Dawn’s early light found our group pulling into Ravenscroft farm. On the boundary of the farm, Larry was settled on one of the dirt bikes. He led us in, directing two of the trucks into a huge barn. The third was hidden under a tarp once everyone was out, and the last vehicle, ours, was hidden under an awning in case anything came overhead. Larry directed all the children we had rescued into the second barn that had been converted into a dorm. I left the team to get them settled as Larry took me across to the main house with Noah.
“It doesn’t look like it’s been raided,” Larry commented as we searched the ground floor. In the kitchen were two mugs of cold cups of tea.
“Nothing looks amiss; there are no signs of a struggle.”
“I thought that when I visited last time,” Larry answered.
“Do you think they up and left?” I asked him.
“I honestly don’t know what happened to them, but they aren’t here, and one of the cars was missing when I looked around,”
“I’m sure they are alive,” I tried to reassure him before he gave us a tour of the house. The lower floor held the large kitchen/diner, a big front room and an adequate study.
Upstairs had five bedrooms, including one with the master ensuite and a standard bathroom. Larry led us downstairs onto the front patio, looking around the farmhouse.
“How do you reckon we could turn this around?” Larry asked.
“Well, you’d need security up; that study would be a great place to set up as a command room,” Tobi’s voice echoed over the headset startling us all. I had forgotten the Operations Room could see us through our glasses.
“Would we have to put up lots of cameras?” Noah questioned before I could.
“Probably not, I would think a new gate at the front entrance, some better fencing around the whole estate and camera’s up near the main buildings,” Nate added as chickens began to squawk. They had been roaming free; somehow, they had not been killed.
“We bring the trucks back to base and put all the horses here,” I said decisively, “we’ll travel via quad or dirt bike to get here, then set this place up as a second base. Any ideas on making a watchtower?”
“I can help you there,” a voice surprised me. I glanced over to see the ‘leader’ of the other children. He was a boy of similar age to me, with dark hair.
“What can you do?” Noah asked suspiciously.
“My dad was a carpenter; I’m pretty handy with tools. I’m Brett,” He put out his hand, allowing me to shake it.
“There’s a big tree close to the gate; we could put up a watchtower in there,” Larry suggested.
“Huh,” I looked at him, confused.
“Well, you don’t want a watchtower as you saw back at the school; it would stick out like a sore thumb. In the tree, it would be hidden away,”
“That sounds like a great idea. What would it take to get everything in place?”
“We’d have to get a small team of engineers to work on the fencing; Tom can organise that,” Tobi took charge, “I’d also bring a small team of techies to set up the cameras.”
“Ben could come in and look at the fields to see what needs to happen,” Larry added.
“I’ll need some helpers,” Brett put forth.
“You’ll probably get that from your group,” I told him, “This isn’t our base, but we do have somewhere nearby.”
“I figured as such, I can also understand why you haven’t taken us to that base,” Brett replied.
“This morning, we’ll get Peter and Oscar to do a check on everyone, we’ll get the lead medic over here to help out while I take the rest of Alpha and Bravo back with us,”
“What about security here?” Larry asked.
“I’m going to leave Charlie here for the next few days, then we can rotate around, maybe even get a couple of groups set up from our new friends,” I explained. We stepped off the porch, and I led the way back over to the barn. It was a lot more spacious than I expected, with two dorms and a couple of lone rooms for the teachers/escorts.
“Is there going to be enough beds?” Noah asked, looking around the dorms.
“We’re short of about twenty beds,” Rachel came up to us. Some younger boys and girls were staring at us; we did make an odd sight. Noah, Rachel and I were wearing green combats with black tactical vests. Our glasses had yellow lenses, probably looking a bit weird. I was already wearing fingerless gloves, leaning on the assault rifle.
“What about the other barn? Could it be converted?”
“I would think so,” Larry answered.
“It wouldn’t take much work to put in some walls, but we’d need some beds,” Brett added.
“I’m sure we could arrange that,” I answered him.
“There’s a worksite not too far from here; we can get materials from there,” Larry suggested.
“There are seventy-two from two school’s St Francis and Hilden Prepatory, aged from eight to fifteen,” Oscar reported.
“There are no significant injuries or illnesses, though some have allergies and asthma, etc.,” Peter added.
