Liberty's Run
Part 4 of the Liberty Schoenhauer series

By: Walter G. Esselman

With a jolt, the fire alarm woke Liberty and she raised her rifle. It took her a moment to remember that they were in that science building.

Liberty jumped out of an uncomfortable plastic chair. Her back protested, but it wasn't barking loud enough to slow her down.

Colin sat bolt upright in bed. "What's that?"

"Fire alarm, I think," said Liberty. "Come on, get on your shoes."

Rifle ready, Liberty swept the room again, but it was clear of trouble.

"Is it a fire?" asked Colin nervously.

"Shoes first," said Liberty, without looking at the boy.

As Colin put on his shoes, she went over to Uncle Danny. The big Mexican was already standing.

"Man, I'd only just gotten to sleep," yawned Uncle Danny.

"I kinda remember sleep," said Liberty while she patted his shoulder sympathetically. "Mind you, that was a long time ago."

The door to the stairs unlocked and swung open.

"Oh my poor babies," cried a French accent from the stairs. Bounding down the steps, Renoir appeared, burdened by a giant backpack. "Please, follow me!"

Turning a little awkwardly, Renoir began to climb back up the steps.

Uncle Danny and Colin looked at Liberty in confusion.

"I guess we follow, for now," nodded Liberty. She slung the sniper rifle across her back and took out her handgun, because it was better in cramped conditions.

"Hurry," panted Renoir from above. He climbed up to the landing where they had first met him and Tagg. Stepping onto the landing, he leaned over and took some deep breaths. "Really need to take up jogging."

"What's going on?" asked Liberty when they reached him.

Before Renoir could answer, the door above opened.

Tagg came swiftly down the stairs. He had traded it in his armor for a turtleneck and jeans. Curiously, he was carrying a box with four tubes at one end.

"Sorry, sorry," said Tagg as he reached them. He turned to Renoir. "Here, let me take that."

Tagg easily took the giant backpack, but had to juggle the box with tubes.

"Hope it didn't hurt you," said Tagg to the hairdresser.

Renoir smiled gamely. "Just a few compressed vertebrae. Dr. Milton, she will sort it out later tonight. But, are you sure you'll be able to carry all that?"

"Going to need to," said Tagg with a shrug of his big shoulders. He looked at Renoir in concern. "Sorry, I'm going to miss your Luah."

"Just stay safe mon ami," said Renoir.

Liberty— who had been momentarily stunned by Tagg's barrel chest— found her voice.

"What Is Going On?" she asked in an authoritative voice.

"Oh, sorry," said Tagg. "That UFO is back. We gotta go."

"Wait, what?" asked Liberty.

However, Tagg was already at the outer door. He started to open it, but then slammed it shut.

Under the door—in the tiny gap—was a blue light, which played across the gap. Then it was gone.

Tagg glanced out.

"Okay, let's go," he said, and he went out onto the walkway roof.

"Do we have to?" asked Colin in a small, sad voice.

Renoir knelt before the boy. "Have courage." He handed the boy a small plastic bag from the Higgly–Piggly grocery store. "Open this later." He quickly stood. "May we meet again, in happier times."

Uncle Danny and Colin looked at Liberty, but she holstered her handgun and unslung her rifle.

"If we stay here, we're endangering everyone," said Liberty, and she went through the door.

Uncle Danny sighed. "Come on mijo."

Outside, they found Tagg putting down the box with tubes on the walkway. He moved it as if he were aiming it.

"Keep going," said Tagg when they reached him. "I'm just making sure…damn!"

The UFO, shaped like an octahedron, swung around the side of the Dyson building and headed towards them.

Liberty took Colin's arm and started to run. Uncle Danny quickly followed.

She wanted to look back, because she was worried for Tagg. But she reminded herself that that was silly. They had only just met.

Nevertheless, she wanted to look back.

Reaching the brick wall of a building. Liberty let go of Colin and hopped up onto the wall. Like a spider–monkey, she swung her legs up and over the top. Turning, she reached down.

Uncle Danny arrived, following Colin, and he scooped up the boy.

"HEY!" cried out Colin indignantly.

Liberty took him and deposited the boy on the roof. Then she reached down for Uncle Danny, who was already climbing up. As she helped him, Liberty attempted to casually look for Tagg.

The Doctor–Except–In–Name was still where they had left him. He lit something on the box. Hopping up, Tagg began to sprint across the walkway. Now that Uncle Danny was up, he and Liberty watched curiously.

Suddenly, fireworks shot out of the tubes in the box. The rockets soared through the air with a piercing whistle and hit the UFO. The octahedron lurched backwards for a moment.

"What was that?" asked Liberty when Tagg reached them.

"Just a little distraction I cooked up," said Tagg. He tried to climb up, but he was unable to.

"Take off your pack," said Uncle Danny urgently.

"Duh, why didn't I think of that," said Tagg to himself.

Whipping off his backpack, he handed it to Uncle Danny who grunted a little at the weight.

Freed of that, Tagg tried to climb again, but now he was burdened by not–enough–days–at–the–gym.

Both Liberty and Uncle Danny had to help him onto the roof. Once he was over the lip of the roof, Tagg admonished himself again.

