In computing, turning the obvious into the useful is a living definition of the word "frustration".
I was having a tough time with this emotion Earthlings call frustration. My first attempts to find Jackson had been thwarted before they had even begun. I’d found a sect of young Earthlings that had been watched over by Jackson and abducted them as he was gone... I’d planned to glean what information from them that I could but they had resisted, and then they’d escaped before I could implant them.
Five of my men and one healer had met their final death last night, each from a single gunshot wound to the head. Every fiber of my being told me that this was the work of Garret Jackson, who else had the ability to dispatch so many. In his file I’d read that he had been what the Earthlings called a “Marine”. The Marine Corps was considered an elite group of soldiers trained to kill by some primitive Earth government. They followed the motto “Semper Fidelis” which was some ultra-primitive dead Earth language for “Always Faithful” and was often shortened to “Semper Fi” by members of the Corps. We’d found the words “Semper Fi” written in chalk within the Infirmary, along with a long chain of the letter “B”... what this stood for we had no clue, but I was sure it meant something.
What frustrated me the most was when we learned that the healer we found dead, had died less than thirty seconds after I had left him.... I had been within feet of Jackson without even knowing it. Not only had he evaded me, but he had released my best chance at finding him and quashed my only... “lead”.
I focused again on the moment... one of my arbiters was assuring me that they had swept the surrounding area and there had been no trace of Jackson within the city. “As a precaution we have spread a warning to the media about this event, the locals will be watching for Jackson... I assure you we will have him within a week,” the other reported to me.
“This attack was a disgrace upon our unit, but more so on myself. I was here; within arms reach of him I would expect, but I let my personal desires intrude on my mission. I will not do this again. If any of you have any notion of ‘relaxing’ any time soon, then be warned... we shall not rest until Jackson has been captured,” I tell them. It’s weird as my bodies memories supply the right words as I speak, I wouldn’t understand these words in my previous body.
Yesterday had already been difficult, seeing as how the humans had resisted me, but Jackson’s raid made things go from bad to catastrophic. I took joy knowing that I would not suffer alone... we would find Jackson eventually; and I would pry all of his secrets from him.
Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success.
Evidently I’ve been a busy little lion while I’ve spent the last four nights running for my life and the last four days sleeping in trees. Every night I raid another houses refrigerator once I’m sure the parasites that live there are gone. It amazes me that they spend all this time trying to eradicate us just so they can imitate our lives; like they have nothing better to do than pretend to be like us.
Anyway, I turn on the news as I’m raiding the fridge to get the weather report, and as it turns out... I raided a small hospital last night and freed almost a dozen young hosts in Tucson, a city almost a hundred miles away. At first I wasn’t paying attention to the news of the raid, I mean I’m glad the kids got away, but then I hear the next part. One of the girls was named Chloe... she was Lexie’s adopted sister... they’d found each other during the brief respite before the attack on Chicago. During the chaos of an Arbiter’s raid on the camp they’d lost each other. At the camp I’d enjoyed Chloe immensely... she still had a child’s view of the world, even when the world had gone to hell in a hand basket.
I’d met Chloe just two days before, only in passing... I’d seen her on the streets and she was still un-implanted. I’d stopped her from walking into a trap set by the arbiters hoping to capture roving humans. I’d wanted to take her with me then, but I also knew that they were looking for me, and being close to me was the most dangerous place.
After Chloe’s name they run a clip of an arbiter leading them down the hallway where the raid began, as they pass one of the walls I notice the chalk B on the wall. Now I’m pissed. For four days I have been trying to figure out how to find Blake and help him, and then I find out that he was in the city I’d just escaped.
Planning a raid on a hospital didn’t seem like a move Blake would make, at least not by himself. Then they cut to a grocery store next door reporting that they too had been victimized by this raid. Now I understood... Blake had broken into the store to take some food and something had caught his attention across the street.
They claim that I had dispatched an arbiter by the door to gain entrance, that the tire tracks suggested I had stopped suddenly and rushed them quickly... that didn’t seem right... Blake had probably killed that arbiter as he was leaving... he preferred to do things real quiet like if he good... not that he couldn’t throw down if he wanted to; he just seemed to like living more than somebody who would do something like that.