“Right, we’ll get Helen and Riley over here today with Mac to get everyone’s details, then we assign everyone a job,” I told the small group leaving Oscar and Peter behind. Brett, Noah, Rachel and I took a look around. There was a large barn, which had been converted, then a second smaller barn. The farmhouse was large and spacious, overlooking the river passing through Larry’s land. Larry led us around the farm; behind the farmhouse was a swimming pool and deck area with table and chairs. Close by was a chicken coop; I could also see some fields in the distance.
“We’ll have to get engineering in pretty quickly,” Noah suggested, “We want this place to be secure,”
“We’ll start them today. We’ll need to get the dorms up and running first,” I turned to Noah, “I want you to take your team out with Larry and possibly Brett to get the building works, then try to get some beds from somewhere.”
“Sure, we’ll get straight onto that,”
“Charlie will remain here. I’m going to take two of the trucks and pick the others up from the ship, then head back to base,” They all nodded, so we immediately split up, I drove the first truck, and Harué drove the second one.
Just over an hour later, the two trucks rumbled into the Mech Bay. I jumped down from the cab as the techies and Andre jumped from the rear.
“Here you go,” Nica handed me over a flash drive, “This is what I downloaded from the school. Andre and Charlie already have the specs for the ship,”
“Good,” I replied, taking out my earpiece as Tom met up with the pair. I was absolutely drained. I really wanted to sleep but could see I had a waiting committee; Mac, Finn, Nate, and Tobi were all stood waiting for me.
“Have fun?” Mac asked a little sarcastically as my little brother came up. I handed over the rifle, the glasses and the technical vest.
“You could say that, now what can I do for you?” I asked, yawning.
“We’d just like a quick word with you,”
“Give me a moment,” I told them, calling Tom over, “Can you prepare your team to go offsite?”
“Sure, you want us to go to Ravenscroft?” He asked curiously.
“We need a better perimeter to protect from the Zombies, not to mention a couple of dorms to house all the kids,” I explained.
“I’ll organise the team,”
“I want you to leave Newt and Zof here, inspect the fencing, but get the dorms sorted as best you can,” I ordered.
“No problem,” he answered with a grin. I motioned the others to follow me, then led them to my office, where I settled down on my sofa. Finn being the last one in, closed the door.
“I think you should stop going out on missions,” Mac blurted out before anyone else said anything. I looked at the other three to see varying degrees of agreement; Tobi looked like a nodding dog.
“What made you come to this conclusion?” I asked, rubbing a hand through my hair.
“Watching the camera’s, we can see how dangerous it is,” Tobi took up, “We need you.”
“You need me?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Your one of the most influential people in England right now; you are the leader of a base that must restart the nation. We need you to lead us and help us regrow the population,” way to put pressure on my shoulders.
“I’m not that important,” I mumbled.
“I beg to differ,” Finn answered, “You’ve already established a link with Kelvedon and Cheyenne; I know you’ve been trying to establish a connection to the new government. You could be king up here if you wanted,”
“King of the north,” I laughed to myself.
“OK, that might be going a little far,” Mac agreed, “But you’ve already started a second base, not to mention dealt the aliens a blow,”
“OK, OK, so whose going to take my place on Recon?”
“Actually, I think Finn should,” Mac suggested. I looked over the other leader; he had led his own group of OP Growth, significantly larger than mine.
“Alright, Finn, it’s all your’s,” I looked at the others, “But I expect to be able to go out on missions every so often,”
“Absolutely,” Finn grinned.
“Between Rachel and Noah, your teams will have to train three new Recon teams for Ravenscroft,”
“How are they looking?” Nate asked.
“There are seventy-two altogether. We’ll try to arrange them into Agriculture, Engineering, Medical, Recon, Hospitality and Tech,”
“Do you plan on rotating them onto base?” he questioned.
“Honestly, I’m not entirely sure at this point; we need to learn to trust them first,” I explained, “but we’ll rotate teams of all the department’s to start teaching them and staying offsite.”
“That’s actually an excellent idea,” Mac said.
“Is that all you wanted?” I asked.
“Erm, for the moment,” she returned.
