Ever since the alien invasion Jim had cycled into the village every three or four days to sell a few vegetables, buy necessities and do a bit of espionage. But when he arrived today the village was in turmoil. Two of the alien vehicles were slewed across the road outside Henry's bakery and guards stood in front, their carapaces shining in the morning sunlight. Jim dumped his bicycle and slipped into the greengrocer's shop.
"What's up, Fred?" he asked.
The proprietor, shaking with fear, crouched behind the counter.
"They came this morning. I thought they were coming for me."
Jim grimaced. He had a lot more to fear from them than the shopkeeper.
"What's happening at Henry's?" he asked.
"I know nothing!" the quaking shopkeeper told him.
"Well at least buy some of my vegetables. I need the cash."
Fred reluctantly opened the till and passed over some tokens without even looking at the produce.
"Thanks," Jim said and made for the door.
Philip's cafe was next door so Jim quickly moved between the two without attracting the attention of the guards.
"What's up?" Jim asked.
Philip calmly poured them both an ersatz coffee.
"I don't know a lot." he replied. "They came this morning, charged in and are obviously interrogating Henry. They've been there a while."
Jim nodded grimly and sipped his coffee.
"There've been noises through the wall," Philip added.
"Well, heavy interrogation. I wonder what they think he's done?"
Jim knew perfectly well what his friend had done. They had a system. Henry received instructions from someone outside the village, iced a code on a bun, passed it to Jim who subsequently phoned it in to an active saboteur cell. They'd been lucky so far. The aliens loved sweet things and the alien commander had always eaten the evidence. Jim realised he should probably be running for his life right now but he couldn't leave without knowing Henry's fate.
"Bastard alien insects!" said Philip striking the table with the palm of his hand.
They sat in silence for a few moments. Then came a noise like a vixen shrieking. They both knew it was Henry. Jim looked at their coffee cups shaking in their hands as though fear had created a minor earthquake at their table. Then they heard other noises. A chair overturned. A dragging noise. They sneaked right under the window sill keeping low. Henry appeared being dragged along by the suckers of the guards and was thrown into the back of a vehicle. The Commander himself followed eating one of Henry's famous cakes and holding a further bag full. He climbed in and they drove off at speed.
"Sweet tooth, indeed! They're like wasps after jam!" muttered Jim.
"Nothing you can do now," Philip replied.
"See you," he said opening the shop door. He went straight to the butcher's and bought sausages. If he was going to go on the run he had better have some supplies. On his way back he nipped into Henry's deserted shop and "borrowed" a baguette. It was in chaos with a single smear of blood on the wall. Jim shuddered. Then he rode back home.
From his garden, the valley looked just as it always had. You couldn't see the damaged lives from up there. While the sausages cooked he found an old rucksack and stuffed shirts and underwear into it. Then, he put the sausages aside to cool and went outside. He climbed up to the copse, found the right tree, and, hoisting himself into the branches, he searched for a small aperture hidden in a fork. He dropped down holding an old cell phone and mechanical charger, then wound the charger for five minutes, found the only number saved in the cell phone memory and sent a text.
Henry taken. What to do?
He sat quietly waiting for a response, listening to the birds singing and wondering forlornly if Henry would ever hear them again. After ten minutes or so there came a reply
Head south to bridge east of village. Look for white cottage. Bring phone.
That was it. He walked back home and packed sausages, baguette and a flask of water. He felt he had to leave immediately. Henry was brave but how long could he hold out? Jim made his way downhill towards the river and was about three hundred metres down the slope when he heard the sirens. He dropped down and waited. It wouldn't take them long to search his tiny home. Sure enough, after about thirty minutes they left. He stayed still until dusk then found a hollow which he lined with grass for the night. That would have to do. He lay there eating sausage sandwich under the stars.
Next morning he awoke cramped and damp from the dew. There seemed no point in waiting so he began walking, hoping the movement would dry him off. He skirted the village, which seemed pretty quiet, and pushed on towards the river where he saw the bridge and nearby a white cottage.
"Was it the right one?" he wondered.
With no other clues he carried on downhill. About fifty metres from the cottage boundary his phone bleeped. He stopped and read the text.
Wipe all messages from phone. Restore to factory settings. Walk forward with your hands raised.
He did all that but found it difficult to manoeuvre with his hands in the air. Stumbling, he caught a bush to stop himself falling.
"I said hands-up!" called a female voice.
He raised his hands again.
"Sorry. I'm not as agile as I thought."
He looked around.
"Where are you?"
"Just walk," the mystery voice continued, so he did.
At the bridge she showed herself ; a petite young woman with a large rifle. She looked as though she knew how to use it.
"Throw me the phone," she called, then ushered him towards the cottage, eventually getting close enough to pat search him.
"You don't seem to be carrying anything."
"Only the remains of my sandwiches."
She ignored this and motioned him to enter the building.
