This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
As he neared the town Zak started to feel something wasn’t right. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was missing. He hadn’t seen anyone so far, but that wasn’t unusual. The route up into the mountains didn’t lead to many places, and it would be rare for anyone to be heading that way so late in the day.
But there was definitely something missing. It was only when he rounded a corner and the town itself came into view that he realised what it was. There was no sound of engines. The clatter people always made was missing too. All the things that he hated about being in a town were missing. He might hate them, but their absence grated on his nerves.
He checked the time, knowing full well that it wasn’t so late people wouldn’t be out and about. So just what was going on? Had something terrible happened?
He had no means of communication at his mine, by his own choice. He never had a need to speak with anyone. Even when he came into town to sell what he’d mined he found conversations a strain. He caught up on any important news during those visits, mostly through vid-screens in cafés, but he rarely learnt anything he considered important. Now, for the first time, he wondered if cutting himself off so totally when away from town had been a mistake.
As he moved past the first set of houses he noticed other things that put him on edge. A coat left laying in the dirt. A vehicle abandoned at an angle across the street, two of its tyres flat. A door to a house swinging slowly open and closed. And still the lack of noise. No people. No vehicles. No life, other than a few small birds and insects.
Zak eased the grav-lifter to a halt and stood in the road, wondering what to do. He reached under the covers and checked that the pistol, the shotgun, and the large metal wrench, were where he could reach them easily.
He briefly considered turning around and heading for home, but he knew that if he did he’d be coming back to the town before long. While he didn’t normally want anything to do with those in the town, he needed to know what had happened to them… and if it might threaten him at the mine.
If everyone had left he decided to pick up as many supplies as he could. There were luxuries he could only get from the town, and he was starting to think that once he knew what had happened it might be a long time before he came back again.
He even considered picking up a long range comm device, so he could stay in touch with the rest of the world. On his own terms and only when he wanted, of course.
He’d leave what he’d brought with him as payment for what he took. He wasn’t going to steal, even if no one was around to pay. In fact what he left would be worth far more than the value of anything he took, but he didn’t see any point in taking it back to the mine.
Over the next few minutes he neared the town centre. There were more signs of a hurried exodus. It seemed that no one had stayed, yet there were no signs of a disaster. No blood stains suggesting people had been injured or killed. No damage to the buildings or vehicles, other than the one with the flat tyres. No damage from weapons fire, not that he could quite believe he found himself looking for that.
Something had caused the entire town to up and leave, taking most of their vehicles with them, but Zak still had no idea what it had been. Or whether he was in danger. All he could do for the moment was to stay alert and be ready for… well, anything.
* * *
Zak continued and still nothing happened. He’d reached just three streets from the ore merchant though he wasn’t planning to stop there now. But the store he normally shopped in was just past it.
He’d decided to visit the shop he normally used rather than risk heading off into streets he didn’t know to search for another. He figured he’d spend a lot longer finding a suitable shop than he’d be able to save by not going so deeply into the centre of the town.
He was really on edge now. The feeling that something or someone was watching him had been growing for several minutes, yet there were no sounds other than the few birds and insects.
Every time he thought he sensed something and whipped his head around he saw nothing, yet the feeling kept getting stronger. He reached under the cover, pulled out the pistol belt, then strapped it around his waist. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d worn the gun openly, but he also couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this worried for his safety.
He was almost ready to give in, turn around and head back, but an innate stubbornness kept his feet moving forwards. He was so close now, he might as well see it through.
Zak reached the ore merchant and wasn’t surprised to see it was completely locked up. He wouldn’t be getting paid for what he’d brought with him, but he’d known that would be the case as soon as he realised the town was empty.
He shrugged and moved on towards the store, but he’d only made it a few feet forward when he brought the grav-lifter to a halt again. Something wasn’t right.
He pulled the pistol from its holster. Just in time. Something stepped out of an alleyway less than five metres in front of the grav-lifter. Something massive.
Zak was tall and well built, but this creature was half again his height. It must have weighed four or five times as much as he did. The body was packed with muscle. The head was elongated. Its mouth hinged open like a snake’s, revealing double rows of vicious looking teeth. Its eyes were deep pools of blackness with no whites at all. It had no nose, not even any slits.
Zak could tell that the creature was weighing him up, or maybe toying with him. It was wearing a tightly fitted deep purple vest which had a number of tools and what looked like weapons attached. It seemed the creature was intelligent.
It was also very clearly alien. Zak knew there was nothing like this on the planet. He was pretty certain the disappearance of everyone from the town must be linked to the creature. But right then he had more immediate problems… starting with what the hell to do about it.
His initial instinct was to use the pistol, either to threaten the creature or actually shoot it. He held that in check. The creature hadn’t made any aggressive moves. Yet. While it certainly looked hideous and dangerous he didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. He might look equally hideous to it.
With a deep throated roar the creature broke into motion, sprinting forward and angling so it would round the grav-lifter on Zak’s left side.
Zak instinctively moved to the right, keeping the grav-lifter between them. His pistol was pointed at the creature before he even consciously thought about it. He hesitated for a moment, then opened fire.