“Good, then I’m going to go to bed and get some sleep,” I told them, “Nate, you and Finn are in command while Mac is away, I want you in the Ops Room, but if anything happens, you will immediately wake me up,”
“Yes, Sir,” they both intoned.
“Tobi, can you give this to Amanda? Tell her it’s the data from the school,” I handed him over the flash drive before leaving them to head up to bed. I pretty much stripped down to my boxers and fell into bed.
We had the hottest summer on record as Ravenscroft was turned into a second base; completely new fencing was erected around the farm with a ditch to stop any wayward zombies, but not many had been seen recently. Amanda suggests they had been drawn to the cities and larger towns. I travelled to Ravenscroft at least once a week, where Brett had become the leader, but I had not been on any missions since the school. I stared up at the ceiling, thinking about how the farm had progressed when my alarm went telling me it was time for another day of work. After a quick shower and some new clothes, I made my way down to the canteen, where breakfast had already been laid out.
“Morning, Alex,” A voice called out to me. I looked up to see Ashley feeding her baby boy. He had been born two months ago; it was a relatively easy pregnancy, from what I hear.
“How are you today?” I asked as I got my food, settling in opposite her.
“Good, little Alex has been getting cranky, but no serious issues,” she smiled. She had named the little boy after me.
“Big Alex is getting cranky too,” I told her.
“Poor you,” she grinned, “Feeling the itch to go out?”
“I never thought I would; before this all occurred, I loved staying home being on the computer, but now I feel better leading the team.”
“How long has it been since Mac requested you stay here?”
“A month now, I’m itching to go out,” I sighed, “what’s the plan with the school today?”
“We’re taking our young’ uns to Ravenscroft for their lessons,” she answered, “Today they learn how to kill and prepare a chicken,”
“I don’t remember that being in my education,” we laughed.
“It’s a brave new world,” she answered as Noah and the rest of Bravo team came in. He grabbed up a tray, then joined Ashley and me, “Where are you heading today?”
“Ravensville for a supply run,” he answered, tucking into his food.
“How is the training of the other teams, Delta…..” she looked between us, unsure.
“Echo and Foxtrot,” I supplied.
“They are all doing really well. They’ve been shadowing the three other Recon teams and almost ready to go out on their own,” He looked sidelong at me. I had seconded Noah to train the teams up; his teammates had been going along with Alpha and Charlie. But I had the final say whether the three new teams could go out on missions.
“Next week, I’m going to take a look at them to see if they are ready to go out into the wider world,” I explained to Ashley. My alarm clock beeped at me, “Sorry, I’ve got a conference with Kelvedon,”
“No problem, see you later,” Ashley gave me a nod and Noah a quick wave as I put my dirty plate on the hatch before heading down to the conference room where Sarah and Max were waiting for me.
“Hey guys, how are you?”
“Tired, we’ve been working hard to get the flash drive translated,” Sarah replied; I noticed the almost thirteen-year-old had bags under her eyes. Mac walked up as I unlocked the conference door finding one of the techies already inside. She dialled a few numbers, then the screen came to life, showing the inside of a lab in Kelvedon Hatch. General Forsythe and Dr Cauldwell were already there.
“Greetings, General, Doctor,” I welcomed them.
“Alex, good to see you,” the upper-class general replied.
“This is part of my research team. Max, you should know, but this is Sarah Walker, the head of Research here,”
“Hello, young lady,” the general said, a little patronisingly, I thought.
“Should we get on with the report?” Dr Cauldwell suggested.
“Certainly, Alex’s team managed to download significant files from the computer in the school, some of it interfacing with the Alien computers,” Sarah explained, “We also received a lot of data from the alien aircraft.”
“Have you managed to decipher any of it?”
“A fair bit, we’ve got an idea of the invasion force numbers, but what is of most interest to us was what they planned for our world.”
“I’m guessing they are not here for a holiday,” I suggested sarcastically. I received a glare from Forsythe.
“No, they are here to harvest our molten core!” Sarah announced to the group. I stared at her, not really comprehending what she was saying.
“Excuse me, young lady, I could have sworn I heard you say they are harvesting our molten core,” Forsythe responded to her astonishing proclamation.
“That’s what I said,”
“How do you know this?” the general asked, flabbergasted. Sarah blushed but gave me a small grin.
“I’ve been working with a small group, including some of the techies, to decode everything,” she answered.
