A Stranger


The air was pungent with the scent of smoke. So thick that it made breathing difficult for Faye. She lifted her scarf over her mouth and nose, giving her lungs a break. She shouldn't be out here. It was against the rules and for good reason. She was risking her life just sitting in the courtyard, but what's the point of a courtyard if you can't use it? There wasn't one.

A slight breeze lifted her hair and she couldn't help but smile. There were no breezes indoors, only the fortified air that was regulated throughout the endless halls of the Fortress. Faye found it to always be cold indoors, but outside there was a soft warmth, given off by the distant sun, hidden behind clouds of smoke. The sun may be barely there, but at least it still was. It hadn't abandoned them, not yet at least.

She heard a sound then, a sort of caw a bird might have made. It couldn't be a bird though; there hadn't been any sightings of birds in the wild in quite some time. Not in these skies anyways. It could be one of the doves that had escaped, but they lived indoors. How could one have gotten outside? Besides a dove's cry was very distinguishable. Whatever had made the sound was no bird. Faye heard it again and she began to regret coming outside. Could it be...? No, it couldn't. A scout would have spotted one and the alarms would have sounded. If it had been one then it had gotten past their security and Faye was in danger.

Slowly and with great caution, Faye stood. The door was only a few paces away, but human speed was nothing compared to theirs. If she was to make it to the door in time she would have to either pray to God she was faster, or hope that she hadn't been spotted yet and sneak over to the door. Neither possibility looked promising. But being a sitting duck wouldn't work either.

Faye took a deep breath and listened to the world as she did. No sound, but that didn't mean she was in the clear. She counted to three and made a mad dash to the door. The sound of someone following her made her cry out, and she leapt forward in a desperate hope to escape. Her hand barely kissed the door before someone grabbed her shoulder and jerked her away. She fell back and a knife was pressed to her neck.

"Look at that Faye. You didn't make it. What a surprise," a familiar voice chided, "If I had been one of them, you would have been dead." The hand released her and the knife pulled away from her throat. She felt her face flush crimson and she turned around warily, knowing already the lecture she was going to receive.

"Van, I-I can explain," she said in a desperate attempt to avoid the punishment she knew was likely to come.

"You could have died," Van stated bluntly, stroking a dove that sat perched on his shoulder. So it had been a dove! Damn it. It hadn't sounded like one. Once again Faye's face flushed red. She had made a stupid mistake and Van knew it. That and she had been caught. There would be no freedom for a long time. In truth there never had been.

"But I didn't," Faye pointed out.

Van rolled his too dark eyes. His gaze always had the ability to make someone squirm. Faye definitely felt uncomfortable being the focus of said gaze.

"You are a foolish child," Van muttered, "What little you know."

He started away from her and she, angered by his accusation followed after him.

"I'm not a child!" she protested, in a rather childish tone. Oh the irony. "I'm seventeen. One more year and I'll be eighteen."

Van stopped walking and whirled around to face her. His face was stern and his eyes narrowed, but if he was truly angry he wouldn't even speak to her. But even if he wasn't angry, he certainly wasn't thrilled either.

"And what do you plan to do once you're legally an adult? Rebel against me? Leave the Fortress? I'm curious to know how you plan on surviving out there," Van spat harshly, but not without love. He cared, that Faye knew, but his protectiveness of her was overwhelming. She felt smothered and she figured Van was somewhat aware of this. He was afraid of loosing her. Faye couldn't do that to him. The guilt would crush her.

"No. I'm not stupid, Van. I know more than anyone that leaving the Fortress could mean death," Faye snapped with more venom than intended.

And she did know. Faye remembered the day with vivid clarity. She was ten, eagerly awaiting the return of the search party. Her parents, along with many others had gone out in search of much needed resources. Only one had returned, bringing news of death and nothing more. Her parents had been killed, slaughtered by the beasts that dwell upon their Earth. It had been that day that her childhood had died, and seeing as she had no other living relatives she had been given custody to her father's close friend, Van.

