Among the Rubble

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  • Dedicated to My kids. I'd find you through any rubble.
                                    

Jake wandered down the rubble-strewn road holding a dirty rag to the deep cut in his chin. As the ships strafed the city, his office build had begun falling apart. Chunks concrete had hit him on the chin and the left ankle, leaving him cut and limping. All said and done, he'd gotten off light. Anne from Receivables had been crushed under the 12th floor Pepsi machine as it crashed through the ceiling.

About half of the staff of Archer, Hill and Brown had escaped the building before the top fifteen floors came down. Luckily, the alien craft didn't hit anything lower than that. Several whole buildings had fallen in the attack.

All that mattered at that moment was getting to Susie. She was only a handful of miles away, but road damage and ruined vehicles made any car smaller than a tank useless. Jake had torn a piece off his already tattered suit jacket to stanch the blood from his chin and set off.

The news had been full of the newly discovered comet whose trajectory would narrowly miss Earth for months. Halfway through the solar system, it started to slow down. For the past week, it had been clear it wasn't a comet at all, but some form of craft operating under camouflage.

The governments of the world had prepared as best they could. A week of debates about the intentions of the incoming craft had created no consensus. The ship's silence hadn't done anything to improve that situation.

That morning it had achieved a parking orbit and the miles-long craft had disgorged a fleet of ships headed toward major population centers.

As they attacked, each played the Voyager audio disk through external speakers.

Jake looked over his shoulder at the handful of fighter jets still in the fight over the city. Their weapons glanced harmlessly off of invisible shields as the alien attack craft went about their destruction. Hostiles batted aside defending vehicles on the ground or in the air with contemptuous ease. Whatever the aliens wanted, they were going to get it. Nothing remained for Jake but to find Susie and meet the future together.

Looting had already started in the small shops and strip malls. Mostly food and water, but here and there Jake saw a stupidly optimistic robber making off with a television, video game, or computer. He'd even joined in, taking a six pack of bottled water so he could wash the wound on his face and the smaller cuts he'd sustained all over.

As Jake reached his destination, he found a pile of rubble where the one story building had been. He called out for Susie, for the receptionist, even the office manager, but there was no answer.

He began scrabbling in the rubble. His voice quickly grew hoarse from the cinderblock dust and his own shouting for anyone trapped inside to hang on, help was coming. Heedless of shifting footing and the complaints of his already injured leg, Jake picked up or rolled away ever chunk of rubble he could. His hands were bleeding and he'd managed to turn his other ankle by the time he found Susie's windbreaker.

"Oh, sweet Jesus, no," he moaned as he clutched the pink nylon jacket to his chest. It was ripped and bloodied, especially around the collar. He buried his face in the jacket and wailed, unmindful of the blood.

A thump against his back caught his attention. He lifted his head and turned, scanning the street for danger. No one moved, but he saw a pebble arc toward him from the remains of the building next door. It clattered through the rubble and tumbled to a halt against his battered Italian loafer.

Jake made his way into the lot next door. He saw nothing for a moment, until a twitch of movement and a low moan made him realize that what he'd taken for a pile of rubble was a man covered in brick dust. The man lay partially trapped by two separate piles of brick and stone. A large flat rock lay over his lower legs, and his left arm was buried to the elbow in a fall of dark red brick.

"Can you hear me?"

The dust covered figure nodded, and croaked, "water?"

After a drink, the man poured the rest of the water over his face, washing most of the brick dust away. "Thanks, dude. So thirsty. Stupid pizza oven chimney fell on me, and I couldn't get away when the wall came down. Thought I was going to die of thirst before anyone found me."

"Try not to talk, okay? I'm going to see if I can get some of this stuff off you."

The man protested feebly, but Jake ignored it. The large stone was easy enough to move with a wooden lever. The bricks were trickier, but Jake extracted the arm without causing a collapse.

Jake and the injured man sat in silence as they looked at the ragged flesh and bone where the arm ended at the wrist.

"Yeah, man, sorry you wasted your time."

"Don't talk like that," Jake scolded. "I'll make you a tourniquet. We'll find somewhere safe to hide."

The man laughed weakly. "I've been bleeding for hours. You're starting to gray out. I just wanted to tell you something, and ask for the water."

"Those daycare ladies, they got the kids out. Ttwo of the teachers and a bunch of kids got out, and headed for the Park. So, go give her that jacket, man." He reached out his right hand and pointed to the east before going limp with a drawn out sigh.

The Park. He had to mean Cave Park, just outside the city. There was a chance his little girl was alive.

Jake picked up the jacket before turning his back on the afternoon sun and heading for the Park. It got cold in those caves, after all.

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