WE KILL HUMANS: FIRST PREVIEW
Posted on October 13, 2015
So pleased with my first day of writing We Kill Humans. Here are the first two chapters. They still need to be edited, but this should give you a sense of the tone and concept of the series. It's my alien invasion tale.
Heath Milton: Eighteen Days after Offshoot
I ran so fast, racing across the open field, in effect foolishly daring one of the Altered to target me. To others, I'd be a blur. Hopefully, no one would mistake me for a Tagger and try to shoot me down. Back in Bismarck, that had happened far too often as we'd tried to escape. Not that I could blame those few survivors still holed up in their homes. They'd endured too many crazy threats already.
I vaulted over a small rock outcropping and landed next to the abandoned tractor. The bottoms of my shoes were warm to the touch. Had to watch the amount of friction I generated. And to think I'd never made it on the track team for two years running.
I looked around. It was almost night, and the temperature hovered around fifty degrees, a cool day for early August. Had the Makers done something to affect the weather as well? I wouldn't put it past them. Why not heap more misery on what was left of the human race?
My sprint through the open hadn't brought anything down on me that I could tell. No Drones swooped in from above, and I was reasonably sure any Bruisers in the area would be out of it until tomorrow. Thankfully, the past two days had been cloudy. No sun meant the brutes couldn't recharge and would stay in their passive modes. That's what made overcast days excellent for supply runs; one less baddie to contend with.
That just left Taggers and Splitters. And as fast as I was now, I still couldn't outrun either, not that many Splitters had been spotted this far inland. Their dependency on salt water could be thanked for that.
I knew Maggie waited for me back at the barn, probably inventorying our dwindling supplies one more time.
I looked to the west, to Bismarck. I had put only a few hundred miles between the here and now and my former life, but it felt even more distant. Thirty-six days had passed since the Makers had appeared. The downfall of humankind could be divided into two phases, the Arrival and the Altered. What I had become, an Offshoot, wasn't part of the Makers' plan. We couldn't possibly be the third prong of their attack. We were something else. What had Maggie called us? Aberrations, outliers. I felt a better label might be the Stubborn, or if the few humans we had encountered so far were to be believed – Freaks.
But Maggie would have none of that. She was big about labels, having given all the Altered their names except for the Bruisers. That had been Roy's one contribution before his death.
I looked down at my arms, willing the four quills jutting out from the underside of each forearm to retract into my overly muscular limbs. They quickly disappeared.
The smaller quills that arrayed themselves along my lower jaw like a thorny beard were harder to hide. No amount of concentration had gotten them to slip back under my skin. From a distance, they could pass for a beard, but up close their blue hue gave away my origin as an Offshoot. At least my thick brown hair still hid the pair of minor horns that trailed backward from the top of my scalp. If I were a full-blown Tagger, those horns would be longer and flexible, allowing me to commune with other Taggers; not that I had any desire to do so. I shivered.
I crouched behind the large rear tire of the farm vehicle and eyed the yellow-sided farmhouse. No lights. Correction, no open fires from candles or torches. Lights and electricity hadn't been around since the Arrival.
I looked for signs of life. Did the owners still huddle within or had they become one of the Altered and scampered off to join their mutated brethren?
Once and a while, Maggie and I had come across a Drone or two that had managed to get stuck inside a building. With their impressive wingspans, they were designed to fly about in the open air, but their large wings along with their six simple appendages ending in claws didn't let them come and go easily through doors and windows. They were the most insectlike of the Altered. Encountered by themselves inside a house or store, they were beatable. Outside, they gathered in swarms and attacked en masse.
I again looked to the sky. The longer I lingered here, exposed, the more likely it was I would be spotted by a Drone patrol. Their eyesight was impressive. Back in Bismarck, they had spotted Maggie and her dog from nearly a mile away. I had managed to rescue her but not Max.
I trained my eyes on the farmhouse's upper windows. Strangely, two had been boarded up on the outside. Why do that? Wouldn't it be smarter to fortify the windows on the first floor? Maybe it would be wise to skip this house and try for another. But the next one could be miles away.
I drew in a breath, using my lungs and not the four tiny slits that fluttered open and closed on their own along my collarbone. If I were a true Tagger, those same slits would be longer and terminate up behind my ears. At least my silly gills could be hidden by a shirt as they stood now. Who knew if I was done changing. I could wake up tomorrow to be an Altered, my thoughts no longer my own. But it had been nearly twenty days since my transformation had stalled at this halfway point. If I was going to become one of them, that should've happened within a few days of my exposure to the cloud.
I ran to the side of the house, only feet away from the front porch. I pressed my back against the siding and sniffed the air. My sense of smell was killer now, perhaps even better than a bloodhound. Maggie had put me in my place about the degree to which my abilities extended. With my sense of smell, she told me it probably settled in somewhere just above an average canine and well below the pinnacle of excellent sniffers, a bear. Maggie was a treasure trove of useless facts like that. Although, quite a bit of her observations had helped us escape death on numerous occasions, something that had earned her my gratitude and trust. For someone three years younger than me, she was scary smart. Who'd have thought a freshman had so much locked away in their head like she did?
The smell of cooked meat made me salivate. Whoever was inside wasn't an Altered. They didn't cook their prey. But if it was human, how stupid were they to be letting such a pronounced smell escape? A small posse of Taggers could hone in on such a strong scent in no time.
I stiffened, detecting another smell, one that threatened to trigger my flight response. It was all I could do not to bolt. I steadied my breath and moved toward the vicinity of the second smell. As I slipped toward the back of the house, the alarming odor increased, becoming nigh overwhelming. My heart pounded in my chest, the desire to flee so strong. I froze and looked up. I was directly above the room with the boarded up windows. I took in another whiff, this time using my gills to better filter out the other smells.