Van saw the grief that threatened to spill from her eyes and drew her close into a hug. The dove that was perched on his shoulder picked at her hair, but as annoying as it was she didn't break off the hug.

"You are right Faye. I know you're not stupid. Impulsive, stubborn, and determined maybe, but not stupid," Van said, "But coming out here is dangerous and loosing you would mean breaking my promise to your father."

The anger left Faye and she sighed, a defeated sigh. She pulled away and wiped the tears from her eyes. Faye wouldn't cry, not today. Besides, crying in front of Van would be too embarrassing.

"I guess I'm grounded, right?" Faye asked with her arms folded.

"Oh yes Faye, you certainly are. Don't expect much freedom, you won't be getting any," Van replied with a small smile, a rarity in its self.

She was about to reply with a witty remark, but a shrill alarm rang, making her jump. They both knew what that meant. An enemy, an alien had been spotted.

"Quick, Faye! Inside!" Van yelled, pulling open the door and dragging her indoors.

The Fortress was alive with the commotion of people preparing themselves for a fight. People rushed around them, heavily armed and bearing on their faces a mixture of fear and determination. The alarm blared obnoxiously not letting anyone forget the danger. Faye's heart skipped a beat at the thought of an invasion. What would happen if the aliens overran the place? Death, that's what would happen.

"Faye, go and hide in one of the safe rooms," Van ordered.

"But what about you?" she asked, worried and afraid.

Van's eyes flickered to her and then to the people rushing by. He was distracted, ready to defend the Fortress to his death. She hoped it wouldn't come to that.

"I'll be fine, Faye. Hurry now or the safe rooms will lock you out," Van said and that was final. He gave her a quick peck on the forehead and then ran off, following the trail of people. Faye watched him go, seeing a man throw him a gun before he rounded a corner, disappearing from view. She didn't move, didn't leave to the safe rooms. People pushed passed her, sometimes shoving her by accident. Faye needed to go, but not to the safe rooms. She wouldn't stand by and let those creatures destroy her home. They already killed her parents; she wouldn't let them kill anyone else.

She started to follow Van, but she heard someone cry her name and she glanced back to see her friend racing towards her.

"Dani? What are you doing here?" Faye asked.

Dani took a few labored breathes before replying, her eyes wild with fear.

"Coming to find you! Damn it, Faye why are you just standing here?!" Dani cried.

"I'm going to fight," Faye declared firmly, showing that nothing could sway her decision.

Dani stared at her in disbelief. Her look would have been comical if the situation at hand wasn't so dire.

"Are you mad?! You'll be killed!" Dani yelled and tried to drag Faye away.

Faye pulled free of Dani's grasp and started to run after Van, to the fight. Dani followed her, keeping pace.

"Go back, Dani. This isn't a place for you," Faye said.

"Oh and it is for you?" Dani muttered, "Just because you're 'tough', Faye doesn't make you a good fighter."

"I can shoot," Faye stated.

They came to a man passing out weapons and Faye signaled for one. The man tossed her a gun and she caught it with ease. Dani followed suit and held her gun with shaking hands. Faye wondered if her friend ever held a gun in her life. She doubted it.

They continued onwards, following everyone else.

"Everyone can pull a trigger, doesn't mean they'll hit what they're aiming at," Dani replied fiercely.

Faye ignored her and carried on. The stream of people broke off into several paths. After a moment of consideration, she took the stairs. Faye heard Dani huffing behind her, clearly having trouble breathing. There would be no stopping. They couldn't stop, not now. The staircase never seemed to end. They, along with a few other people, ran up a flight after another. By the time they reached the top, even Faye was out of breath.

They followed the others to a large pair of metal doors. Faye recognized them as the entrance to the viewing dock. Here they would be able to see the layout of the Fortress and ultimately the enemy. Faye and Dani passed through the doors, and up another stair case, this one noticeably shorter than the ones before. Once up on the top floor, they joined the group that was now gathered in the middle of the square room.

