|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
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
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.
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
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
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
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 -"
"- 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
He nodded grimly.
"Very well. Carry out your orders."
"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.