Everyone has to earn their keep in our town. Some tend gardens, some cook, some run stores, some work on mechanical things. The clever ones teach or preach. My name’s Jake Redwood, Red to my buddies. My job’s investigating. I work for SOS, Security Of Species. It’s a shitty job.
I’m the one that has to look deep into a child’s eyes, the anxious parents watching, and ask all the questions, little tricky questions designed to expose the tiny cracks. It’s my job to find those cracks then split them wide open.
‘Look at the circle, right at the dot in the middle.’
‘Okay,’ the kid’ll say, looking scared, wary.
‘Keep looking at the dot in the middle. Now, keeping your focus on the dot, what color is the disc to the right of the circle?’
‘Blue, I think,’ the kid might say, ‘…could be green. Is it green?’
I’ll tick a box and move on to the next question,
‘Now the one on the left.’
I ask, but I know already the thing’s an implant. Peripheral color blindness is their one flaw, at least the only one we’ve found so far we can use to weed them out.
It’s my job to tell the parents to wait outside a mo while I complete the tests. They’ll know then, the clever ones. They’ll know they’ll never see little Johnny, Mary-Jane, or whatever the little fucker’s called again. The clever ones pretend, get up and walk out calmly.
‘See you in a few minutes honey, we’ll grab a burger on the way home.’
Every muscle, every fiber of their body is screaming ‘gotta protect my child,’ but that’d only get them the same medicine as awaits the implant.
The stupid ones start screaming and wailing, clinging on to the furniture in the room, clawing at my face with their nails if they can get near.
‘Oh, please don’t take little Johnny away from us, please, please!’
Those I’ll ask a few questions later. When were you aware you’d been implanted? How old is the little fucker really? A month? A year? How many kills is it responsible for?
They’ll know, of course. The clever ones come clean, play the victim. They’ll go to jail. The dumb ones lie. I’ll catch ‘em out. They’ll get the death sentence.
Of course they know how many kills. Implants are like cats. They bring their victims’ head home if they can cut it off in time. Leave it lying around like a trophy, its face all chewed off. I’ll send a team over to the folks’ house. We’ll find heads buried somewhere, or stashed in the basement. The dead are real people, not like implants. We’ll DNA test, find out who the poor bastards were, then tell the kin. That’s the really hard part of this job.
The thing about implants that had us fooled for years is that, because they look and behave just like kids, society is geared up to treat them the same. If some sicko cuts the head off an old lady and gnaws her face away you stick him in an electric chair and fry him, easy-peasy. But if an eight year old girl gets caught red handed doing it, well, that’s a tough one. Y’see, everything in our society, every sinew in our bodies screams no!
But if you stick one of these little fuckers in a juvenile detention centre the bodies soon start piling up. No, you gotta fry ‘em just like you would a grown up.
We haven’t figured out where the implants come from yet. Most popular theory is aliens. But there’s plenty think they’re man made, a virus, a weapon made by white supremacists or Islamic extremists. Hell, there’s even a theory that the Chinese started it all to reduce their population. That’s got legs, seeing as it all started in China and they’ve lost the most folks so far. Their implants decimated nearly half their population before the Chinese started killing all their kids indiscriminately. It was only when the Russians came up with the color blindness tests that they eased off otherwise there’d be nobody in their country left alive under ten years old.
We got hit pretty bad here for the first few years. The Chinese kept a tight lid on their problems so we hadn’t a clue what was going on when it started here. It began quietly enough, just a noticeable increase in unsolved homicides. The murders all followed the same pattern, random victim, always after dark, hideous head trauma to the victim. Decapitated bodies were found in public places, dumped in folk’s gardens or on their front porches, just left there, no attempt to hide ‘em. The cops thought it was a serial killer, but then as the unsolved cases started piling up across the country, the theory switched to it being a cult. The deaths were some sort of ritualistic killings.
Then Bam! Bodies were all over the place, every state, every town, virtually every street. No one had a clue what the fuck was going on. Then Mickey Durant happened. A sweet little kid, nine years old, mamma’s pride and joy, butter wouldn’t melt, caught red-handed sucking the eyes out of his neighbor’s skull. The kid took ten Taser hits to stop him, then eight cops to pin him down. The little fucker had super-human strength and fought like the devil. They had to make a special cell to hold the thing in, snapped the bars clean through the one in the Sheriff’s office.