“Surely their master plan for destroying earth was not on a headmaster’s computer,” he returned incredulously. Dr Cauldwell was stood in the background, trying to hold back laughter.
“I, erm, hacked the Alien’s computer,” she responded. My jaw dropped.
“You hacked their computer’s?” I repeated.
“Well, technically it wasn’t me, using some decoding I had done, Talia and Tobi were able to hack into their systems getting onto their data systems,”
“You did that at the base?” Cauldwell now inquired.
“No, we managed to do it from the Alien Craft. Which stopped any ‘seekers’ from finding out where our base was,” she told us, pre-empting any questions regarding safety.
“Even though you pulled the data, they can’t trace any of it here?” Forsythe was still unsure.
“I won’t bore you with all the technical details,” Sarah responded, “but yes, we secured the data without them know where we are.”
“Well, that’s, er, good,” Forsythe stuttered, “Now tell us more about the Aliens?”
“You know from previous reports given by your Chief scientific advisor, they are called Caati; from our examination of the body bought back, we determined they were humanoid in appearance but had feline characteristics,” Sarah answered, putting up a slide where there was a slow-moving Caati revolving around.
“They are no more fragile than you or I,” Max Cauldwell added, “The exception is they have some incredible armour, but we are discovering their weaknesses; this has been sent to Dr Cauldwell.”
“Their race is thousands, if not millions of years old. They live on Earth-world ships, there is one just outside our solar system, but they send in their battleships and a Harvester,”
“What are Earthships?” Dr Cauldwell asked, flicking through some printed notes.
“Mechanical versions of an earth, I suppose,” Srah answered.
“They’re huge,” Max butted in. Dr Cauldwell looked at his son with an exasperated expression; I had to stifle laughter.
“So what has this got to do with harvesting our molten core?” Mac looked confused.
“Their Earthships are powered by the Molten Core. First, they try to cause as much chaos as possible by releasing the virus, limiting the planets defence system. Then, they knock out as much infrastructure as they can before moving their own troops in. Finally, they latch onto the crust of the planet with their Harvester’s and begin to drain the molten core,”
“Why do all the rest, when the drain will most likely destroy the planet?” I wondered.
“The planet may be technologically advanced, so they can steal the technology or take slaves before they drain the world,”
“So they destroyed London to place the Harvester?” General Forsythe asked.
“Yes, but there are actually two Harvesters, working in tandem,”
“Two?” the general looked astonished.
“One is over the Prime Meridian Point,” Max pointed out, my eyes started to glaze over at this point, “The second is at the antipodal point, somewhere off the coast of New Zealand,”
“I didn’t understand much of what you just said, son,” Forsythe returned, “Except the other Harvester ship is in New Zealand somewhere,”
“Basically,” Max returned; he was one smart cookie. Maybe even as bright as Tobi but in a different way.
“However, the two are connected. If you could bring down one of the ships, then you could bring down the other,” Sarah added.
“Do you have the plans for the ship?” Forsythe asked.
“Yes, we managed to pull those from the archives,”
“Good, make sure you send them,” Forsythe answered, then looked at me, “I’m going to try to send in a team of SAS guys to disable their ship if we’re lucky we made be able to destroy them.”
“I’ll take a look at the plans,” I suggested getting a glare from Mac.
“Good idea, we need to find a way to destroy the Earthship, though,” Forsythe continued, his mind now entirely elsewhere, “Thank you for all your help,”
“No, problemo,” Max uttered. The general waved him off, then disappeared from view. We heard a door close, so we knew he had left the room. I let out a laugh I was holding in.
“You need to behave yourself, Maxwell,” his dad told him sternly, “I hope he behaves for you, Miss Walker,”
“I give him a slap now and then,” she told the doctor with a grin.
“If you need to, you have my permission to get him over your knee,”
“Hey!” Max protested, making us all laugh.
“Seriously, though, you’ve done a lot of hard work. The stuff you give us is going to help us destroy the aliens,” Dr Cauldwell took on a note of seriousness, “We found another twenty-five members of OpGrowth which should complete the operation,”
“By my count, we should have another five if what I was told was correct. Should we not have 100 people taking part in OpGrowth,”
“Unfortunately, five had been killed before we reached them; in the next week, we shall ship them out to you with some extra supplies,” he returned sadly, though I detected some nervousness in there.