Faye had never been in the viewing dock before and she found her self awestruck by it. There were windows on all sides that took up the entire wall. It was then that she realized how high up they were and a dizziness almost overtook her. She dared a look out the front window and saw the tiny specks of people, soldiers lining up on the wall. Glancing around her she noticed that all the walls of the Fortress were full of soldiers. But she didn't see any aliens and this was very peculiar to her. If there was an invasion going on, she didn't see it.

"Faye, don't look up," Dani hissed, but Faye not understanding Dani's warning, looked up to see Van glaring at her. He stormed over and took her by the arms. His fingers dug into her skin telling her that his temper was threatening to explode.

"I believe I told you to go to a safe room," Van snarled.

"I tried to tell her, sir, but she wouldn't listen!" Dani protested. Traitor. Faye would deal with her later. Van ignored Dani and only stared at Faye.

"What are you doing here?" he questioned and than said, "You shouldn't be here."

Faye tried to hold his gaze, but chickened out and looked down at the floor.

"I want to fight," she replied, but with less conviction than she had wanted.

"This is no place for you," Van replied through gritted teeth.

"Can't I fight to protect our home?" she asked.

Van opened his mouth to answer her when a man approached.

"Van, you might want to see this," the man said, and Faye recognized him as one of the Five. The Five were the people who governed the Fortress. They were the commanders, the planners, and on these occasions the war generals. She never actually met one, but by the red band on their sleeves one could instantly spot a member of the Five.

Van gave Faye a look that told her she wasn't out of trouble, and followed the man. Faye, against better judgment followed Van, and saw that they had stopped before what looked like computers. Apparently the room wasn't as empty as Faye had originally thought. Dani peered around Faye's shoulder.

"Are those computers?" she asked, curiously.

A young man who was stationed before the computers glanced over and nodded.

"They are our eyes and ears from up here. We can receive video from any surveillance camera and any audio transmissions. Pretty helpful in times like these," the young man replied with pride.

"Oh cool," Dani smiled and Faye rolled her eyes. This was no time to discuss technology.

"Go away, Faye," Van ordered.

Faye shook her head defiantly and stood her ground.

"Too late for that. I'm not going anywhere," Faye said, "Besides where would I go?"

Van stared at her, but didn't speak. He muttered something under his breath and turned his attention towards the computers.

"Alastair, this is the video tower two sent," the young computer techie said.

Alastair, the member of the Five, instructed for Van and a few other men to watch the video. Faye looked at the central computer screen, interested and apprehensive to see the enemy. Dani, too short to see over the crowd, continued to stand on her tip-toes and peered over Faye's shoulder.

The central computer screen went black and after a moment an array of colors burst forth onto the screen. It took Faye a moment to realize that they were looking at an infrared camera.

"What are we looking at here, Collin?" Alastair asked.

"Well, you see in the background we have the forest," Collins began, pointing at the trees and then stopped his finger on a strange shape, "And this, my good men, is what raised the alarms."

Faye, with furrowed brows stared intently at the blob. The figure moved between the trees with slow and deliberate steps. They didn't seem to be making any progress, but just sticking close to the trees. It was as if they were casing out the Fortress, much like a predator would before pouncing on its prey.

"I don't get it," Dani huffed, "It's a blob."

Collin glanced over his shoulder and looked close to laughing, but his face fell when he saw the serious expressions of the other men in the room.

"It's a lot more than that, young lady," an unfamiliar man with a thick mustache and brows said. Faye found him to resemble what she believed to be a walrus; at least the man seemed to match the pictures in the book. His similarity to the extinct animal made her unable to take him seriously, and she had to keep her self from chuckling out loud.

"Then what is it?" Dani asked.

"We don't know and that's the problem," Collin replied, "It's too far away from us to get a very accurate picture of it. Until it gets closer it's only a spot on the camera to us."

It suddenly hit Faye what this all meant, and she felt a mixture of both relief and irritation, an odd combination to say the least.

"So wait, this is the 'great danger' that got us all riled up?" Faye questioned, her words directed mostly at Van, seeing as he had been the one to act as if her life was in danger.

