I regain consciousness and immediately it’s bad news. I’m laid out on a gurney, flat on my back, naked, a single thin sheet across my stomach. I can hardly move, but not because I’m tied down in any way. My brain is screaming at my arms to push up and my legs to swing down off the thing so I can slug whoever’s pushing it and run like hell. But my body wants none of it. I can see the needle taped to my wrist and a cannula hanging off it. I figure out pretty quick that whoever’s snatched me has pumped a nice little cocktail of drugs through it into my body, and that I’m chemically paralyzed. Whoever they are, I’m completely at their mercy. I lie there watching the ceiling, white and clean. I think it’s some kind of medical facility. Lights float past above my head one by one. I’m in a long corridor being pushed fast. I think of Jane and how I was such a klutz to have trusted her. I promise myself that if I ever see that beautiful face of hers again I’ll put a couple of bullets through it straight away, no dialogue, just blam! blam! and thank you Ma’am.
The gurney is banged through rubber doors and I’m in an operating theatre, looking up at the big light surgeons use. Faces appear, all robed up, face masks across their jaws, mouths and noses, so I can’t see the features of the people about to do something unpleasant to me, folks I intend to kill if I ever escape from this alive.
Suddenly there’s a voice from behind the top of my head where I can’t see. It’s that same voice again, slow, disinterested, almost bored, English and oh-so-refined.
‘You’ll find this difficult to believe now, Mr. Redwood, but I promise you this is for your own good. I am on your side. You’ll come to know this pretty soon, so just relax. You’re in very capable hands.’
I can see one of the masked men attaching a syringe to the cannula. Moments later I feel the ice cold rush of the anesthetic as it heads towards my brain, the rumble in my head as it hits and then out go my lights, then nothing but that God-awful dream again.
Once again I’m sitting on a chair in that room, same bare brick walls, same darkness. Above my head hangs the single light bulb, swinging backwards and forwards as if it has just been hit. Once again I sense the shadowy movement of people. I try to move but I can’t. My hands, feet and head are locked down somehow. In the ever shifting light I look at my wrists. They are both bound tight to the arms of the chair by metal bands. I can see the needle stuck in a vein in my left wrist with a tube and syringe hanging from it. I can feel sweat and blood trickling down my cheek from my forehead across my mouth. I can feel the tight metal band gripping my head against the back of the chair and cutting into my forehead. The air is cold and damp, and I’m drenched in sweat. One of the shadows moves forward and pulls at my eyelids, then holds a pen-torch near my eyes, dazzlingly bright, adding a little more to my pain. I know what is coming, what will be said.
‘He’s coming out!’
‘Do something.’ The voice comes from behind me but this time I know who it is, my new friend with the English accent, ‘If he dies…well, I hardly dare think about the consequences.’
Then, as suddenly as it came, the vision disappears, and the blackness of a deep, dreamless sleep takes over.
I don’t drift back to consciousness on a gentle breeze. Somebody slaps my face hard and I’m instantly back amongst the living and as mad as hell.
‘Come on! Wake up! We don’t have time for this.’
My eyes open, or more accurately my eye opens, the one attacked by Harvey is squeezed shut and I can feel some sort of dressing over it plastered to my face. When I hit consciousness, what do you think the first thing I see is? My old pal Jane. She’s the one whacking me around the face. I swing a punch at her but she steps back, as nimble as a dancer, and my fist arcs through thin air and collides noisily and painfully with the metal side of the bed I’m laying on. It hurts like hell but I make a monumental effort not to let it show.
I’m in some sort of hospital ward, clean and warm, medical claptrap all around the bed I’m laying on, no sheets over me. I’m fully clothed again, shirt and pants washed and pressed. The room is small with only three beds, the other two empty.
‘I’ll bet you’ve eaten all my grapes too,’ I say, glaring at Jane with my one good eye.
‘Quit goofing around,’ she snaps at me. Goofing around? If she comes within arms reach I’ll throttle the life out of her.
‘She’s right,’ says the Englishman as he walks into the room, closing the door behind him. I can see him much clearer now, even if I can only use one eye. He’s about sixty, well groomed, grey, thinning hair, and a face that looks like a walnut, craggy and weather beaten. He looks as if he’s carrying all the cares of the world on his shoulders, but his eyes are crystal blue and bright, sharp and alert to everything.
‘I asked you once, I’ll ask you again,’ I say, ‘Who the fuck are you?’
He doesn’t answer as he pulls a chair over from beside the wall and positions it at the side of my bed. So I get bold, jump straight in and ask, ‘Are you Krillik?’
He makes an involuntary noise deep in his throat, half laugh, half snort of derision. Whatever it is, laugh or sneer, it doesn’t reach his eyes. They are fixed on me, hard and determined.
