I stared plaintively into his dark eyes.

“Give me your hand and let’s try it again.” I offered.

I didn’t know the first thing about leadership, but somehow I had gained the trust of these men. I carefully reached out with my hand and helped him to his feet. I knew only one thing, practice. I spoke and they listened. I would teach them everything I knew in a few months time, the rest they had to discover on their own. I had come to know the names of those who would be fighting with me against the intruders.

Po was the name of the rugged fellow who I met in the wastes. He was tall and muscular; his skin was dark and shined like glass. He kept his head shaved bald with his sharp blade and maintained a serious gaze whenever speaking. Rensa was the girl with wild hair tangled in coarse strands and matted together like rope. She looked angry and bold but I could tell that in her lived a heart of gentleness that she refused to reveal. Then there was Dade whose constant banter was insufferable but his lean body and sinewy muscles allowed him to move quickly and his fists were as painful as bricks. We would spar frequently, the four of us, and prepare ourselves for the time when we would launch an attack on the enemy.

It would soon come.

I sat with the others for many hours poring over the volumes of maps they had created from the numerous surveys conducted gathering information about the gardens and slave encampments. We would begin by striking one of these areas; liberating as many humans as we could and bringing them safely back to our compound. Their technology was greater than ours, but we would have the element of surprise. I sat with my hands folded together, closed my eyes and listened as the men and women around me discussed the methods by which we would attack. We would hide behind the darkness of night and use ground cover and mountain ridges as defense against detection. No plan like this had ever been devised by them previously. No single catalyzing event propelled them in this direction; it just seemed the right thing to do now.

***************

And maybe it was the canopy of airships that darkened the sky during the day, or perhaps the encroaching farms or the legions of foot soldiers that patrolled the wastes. Whatever the cause a resistance had been formed and I found myself at the vanguard. Scavengers, rebels, survivors, we had formed a close bond based on mutual suffering. The time had come to put an end to the invasion and take back our world.

Po paced back and forth in front of the rabble of men and women clutching the tools of the old world. Axes, bats, hammers, heavy chains, swords and knives dangled by their sides. Each one prepared to push back the usurpers and send them running. He spoke in words as hard as stone and they listened with courage in their eyes.

“Our planet has become a graveyard and we will fill it with the bodies of our enemies!”

He was the natural choice to lead the people. I was still considered an outsider, even after all the time I had spent working closely with them. He was grand and electrifying and had galvanized them into a single force. Whatever they were before this, Po’s speech awakened something inside them.

He finished, “Simply surviving is no longer enough — we must strike at the heart of the invaders and reclaim what is ours!”

After a rousing speech and a cacophony of cheers that erupted as he ended, we broke up into squads. I had read about Roman military strategy as a youth and was fascinated by it, but now my knowledge was being put to the test.

“We have broken into battle groups in order to keep from exposing our numbers. We will determine when to strike and maintain the element of surprise.” I stated as I walked through the groups.

***************

I knew their numbers were greater than ours, I knew their technology was far superior, that while we would be on foot, they would have airships; we would be behind in every sense, but what we lacked in power, we made up for in spirit.

“This is our home and we cannot allow these creatures to murder our families and subjugate our people any longer!” I could hear myself saying as I gazed at the fire burning in their eyes. As I concluded they raised their weapons into the air and growled a heroic salute.

We were divided into five troops. Po and I took the front – Dade, Rensa and Ideo held the rear and flanks. We began moving across the wastelands using abandoned buildings and empty cars for cover. At night we slept in makeshift tents always keeping an eye to the sky watching for enemy ships. Soon we could see the first of the gardens.

The journey to the garden had been a rough one. Each night as we slept I could feel a fear welling up inside me. The emotion became stronger the further the distance grew from the compound. Were we capable to take on an entire horde of these creatures? I had battled with a few alone, but only a handful and only in familiar settings. We were launching an attack on enemy ground, in completely unfamiliar territory. Something twisted inside me. I wanted to get it over with and return home. Home. The word was foreign to me. Ever since I was born home had no meaning for me. Home was wherever they were not. After the death of my parents and friends I had been running, avoiding them. Now, I was deliberately taking a stand against them and had convinced others they should as well. It was insane! What had I done?

I was startled from my daydreaming – a touch on my shoulder. I turned to see Ideo’s face staring down at me. Her cold serious eyes penetrated me inquisitively, and her aristocratic nature was evident in her every movement. Her long slender features and shimmering black hair like spun silk which hung softly defying gravity made her beautiful to behold.