"You say 'great danger' as if you think it is a mere trivial matter," Van muttered with arched brows and an attitude that bothered Faye.

"Excuse me for not seeing the immediate threat towards a single, unidentified blob," Faye grumbled. It's not that she had wanted an invasion, but to figure out that all the hullabaloo that had shaken the Fortress, that had almost scared her to death, was just a mere speck on the camera was aggravating. She had expected an army of at least a hundred aliens, not just one mystery figure!

"Exactly!" Van almost shouted.

Faye wanted to ask him what actually exactly meant, but the walrus man spoke first.

"Young lady, you seem to be missing the point," he said in a pompous tone, "The fact that we don't know what it is, is alarming in its self!"

"What do you think it is then?" Faye asked.

At first no one answered. Everyone just stared the computer screen as if any second the answer would be revealed. It wasn't until a full minute had past that someone finally spoke up.

"A scout, perhaps," Alastair answered.

The rest of the room nodded with content. They accepted the answer, as vague as it was. Faye though, wasn't satisfied.

"You mean an alien scout?" she questioned.

"Yes, what else could it be?" Alastair said.

Faye bit her bottom lip and stared at the blob. It was growing in size and she guessed that meant it was getting closer to them. It was only a matter of time until its identity was revealed. She watched the blob move and after a while the figure grew more detailed. Legs and arms were noticeable, as was a head and torso. After a while, Faye had only one guess what it could be.

"A human," Van said, taking Faye's answer before she could even speak it.

The mere mention of another human caused a strange tension in the viewing dock. There was a heavy silence followed by a huff made by the walrus man.

"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard! It's highly improbable that what we see here on this screen is a…human!" the walrus man cried, his black beady eyes opening wide. He said human with disdain that both confused and irked Faye. What was his problem with other humans, or perhaps the issue was not with the unidentified figure but with Van.

Van gave the man a cold look, but said nothing. Faye had to envy him for his restraint. She would have strangled the man a long time ago.

"I have to agree with Arthur. The chance of another human out there, alive without any protection whatsoever, is very unlikely," Alastair declared.

The walrus man, Arthur, smirked and Faye had the sudden urge to wipe that look off his face. He was really getting on her last nerve.

"You can not doubt that there are other compounds such as ours," Van said, "He could be an innocent scavenger searching for resources."

"And you can not fail to take into considerations that we haven't had contact with any other humans in a very long time," Alastair argued.

Faye watched the debate with silence. The possibility of more humans out there was an intriguing thought. She liked the idea of the Fortress not being the only stronghold against the aliens, but she did understand Alastair's point. As long as she lived, Faye had never heard of any contact with humans outside the Fortress. The chances of another compound were unlikely, but she couldn't shake the idea from her mind. It was too appealing.

"Men, if you would halt your debate for another time, you might want listen to this," Collin piped up, "We just got a transmission from tower two."

The men stopped their discussion and turned their attentions back to the computer. Collin turned a dial on a speaker and clicked the mouse on his computer. He then picked up a headset and placed it on his head.

"Alright Steffen, tell them what you told me," Collin said.

A silence overtook the room as everyone stopped to listen. There was brief static, but then a voice spoke up.

"We've spotted the figure. It's at two o'clock, still standing amongst the trees. We can't make out any features, but from the looks of it we have a human on our hands," Steffen said.

"Impossible!" the walrus man shouted.

Van smiled, but masked it with his hand. He glanced at Faye and she couldn't help but smile too.

"Thanks, Steffen. Tell us if anything changes," Collin said and then took off the head set, "Do you want me to switch from the infrared camera to the normal surveillance one?"

"Yes, that would be best," Alastair replied and then turned to Van, "It would appear that you were right. I apologize for doubting you."

Van waved him off, showing that there was no need for apologies. The men fell silent and once again the computer was the center of attention. Collin clicked the mouse again and the infrared camera shut off and switched to a normal one. At first the image was too blurry to make anything out, but then it cleared up, and Faye could see exactly what the camera could.