Yep, definitely a Bruiser within. What does that mean? Is it dead? I sniffed again. No, a live one.
I coughed, slightly overwhelmed by the Altered's heavy musk.
So what did I know? Cooked meat meant a human or possibly an Offshoot was inside. But also the crazy idiot had a live Bruiser in there as well. What were they doing? Had they lost their minds? I mean, it was obviously deprived of sunlight. The boarded up windows clearly led me to that conclusion, but why would someone risk so much?
Then it dawned on me―the person inside had a Bruiser held hostage! Any Altered that came across this house would scent the creature and keep out. Taggers didn't mix with Bruisers. In turn, Bruisers were territorial and would steer clear unless forced to face down a fellow Bruiser. I had heard rumors of such confrontations, but didn't believe it. Altered fighting each other? So far all I had seen from them was an undying drive to kill humans and those that were my kind.
I looked up at the darkening sky. It made no sense to travel any farther with night coming. I would head back. We had enough to last us one more week. We'd wait for another overcast day to head out and find a better house to ransack.
I drew in a breath, relieved I would not be going inside. While I was curious to see who was crazy enough to hole up with an Altered, I also didn't think my presence would be welcome.
A voiced hissed from behind me, "Turn around slowly and don't even think about running away full steam." I heard the click of a safety being switched off.
I turned around to see the person crazy enough to make a Bruiser a bedfellow.
The man glared back at me, rifle pointed at my chest. "Interesting, you understood me. That's something new." He looked me up and down. "Little off looking for one of them runners." He sighed. "Oh, well, better safe than sorry."
He fired his gun, and I screamed.
Heath Milton: Not Filled with Holes
I dove left and vaulted toward the thick trunk of a nearby tree. His shot missed me, just barely. My feet impacted with the bark, and I resisted the compulsion to flex my toe claws and grab hold; no sense ruining another pair of shoes. I pushed off and flew horizontally for nearly twenty feet before bringing my feet down and scampering toward the house. I raced up the side of the building, a feat that still gave me a thrill.
The man fired at me again as I exited his field of view and stumbled onto the sloped roof. I could run up the side of most two-story structures but not much more.
"Get down from there and die, monster!" He huffed and wheezed, clearly worked up and frightened.
"I won't hurt you," I said.
Silence. Not even any strained breathing.
"Please don't shoot," I said, trying to sound harmless. "I'm not one of them."
"Sure look like one of those runner things," he said, barely above a whisper.
I slid my head into view, knowing I could pull it back out of sight before he got off a shot. Thank you very much disturbingly fast alien reflexes.
Below, the man looked up at me, slowly moving the gun barrel to line up with my head.
"I'm not Altered."
Still tense, the man said, "Get down. You want to talk, we'll talk."
I looked around. It was dark now. Some of the clouds had thinned in spots, exposing the first light of nighttime stars. "We shouldn't beoutside. Too risky. Tempting a Drone attack."
The man wrinkled his face, confused. "Drones? No one flies those little machines around. The Emerson boy had one, but he's gone." He lowered his rifle and seemed at a loss for words.
"No, the flying monsters, the ones who swarm around, we call them Drones." I stepped closer to the edge, exposing myself to him from the waist up.
"You got names for all of them, do you? What's that make you, one of them runners?"
"Those are Taggers. I'm not quite like them." I jumped down, landing neatly about ten feet away from the man.
His eyes widened. "You move like them. No human can drop from that height and not twist an ankle or break something." He raised his gun but pointed it more at my waist.
That was good. Aiming it at my head would mean he was not buying what I was selling.
"I'm an Offshoot." I scanned the skies, looking for any movement out in the fields surrounding the property. With the grasses slightly past knee height, I could easily spot any incoming Taggers by looking for disturbances in the swaying blades.
"I don't follow. The world is crazy now. Monsters everywhere."
"Like the Bruiser you have prisoner inside?"
His eyes darted to the closed off windows and back to me. He raised his rifle and stiffened. "How'd you know about her?"
Struck a nerve. He didn't like me figuring out his little game.
"You have it locked up in there, keeping it away from any sun so it'll stay passive. Smart thinking. Any Altered come around here, they'll smell it and stay away." My eyes narrowed. "How'd you lure it inside without it tearing apart you or your house?"
"Not an it, a she." The gun again dropped, and the man buried his face in his left hand. He sobbed and then looked back up at me through his widespread fingers. "Regina. The cloud came, and I lost her. She changed."
He shook his head. "My daughter. She's only fourteen."
In the distance I thought I spotted movement in the fields. "Listen, we should get inside. We're going to attract the wrong kind of attention if we stay out here." I nodded toward the section of farmland where'd I thought I'd seen something.
"Ain't the good kind of attention anymore." His shoulders slouched briefly, then he scrutinized that stretch of field for a long time. He squinted and strained to spot what had me on edge. Finally, he looked at me and shrugged. "Guess you got better eyes than me. I'll take your word."
He walked to the front porch and climbed up the four narrow steps. He nudged the rickety screen door open with his rifle and waved for me to follow. "Name's Hampton Caesar. Yours?"
Good, he's starting to think of me as human. "Heath Milton."
We entered, and he closed the door behind us, locking it and slapping in place the small deadbolt. I pictured the simple wooden door splintering to pieces under the weight of an Altered attack. It offered little protection for Hampton and his family.
"Is it just you and your daughter?" I asked as he led me into a small dining room, the table stacked high with cans of food, his stockpile I supposed.
"You'd think." He spun around and sneered at me. "But why would I tell you more than you needed to know?"
There was a brief scuffing noise from behind and then something hard hit me in the back of the head.
Everything went black.