I watched the rest of the report and tried to piece it all together. As much as I wanted to go back I had to think like Blake would now. He wouldn’t stay around Tucson... they’d be looking for him there, he’d get the kids to someplace where they could find some firepower for themselves... Blake wasn’t a babysitter and he didn’t like to move in big groups, but he also wouldn’t go through the trouble of saving the kids just to dump them off on their own somewhere... he’d go looking for a colony.
I’d heard word of one near Seattle, but that was a long way off... he’d want something closer so he wouldn’t have to look after them, for long. I figured before he went to Seattle he’d try to teach the kids something of survival, but where. That’s when it hit me... Blake would take the kids to one of two places 1) Camp Pendleton near San Diego or 2) the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Base near Bridgeport California. Most of the Marine bases in the area were in California... so in order to rendezvous with him I had to head west and get there before he did.
This was going to require a car, which I hadn’t.... procured in my travels thus far; I’d blended in with the Spirits and taken public transit. My picture flashed on the TV with a warning that I was a human at large and should be considered armed and VERY dangerous. I almost laughed, the only arms I had were attached to my body.
This made things trickier... I had to avoid toll-roads and interactions with any Spirits between here and there. Blake also had a one night head start... I suppose I had to hope that I could make up the lost ground somehow, the biggest problem was I’d have to travel at night and steal a new car each night to avoid tracking... Blake didn’t have these roadblocks... I supposed my only chance was to make a bee-line for Bridgeport and hope that’s where he went. If he’d gone to San Diego I was going to be too late. I tried to console myself that if I didn’t catch him in California there were a few more stops along the way to Seattle.
One thing was certain... I had to leave tonight. I grabbed all the food and water I could carry and headed for the nearest athletic store... I’d need some gear to make this work.
I was an accomplice in my own frustration.
I’d like to think of myself as a good person, but these kids were starting to drive me crazy. I never thought that I might actually regret saving them, but within seconds of arriving back at the hide out I knew I would.
I tried my hardest to get them to move to one of the other vehicles in my small garage-cave, but they’d resisted and they all complained they were tired. I argued with them for a while that it was best to keep moving, but they whined and moaned as they started loading the weapons I gave them into the cars half-heartedly. In the end I decided it was best to let them rest for the night.
Since my actions that night hadn’t gone unnoticed as I’d planned, we had to have a guard, and of course before I could tell them this... they were all soundly asleep. Twice in the middle of the night I considered leaving them there while they slept... it would have been easy I convinced myself. Once I even had the key in the ignition, but I never did it. Instead I decided to load up all the equipment into two large trucks and the hummer, we’d leave as soon as they were awake.
I had to leave some stuff because there wasn’t enough room, but you can be damn sure that I used my tools to break down every last thing I left... they weren’t going to use anything they found in this holdout. Once they’re awake I take a turn sleeping while they divide themselves out evenly... I make sure to keep all of the keys to the trucks with me, as well as a gun under my pillow... with the guns stowed under the locked bed covers they can’t try to shoot me, and so long as I have the keys and a single gun they can’t steal the cars. They might be kids, but I had no clue what they’re capable of. By sheer luck we aren’t spotted that night and I’m allowed to sleep peacefully.
We FINALLY leave when I wake up. I let the fox from last night, Sarah they tell me her name is, take the hummer, while I give the next oldest the keys to the Ram. I’m alone in the F-150... or so I thought. Instead, the little girl Chloe climbs into the passenger seat with me. Each of my cars has a CB radio installed... I instruct them all to keep it set on the first channel setting and that we’ll keep in touch through there.
We’re five minutes out from the cavern, headed for Camp Pendleton before going on to Seattle, but I don’t tell the kids that... I need them to need me more than they need my trucks and my guns. I look over at the little girl clutching the teddy bear for one second... she’s staring up at me with these big eyes.
“My name’s Chloe,” she tells me suddenly.
“I know,” I answer back quietly. She looks up at me expectantly.
“What’s your name?” she asks after a second. This was going to be a long trip.
“Marine,” I answer irritably.
“That’s a funny name... is that like a nick-name or what, because back at the camp my big sister had a friend she called ‘soldier’ but that wasn’t his name... I can’t remember what his name was but it wasn’t Soldier,” she told me. “So is Marine a nick-name or something?” she asked me again.
“Yes,” I say, praying to nobody in particular that it shuts her up.
“Who gave it to you?” she asked inquisitively.