"Okay, no pudding tonight," he said, breathing hard.

A red light shot down, out of the octahedron. Zoms burst into flames as the ship raced above the ground. The creatures made horrible noises.

The UFO went right over the walkway with the now empty box. The metal awning melted instantly, leaving a gap.

"Hurry," hissed Liberty, and she tugged on the men. She herded them, and the boy, towards a fire escape. "Down."

They hit the fire escape just as the Octahedron turned back. The beam turned blue, hunting them. At the bottom of the fire escape, Liberty saw that there was a wide open alley.

"Wait!" she called out.

Using the butt of her rifle, she broke an apartment window. Quickly, she knocked out all of the glass. Uncle Danny—who had been ahead—returned and went through first. When he saw that it was clear, he took the boy, and then the backpack with a grunt.

"What're you carrying in here?" grumbled Uncle Danny about the backpack. "This is heavier than mijo."

Once Tagg was through the window, Liberty practically dove through as blue light lit up the alley. Her beret fell off her head.

Before she stumbled onto the broken glass, Tagg grabbed her and helped the librarian–sniper stay upright.

Liberty looked up into his blue eyes.

"Th…thanks," she murmured.

"Anytime," said Tagg with a stunned smile. And then he looked down to see that he was still holding her. "Oh! Sorry."

Stepping away from her, Tagg picked up his backpack.

Colin appeared at her side with her beret.

"Thank you," she said to the boy. But she kept making furtive glances at Tagg.

"Let's go you two," said Uncle Danny with a smirk.

As Liberty walked past him, she fixed him with a dirty look. "You be quiet."

"What?" asked Uncle Danny with mock innocence.

***

"We need to rest," said Liberty later that day. She was eyeballing Colin as she said it.

"Let's find a fire escape," said Uncle Danny. "We'll be above, but not on top."

"Good plan," nodded Liberty.

Soon, they were happily sitting on a metal grate.

"Feels good to rest," moaned Uncle Danny with contentment.

"Can we find some food next?" asked Colin hopefully.

"Yes," said Liberty. "We do need to find something. Not sure where. I never spent that much time in this part of town."

"If we were in Guadalajara…," started Uncle Danny, but then he gave a shrug. "But I am just a tourist here."

"Wait! You're on vacation? During all this…? That's terrible," said Tagg sympathetically.

"Well. Yes…and no," said Uncle Danny thoughtfully. "If I hadn't have been here, I don't think that my niece would have gotten to safety. So…". And he trailed off.

"Your good deed," smiled Tagg.

"I hope," said Uncle Danny, and he turned to the boy. "Did that hairdresser guy give you something."

"Oh yeah. I forgot," said Colin and he fished the bag out of his pocket. He quickly opened the bag and his face split into a grin.

"What is it?" asked Uncle Danny curiously.

Colin did not answer, but instead held up a Hershey's chocolate bar and a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup with a grin.

"Well played hairdresser," grinned Uncle Danny.

"You should save those for dessert," said Tagg.

"Dessert?" asked Colin.

Tagg opened the top of his pack, and then he dropped something in front of the boy.

"As long as you don't have a nut allergy," he said absently. "These will be somewhat better for you."

Colin looked from the protein bar to the Doctor–Except–In–Name.

"Really?" asked the boy.

"Dig in," insisted Tagg with a smile, and then he began handing out bars to everyone.

"Is that what you're keeping in your pack," smirked Uncle Danny, but he opened his wrapper quickly.

"Well, I have a little food and water," said Tagg as he handed out small plastic water bottles too. "But I also ransacked my makeshift room for things I'd need."

"I prefer to be light of purse and baggage," smiled Liberty with a faux airy tone.

"Well, I also took my laptop and books on virology," said Tagg.

"If this isn't a wild goose chase," muttered Uncle Danny.

"It isn't," said Tagg seriously.

Everyone looked at him in surprise.

"Last night…I checked…," started Tagg, but he stopped and gestured at the boy.

"Colin," supplied the boy.

"Thank you. Sorry," said Tagg. "I checked Colin's blood against a recent sample of infected blood."

"What happened?" asked Liberty, and they all stilled.

"Nothing," said Tagg quietly. "Colin's blood would not get infected. In fact, it looked like his blood was trying to interact with the infected blood. But I did not get a chance to look any further."

"Shit," said Uncle Danny, and then he looked at Liberty. "Sorry. Didn't mean to swear in front of the boy."

"It's okay," said Liberty. "And I absolutely agree."

"Shit," piped up Colin.

But Liberty gave the boy a stern look. "I didn't say that you could use that word."

That produced a general chuckle from the adults, much to Colin's displeasure.

"Sure, just laugh at me," said Colin.

"Okay mijo," grinned Uncle Danny.

And Colin made a face at him.

"Come on," said Liberty. "Looks like we need to move quicker than we thought."

***

Liberty led the way down the Santa Monica Pier, towards the ocean.

"I wish we had time to stay," said Colin wistfully as he looked at the ferris wheel.

"Me too," said Liberty with a gentle smile. "But…"

"I know, I know," sighed Colin. He was not mad, just disappointed.