‘No, Mr. Redwood, and forgive me for being so rude. You’d find what you just asked funny if…or perhaps not. You Americans don’t appreciate irony as much as other cultures. No, let me reassure you I am not Krillik. My name is Noone.’
‘…a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Noone,’ I say in a pathetic attempt at a mock English accent, ‘I presume you already know this lying, shoot-you-in-the-back, treacherous bitch here.’ I nod in Jane’s direction. Surprisingly she looks hurt.
‘Yes, I know Miss Krieff, and don’t be too hard on her, Mr. Redwood. What she did was for your own safety, in your best interests and to further our endeavors. She had little choice in the matter.’
‘Pass me the bed pan,’ I say, real sarcastic, ‘I’ll swallow anything.’
He smiles to himself then says, ‘Do you think if someone, a perfect stranger, in the midst of all this turmoil, had approached you and asked you to submit to an operation you’d have said yes?’
I think about what he said for a moment. He may have a point but what operation did I need that was so imperative that I had to be subdued by a bolt in the back from a Hi-V then taken by force? And if Jane knew what the hell was going on, why didn’t she tell me about it, try to persuade me, or at least forewarn me?
‘Where am I,’ I ask, but I don’t expect an honest answer. If I’ve learnt anything from the last couple of days it’s not to believe a word you hear, anything you see, and trust no one…no one? Noone! Is this person a human, an alien or a vision? My anxiety shifts up another notch.
‘You’re in a military hospital,’ says Noone, ‘but more than that I can’t tell you yet. We’ve done a little work on your injured eye, I trust you don’t mind. It wasn’t why we brought you here but it proved very useful to us indeed.’
‘In what way?’
‘We found this,’ he says. He produces from his jacket inside pocket a small box, like the ones wedding rings are sold in. He takes off the lid. Inside is packed with cotton wool, slightly blood stained. In the middle of the cotton wool is a small spherical object, about the size of a peppercorn but grey, shiny, metallic looking.
‘Guess where we found it?’ he says, but doesn’t wait for my answer, ‘Behind the back of your eyeball. It was lodged right at the back beside the optic nerve. Now I’ll bet you can guess how it got there.’
‘Remember I said about magician’s tricks,’ jumps in Jane, ‘That’s what Harvey did in that restaurant. He knew he was finished. His attempted suicide was all a diversion to distract from what he was really doing. When he clawed at your eye he wasn’t trying to prevent you from stopping him choking himself. That little sphere was probably under his fingernail. He was planting it there, behind your eye, deep out of sight in a hiding place nobody would ever think to look.’
I try to take this piece of information on board but it’s sheer madness. Harvey killed himself as a distraction while hiding whatever this Goddam thing was at the back of my eye! Yet there’s some logic in it. Harvey was fucked. His Zyg kid had just been blown away. His wife was finished. Whatever deal he had going with Krillik was probably screwed as well. So, whatever this thing is, is probably what’s so important to Krillik. Was old Harv a good guy, passing this thing along discreetly so we can work out what it is and prevent Krillik from completing his contract? Or, was Harvey one of the bad guys, hiding something vital that could help save mankind somewhere it would never be found?
‘What the hell is it?’ I ask. I reach out a hand to touch it by Noone pulls the box out of my reach. It’s Jane that answers.
‘You use USB flash drives for storing and moving large amounts of data between devices. We use these. They’re called ‘seeds.’’
‘What’s on it?’ I ask. It’s Noone that answers.
‘We don’t know as yet. We’ve only just recovered it and found out what it is, thanks to Jane.’
‘We need to get hold of a device that can read it,’ adds Jane, ‘I don’t have one with me, so we need to catch a Torp or a Dreek. The chances are they’ll have one on them, the same way as if we lifted someone at random from the street the odds are they’d have a smart phone in their pocket.’
‘So, the reader is like a mobile phone then?’ I ask.
‘It’s a tiny machine, another marvel of nano-technology, part organic, part circuitry. You slot the sphere inside the reader then slip it deep inside your ear. It connects directly with your brain. It’s just as if you’d sat down in front of a computer screen except the pictures, sounds or whatever are sensations experienced inside your head.’
‘Should Apple be concerned about this?’ I joke, but I can see by their faces it’s neither the time nor place for levity.
‘So, if I grab a Dreek and pick his ears and find one of these things, I’d just have to drop in that little ball, shove it in my ear and whatever’s on there would be revealed, right?’
‘Wrong,’ says Jane, ‘You’d most likely blow your brain. You’d be a gibbering wreck in seconds. Humans aren’t wired the same way as Dreeks and Torps. I’d have to read it for you.’