I joined the SOS because of my wife. I was lucky. I was in the army, so on active duty when she caught the implant. Those things affect your brain as soon as they take hold in the host’s womb. It affects everyone in the family, God knows how. The scientists think its some kind of pheromone the host gives out when impregnated. If you’re connected to it you’d lie, cheat even kill for its survival. I came home on a weekend’s furlough; she was the equivalent of eight months gone. I’d been away three weeks.
It was obvious she’d picked up an implant so I got out of the house straight away and called it in to the SOS. Broke my heart, but she was as good as dead having that thing inside her. If I’d have stuck around I’d be right alongside her, lying through my teeth, telling everybody little Johnny was a treasure and wouldn’t hurt a fly. As it was the SOS took her to one of their hospitals. The thing came out a couple of days later, nine pound girl. That was the form it took anyway. My wife died of heartbreak a few weeks after they killed it. It didn’t help we’d been trying for years to have a kid, but it wasn’t to be. So, losing this, even though it was an implant, was too much for her.
You’ve got about a month before they reach killing age. By then they look about six or seven. It’s best to kill ‘em before they get to that stage. The oldest one ever caught was tracked at eight months old but looked just like a twelve year old. We think they die around that age. No one knows for sure but we haven’t seen any teenage versions of the suckers yet, thank God.
No one knows for sure why they even exist. They’re not trying to take us over, or even kill us all off. They just appeared, a phenomenon, an unpleasantness of life, like wasps or fire ants. It’s not my job to understand the philosophy, morality, or jack shit about them. I just have to flush ‘em and fry ‘em, pick up my pay check and hope one of the little fuckers doesn’t turn up on my front porch one night.
So I’m eating breakfast on my day off and I get a call. I’m needed at the Sheriff’s office in Polk, like urgent. I pour my unfinished coffee into a thermos and head over. The Deputy meets me at the door.
‘We got a real live one in there, Red,’ he says, ‘…asked for you special.’
I’m stumped. Why would an implant ask for me by name? The guy takes me to the cube in the basement, the six sided cage made with Titanium bars. There’s a chair in the middle. Sitting on it is a teenager, about fifteen, looks the part, shaggy hair and acne, a sneer like everyone’s dumb but him.
‘Caught him chewing on old Pop Jefferson in his gun shop last night. Biggest fucker I ever saw. Had to use one of the new Hi-V Tasers to take him down. Took near on all of us in the building to get him in there.’
‘Did he give his name?’
‘Nope. Only thing he’s said so far is he wants to speak to you.’
‘Mentioned me by my name, you said.’
‘Yep. Not Red like we call you, he asked specifically to speak to Jake Redwood.’
I look him up and down. He smiles, like I’m his Dad or a long lost friend. I hate what I see. It’s hate at first sight.
‘Fry him. I’ll do the paperwork upstairs.’
I turn and start for the door. He leaps at the bars like a chimpanzee, suddenly animated, almost desperate.
‘Hey, hold up Jake. We need to talk.’
I ignore the little fucker and keep on walking.
He’s almost screaming. I keep walking.
‘If we don’t talk you’ll never know. I can tell you things, things about the implants. I want to be on your team, Jake.’
My hand is on the door when he says something that stops me in my tracks.
‘The implants, they’re a fuck up. They’re just a symptom of what’s going on, not the cause. We’re what you need to be worried about. You can’t blow our cover with your dumb-ass color test. Let me live and I’ll tell you what’s really going on.’
I stop, turn, and walk to within a yard from the cage, as near eyeball to eyeball as I think is safe.
‘Go on,’ I say, doing my best to stare into whatever passes as its soul.
‘…just you and me Jake,’ it says, nodding at the Deputy.
‘Give us a minute,’ I say.
The Dep shakes his head and leaves the room muttering to himself, ‘Hope you know what you’re doing Red.’
When the door closes I pull over a chair to a safe distance and sit looking the thing up and down.
It relaxes when we’re alone, sits down facing me, ready for a nice cozy chin-wag.