"Can you zoom in?" Van asked.

"Yes sir. Just one second," Collin replied, messing with the computer some more.

The camera zoomed in and they caught a clear look at the figure. It was in fact a human, a man actually. His features were masked by shadows casted by the trees in which he held sanctuary. Faye, curious to the man's appearance and intentions, waited for the man to step out of the forest. Coincidentally it was just as she had this thought that the man decided to leave the safety of the trees.

He walked out into the clearing before the massive walls of the Fortress, the sun's rays striking him and illuminating his features. The man was younger than Faye had expected, closer to her and Dani's age than any one else in the room. That and he looked close to death. His skin was pale and dirty, from dried blood and dirt maybe. The clothing he wore was torn and dirty as well. If the camera could get closer, Faye imagined his eyes would be bloodshot and exhausted from whatever terrible event he had been a part of.

"By God, he's not wearing an oxygen mask!" the walrus man observed in horror, "How is he still alive?"

No one answered the walrus man, but continued watching the stranger on the screen. The young man stumbled forward and in response the soldiers lining the front wall of the Fortress raised their weapons. If the young man was aware of the threat of fire, his steps weren't faltered by it. He continued onward, in a strange sort of gait that told Faye that he was far sicklier than she had thought before. When he saw the soldiers he stopped and shook like a puppet on a string. His mouth was agape and he raised his hands slowly in the air.

"Is he really a threat?" Faye asked. Van didn't reply. "Why are they still aiming at him? He's hardly what I would call an enemy!"

"Honestly," Dani muttered in agreement with Faye.

"And what, pray tell, do you young ladies know of his intentions? This man, for all we know, could be an alien him self!" the walrus man sneered.

"Does he look like an alien to you?!" Faye shouted, and Van touched her shoulder. "What?"

"Relax," he whispered, but walrus man heard Van and sniggered.

"Yes darling, listen to your stepfather."

Faye started towards him, fire in her eyes, but Van held her back. Walrus man looked barely fazed by her threat of violence.

"You mean my father," she hissed.

Van patted her on her shoulder, but said nothing. He wouldn't deny that he was her father. Faye didn't believe that when her biological father died that he ceased to be just that, but Van had taken up that roll when he died. He was her father just as much as the real one was.

"Oh my. I think he's going to faint," Dani said, causing Faye to give up her staring contest with the walrus man.

Dani was right. The young man looked like he was going to fall any moment. He staggered forward once more, and opened his mouth as if to cry out for help, and fell to the ground. Faye waited to see if he would move, if he would show any sign of life, but he didn't. The man was still, no different than a statue.

"Is he dead?" Dani asked meekly.

"Would it be such a problem if he was?" the walrus man shot back.

"Come now, Arthur, even you can't deny that this man could be of use to us," Alastair said, "He could give us so much information."

"If he's alive that is," Faye muttered darkly.

"And let's pray that he is," Van said grimly, "Shall I order my men to retrieve him?"

"Yes, immediately. If he is alive, he won't be for long unless he receives medical attention," Alastair ordered, "I'm going to the main entrance. I want to see this specimen for myself. Anyone who wants to accompany me can."

There was a sudden liveliness in the viewing dock, an energy that hadn't been there before. Everyone wanted to see this young man and now. People started to leave the viewing dock and Faye found herself drawn to follow the crowd. She too had an interest in the young man. But she didn't get far. Van was in her way.

"And where do you think you're going?" Van questioned.

"To my room, to reflect upon my many mistakes today," Faye replied with heavy sarcasm.

"That'd probably be a good idea," Dani mused and Faye shot her a dirty look. Dani shrugged and left Faye to deal with her father by herself. Good riddance. As much as Faye loved Dani, she really wasn't much of an ally when it came to rebelling against any authority figure.

"I highly doubt those are your intentions," Van said dryly.

"You know me too well," Faye muttered.

Van swung his arm over her shoulder and steered her out of the viewing dock and down the stairs.