“Thank you,” He replied tiredly. The connection was cut, so I took a look at the others in the room.
“Thank you, Sarah, Max, that was some hardcore stuff,” I told them, “I’d like a report of everything you found on my desk, not to mention the specifications of that Harvester,”
“No, Problemo,” Max grinned at me, giving me a salute. I waved him off, opening the door to find one of the techies there. She looked awful nervous.
“Can I help?”
“We couldn’t contact you; all communications would not go through,” she babbled.
“Sorry, Daisy probably locked down the conference room; what’s going on?”
“Bravo team have discovered something; you need to come to have a look,” she wrung her hands nervously, making my heart rate skyrocket. What the hell was I about to find? I followed her back down the corridor with the others in close pursuit. I entered the double door’s to see Tali huddled at the front of the room, watching the big screens. I quickly stepped into the Watch Commander’s office, snagging a set of headphones.
“Tali, what’s going on?” I asked, plugging the battery in. She turned to look at me, then pointed back at the screen. It as divided into four, the streams coming from Bravo Unit’s glasses. Over the main street of Ravensville, there were four bodies, all dressed in military uniform except for one that had a white T-shirt on delivering a message, “What the hell does that mean?”
“It’s a communication channel on their craft,” Sarah supplied. I looked around to find Mac was grey. Sarah did not seem too much better.
“So we have twenty-four hours to connect to them, or what?” I asked, then saw the name Ravenscroft Farm written.
“They will destroy Ravenscroft,” Tali voiced, almost as a whimper. I looked at the message one more time before turning on my heel, practically throwing the headset I never used back into the Watch Commanders office.
“Tali, recall Bravo then contact Brett and Ravenscroft and prepare him to bug out,” I slipped my card through the machine and slid out through the double doors, not hearing Tali’s reply, “Daisy, I want Andre and Alpha team in the armoury in ten minutes,”
“What are you doing?” Mac asked as I headed for the stairs.
“I’m going to find out what the bastards want!” I snarled.
“You could send Bravo out to the Craft,” Mac argued.
“They asked for me by name,” the door opened, allowing me to continue downstairs to Level one.
“At least take Bravo and Charlie as back up,” Mac suggested.
“Take Amanda with you; she’s worked on the ship more than anyone,” Sarah suggested from my other side.
“OK, tell Amanda she has five minutes to meet us in the Armoury,” I conceded, looking at Mac, “If it turns out they want to meet us elsewhere, then I’ll call in Bravo and Charlie,”
“You better; you promised not to go out.”
“This is one time where I’m needed off base,” I told her firmly.
Nearly an hour later, the Light Tactical Assault Vehicle was bouncing around as we approached the Craft.
“Commander, we’ve lost contact with Bravo team,” Tali’s voice was heard over the radio.
“What do you mean you’ve lost contact?”
“Thirty minutes ago, they said they were experiencing problems with their communications, then we lost contact. We’ve been trying to contact them ever since,”
“Where was the last known location?”
“Just outside of Ravensville,” Tali returned.
“Shit, OK, keep trying,” Harué drove the LTAV right up the Craft, then we disembarked with our rifles ready, “How long since the Caati located their ship?”
“Twenty-five days,” Amanda replied, typing something on the wrist computer she had. The Craft shimmered into view as the rear doors lowered, allowing us to enter.
“Do you think we will be secure if we open communications?” I asked her.
“We’ll have ten minutes before they can locate us,” she answered. I turned to Harué and spoke.
“I want the LTAV on board, so Andre can move the vehicle if need be. Adam, I want you in the co-pilot spot. Tucker, you’ll take gunner and Harué I want you on the comms,” She snapped off a salute as she went to move the vehicle. We had discovered that when cleared out, the hold would fit the lightly armoured vehicles nicely.
Amanda spent the next five minutes fiddling with the computer; I’m not sure what she was doing as the LTAV was bought on board. The doors were sealed, then she looked up at me and nodded. I stepped into a small room behind the cockpit. This, I had been told, was a mobile conference room for the senior military personnel. The lights flickered for a moment then a hologram appeared; it was clear and lightyears ahead of any technology we had. My mouth dropped as I looked at Mr Parker, my former headmaster and Kelly’s father.