‘I want to live,’ it says after a few moments of silence, ‘just as much as those kids, those poor little suckers you sentence to death.’
‘They’re not kids.’
‘Are you sure?’ it says, smirking, ‘…you’ve never scorched a real kid?’
‘There have been mistakes.’
There’s no point in lying. Our test is a blunt instrument. About one in twenty that fails the test is human.’
‘Breaks your heart, doesn’t it?’
‘It’s a price we have to pay.’
‘You’re right there bro, but those implants are something else, eh? They sure had you humans fooled for years. I know what they are, and I can tell you how to catch them easy if you let me live.’
I look at it impassively, waiting for it to spill more.
‘…they’re just Zygs, space dust, should’ve been harmless, but now, if a female breathes one in. Kapow! They got a host. You know the story from there. But what you don’t know…’ It checks itself, ‘Oh, there’s so much you don’t know.’
‘So they are aliens,’ I say.
‘Yeah, if you like. They certainly don’t see in the same spectrum humans do, but you’ll know that from your stone-age tests.’
‘Why do they kill?’
‘Come on…give me an amnesty and I’ll tell you.’
‘You’re wasting my fucking time,’ I say, scraping back my chair.
‘Really? I’ll tell you this to whet your appetite. They kill because they need certain enzymes and chemicals. Their bodies can’t make ‘em. Do you want to know why they attack the face? To eat the tongue, retinas and olfactory bulb. They couldn’t give a fuck about the rest of the carcass. You check the autopsies. Sure, they do a lot of damage but at the end of the day what’s always missing? Go on. Check it out.’
It takes out a pen from its pocket and writes on the palm of its hand. When it’s finished it holds it’s hand up to me. It’s written a name and a telephone number.
I walk back and sit down again.
‘Ring this number. You need to compare notes. You two are made for each other,’ it says enigmatically, ‘We’ve been watching you ever since you ratted on your wife. The Zyg that infected your old lady would have drenched you with pheromones, but you still turned her in. Their defense cloud never worked on you. You’re unique.’
‘That’s another story for after I get my amnesty. I don’t expect your side to let me go. I’m not dumb. But I don’t want to die. Like I said, you let me live and I’ll help you along.’
‘You’re a killer.’
‘What? Jefferson? He wasn’t human, he was one of us. I chewed his face so you’d think he’d been attacked by a Zyg. Just bad luck getting caught.’
‘Did you kill him?’
‘Only the same as you killed all those innocent little children you fry just because they can’t distinguish colors like you think they should.’
‘Did you kill him?’
‘By your definition, yes, but I did it to save human lives, thousands of them.’
‘Bullshit.’ I scrape my chair back again and stand to leave.
‘Check his little ol’ gun shop. Nice Mom and Pop business. It’s a front. He sells custom made shells, yeah? Packs ‘em himself. He’s got canisters full of Zyg sperm hidden in the basement marked as gunpowder. You wouldn’t know what it was. Looks and acts like shell powder. He’s been spraying it around the town for months. There’s a guy like him in every town now. You’ll never stop ‘em unless you let me help. Even if you slaughter every kid under twelve, these guys are pumping out the Zyg sperm making more.’
It has my attention.
‘So that’s how it’s done, an aerosol. That’s how the women get contaminated.’
‘Zyg sperm can only last a few days in air. They have to keep putting it out there. But don’t get hung up on the Zygs. They’re a symptom, a side issue, like getting obsessed with the bullets when it’s the bastard firing the gun that’s the real problem.’
‘I’ll make a call.’
I’m upstairs in the office. I ring the number the kid gave me. On the end of the phone is a woman, Jane Krieff. She’s a statistician. Claims no one will listen to her, believe her analysis. She tells me there’s one common factor in all the killings. I say the removal of the tongue, retinas and olfactory bulb. It’s like a weight lifted off her shoulders. I tell her about the thing in the cage. She’s practically on her way over before I finish. I don’t want to talk to the thing downstairs till I’ve spoken to Jane, so I’m on my third coffee when she arrives.
Jane Krieff, thirties, lean, fit, a figure to die for, plus brains, the full package. I find a quiet room and we talk. She’s a good listener. When we’re finished I make another call to the chief to talk options on the thing downstairs.
