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.