// 2021-06-20 // by Neon
[The previous section of this story can be found here. The next section can be found here. If you are a new reader, the first section of this story can be found here.]
Josh slowly walked up the sidewalk path to his cookie-cutter suburban home. It felt surreal being back after all that had happened. The front door felt like a portal to a nightmare dimension, a horrible dream from which he could not awaken.
He fumbled with his keys and hesitantly unlocked the door. As he stepped inside, the gentle click of the door closing behind him reverberated like a gunshot against the quiet air of his empty home. It didn't feel like it was really his anymore. They'd taken that from him.
Josh wandered into the living room and his tired ass sank into a suede leather couch cushion. He sat for a while, staring at the blank television, contemplating if he really even felt like turning it on. He didn't.
He had something he needed to confront. Josh stood up and his defeated legs involuntarily carried him over to Abby's bedroom.
Instinctively, he lightly knocked on the door with the back of his fist before entering, as if she were still home. Josh cracked the door to step inside, afraid of what he might encounter. Surprisingly, the room was mostly in order with no visible sign of a struggle. At least, nothing of note to the uninformed observer. Abby's calculus textbook was still cracked open on her desk...
Abby was always a stickler for keeping her desk clean while it wasn't in use and always put her books away. Leaving one out wasn't like her. Josh picked the textbook up from the desk and flipped to the very end. Abby used to always doodle in the last couple pages of her books, including (to Josh's perpetual dismay) ones that weren't hers.
The end pages were blank. There wasn't a drawing to be found— this wasn't her textbook. The hit squad must have come here and taken Abby while she was studying, and then cleaned up the scene in the aftermath.
Josh walked over and took a seat on her perfectly-made bed. There were too many emotions racing through his mind to process. He didn't know if he should feel sadness, anger, fear, remorse, or a combination of all the above.
Josh took his face into his hands and wept. It was all his fault, really. He should have just passed up the promotion and sidestepped this whole fucking mess. Kept quiet, kept the only family he had safe. But no, he just had to dig this hole and let those monsters pull his precious little girl into this. And for what? Earth was still ruled by slimy alien bastards, and no one would ever even believe him, much less do anything about it.
Sitting beside Josh on top of a pillow at the headstand of the bed, there was a small plushy of a panda. Abby had had it since she was little and the synthetic white fur now more of a faded dirty grey after years of love. But she had never grown out of having it around, despite the grown woman she was quickly on the path to becoming. Josh grabbed the shaggy plush and pulled it close into a tight hug. Maybe Abby was still out there somewhere, scared and alone. Maybe they lied about her and she wasn't dead. He had no way of knowing, really, beyond what that fucking traitorous xeno-loving snake had told him.
Josh stood up and took in a deep breath to get a grip. He needed to get away from... this. Josh walked out to his kitchen, leaving Abby's hollow room behind him. He still held the panda plush cradled in both arms, unwilling to leave it in that haunted space. As he walked into the kitchen, he set the plush down on the dining table and petted its head. His heartbroken eyes looked down upon that little fluffy doll, one of the last memories he might ever have of his daughter.
Josh walked over to one of the kitchen cupboards and pulled out a mug to pour some water into. The mug had some corny joke about being the world's greatest dad inscribed on the side. It was one of those last minute gifts Elizabeth, Abby's mother, had gotten him for Father's Day the year before her overdose. Josh certainly didn't feel like anything close to being the world's greatest dad at the moment, but the mug would have to do. He was parched. Josh turned the kitchen faucet on and let it run for a few seconds to get cold before filling his cup.
A serious voice calmly spoke from behind Josh in the kitchen doorway. "Don't drink that."
Josh froze in place and nearly dropped the mug from his hand out of surprise. Though, honestly, it shouldn't have been as much of a surprise him as it was that they had sent someone to break into his home after all this. Josh turned around slowly and saw a man roughly his own age, maybe a little older, nonchalantly leaning on one side of the kitchen doorframe. The man was dressed in normal street clothes, jeans and a generic brown suede jacket. Josh noted that the man loosely fondled an oddly shaped pistol in one hand casually at his side, pointing the wapon down toward the ground. "The water. It's laced. Easier to make it look natural when they off you that way."
Josh frowned but tried to muffle his anger as much as he could in response. "Who the fuck are you and why are you in my house?"
The man in the doorway motioned at the kitchen table with his gun. "Sit. Let's have a chat."
Josh nodded and slowly complied with the armed man's instruction. He breathed steadily to keep himself calm and vigilant, ready to react to the assailant.
"You want to know who I am? I'm the bastard who just saved your life, Josh. Have a little love, buddy." The man had a slight hint of a New York accent, like someone who had grown up there but lived here long enough for the accent to have mostly but not quite subsided.
Josh set the mug on the table, but retained his firm grip on the handle. He channeled his churning emotions into his clenched fist. "I still don't know who the fuck you are or what you want from me, but I think I have a pretty good idea. Haven't you people done enough? Just leave me the fuck alone already. Let me mourn."
The man laughed and shoot his head. "You think I'm with them? And here I was thinking that you weren't gonna be a dumbass after that stunt you pulled. No, you idiot. I want to hire you. The Zeta Reticulans may have tried to cover it up, but the Resistance knows who you are."
Josh's blinked a couple times, not expecting the answer he was just given. He let go of the mug and pensively ran his finger around its rim. He still had to figure out what this man's intentions were, if this was some kind of trick. Taking on a new questioning tone Josh replied, "Seems a bit reckless to break into the house of someone you know nothing about and mouth off our all-seeing overlords with talk of a Resistance movement. After all, if you know who I am, you'll know that what I did got me here. What happens if I tell you no? Or what if I'm just a plant to root out your movement? What happens then?"
The armed man sighed. "Let me tell you a little something, Josh. You see this here?" He motioned with his pistol. "This is what my crew calls a Zeta Reticulan plasma launcher. It's an airgun that's surprisingly comparable to a kid's paintball gun. Except, little Billy probably isn't shooting at you with tiny specialised capsule cartridges designed to melt into a unique antimaterial incendiary upon contact. It's a very effective weapon, but more importantly it's very conspicuous. You catching my drift here?"
The guy continued his monologue, "I could shoot you right now and your autopsy report is going to get significantly more inconvenient for our overlords than just a benzodiazepine overdose from a broken and unstable vet with a family history of drug problems. But, between you and me, I don't think we have to go there because I'm pretty sure we're both on the same side of this equation. I know what happened to your daughter, and I think you can help me take down the bastards who took her from you."
Josh's ears perked up. "What do you know about Abby?"
The man in the doorway smiled and looked at his watch. "That's a funny way of saying that you're interested in my offer, Josh. My car's in the garage, and we don't have all day to sit around and chat here in Zeta territory."
He turned about and waved for Josh to follow him. "It's a long story. I'll tell you along the way. By the way, you can call me Roosevelt."
Happy Father's Day, everyone.
Art for this section was sourced under free to use license.