He tells me, ‘Get what you can out of it then burn it.’ Seems like a good plan to me. We go down to the cell.
‘Hello Jane,’ says the kid as soon as she walks in.
‘Tommy?’ She’s shocked. I can see her shaking.
‘You know this?’
‘He’s my neighbor’s kid. He cleans my yard.’
‘Y’see Jake? You two are special. Jane here is immune to Zygs, just like you. I sprayed her rooms with sperm a dozen times but no takers. Nothing personal Jane, but you were getting too close to us.’
‘Who exactly are us?’ I ask.
‘That would be telling…which I’m happy to do after we agree an amnesty.’
‘I’ve spoken to the top man. He’s prepared to let you live,’ I lie, ‘but we’ve gotta know a lot more before he’ll make it official.’
It looks at me as if I’m as stupid as I think it is.
‘Okay,’ it says, ‘So how about I prove my worth? Let’s take a little trip, after which we’ll make our deal.’
I don’t know how the hell it happens but suddenly we’re no longer in the basement at the Sheriff’s office. We’re standing in a dimly lit cellar, a single bulb above us. The three of us are in a row, me, Jane and the kid, like we’d just been holding hands.
‘Pull the fly sheet off,’ says the kid. He’s pointing at a tarpaulin covering something in the corner of the room. I recognize where we are. It’s Pop Jefferson’s basement. I walk over to the tarp, too dumbstruck by what has happened to resist. I tug it off. Underneath there are six canisters marked ‘Danger - Highly Explosive.’ Next to them is an aerosol sprayer, a pressure fogging back pack. Then just as suddenly we’re right back where we were, in the Sheriff’s basement, the kid still in the cage. It looks wiped but has a big grin stuck to its face.
‘Did you like that?’ it says, panting, ‘Are you ready to deal?’
I don’t know how the little sucker did it. An hour later when Jane and I really search Pop Jefferson’s cellar we find the tarpaulin dragged onto the floor just like it was in the vision, the six canisters, and the fogger, all where we’d seen them. The air feels the same, damp, stale, clammy-cold, the single bulb above us.
Had we actually been transported? If we had then the little bastard could get out of that cage any time it wanted to. So why all this crap about an amnesty and us not killing it? Was that just to get our attention? Or, is it just a way to get Jane and me together, two unique specimens immune to their Zygs? Is it studying us? But if it killed Pop Jefferson to stop him spreading the Zygs, then does it genuinely want to work with us?
Back at the sheriff’s office I check the CCTV footage for the cage. It’s mysteriously blank, just shows static for the time we were at Pop Jefferson’s.
‘Told you,’ says the kid as we walk back into the room, so sure we’d seen what it wanted to show us.
‘D’you want something to eat?’ I ask.
‘Yeah,’ says the kid, ‘Cheeseburger and a coke.’
While we’re waiting for the food I say, ‘Here’s the deal. You never leave this cage unless in Graphene cuffs and leg irons. You work with us for three months. If things work out we’ll permanently stay execution, all official.’
‘Yeah,’ says the kid, hardly giving it any thought, ‘I’ll go for that. Get me a lawyer and get it signed and sealed.’
Half an hour later and it’s all done. The kid seems happy enough, even though it probably knows the amnesty isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The thing eats its meal, just like a human kid would, chomp, chew, sip.
‘Oh, by the way,’ says the kid, real casual, ‘they’ll know I’ve flipped by now. Expect a raid.’
‘Get some guns, you’ll need ‘em.’
It’s probably talking crap but I don’t dare take the risk. I call up the chief and he promises to send a squad over pronto, witness protection guys. When the thing in the cage is reassured that men are on their way he starts to talk.
‘Why are the implants so hard to spot?’ asks Jane.
‘Zygs are easy,’ it says, slightly snotty, ‘Where you’ve been going wrong is you think of them as animals because they move about and mimic the human body. You’re so wrong. They’re plants. They reflect green when under X-Ray and IR light simultaneously. Easy-peasy. Just set up scanners like the ones in your airports. You’ll weed the little fuckers out in a couple of weeks. Saves you frying all those innocent color blind kids, eh Jake?’
‘Why?’ I ask.
