ON HIGHWAY 680
ON ROUTE TO SAN JOSE
SOMEWHERE IN JUNE
She promised herself she wouldn’t cry after leaving Whitethorn but she did.
She promised herself she wasn’t going to miss Ethan, Carrie, Deanna, Jerry, Abe and even Ryan but she did.
She wished she didn’t have to go, that she could have stayed with them instead of continuing her journey but she did.
Xenia Ivanov had come to understand as the van left the mine and the people who had come to mean so much to her that it was always going to end like this. From the moment she began to care about more than just Ethan, there would come a time when she would have to be on her way. She couldn’t stay, especially after she had seen what Ryan held in his eyes for her. He was a good man and she would always care for him but never in the way he wanted. In the end, her indifference would only make him hate her. It was inevitable.
Still, she missed Ethan even though Xenia promised herself, she wouldn’t resend his decision to remain behind. She missed talking to him, trying to help him heal because it also his healing had the unexpected side effect of salving her own wounds. There was no need to explain herself to Ethan because he understood what she was about, why she was so driven. He had never met the Swan, never saw her skate and that ignorance allowed him to see the person she was, not the celebrity that was no more. She wasn’t idolized or for that matter idealised, she was simply Xenia.
Of course she understood his decision to stay with Ryan and his group, it was the best treatment for a doctor who himself was broken. Like she was recovering, so did Ethan need to do the same and the best way for him to do that was to be the healer he was, helping those in need so he could regain some semblance of self worth in the wake of his horrific ordeal. Ethan needed to believe there was a reason why he lived and his poor Jilly had not. Helping Ryan and his group of refugees would remind him of that.
Despite herself, Xenia found her thoughts returning to Ryan, examining the situation that had developed between them. She knew she had hurt him with her departure but there was really no other way. Had times been different or for that matter, had she been different, she might have come to care for him the way he cared for her. The friendship she felt towards him was not that kinship Ryan wanted and Xenia liked him too much to let him harbour feelings for her she would never reciprocate. A part of her sensed that he saw her as the damsel in distress, needing protecting because of her pregnant state. Perhaps that even appealed to the heroic side of him. It just wasn’t who she was.
In the end, the kindest thing she could do for Ryan was to put some space between them.
The deeper into Occupied Territory she travelled, especially when she neared larger towns and cities, Xenia began to see some semblance of order returning with the instances of DeGens attacks decreasing. To her surprise, Xenia was finding gas stations in operation, these were usually close to large populations centres where Visitor motherships were visible in the sky. It took all the strength she had not to jam her foot on the accelerator and head the other way. Seeing them, scared the hell out of her.
Nevertheless, it appeared that the Visitors were attempting to restore municipal services to the communities under their control. She supposed she understood the logic behind it. Allowing people to believe that life was going to go on as it always had would diffuse the hysteria about Visitors annihilating humanity and limit the outbreaks of Resistance violence. Xenia didn't know if it was good thing or not that the ploy seemed to be working because the people she encountered didn’t seem motivated to fight back.
Fortunately, there were those who thought otherwise as evidenced by the continuing Resistance attacks on Visitor facilities. In California, Public Enemy No.1 seemed to be an ex-soldier named Murphy Michaels, though the news was calling him a terrorist. Like Ryan, she thought as she made her way to San Jose. Although it was something of a detour, Xenia had made up her mind to go to the Ivanov family home. She knew her father was dead and that Father Cleary had taken care of it but she wanted to know for sure. Since the Pulse, reliable information was hard to come by and the information the Church had provided was not nearly enough detail for Xenia’s satisfaction.
Perhaps a small part of her hoped that Father Clearly had a mistake, that her papa was alive somewhere.
Perfectly aware that the van would be searched when she reached the checkpoint into San Jose, Xenia stopped on the outskirts of Sunoi Valley and packed away all the weapons and possible contraband she had in her possession, into the hidden compartment beneath the back floor of the van. Before leaving for the Occupied Territory, Butch who had sold her most of her guns had advised that she get the compartment fitted because it was almost certain that she’d run into such checkpoints in the course of her journey. Once she was confident that everything incriminating had been secured safely away, Xenia continued down Highway 680 until she reached the Mission Road turn off.
The check point was located on the last leg of Mission Road before it met up with Mission Boulevard and then the 680 again. The local MacDonalds had been converted into a Visitor station and as she approached, Xenia tried to remain calm even though the sight of those red uniforms and black jack boots terrified her so much her nails were digging into the steering wheel. The traffic had come to a standstill because Visitors were waving drivers to the shoulder of the road, so that their vehicles could be inspected before they were allowed to continue onwards.
Heart pounding when she was signalled to do the same, Xenia tried to calm herself. Her hand patted her belly, trying to soothe the child inside of her as she brought the van to a stop and a shock trooper strode up alongside the vehicle. Xenia took a deep breath, remembering everything she had learned these last few months, everything that losing Lukas had forced her to learn. She could do this. She could look into the face of her enemy. For her baby’s sake, she had to.