“Mr Parker,” I stared, unable to comprehend what I was staring at.
“Ah, Mr Walker, I had heard you were the nuisance behind the Rebels; I would never have taken you to be a leader.” I bristled at that.
“You obviously want something. Otherwise, you would not have left that disgusting message for me to find.” I answered, setting my jaw.
“All business, I can understand that. I want to make a deal with you.” He replied.
“What makes you think I’ll make a deal with a traitorous slug like you. I know you’ve been working with the aliens long before the attack Robert Parker if that’s your real name.” I almost laughed as his jaw dropped in astonishment at my comment.
“You seem to know a lot about me.” he recovered quickly.
“You don’t exist before 2027; I’m hazarding a guess the Cataii planted you as a mole; you were a computer scientist at one point.”
“You’ve done a lot of research, but so have I. Alexander William Walker, did you know your dad cried like a baby when he was tortured, told us all about you.” I gritted my teeth but refused to respond to him.
“What do you want? You obviously want something.”
“I want my daughter back, and the Cataii want their ship back.” Mr Parker demanded. I looked at his hologram and laughed.
“You’re hilarious, Mr Parker. What makes you think A) I have your daughter and B) I’ll give your ship back.” I chuckled at the absurdity of his demands.
“I know all about Operation Growth, I know your father conceived the idea, and twenty children would go into a hidden base if something happened.” Parker replied, my laughter stopping almost instantly, “However, your father never released where the base was.”
“If there was already supposed to be twenty kids, how did you get Kelly involved?” I dropped the pretence.
“Let’s just say the participant had an unfortunate accident.” Parker grinned maliciously, making me feel sick. A snap caught my attention. Amanda indicated I only had five minutes left.
“You still haven’t given me a valid reason to hand you over your daughter.” I returned, then taunted him, “She is enjoying the hospitality of chez Walker in a prison cell.”
“I’ll give you four reasons.” He growled as the camera panned out to see Bravo team on their knees in the high street.
“You harm them, and I’ll destroy you.” I threatened.
“I’d like to see your army.” The man laughed.
“Fine, I’ll have your daughter killed after she has been tortured,” I told him ruthlessly, his face dropping.
“Listen here, you little shit….”
“Or how would you like to see her raped? I’m sure she would love me to take her from behind,” I told him, not sure where the words were coming from. I felt physically sick, even thinking about it, but Parker had to know I mean business.
“You have twenty-four hours, Walker, then your friends will die,” He returned, then the communications blinked off. I immediately stepped out of the room to be greeted by Amanda.
“We need to move, Andre…”
“Bogie, incoming,” Andre shouted as I felt him powering up the Craft. I lurched into the cockpit, latching onto the co-pilot’s seat. On the Heads-up display, a blip appeared behind us as Andre threw the Craft forward. Despite looking like a baby whale, the Craft was elegant and graceful. I watched Andre, holographic rings around his arms as he manoeuvred the Craft like a bird of prey.
“Alex, take the other gunner spot. On the right out of here before the hold.” I was told just as a burst of light caught my eye, and a tree lit up on fire. I lurched back through the passageway, passed the communications room then turned right. Clinging to the wall, I observed a ladder, so I clambered up like a monkey until I found myself in a small dome. I belted myself into the chair, taking hold of the joystick in front of me. Immediately the dome became a real-world screen with the alien fighter coming up fast. The turrets were on the underside of the wings and could go pretty much 360. I depressed the trigger, firing whatever the hell the aliens used as weapons. A green light flashed towards the Craft, but it dodged quite easily and avoided the shot from the other turret.
We were racing over terrain now, Andre piloting the Craft expertly, trying to avoid the fighter behind us. The next ten minutes was probably the most adrenaline-filled and heart-pounding moments of my life as we tried to avoid the fighter while attacking back. After many more minutes of dogfighting, Andre finally shifted the Craft vertical allowing me to get an almost perfect shot. I’ll never know how I managed it, but the weapons pulsed, hitting the other plane dead on, causing it to explode.
“Control, I want Tom and a group of engineer’s out to that crashed fighter; we might be able to take advantage of some of the technology.” I spoke to the base, “Andre, take us to our secondary site.”