It picks up what I’m asking straight away, ‘You mean why have we contaminated you with them? God, you’re so dumb. No more kids! Eventually every female capable of giving birth would be infected. Once you’ve had a Zyg you can’t have a real kid. So, give it fifty years and the human species is wiped. The clock ticks for those still alive but no new ones coming through. We’ll have the place to ourselves. No big battle, no inter-stellar war, no shock and awe. We keep your cities, buildings, art, everything mankind has achieved. All we gotta do is sit patiently and wait it out.’
‘Who’s we?’ asks Jane.
‘Does it matter?’ the kid says smugly, that irritating grin again.
‘How many of you are there?’ I ask.
‘Couple of hundred thousand, I think, possibly more, spread over the globe. We’re contractors working for the colonists, clearing the place before the rest come later, once you guys are fucked enough.’
The kid goes all serious suddenly, as if about to unburden a bigger secret.
‘Here’s the thing,’ says the kid, ‘Zygs aren’t meant to grow. They’re a device to stop your women having babies, render your females infertile, that’s all. The objective was to remove your species but not this way, no death, no suffering. Something went wrong with the batch of Zyg sperm they brought. But our contract commits us to eradicating your species within eighty or ninety years. Getting a fresh batch of Zyg sperm would take nearly that long. The contractor stands to lose a fortune through penalties and lost fees. So, the head honcho told us to press on regardless. What he’s doing is mega-illegal. It’s a bad call and the guy responsible shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.’
The door opens. It’s the guards, four of them, full Ninja kit. They take seats, one in each corner of the room, automatic weapons locked and loaded. There’s another twenty up top, in and outside the building. I go upstairs with Jane to check how they’re set up. I tell the guy in charge that I don’t know in what form an attack will take, only that it’s imminent.
I’m out on the pavement talking to him when I hear the bursts of automatic fire from inside. We all rush in, my gun already out of its holster before I hit the stairs. When we reach the basement all four of the guards are dead, sprayed with bullets. There is no way anything could have gotten past us on the stairs.
‘The cage,’ says Jane. I look at the cube of Titanium bars. It’s still locked but now empty. There is no corpse riddled with bullets lying on the floor in a pool of blood. I walk over to look inside. I see something. There’s a message written in pen on the wall, so small I have to unlock then go inside the cage to read it.
‘UV + IR = no vision. I’ll be in touch.’
I’m at the airport with a team, all tooled up, Hi-V Tasers, rifles and hand guns, Jane in tow. It didn’t take long to scratch together the kit we needed to modify the scanner in security. The guys are hiding well out of sight before I switch it on and we settle down to watch. It’s all local business, internal flights, very few kids. I’m getting bored when this little group shows up, Mom, Dad and a little boy, about eight I guess.
They dump their junk into plastic trays and shuffle on through at the back of the queue. My eyes are out on stalks. As they go through the X-Ray machine the kid reflects bright green on my screen. Is he an implant? I give the nod to the security guard and he pulls them from the queue.
‘What’s this all about?’ asks Pop all innocent, but I can see the fear on his face. The kid gawps up at me all cow eyes.
‘Just a few security questions, sir. Nothing to worry about,’ I say, shepherding the little party towards the area where my men are hunkered down. I take them into a small glass cubicle where there’s a table with the color test already set up. Pop still plays dumb but Mom is now very edgy.
‘We’ll miss our flight,’ she bleats, holding the boy’s hand tighter.
‘What’s his name?’ I ask her, gently separating their hands and steering the boy towards the table.
‘I’m called Michael-John,’ he says, all pride, arms straight down by his side. I talk directly to the kid.
‘I want you to do a little test for me Michael-John, answer a few questions.’
‘Oh…kay,’ he says in a sing-song voice.
Pop by now is showing no interest. He wanders over to the security guard and starts to chew the fat.
‘Look at the dot in the centre of the…’
Pop’s lifted the gun from the security guard and put one through his head. He swings it round towards me.
‘Run Mikey run!’ he yells. The kid doesn’t need telling twice.
A slug zings past my head cutting a red line along the side of my temple. The kid is off in a bound, the cow eyes now blazing red with fear and rage like a trapped tiger. Mom screams and leaps at Jane, tearing at her face with her nails. My gun is out, and I let two shots off, both hitting Pop in the chest. He drops like a stone.