Inside it was cool and surprisingly homely. A middle aged man was sitting facing the door. As he rose to shake hands Jim could see he had a damaged leg.
"Welcome," he said and glancing at his leg, added, "I too have suffered their torture so I know what Henry is going through."
"Why am I here?" Jim asked. "Aren't I just endangering yourself and the young woman?"
"Ah! Yes! Forgive me. I am forgetting the social niceties. This is my daughter Alesha. Put the gun down, dear."
The girl obliged.
"My group suffered badly from the latest betrayal. Not just Henry but several others. That is why I need you here. Are you game for one last throw?"
"I suppose so," Jim replied. "Tell me."
"I will but first we must eat. You will need your wits about you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Jim queried, surprised.
"We dare not wait. Our days here are numbered."
There was a stew in the oven and lots of fresh bread.
"It isn't Henry's. We make our own. It is too dangerous for us personally to be seen in the village."
The man explained that he co-ordinated the saboteur network. They had one last big job planned to inflict serious damage on the invaders but they had been betrayed at the last minute. The mission was all set but it needed at least two people and he could not manage it himself because of his leg. So he needed Jim.
"Who is the other one?" Jim asked.
"Alesha." he replied. "I don't want to use her but we have no choice."
She looked up as her father said this and Jim could see the steel in her eyes.
The job itself was fairly straightforward but very risky. Over a long period they had acquired a tanker full of insecticide, taken bit by bit from farm supplies, and this was now hidden in a rail shed at the bottom of the cottage's garden. The idea was to use a donkey, tethered behind the cottage, to pull it as far as the alien camp where most of the guards were barracked. Jim's job, with Alesha's help, would be to get it there and then attach it by flexible pipe to their water supply.
"The thing is," the man laughed, "it tastes sweet. You know what a sweet tooth all these insects have. Not just the Commander. It will be the sweetest water they have ever tasted."
"A sweet scheme for the sweeter tooth," Alesha added grimly.
"Are you game?" the man asked.
"Are you?" Jim asked Alesha, who nodded.
"Then so am I," he said.
They intended to start early in the morning so as to arrive at the camp after the day shift had left on patrol and before the night shift returned to base, so they agreed to get an early night. Jim had been allocated a room above the barn which was warm, dry and had a decent bed in it. He was tired after his exertions so was happy to retire as soon as it was dark.
He was sleeping soundly when his covers were disturbed. Only half awake he felt skin next to him.
"Alesha?" he asked.
"Well, you didn't expect my father, did you?"
"Are you sure?" he asked, astonished that a young, attractive woman could be interested in him.
"Listen, Jim," she said. "We're probably going to die tomorrow. I'm damned if I'm going to die a virgin!"
Next morning when he awoke, she was gone. He hadn't had quite the long rest he had anticipated but he did feel thoroughly relaxed. As he entered the cottage he could smell bacon frying. He hadn't smelled good bacon for years.
"We cure our own," Alesha said with a smile.
Jim turned to her father.
"What about afterwards?" he enquired.
"They are bound to come for me," he said. "I'm afraid I'll get all the credit for your work. If you manage to get out of the camp alive, go south. It will be safer. Not much safer but safer. Whatever happens, I'd appreciate it if you could try to help Alesha escape. For my sake."
The actual operation went fairly straightforwardly. Alesha had her rifle and her father had given them a spray gun loaded with the same insecticide.
"If you get into trouble, this will be quieter than a rifle," he had said.
The tanker was full and very heavy but the donkey worked hard and they both pushed behind. Jim had real difficulties in unscrewing the plumbing joint and badly grazed his knuckles. His curse attracted a guard who came around the corner just as Jim managed to connect the flexible pipe and the liquid began to flow. Quick thinking told Jim to slap the donkey's rump to make it run and the guard momentarily glanced at it. It was enough. Alesha squirted at his antennae with the spray. He stopped confused. Then, as they watched, his face froze. First his antennae drooped, then his cheeks slackened until his mouth fell open. The effect travelled down his arms so that he dropped his weapon and then his legs crumpled and he fell to the ground twitching.
"Very impressive stuff," she said.
"Let's hope the others have an even sweeter tooth than the Commander," Jim said, relief flowing through him. He held up his own water flask.
"Cheers," he winked at Alesha. "But not good health to them, eh?"
Then they made their way south as they had promised her father. Jim had no idea what might happen next but at least so far it seemed they had been lucky. Alesha looked back regretfully towards her father's cottage as they hastily went down to the river and whatever the future would hold ........
I'm a semi-retired academic who lives in a village in north-west Essex in the United Kingdom. I still write academic books and papers but enjoy writing fiction as well. I'm married with three adult children. I've published quite a few short stories now both on-line and in print, including science fiction, horror, comic and contemporary. This story is a follow up to 'Sweet Tooth' which I published on this website under science fiction in July 2013