"I will only say this once Faye, and God forbid I will have to repeat myself, you are not going to the main entrance. Listen to your friend. She's a good influence on you," Van ordered sternly.

"Ah but I'm the bad influence on her. It's only a matter of time before Dani becomes as 'troublesome' as me," Faye replied. Van gave her a look and she knew humor was not what he wanted right now.

"Please Faye. Do what I ask you for once," Van sighed, "I know how curious you are of this young man, but believe me when I say he will only bring trouble for you. So go to your room, read a book, go to the gym, but stay away from this young man. Promise me you'll do this."

Faye pursed her lips and avoided Van's piercing gaze. She didn't want to obey him, but she had already pushed his threshold for defiance at least twice today. Anymore and she was sure the saying silent as the grave would become more than just a saying for her.

"Faye?"

"Okay, okay I promise I will stay away from the main entrance," Faye mumbled.

"Faye," Van warned.

"And our new guest."

"Good girl," Van said with a smug expression on his face.

"You're annoying, you know that?" Faye grumbled.

"Oh yes, I'm quite aware of the affect I have on some people. Just ask Arthur," Van said and he patted Faye on the shoulder before walking away towards the main entrance. Faye watched him go and let out a frustrated sigh. It was then that Dani walked up and stopped beside her.

"Where have you been?" Faye asked.

"Just talking to Collin. He's a nice fellow," Dani said with a small smile.

Faye studied her friend's face intently and it wasn't long before Dani began to squirm.

"Are you blushing?" Faye questioned with a growing grin.

"No! Why would I be?" Dani snapped, her face growing redder and redder by the minute.

"You like him!" Faye cried. Dani looked about to pass out. "You have a crush on Collin!"

"Shush, Faye! He'll hear you!" Dani yelled with true fear.

"You do! You really do!" Faye chuckled.

Dani opened her mouth as if to dispel Faye's accusation, but gave up in an instance. Probably a smart move.

"So what if I enjoy his company?" Dani asked with her hands firmly set on her hips.

"I think you enjoy a little more than that," Faye smirked and waggled her finger in Dani's face. Dani's jaw dropped and she slapped Faye in the arm. Faye once again grinned and started down the hall way.

"Where are you going?" Dani called out after her.

"Where do you think?" Faye replied without turning around.

"I'm hoping it's to your room, but something tells me that'd be too good to be true."

"Correct, my friend. I'm going to the main entrance," Faye answered.

"Faye!"

"Come with me if you'd like, but it'd be against the rules you know."

It wasn't long before Dani was walking alongside Faye with an expression of complete bewilderment on her face.

"Something tells me Van didn't agree to this plan of yours," Dani said with apprehension.

It was clear Dani already knew the answer to the question, but Faye answered her anyways.

"He specifically said not too, but this is too good to pass up," Faye replied, "Don't you want to know about this guy too?"

"Yes, but I'm willing to wait until we're told about it! Van's going to kill you if he catches you!"

Dani was probably right, but Faye was willing to take the gamble. If she remained hidden she could see the young man for herself. She just had to hope Van didn't catch her.

"Not if he doesn't see us," Faye countered.

"Which is unlikely. He has an uncanny ability to catch you, though I'm guessing that's probably from your lack of being discreet when it comes to breaking the rules," Dani muttered, "Wait, you said us? What makes you think I'm coming with you?"

"Is there some other reason you're following me?" When Dani didn't answer Faye replied, "I thought so."

"Someone needs to watch over you."

"That's what every side-kick says when it comes to doing something…dastardly," Faye said. She liked the sound of that word.

"Dastardly? Really Faye?" her friend said.

Faye nodded. After that they grew quiet and they headed towards the main entrance. Faye knew that just seeing the young man when he came in wouldn't satisfy her curiosity. She hoped he was still alive, and so when he was well she could talk to him. He had to be of some interest. What man in there right mind would go about the world without any protection whatsoever? Someone with a story to tell, that's for sure. It was certain. Faye would figure this man out, and no one, not even Van would stop her.