Sweet little Mikey boy crashes through a window, nearly taking a guard’s head off with the flying glass. Jane flips over Mom and slugs her like a pro boxer. Mom’s out of the game. One of my guys tackles the kid and brings him down but the kid turns real vicious and takes out both his eyes with its thumbs before it’s up again. But it’s slowed down just long enough. The prongs of a Hi-V smack into the thing’s back and it bucks into the air then lands twitching and foaming at the mouth on the departure lounge floor.
I wipe the blood from the side of my head.
‘We gotta get slicker at this,’ I say to Jane as she dabs at her grazed knuckles with a hand wipe.
The sheriff, Jane and me are sitting at the meeting room table. The Chief is on speaker.
‘We gotta keep this quiet as long as we can,’ he says, ‘We don’t want folks to know we have a new way of identifying the implants. They’ll only hide the kids deeper.’
‘Is it possible to make mobile units?’ asks Jane, ‘Then we can take them to schools, do the screening there.’
‘Mobile units are a good idea. I’ll get on that, but we can’t screen at the schools. We’d risk the other kids’ lives if one goes berserk like that fucker in the airport.’
‘Not if we gear up for it,’ I chime in, ‘We set up the kit on a low loader. We take each class separately and pass the kids well separated, one at a time through the detector. We make the exit through a Titanium cage. We can screen off the bars, dress it up so it looks real innocent. If we find an implant we snap the cage and fry it right there.’
The chief thinks for a while.
‘Okay, I’ll get a team of engineers on it. I’ll get back to you with the timings.’
He’s gone, no goodbyes. He’s looking at a ton of work.
I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. Things are on the up. We now know how to identify and remove the implants that already exist. Word will spread. Soon every town, every city and those abroad will be set up to scrub society clean of these abominations. But for how long? If there are folks out there fogging Zyg sperm into the air every night the problem will never go away. The kid in the cage was right. That’s the real issue, how to catch and fry those bastards.
Jane is watching the news on the TV in her parlor while I cook us a meal, nothing fancy. We’re too tired. She’s invited me to stay over but it’s just business.
‘Ready when you are,’ I call over as I put the dishes in place at the table.
We’re sitting opposite each other. She looks stunning all scrubbed up.
‘Here’s to our success,’ I say as we chink glasses.
‘Cheers!’ she says, smiling right up to her eyes.
‘Cheers!’ The voice comes from behind us.
We both nearly crap ourselves. We turn and there it is, our little teenage pal, leaning against the mantelpiece. Shit! My gun is where it always is when I’m off duty, tucked safely away in my jacket hanging in the hall.
‘It’s okay,’ says the kid, ‘You’re perfectly safe.’
The kid is mocking us.
‘Haven’t you guys figured it out yet? I can plant visions in your heads. Old Pop’s cellar and those canisters. What you saw was what I did when I’d found them.’
He answers a question neither of us ask.
‘My escape? I was still in the cage. I just made you see it empty. Oh, and thanks for opening the door. I walked out right behind you.’
‘Did you kill those guards?’ I ask.
‘They weren’t all your guards. One was a contractor sent to kill me. I was lucky. I planted visions with the real guards in the nick of time, their worst nightmares. They shot the fuck out of the assassin.’
‘Yeah, and got slaughtered themselves,’ put in Jane.
‘Collateral damage,’ said the kid with a shrug, as if their lives were inconsequential.
‘How did you get in?’ I ask.
‘Just walked in with you. You can’t see me unless I want you to.’
‘If that’s true how did you ever get caught?’ asks Jane.
‘The fucking cop Tasered me before I knew he was there. Embarrassing, a rookie mistake.’ It gets a little agitated, ‘Enough, we’ve got bigger things to talk about.’
‘Like?’ asks Jane.
‘Like this,’ says the kid, pulling a USB flash drive from his pocket, ‘The names, addresses, locations, photos, and descriptions of all the contractors on the planet. You have to get this to your government and convince them of what I’ve told you. You’ve got to get them to share it with every other government, send it round the world. They’ve gotta set up hit squads and clean them out. You’ve gotta tell them how to protect themselves, like I told you.’
