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.
“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?”
“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.