“Get out of the vehicle,” the shock trooper ordered and Xenia did not hesitate, reciting a litany of instructions from everyone who had deign to teach her, regarding what to do if confronted by this situation. Climbing out of the driver’s seat, she grabbed her handbag because he’d want to see her identification. The one she had bought herself in the Occupied Territory that claimed her name was Sandra Howard, a school teacher from Anchorage, Alaska who was looking to find her husband who had been visiting family in San Jose on March 1st.
When she stepped out, she noted the Visitor shock trooper hesitating a moment at the sight of her. She couldn’t see his face which made her uncomfortable, however, the length of his gaze in her direction made Xenia believe he was staring which once again sent her pulse racing. The only thing she had to protect herself with was the seemingly harmless looking atomiser in her handbag, the one that actually carried V-dust instead of deodorant. She hadn’t wish to use it unless she really had to.
“You are with child.” He pointed out in that odd reverberating voice and turned her blood ice cold in an instant.
Xenia fought the urge to go for the atomiser, “yes,” she breathed.
“I haven’t seen a human with child before,” he declared, tilting his helmeted head as if he was observing some fascinating creature on Discovery Channel.
Trying not to panic, Xenia ignored all the ways this could go wrong and focus. “Oh,” she swallowed thickly, keeping her voice level. “I’m sure it’s not any different than when Visitor women have babies right?”
“Our females have a birthing ring around their necks,” he explained much to her surprise. “When the ring is all around, then it is time.”
If she wasn’t so frightened, she might have been fascinated by this conversation but as it was, Xenia feigned interest as best as she could. “Oh really,” she feigned interest, “and is the pregnancy period nine months like us?” She inquired politely.
“We mature at a faster rate,” he answered, “may I?”
Xenia stared blankly at him for a moment before she realised what he wanted. His gloved hand was out stretched towards her and Xenia almost balked at the implication before reasoning quickly that if he was curious enough to learn about human reproduction, feeding on her and her child might not be his first inclination. Hiding her anxiety, she nodded, “go ahead.”
Trying not to recoil when the Visitor hand reached for her, she bore his touch against her flesh. The baby wasn’t quite kicking yet and all she felt really was bubbles in her belly, like gas. “I’m afraid you won’t feel anything yet, it’s too early.”
“Feel?” He looked up at her as his palm rested against her stomach, trying to feel the child within. “You will be able to feel its movements?”
Xenia nodded, surprised by the genuine interest in his voice, “yes, I will. Is it not the same with your women?”
The shock trooper shook his head, “no our infants are encased in a protective layer...”
You mean an egg, Xenia almost said but held the thought when another shock trooper from further up the line yelled out.
“Benjamin! What is taking so long?”
The Visitor named Benjamin straightened up, retracting his hand away from her (much to Xenia’s relief) before answering what sounded clearly like his superior, “we’re almost done,” he barked back before turning to Xenia again. “Your identification?” He asked in a more formal tone.
Xenia nodded and reached into her handbag quickly, fishing out her purse and flipping it open before handing it to him. “I’m from Alaska,” she stuttered. “My husband was visiting family in San Jose...” Reciting the words she had rehearsed in her brain repeatedly since she’d left Seattle, Xenia explain to the Visitor the reason for her travel.
The Visitor examined the driver’s licence in front of him, aware that humans used this as the primary form of identification in this part of the planet. “You came from the north?” He asked.
“Yes,” Xenia nodded, “the father of my baby is here.” She repeated.
“A long way to travel for a female in your condition,” he remarked out and Xenia couldn’t tell whether or not he was suspicious or merely concerned that a pregnant woman would make such a trip.
“He is my husband...” she reiterated.
“I’ll have to check your van,” he replied, walking around to the back of her van, still holding her ID.
Xenia felt her heart beat just a little faster but forced herself to maintain her poise or else it would be the death of her and her baby. “Of course,” she said following him to the doors before she opened up the back of the van and showed him its inside. With the false floor compartment, all he would see was a small space that contained sleeping bags, jerry cans of water and fuel, food and the other incidentals for travel.
Benjamin rummaged through her belongings for the next twenty seconds, giving Xenia minor heart palpitations as he did so. She fought the urge to use the dust. She really didn’t wish to do that unless she had to. Her journey wasn’t over and the consequences of using such a weapon outweighed the risks at present. Being hunted down by the Visitors was not a good proposition when she was trying to slip into San Francisco under the radar.
Finally, Benjamin pulled back and announced to his superior as he shut the doors again. “All clear.”
Thank God, Xenia sighed inwardly, her fingers moving away from the atomiser.
“You’re free to go,” Benjamin handed Xenia her purse. “Good luck with your search.” He said politely.
“Thank you,” Xenia answered with gratitude in her voice but wasted no time climbing into the driver’s seat before the bastard changed his mind.
One thing she had to give the Visitors as she got behind the wheel and started the engine. They could invade your planet, slaughter millions and pose the greatest threat to humanity, but at least they were polite doing it.