Uncle Danny stilled, and looked behind them. Just as Liberty realized that he had stopped, the big man called out.

"I need to swear again!" said Uncle Danny. "It's coming this way!"

And closing on the pier was the Octahedron. It moved slowly, but surely.

"Fast!" called out Liberty. She took Colin's hand and led him down the pier as the guys followed.

They reached the end and looked below, but there was no boat in sight.

"Um," started Tagg.

"It was the Santa Monica Pier, right?" asked Liberty. She tried to keep her voice from sounding too sharp.

"Yeah, yeah," said Tagg quickly. "I talked to the flotilla. And told them what I had found. And so they said they'd send a ship out right away, so that when we got to the pier, we'd be able to leave."

"Maybe they're late," suggested Uncle Danny.

"They repeated it…twice, and then made me say it back," kept on Tagg in a rising panic.

Liberty tried to scan the ocean, but it was dusk, and she could not see out that far.

Suddenly, there was a loud noise behind them.

Turning around, they saw the UFO firing down, where the pier touched the shore. The red beam drilled clean through the pier, and the superheated ray began to set the wooden planks on fire.

Then the Octahedron started moving towards them.

"We could jump in the water," suggested Uncle Danny.

"Not a good option," said Liberty quickly.

"Why? Because that beam will boil us like lobsters?" asked Uncle Danny.

"Oh no," said Liberty. "It's mostly just that the water around the Santa Monica Pier is really dirty."

"I heard that too," confirmed Tagg.

"So, we stand our ground?" asked Uncle Danny.

Liberty nodded. "Unfortunately."

"Can I get a gun?" asked Tagg.

The librarian–sniper looked at him in surprise. "Have you ever used one?"

"No," admitted Tagg. "But now seems like a good time to learn."

"Okay," agreed Liberty after a moment's thought. She took out her handgun. "You stand forward a little bit."

"Sure," said Tagg as he took two steps forward. She handed him the gun.

"Safety's off, so hold it with both hands and point it that way," said Liberty, and she pointed towards the approaching ship.

"It's heavier than I thought," murmured Tagg, but he held it steadily forward.

"Can I get a gun?" asked Colin.

"No!" said all three adults at once.

"That's not fair," complained Colin, but he looked scared.

Uncle Danny readied his shotgun, but held it in one hand. With his other hand, he pulled Colin to his side.

The boy did not even protest.

"Fire on my word," said Liberty. She stepped onto the other side of Tagg and aimed her rifle.

The Octahedron was pulling closer, and behind it the pier was consumed in flames.

A shot came over their heads and hit the UFO like a sledgehammer.

The Octahedron started to wobble. Part of the ship had been torn off. The red beam cut out. Dipping to the right, the UFO just missed getting hit by another shot.

The UFO veered away from the pier, and then drifted over town to limp away.

"Um," said Tagg, but he still held the gun, pointed forward.

Liberty reached past him and took the handgun. Safely stowed away, she turned back to the ocean.

"Is that…?" she asked.

"I think that's worthy of a swear word too," smiled Uncle Danny.

Out of the dusk came an old submarine across the water.

"I'll allow it," said Liberty.

"Shit yeah!" said Uncle Danny with relief.

Colin started to open his mouth, but then he caught Liberty's eye. The boy decided not to risk it.

With the pier burning behind them, they did have to jump into the dodgy water after all. However, the submarine quickly fished them out.

"Sorry it took us so long to help," said a broad African American man. "We weren't even sure if the old gun'd work." he gestured at the large gun, which was set into the main deck of the boat.

"We're just happy it did," said Liberty. "Thank you."

"We were in the neighborhood," shrugged the man with a smile. "By the way, I'm Captain Otowa."

"How old is this sub?" asked Tagg curiously.

"World War 2," said Captain Otowa. "She was decommissioned, until things fell apart. So, we commandeered it from its museum."

"And Thank God," said Uncle Danny.

"Come on," said Captain Otowa. "Let's get you someplace safe."

"We'd appreciate it," said Liberty.

"But…," hesitated Captain Otowa.

"What?" asked Liberty.

"If the boy and man have been bit, I do need to restrain them while they're on my boat," said Captain Otowa.

"But we're not dangerous," said Colin hotly.

However, Uncle Danny put a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder.

"It's okay mijo," said the big man. "As long as Liberty is there to protect us."

"Of course," said Captain Otowa. "Besides, if what we hear is true, I'll be happy to apologize at a later date."

"Can we go underwater?" asked Colin.

"That's possible," said Captain Otowa. "First we need to…"

"I think we might need to," cut in Liberty. And she pointed back towards the City of Angels.

A half dozen more Octahedrons rose above the town.

"That's okay. As long as they can't swim," smiled Captain Otowa.

"How does the saying go?" asked Tagg. "Run Silent."

Liberty caught his eye. "Yeah! And run deep." And—in that tiny moment—she saw a spark of interest there. But then everyone started rushing about.

***

By the time the Octahedrons arrived, they could not see neither hide nor hair of the submarine, or its cargo.

End of Volume 1 – To be continued!

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