to form, Tobias wore the same set of clothes he had last night, complete with the hipster beanie over his wheat-blond hair.

It was shameful for him to admit, but the only time he felt safe was when Tobias was in the same room with him.

Fox swore he didn’t make a sound, but Tobias turned.

“Hey,” he said, then blinked behind his glasses. “You look like shit. You okay?”

Crap. The jig was up. “’Course I am.” He crossed to the small kitchenette to fill a glass of water. He drank, and felt Tobias’ eyes on him like a weight. Turning back, Fox raised an eyebrow.

“Look,” Tobias said, closing the lid of the laptop and pushing it aside. Whoa, this must be serious. “I know you haven’t been sleeping—”

“Says the man who’s been up all night.”

“I just didn’t come back from a war-zone,” Tobias said bluntly.

Fox tried not to scowl. “I told you I’m on the list to see a shrink at the VA. What else do you want, Tobias?”

“I’m just concerned. If you… you know, ever want to talk about what happened—”

He didn’t even want to think about what happened. “Thanks.” He tried to sound like he meant it, but from the way Tobias scowled, it came out less than sincere.

Abruptly, Fox was annoyed. Bad enough that he’d returned screwed up in the head, that Tobias had always represented everything that Fox couldn’t let himself have, but now he was mother-henning him like he was more than just his best friend.

Tobias let the stool drop back onto all fours. “Look—”

He clearly wasn’t going to drop this. Fox wasn’t in the mood for a fight, but that didn’t mean he would back away from one, either. He stood with his muscled arms crossed over his chest and waited for Tobias to just come out and say it.

I’m crazy. We both know it. And you can’t handle it anymore.

“Look—” Tobias said, again.

That’s when the first boom shook the building.

Fox’s first thought, ingrained by years of living on the West Coast was: Earthquake.

His second thought, ingrained by years in the service was: Attack.

Tobias had frozen, one arm outstretched to balance against the counter behind him. The first boom was followed by a second one, even closer.

They’re dropping shells, Fox thought.

That was all his poor PSTD addled mind needed. He didn’t think: only reacted. Grabbing Tobias, he hauled him to the bathroom. There was an old-fashioned claw-foot bathtub inside. Shoving Tobias in, he climbed after, ignoring Tobias’ yells of protest. It was an insanely tight fit, and they were hideously exposed from above, but it was the best Fox could do.

It was the only thing he could do.

The booms came closer, one rapidly following the other. In his mind’s eye, he saw a Rockwell B-1 Lancer strategic bomber dropping bunker busters. One after the other in bright secession.

“What’s going on?” Tobias yelled. “Oh shit! Oh shit!”

A blast hit so close, Fox’s teeth rattled.

The floor dipped, sickenly. The ceiling above buckled and cracked—thank God they were on the top floor because Fox was afraid the roof was going to fall down. A pipe must have burst because suddenly cold water sprayed down on them. The window shattered, whether from the noise or debris hitting it, he wasn’t quite sure.

The shaking and crumbling went on and on. Bits of plaster rained down on them.

Fox covered Tobias’ head the best he could and prayed for it to end.
Then the worst of it was over. There were more booms, further off and fading. They hadn’t been hit straight on.

“What the hell?” Tobias panted and squirmed look around. There was white plaster in his hair, though it was getting washed away by the burst pipe. He struggled, and Fox reluctantly let him sit up.

“I think… that was an air raid,” Fox said.

“Here? No. No, that had to have been and Earthquake…” Lurching up, he climbed out of the bathtub.

“Shit, watch your step,” Fox warned. Tobias wasn’t wearing his shoes and there had to be broken glass all over the floor.

Tobias, of course, ignored him and straightened enough to look out the broken window. He paled.

For a second, Fox thought that there was dense fog outside—not unusual for San Francisco. But no, the mist that rose wasn’t mist at all. It was a haze of dust from a completely flattened building next door. The brick building he’d been looking at when he woke was now a pile of rubble.

“Was that just a gas explosion?” Tobias demanded. “What the actual hell.”

“Those were bombs,” Fox said through dry lips.

Tobias shook his head quickly and went to the living room, heading to the front door. But before he could yank it open, Fox slammed it shut.

Fox grabbed him and pulled him back. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“What do you think?” Tobias demanded. “Let me go. Those people need help. Look outside!”

“No! Those were bombs, Tobias.” He wanted to shake him. “Bombs! You get me?”

Tobias shook his head, his wet, blond hair falling into his eyes. God help him, he looked beautiful.

And the thought of Tobias wandering out into a war zone, as impossible as it seemed, was enough to make Fox’s guts freeze solid.

Why the hell would someone be carpet bombing San Francisco? Was this another Pearl Harbor? An attack by a country, or rogue terrorists like 9/11?

So many questions and no time for answers.

“This can’t be a bombing,” Tobias insisted. Almost begged. “Who the hell would bomb the United States? California?”

Distantly, Fox realized that Tobias was still in denial and shock mode. Fox had blown right past those, straight into acceptance.

They were in danger, and as strange and unlikely as that danger was, it was real.

Then, Fox realized he was hearing a distant drone of noise. It didn’t sound like any jet or airplane he’d ever heard before: A constant hum set the hair on the back of his neck on end.

“Fox? Do you know what’s going on?”

He didn’t bother to reply or make a justification that Tobias could argue against. Instead, he gestured for Tobias to follow him further into the apartment.

The entire kitchenette consisted of a microwave and an old-style electric two burner stove. The microwave had slid out of its shelf and snapped its electric cord before smashing to the floor. Fox stepped over it and looked out the tiny kitchen window, towards the source of the hum.

The dust haze from the collapsed building had settled a little, giving him a view down the street. Like most residences in San Francisco, they were on a sharply inclined hill.

The pale blue sky of dawn was red thanks to fires breaking out, and dust in the atmosphere. Even then, Fox could make out a giant black machine hanging in the air.
It was huge. The size of a football arena, or larger. All black with red and blue lights flashing on the sides like landing lights on an airplane.

“It looks like a God damn UFO,” Fox heard himself say.

With that, something both familiar and unwanted slid into place. The scared part of him was pushed aside to make room for the man who got things done. This was the enemy, and the enemy, Fox knew how to beat.

“What?” Tobias stepped up beside Fox, close enough that he could feel his body heat. He went still as he caught sight of the machine. Fox heard him swallow. “This can’t be real.”

He was still in denial. Gently, Fox took Tobias by the shoulders and turned him so they were face-to-face. He looked directly into his scared, blue eyes.

Inside Fox thought, I’ll protect you.
Outside, he kept a stone face and said, “Get your shoes on. We have to get out here.”

 

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