Library Library First Page Page:  Library Library Help

Prelude

By David Tulley
Page 1 of 1

Metal door, metal walls, metal bunk; he lay on the bunk and stared at the metal ceiling. Remembering...
It was a barren hole. Federat industrial 00967586. It had a name once, but names were something they dug up for the obituaries.
Ash, clinker, slag, more slag and the ever-present dust that slaked water to mud.
To the west, a glow in the sky as the auto-blasts rained down on the city. There might have been the sound of screaming, but that was part of his mental furniture; he was so used to it he barely heard it anymore. He stood on an outcrop that commanded a view of the valley. Most of the buildings down there were on fire now. He rubbed a line of dust from the edge of his eye-patch with a black gloved hand. On one finger a large uncut gem held fire inside.
There was no held fire down in the valley. The dull wet crash of Federation side-arms, the occasional shot ricocheting, wowing from wall to wall, empty street to empty street. He remembered a piece of street graff as they'd first arrived, crudely scrawled on to the corrugate of a standard Fed sleepcell.

FEDERATION GO HOME it said.
WE DON'T WHAT TO BE HELPED
ANY MORE

His men had caught the young girl who'd done it. A part of his mind acknowledged the memory of her face as they'd killed her in front of her family. Then the family. It meant nothing.
The reports had filtered in gradually. Something strange we happening, unconfirmed accounts, growing panic, a feeling that things were getting out of control.
Then, one by one, the outposts went silent. At first he thought it was just another symptom of rebellion, but there was more to it than that. A quite definite pattern was emerging.
Then -
He'd been alone, walking the dark streets of the blasted town. Most of the inhabitants were held in detention, behind sliver wire, shrinking back from the sleek snarls of the Fed masks, the obscene gunsnouts, in detention but alive.
Then, right on the outskirts of the old colony shipyard, he'd seen the shadowy figure, flitting from disabled ship to disabled ship.
He'd ghosted after it, and eventually found himself standing on a flight deck. He'd paused in the half-dark, intent, sure he'd heard a sound.
Almost without thinking, he'd pulled the cowling from a nearby control panel, looking it over with a practised eye. There was something not quite right here. Although the set-up was standard colony issue, there had been adaptations, changes... he'd followed them to source and that was when he'd found it, something quite different in design, something with a power supply all of its own.
A transmitter of some kind, indent on a loop, code pattern in a nightmare of circuitry. He couldn't be sure, but he thought it was on standby, waiting for orders. He'd taken the memory crystal and the set-up had died, melted to nothing. Just the crystal left, hard in his hand. And in one facet of the crystal, a movement. Behind him. He'd whirled pointed fired all at once.
The man had died, blowing a hole in the deckplates. And then -
Remembering it, he still couldn't believe it.
He'd put the crystal inside his tunic and got out of there.

*****

He was back to the stockade before full light. In the shadows, the eyes of the people inside were like small stars. He'd watched them for a moment, before he gave the order to open fire.

*****

Now he was on his hilltop, watching the mopping up operation.
Kill everyone, he'd said, and that's just what they were doing. His orders, their shooting. They were good at it. Murderously efficient, you might have said. He watched the boy run out of the town, up the hillside towards him; he raised his gun-hand lazily and waited.
There was no fear in the boy's eyes. It was like killing a snake, and then...
The body suppurated and split, dissolved into a greenish steaming mass. Alien. Just like the man before. He touched the shape of the cold crystal concealed in his pocket. Maybe the answer was there, somewhere.

*****

Movement. He tensed, then relaxed. It was Par.
The man was sweating, streaked with dirt and gore. He regarded the mess on the ground.
"Blazing, hell," he opined.
"That's what the town looks like, I don't know what this is... you have something to say to me trooper?"
"Assignment completed as ordered, sir -"
"Very well."
"- And I am to place you under close arrest, pending court-martial proceedings and the attendance of the circuit arbiter for this sector. I'm sorry, sir. The order just came in."
He nodded grimly.
"Very well. Carry out your orders."
"Sir. Sir?"
"What?"
"The report, sir?"
He smiled. "No one would believe it. But we can try."
They walked down to the burning town together.

*****

Now, the cell. Metal walls. Waiting. He smiled again, conscious of the irony. It wasn't everyday you stumbled across an alien invasion force disguised as humans. He touched the eye-patch, eyed his gun-hand. Maybe he had a fellow feeling.
Sometimes he felt that he was only disguised as human himself.


Rate This Story:

Library Library First Page Page:  Library Library Help

Back to B7 Top