The creature was moving so quickly that the first three shots missed. Then two struck the creature’s body without any obvious effect. Zak cursed as he realised he’d moved away from the much more powerful shotgun.
He kept moving. The creature continued to roar as it followed him around the grav-lifter. It soon became clear that it could move faster than he could. He struggled to think of anything he could do to get away.
There was nothing. For the moment the grav-lifter was preventing the creature reaching him. The moment he tried to run it would be on him, striking from behind. And it might well decide to come over the top, or take out a weapon and shoot back at him.
As he completed a full circle the creature slowed, standing on the other side of the grav-lifter and staring at him. There was no doubt now that it was toying with him.
Zak considered whipping out the shotgun, but looking at the creature he feared even that wouldn’t be enough to do any serious damage. He needed something far more powerful. An assault rifle might do it. Or a plasma rifle. He had neither.
The creature stood staring at Zak for a few moments, then it put back its head and roared again. Zak shivered. What if there were more of the creatures nearby? If so the noise would be sure to bring them running. He needed to end this, and end it quickly.
He almost laughed at himself. End it quickly? He didn’t know how to end it at all! If he could find a way though… well, he’d be running as fast as he could back home, luxuries be damned. He’d shove the grav-lifter along too, or maybe he’d return to those heady days of his youth and ride the lifter.
His breath froze as an idea struck him. He rested his hands on the grav-lifter’s controls, making out he was panting for breath and needed the support. He quickly flicked several controls, putting the grav-lifter into the mode he’d used to boost along flat surfaces when he was young. Then he gave it a hard shove.
The creature didn’t seem worried as the grav-lifter moved towards it. The grav-lifter had less than a metre to travel before striking the alien, who clearly wasn’t expecting Zak to be able to shove it hard enough to be a problem.
Normally he couldn’t have. Normally. With the modified settings Zak had applied the grav-lifter was picking up speed on its own, and all the momentum from its heavy load was unleashed. The lifter slammed into the creature hard enough to knock it from its feet.
The impact would have crushed the ribs of a human, if not crushed their lungs causing instant death. The monster ended up sprawled on the ground but clearly still alive. And, from the roar it let out, clearly angry.
The creature had actually slowed the grav-lifter almost to a stop. Another sign of just how incredibly dense it’s body must be. A massive hand appeared and grabbed onto the top of the lifter, starting to pull the creature out from it.
Zak desperately flicked at the controls, overriding the safety cut-outs and powering the sled off. He hit the final button and the lifter slammed into the ground, missing his toes by millimetres.
But not missing the alien. The lifter slammed down with a sickening crunch. Despite the alien’s size and strength, the grav-lifter was barely tilted by the body under it.
The creature let out a pained groan, then moved no more. Zak grabbed the shotgun then ran round the grav-lifter to check the creature was truly dead. As soon as he saw it he knew it had to be. One half of its chest was crushed almost flat. So were its legs and one of its arms.
Zak let out a shaky laugh, not quite believing his idea had worked. Then he looked around nervously. Where there had been one creature there might well be more, and its roars had been loud enough to carry a long way.
He turned and glanced toward the store, then shook his head. He could live without luxuries, especially if doing so was the only way to keep living.
He shoved the shotgun back into place, powered up the grav-lifter again, slowly guided it through a one-eighty degree turn, and set it back into the mode where it would scoot along quickly even on the flat. Then he gave it a good shove and jumped on. As soon as he felt balanced he pulled out the shotgun.
No more creatures appeared as Zak shot through the empty city streets, grinning widely at the wind rushing through his hair. He felt better than he had in years, despite the dangers he’d faced. Or maybe because of them.
He was heading straight back to his mine. He could survive on the emergency rations he’d stored and the food he grew there for years if needed. Eventually he might come back to town see if people had returned, but other than that he’d wait things out… however long that took.
But that was to come. Right then he felt younger, stronger. Adrenaline was still pumping through his system from the fight against the alien, and as the streets shot by he had to fight to draw breaths into his lungs from the wind that whipped past him.
Whatever happened, he felt more alive than he had in years. He knew there’d be a price to pay. His body wasn’t young enough to do all this without feeling it later, but for the moment he was loving feeling so young again… and if he could just avoid meeting any more of those creatures and get back home he’d welcome the aches when they arrived. Far better alive and aching than dead and pain free!
The lifter shot out between the last houses and he breathed a sigh of relief. He’d made it. It seemed much less likely he’d run into another of those creatures outside of town, but he kept the speed up. It would be dark in less than two hours. He intended to be a long, long way away from town before that happened!
But still niggling away at the back of his mind were two questions. What had happened to the townsfolk? And would even his remote mine remain safe from more of the creatures he’d killed?
The first he had no answers to, and the second… only time would tell. But now he knew there was a threat, maybe he could tilt the odds in his favour. He had a few ideas already, some of them particularly nasty.
One of the aliens had already discovered how dangerous Zak could be. If more came calling they’d learn the same. The mine was his territory. No one and nothing was going to take that from him!