“The Corps,” I respond.
“What’s that... is it a club or something? Can I join... I’d like to be a member of ‘the Corps’,” she tells me excitedly.
“Yes it is like a club, no you can’t join,” I tell her in a biting tone.
“Why not?” she asks me obliviously.
“Because it doesn’t exist anymore... it was wiped out, along with everything else, OK?” I ask her as a wave of anger floods over me. She gets quiet for a few minutes and I thank the same nobody I prayed to a moment ago for the silence... but it doesn’t last long.
“Why did you save us?” she asks inquisitively.
“I’m starting to wonder myself,” I comment dryly.
“I know why you saved us... it’s cause you’re a hero, last night we were all praying for somebody to save us, and then God sent us you, and God only sends heroes to do his work, don’t you think?” she explains to me.
“I’m not a hero, kid. I was a Marine once, now I’m just a guy trying to survive from day-to-day. I don’t know why I saved you guys last night, I suppose because it felt right at the time, but don’t think that means I owe you anything,” I respond.
“Of course not silly, God didn’t send you to save us just to owe us... we owe you,” she tells me.
“Stop it with the God non-sense kid! God doesn’t exist, and if he does he doesn’t give a damn about any of us. Where was your God when the damn parasites got here? Why didn’t he show himself during the war... it would have been good to have his support before everything went to hell. When you care for somebody you’re there for them, so where the hell was God when the extermination began?” I ask her, my anger at everything boiling over on this little girl.
“How should I know? He’s God,” she responds with a shrug after taking a moment to consider it. The first sign that there might be a God in the world is that she FINALLY shuts up.
Already these kids have been more trouble than they’re worth... especially this one.
Surprisingly, this girl is even more maddening when she’s quiet. She just sits in her chair and stares at me. She doesn’t look away, she hardly blinks, she doesn’t do anything really, just stares. After thirty minutes of her just staring I can’t take it any more. “What?” I ask her suddenly.
“I didn’t say anything,” she tells me with an innocent look.
“Stop staring at me... you’re making me nervous,” I tell her.
“But I didn’t say anything,” she answers again.
“You’re thinking something I can tell, and you’re driving me crazy so just say whatever it is, or ask, or... whatever,” I tell her.
“But you didn’t seem to like talking to me,” she replies.
I put my hand to my head to express my frustration, then I pull it back quickly and scratch the back of my head in the same way. “It’s like... you’re doing all this just to frustrate me, ya know, you come at me with all your beliefs and your questions and it makes me mad. Then you just suddenly stop talking, but you stare at me, you don’t move, you don’t say anything, you just stare. You just sit there and you watch me and it starts to drive me insane, so whatever you have to say... say it!” I tell her in a wound up tone.
“I thought you wanted me to be quiet?” she asks me.
“Well now I’m telling you to talk dammit!” I finally burst out at her.
“About what?” she asks curiously. I felt my hands tense and then slacken on the steering wheel... better to strangle it than to go after the girl I suppose. I take a few deep breaths to steady my temper before I respond.
“What’s the bears name?” I asked her.
“Tibbers,” she answered simply.
“Where’d you get Tibbers?” I ask her.
“From my sister... he was hers back before the invasion and for some reason she’d held on to him. She got lost during a raid... I remember the night before crying as I asked her not to leave me, but she said she was going with Soldier to get some supplies. We argued until late... in the end she gave me Tibbers and promised that she’d come back for him some day. I know you think it’s silly, but I feel like if I left Tibbers behind I’d be giving up on her,” Chloe explained to me.
“You shouldn’t share so much with somebody you just met,” was all I could think to tell her.
She got this puzzled look on her face as she looked at me. “You’re a hero, you might not think so but that doesn’t change what you are,” she explained.
I didn’t really feel like arguing so I let it drop at that, if God really did exist, he made me a hero to spite me... if God really did exist, he hated me. Let him. As we road I watched my speed and the other cars’ driving, unfortunately the parasites drive almost perfectly, so they tend to notice when a human is driving wildly.
It was at this moment that I could almost imagine my dad’s face if he could see me now, I could even hear his voice. A babysitter... that’s just great sissyboy, what’s next, a dress? I thought you were a Marine? he’d say. He wouldn’t mean anything by it, he loved kids, but he also loved to goad me any way he could... my dad the smart ass; busting my balls from the grave.