We Have Each Other
Jack opened his eyes and frowned. Had someone called him?
He sat up, the fear in Tech 67's terse whisper shocking him into full wakefulness. He sprang from the bed and looked around. Tech 67 was staring, wide-eyed, across the lake toward the wooded area. The sun had barely begun to rise, and visibility was low, but Jack could clearly see movement among the trees. Shadowy figures approached, nightmarish and distorted in the morning mist.
Jack felt his gut clench, and he froze for a second. The moment they had feared and barely spoken of in the two years since they met had come. They were discovered. Even though they knew that the "Scavs" were not what Mission had told them they were, a lifetime of conditioning and years of evading hostile action from them had left a mark. And even if Scavs were humans, they still had every reason to hate Jack Harper the agent of Earth's greatest enemy.
Jack looked at his companion. Tech 67 was still rooted in place, hands clenching nervously, staring at the growing line of shadows. Galvanized by the panic on his friend's face, Jack raced to the second room an open-sided addition to their original cabin, and grabbed two rifles from their racks. "Jack," he hissed.
Tech 67 looked at him, and Jack tossed him a rifle. The two men quickly checked their weapon's charges and Jack raced back to 67's side. They took up defensive positions automatically, moving without signaling one another, even though they had never had cause to fight together before. Jack dropped to one knee and leveled his weapon while Tech 67 stayed on his feet, pointing his rifle across the lake as well.
Jack scanned the line of shadows, wishing he had more between him and enemy fire than a pair of sleeping pants and no shirt. Tech 67 was equally exposed black pants instead of gray, but no shirt and no real protection. Their armor was in the weapons room with their spare rifles, but there was no time to do anything but charge up and watch the shadows approach.
Jack watched them come and whispered, "Seventeen... check it, eighteen intruders."
"Copy," Tech 67 whispered.
"Jack, I'm only at half power," Jack whispered.
"So am I," he whispered back.
"I don't think... what if we can't..."
Tech 67 made the risky move of taking a hand off his weapon and pressing Jack's shoulder once before gripping his rifle again. "Then we'll die, Jack," he said softly. "We'll die defending our home. Like Horatius. And hopefully they'll have the decency to bury us together."
Jack felt his stomach tighten, but he nodded and tightened his grip on his weapon. They watched the line of intruders move closer and closer, until finally, they stopped. They stayed in the shelter of the trees and waited. Jack felt a bead of sweat trail down the side of his face, though the early dawn chill was still in the air.
Finally, one of the shadows moved again. Jack trained his rifle in the new shadow's direction, tense and focused. Slowly, the figure came out into the open, and Jack's eyes widened. It was a woman small, unarmed, carrying a little blonde child in her arms. The woman's features were pleasant, her expression open and friendly. The boy was probably around two or three years old, smiling and healthy, holding to his mother's shoulder, watching the defenders across the lake.
The woman took a few more steps and Jack started to get nervous. He looked at the other shadows, suspecting a trap, but the others hadn't moved. He was about to tell the woman to halt, but his own voice came from just above him. "Stop! Stay where you are!"
The woman stopped immediately, bur her expression remained open and kind. "We won't hurt you," she called.
"Who are you?" Jack asked.
"We're part of the tribe at Raven Rock. Beech's Tribe."
Jack shook his head slightly he had no idea what she was talking about. "What do you want?" Tech 67 asked.
"To camp for one day," she said. "Weve been on the road a long time, and we need to replenish our water supplies."
Jack clenched his teeth and glanced at Tech 67 for a split second. His companion looked as tense and conflicted as Jack felt. "Are you the leader?" Jack asked.
The woman shook her head and looked behind her. A second shadow approached and resolved itself into a tall, muscular man, collar-length blond hair half tied back, a large rifle strapped to his back. "I'm Sergeant John Sykes," he called out.
"How many are you, Sergeant?" Tech 67 asked.
"Twenty-one including children," he answered. "We mean you no harm."
"You... you swear, on your word of honor as... as a human being, that no one will hurt us? Or steal from us?"
Sykes held a hand to his heart and bowed his head slightly. "You have my solemn word on it."
Jack breathed out a short sigh. But he was still afraid. How could they know these people would keep their word? He wanted to believe wanted to trust them. He had seen no human faces except his own (and pictures in their books) for over two years. But Jack and Tech 67 were clones keepers of the drones that had hunted down tribes like this for decades. Tech 67 seemed to be weighing the same concerns. His weapon hadn't lowered an inch.
Suddenly, another shadow figure began to come forward. Jack tensed again, training his weapon on the new threat. Moments later, he gasped aloud and saw Tech 67 take a step back. A small man, dark-haired, clad in light gray body armor nearly identical to the suits in their second room, stepped toward the lake and stood beside Sykes.
He nodded to them. "Sergeant Sykes is a man of his word," he said in their voice. "But if it helps, I'll add my own oath to his. You have my word. No one will hurt you. No one in this tribe will ever harm any man who bears the name of Jack Harper."
Jack blinked, and stared at the new Jack Harper, trying to understand. Why would they specifically not harm one of the technicians? What... where had this Jack come from? Jack glanced at Tech 67 and saw his friend's slight nod.
As one, Jack and Tech 67 lowered their weapons. Jack stood up, moving slightly closer to his friend. He nodded to the newcomers looking at Jack, Sykes and the unnamed woman.
They slowly walked around the lake, as the others came into view. Most of the tribe held back, staying on the other side of the water, not crowding the technicians. Sykes, Jack Harper, and the woman with her child came toward them, stopping a few meters away from the house. Jack, and Tech 67 came out, leaving their weapons down, but keeping them in hand. When they were a few feet away, Sykes said, "This is Anna, and her son, Harper." Jack's eyes widened, and Sykes smiled.
The new Jack Harper took another step forward. "I'm Jack Harper, Tech 52."
"Jack Harper, Tech 67."
"I'm Jack Harper, Tech 16," Jack said. He gave them a hesitant smile and extended his arm toward the sparkling body of water. "Welcome to Lake Julia."