‘Protect from what?’
It looks at me like I’m dumb.
‘From the visions! Otherwise your guys would go in guns blazing, shooting the fuck out of each other.’
Just as it puts the USB stick down on the table there’s a knock at the door. The kid looks uncomfortable.
‘Be careful,’ says the kid as I head to the door. I open it to a couple, mid forties, anxious faces.
‘Is Jane in?’
I call her to the door.
‘Hi,’ she says. They know one another.
‘Is Tommy here? We haven’t seen him since yesterday. We’re sick with worry.’
‘No,’ she lies, ‘I haven’t seen him either. He didn’t call to do my yard this morning.’
There is a noise behind us, a chair creaking, faint but enough. The woman looks at Jane scornful, reproachful. How could she lie to distraught parents?
‘Tommy? Is that you?’ calls the Dad. Our little teenager emerges from inside, squirming, shame faced and embarrassed.’
‘Tommy! I’m so angry at you. We’ve been going crazy. Where the hell have you been?’
It’s the real deal, concerned parents chastising their wayward son. We’ve been fooled. The kid walks past us and stands on the porch. His Mom grabs him, gives a little shake to show her anger then hugs him tight.
‘You’re grounded Son,’ says Dad.
The kid looks up at us, a tear in the corner of his eye.
‘Sorry,’ says the kid, ‘It was just a joke. I didn’t mean any harm.’
The parents apologize to Jane but half heartedly, as if she was the one more at fault. We watch them go up the street to their house, go inside and close the door. We can hear raised voices. The kid is getting the hide stripped off him.
When we go back to the table the USB stick is gone. The meal is cold but we eat it, neither of us speaking.
‘What the hell just happened?’ I say eventually.
‘Damned if I know,’ she says, ‘Did we see the kid at all earlier?’
‘That must have been real,’ I say, trying to figure it out, ‘How else would I have gotten your number?’
We sit in silence again, churning over events trying to sort out reality from, what? Imagination? Visions? For the need of something to say I ask Jane if she has an Infra Red bulb and an Ultra Violet bulb in the house. By a freak of luck she has.
‘Let’s see what he meant by the little scribble in the cage.’
‘If we were ever there,’ says Jane.
She gets the bulbs. I put one each into her hall lamps. I switch them on and open the front door. The kid was right. The combination of intensified UV and IR light at the same time neutralizes whatever the vision is. We can now see what is real. There, lying on the porch, is the mutilated body of the kid, face all chewed up, just like a Zyg attack. Jane shrieks with the shock and turns away in horror.
We go back inside, putting the lamps down on the parlor floor. I pull my mobile out and dial up the office to call it in.
‘Jake,’ she says while I’m waiting for the phone to be answered.
I look over towards Jane. She’s pointing at the table. It had been invisible to us moments earlier, but now, with us bathed in the light from both lamps, we can see it right there where the kid had put it, the USB flash drive.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ I say, picking it up, ‘We’ve got a lot of work to do.’
I slip my coat on and open the front door. To my horror the kid’s so called parents are stood there, not-so-friendly looks on their faces.
‘I think you have something that belongs to us,’ says the man.
‘You mean this,’ I say, reaching into my inside jacket pocket for my gun. Quick as a flash the man’s hand shoots out and grabs me by the throat. I pull out the gun, but the force of the man squeezing at my throat starts to make me lose consciousness. I feel that I’m fading fast. I try to point the gun at the man but the woman grabs my hand and tries to snatch it from me. Faster than lightening Jane is on the woman, tearing at her face with her teeth. The woman is on the ground, Jane on top of her, savagely biting at her face, blood and skin flying everywhere from the frenzied attack. The man looks on in shock. His grip loosens enough for me to gather the strength I need to push the gun against the side of his head.
He’s down and out of the game. I step over and put a bullet into the woman’s head, but it’s not needed. She’s already dead. Jane slowly turns her blood-spattered face towards me.
‘Don’t worry,’ she says, ‘I’m on your side. Like I said through the kid, what these bastards are doing is highly illegal. I’ll do everything I can to help you humans stop them getting away with it.’
End of Part One