"Where are we even going?" I muttered lazily to Shiver.
Shiver shrugs. "How would I know? I just got here, too."
I grinned at him. I have all the love in the world for that sassy little boy. He's like my little brother. He's family. My family.
"Meredith!" I looked behind me at the sound of my name being called. A girl came running up and walked beside me.
I smiled. "Hey, Julie," I said.
"How're you doing? All better, I hope?
"Yeah," I said, "this is Shiver, my, uh, brother, I guess."
Shiver grinned and tightened his grip on my hand. "Hi. I'm adopted. She adopted me. I'm her adopted brother. Hi." He shoved his head under my arm, forcing me to wrap my arm around him.
"Gary. Don't be so awkward. This is Julie, she helped me when I had that awful concussion." I tried to take my arm back, but he grabbed onto my arm and pulled it back around him. "Sorry. I guess this place just makes him nervous."
"It's alright," she said, "Do you know where Wolf is? I've been trying to find him since we got off that ship."
I shook my head. "I think he went ahead a little to talk to a friend or something."
"Okay. Thanks, Meredith." And with that, Julie jogged ahead to find Wolf.
"You don't like it here, huh?" I said, like a mother would to her son. Except he's more like my brother. I squeezed his shoulder and smiled. "It's gonna be alright." I lied. It's not going to be all right. We are untrained teenager soldiers in a war against aliens. There's no way in hell that everything's gonna be alright.
Shiver grinned. "I know. Because you're here. If you're here, we're both safe." He giggled and ducked his head to hide the bright red blush that was quickly spreading across his face.
"On the bus to California, when you were asleep, they named you 'Snakeboy.' I forget to tell you. They couldn't think of a cool name for me, though," I said with a laugh.
Shiver sighed. "Yeah. 'Dr. Powers' sucks. What about... the Smoke?"
I smiled down at him. "It's perfect." I ruffled up his hair and pulled him closer.
I love him so much.
We passed through a massive arch and entered a gym of some sort. The robot guides said in their tinny voices, "Please have a seat inside of the red circle, facing the screen. The instructor will arrive in a few minutes." They said this over and over again until we have all sat, squished together, inside of the red circle.
Shiver took a seat atop my lap so that we weren't so squished around the sides. But seeing the free space, other people scooted to have a little more wiggle room.
I wrapped my arms around his chest to get comfy.
A soft whirring sounded and a young man came through a door to the side. He walked in front of the screen with his hands behind his back and cleared his throat. The clamor of voices immediately hushed and the dude held up his hand and did a little wave.
"Hello, children..." he said. When a few of us protested against being called children, he rolled his eyes and said, "Hello, young soldiers. My name is Mr. Howell. I will be your instructor for the next six hours.
A few of the younger children snickered. They had recently begun watching some videos from a guy that had that last name, from the 2000's. I think it was on some long gone website called YouTube.
Mr. Howell glared at the kids. "Anyway," he said, shooting a glare at the noisy kids, "I'm here to teach you how to kill the Strangers. Form groups of five and line up by the wall."
Shiver glanced up at me and I nodded. Wolf stood up and offered his hand to Shiver, he took it, then I got up.
"Well," Wolf said, "there's the three of us, but we need two more."
Shiver skipped off for a second and came back dragging a girl by the arm. She had short blond hair and a shy face. I think I met her before- Sam, I think.
Shiver grinned. "This is Sam. My guard. She can join us, right?"
I nodded, ignoring the sharp pang of jealously in my stomach. I reached out to shake the hand of the nervous girl. "Hi, I'm Meredith, Shiver's mom-sister-whatever. I raised him. Yeah. Okay..."
What was I thinking? I certainly wasn't trying to scare her off. Just informing her that I raised Shiver. Maybe.
Sam shook my hand and said softly, "Hi. He's told me a lot about you."
Wolf tapped my shoulder. "We still need another person. And, most everybody's by the wall."
I scanned the room. A few people wandered around, trying to find groups. The majority of groups were stood by the wall, waiting. A few groups just stood around. Including us.
Wolf waved over to one of the wanderers. Daisy ran up with a huge smile on her face. "Hi!" She said, her voice full of energy.
I rolled my eyes and turned to Sam. "So, what can you do?"
She shuffled her feet and ducked her head. "It's really lame." I continued staring at her. "I can see no matter how much light there is, or lack thereof. Also I control the flow of light. It's not at cool as others."
I shit you not, this girl was nervous. Her eyes were darting about and her hands were constantly fidgeting.
But her ability isn't lame. I thought it was rather cool. "That's not lame," I say, "you don't need light to see. That's pretty cool."
Her eyes lit up. "You think so?"
I nod. Daisy scowls at me. "You never said my power was cool."
"Because you're annoying. Let's go." I walked over to the wall without another word. The others followed behind.
A few minutes later, Mr. Howell went into a closet and took a big rack out of it. "One per group. Oldest person shoots first, the other three hold up these targets." He took another cart out of the closet. "Next, the oldest and the second oldest trade places, and so on and so on. Understood?"
I raised my hand. Everybody looked at me, and Mr. Howell nodded in my direction. "Uh, why do we have to hold the targets? Isn't that, you know, dangerous?"
He laughs. "You're worried about being shot with a paint gun when you're going to be battling aliens tomorrow?" His laughing stops and his face goes somber. "Of course it's dangerous. This whole goddamn thing is dangerous. Get to work."
I scowled and shoved Wolf forward. "You're up first, grandpa."
He gave me a funny look. "I'm only four months older than you, Meredith, and I'm certainly not a grandfather." He goes and gets a gun. I take Shiver in my arm and go to pick up the shields. Daisy groans and follows us.
We stood in a straight line exactly twenty feet from Wolf. The targets are big and uncomfortable to hold. Wolf nervously brought his gun up, and Mr. Howell came and corrected his posture. "Okay. Are you guys ready?"
We all nodded. We were nervous too. What if he missed?
A click sounded and I stumbled backward. I peered over the top of my target, and a blob of neon green paint was dripping down off to the side of it. I got back into line and swallowed my nerves.
"This is it," Shiver whispered, "and I'm not ready."
Daisy murmured back, "We will be- oof!" She stumbled backward. I looked to see a splatter of blue paint on her target.
This went on for two hours, every five shots trading places. I hated it.