“Jake,” she mewed in a quiet tone, “we are approaching the creature’s camps, are your men ready?”

***************

“I’m not sure,” I said, “we’ll soon find out.”

She flashed me a sneaky smile as if hiding something. Her Asian eyes glanced knowingly and then darted away toward the sky, “Can anyone truly be ready for it? Combat is something one prepares for, but it’s just an idea, until it becomes real. If you had said they were, though, I would have known you to be lying. Your honesty is refreshing.”

Her voice was gentle.

She unzipped a pocket of her pants and reached inside to retrieve something. They were dark and stained and seemed tired from great use. Emerging from within the depths of the pocket and folded in her hand were two small bottles that resembled eye droppers. She held them both out to me and I took them. “A little something I concocted. Two chemicals which when mixed together form a powerful explosive.” She seemed to smile as my eyes widened, “I call it impact gel. Alone the two chemicals are inert, however when combined they form a jelly-like substance that, when rubbed in the palm, heats up and generates an unstable molecular compound. The compound itself is harmless until force is applied, only a few pounds of force is necessary, like the force of hitting another object, then…BANG!” her eyes lit up. She mimicked an explosion with her hands then stood back with her arms akimbo. She seemed proud of her invention.

“How much is needed to create the blast?” I questioned her.

“A very small amount of each, just a few drops will turn a concrete wall to dust.” she replied happily.

I held the two bottles in my hand as if touching them together might ignite them. “I don’t use explosives.” and I handed them back.

***************

She took them without regret and placed them back into the zippered pouch of her rugged outerwear. I examined her features, the scars along her arms, the dimples of her cheeks. She was hard and soft simultaneously. There was a quiet strength that possessed her and I was intimidated by it. I felt so alone in this world and without place. She said not a word as she stood there staring off toward the garden.

“The day will come,” She started, “when humans will once again rule this planet.” She seemed angry for a moment with her eyes tense, filled with immediacy.

“Either that or be swept away by destruction.” I offered.

She never looked at me and continued speaking, “Do you think humankind has run its course? Should we accept defeat?”

I looked down for a moment and picked up a handful of debris, “This is mankind’s planet, it’s not lost yet.”

She observed me quietly and nodded her head then took her leave of me and I was alone with only her words. Should we accept defeat? Had mankind run it’s course? I didn’t want to believe it was true. Something stirred inside me and I was filled with more determination than I had ever felt. This might quite possibly be the end of humanity, but I refused to go out without a fight. I was filled with hatred for them. This hatred had consumed me and I would use it to become single-minded in purpose. I was intent on destroying them. Po’s speech and then Ideo’s questions had infused within me the desire to rid our world of these invaders.

Hatred.

It grew in my bones. I allowed the feeling to pass through me and reignite the fire that had raged inside me for so many years. They murdered my parents and for that they would pay. I arose quickly and decisively. For a moment I just stood there silently peering off at the garden. Leaders are born, not made and I was a product of my environment. I would draw on the skills which I had honed as a loner in the wastes. We had rested long enough. Fear was beginning to settle in the hearts of the men and that fear would seek to jeopardize our mission. The time to act was now. I went to Po’s camp.

***************

“Po, it is time, the sun is setting in the western sky and the element of surprise is with us, we should mobilize the men and prepare for our attack.” I confronted him. He must have seen the anxiety in my eyes because he asked if I sure of my decision. “It’s now or never, we risk the men losing interest and disbanding.”

He agreed with a solemn nod and called out to his men. “Jake has decided it is time to attack.”

We gathered our weapons and began out on foot toward the garden. Nightfall crept up on us as we made our way down the craggy rock face and into the plains basin. A twisting pathway would lead us to the mouth of a small river which served as a source of water for the slaves. Giant sewage and waste reclamation pipes led out of the compound. Beyond I could hear something moving toward us in the distance. We waited patiently in the foul air. No one made a sound as they came closer. We had been watching them from the foot of the mountains surrounding the garden. Overhead I heard the worn motors of one of their vessels returning to dock beyond in the distance. Huge chunks of dry Earth fell from the landing gear as it opened above us, cascading to the ground. I couldn’t stand waiting any longer; I ran toward the ship. I rushed the slave encampment and found myself surrounded by twenty of the beasts all towering above me with their great slabs of legs planted firmly in the ground. Alone, I had handled three before, when I caught them off guard, but this time they were ready for me. I drew my short sword and dagger and thrust myself upon the closest one. I went into a blind rage unaware that my comrades were nowhere near.