‘…and of course, I’d trust you to tell the truth about whatever’s on there. Hell, Jane, if I’ve leaned anything over the last couple of days it’s how much I trust you.’
‘I saved your life, you ungrateful bastard,’ she snaps, her eyes blazing anger.
‘For what?.. a Taser in the back followed by non-consensual surgery? Before you found that little peppercorn what the fuck did you plan to do to me?’
Noone stands up, and for the first time speaks with a little passion in his voice, ‘Vivisection, Mr. Redwood…we were going to cut up your brain while you were still awake, under local anesthetic, of course. We’re not sadists. But Jane persuaded us there was a better way. That’s why you’re still with us now.’
My jaw nearly hits the floor, ‘What the fuck…?’
‘Krillik wants you dead, we don’t know why,’ says Noone, ‘We don’t know what you have that is so important to him that he’d send the forces he commands out to kill you. If he would happily see you dead then we need to keep you alive. If it was the other way round, if Krillik was desperate to keep you alive, then we’d have killed you by now. But what is buried deep in your head, in your memory perhaps, that poses such a huge risk to Krillik if we find out what it is? We figured that if we pumped you full of Sodium Pentothal then electrically stimulated your exposed brain you might tell all. When we found the seed hidden behind your eye Jane stopped us moving on to the next stage of our plan. She argued that whatever we were looking for would be on that little peppercorn as you called it. Once again, you owe her your life, Mr. Redwood.’
‘Who the hell are you people?’ I shout at Noone, ‘What gives you the right, the authority to…to…’
‘This is war,’ snaps Noone, ‘and not just any old skirmish over borderlines. This is the war, the fight for the survival of the human race against alien invaders. What gives me the right? Your planet is being invaded by aliens intent on wiping your species off the face of the Earth. These invaders have already caused untold misery across your planet. You have to fight back. You of all people, an ex soldier, you should know your life isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit if its sacrifice advances your species’ cause, even by a fraction.’
‘Fine words, but you still haven’t told me who you are and by who’s authority you’d have fucked with my brain till I was dead or no better than a cabbage.’
He looks at me sideways, as if he can’t make out whether I’m serious or joking.
‘You know where the authority comes from. If you don’t, work it out. You’re supposed to be a detective.’
It was like Jane’s talking to me, half scolding, half cajoling me to get off my butt and put my lazy brain into gear.
‘Get up,’ snaps Jane, throwing my jacket across my chest, ‘We’ve got a Dreek to catch.’
‘Why the hell should I risk my life?’ I say, pushing the coat onto the floor.
‘Because Krillik still wants you and Jane dead,’ says Noone, ‘and he won’t stop coming after you two till he gets what he wants…and he has a lot of resources to throw at the job. Your best hope for survival is to work with us, Mr. Redwood…er, Red.’
‘Stick with Mr. Redwood till I trust you,’ I say as I slide off the bed, pick up my coat and say to Jane, ‘What’s your plan?’
But it’s Noone that answers, ‘Obvious. Use you two as bait.’
As plans go, this one sucks.
We have a nice new car to drive, a luxury SUV, a bright red Hummer. Expense is obviously no object when it comes to drawing attention to the sacrificial lambs. Jane is driving as I still can’t see properly. Noone leads us through the hospital building out through a door into a car park where we’re given our nice new rig. We drive up a spiral exit ramp and I figure wherever the hospital is it has to be buried at least four floors below street level. We emerge into bright, early morning sunlight onto quiet suburban streets God knows where, Washington probably.
I could care less. I’m back on the street again with an alien killer and his army of Dreeks hunting for me, with nobody left in the world I can trust. I’m going along with all Noone’s guff as if I’m on board. I figure it’s my best road out of the grips of this bastard and his tribe, but I plan to put a slug into Jane’s head at the first opportunity, then make my way somehow to the White House. If I can get my story in front of the President then perhaps I can get help I can trust. Jane starts with the ‘don’t blame me’ sob story as we drive.
‘If I hadn’t have done it, someone else would,’ she says.
‘What? Shot me in the back with a Hi-V? Nice.’
‘I had no choice,’ she says, half angry because I don’t just up and believe her.
‘You know Noone. That’s clear. So, why don’t you tell me about him, and whatever else you know about what’s going on you’ve kept from me?’
‘I know Noone, I’ll admit.’
‘Does it matter?’
‘Of course it fucking matters!’ I yell at her. It makes my eye throb a little, so I cool it. She doesn’t answer, so we drive in silence for a while.
‘Well?’ I say, this time calmly.
‘You’re not going to like this,’ she says before another long pause, ‘I got to you through Tommy. Tommy was the device I used to get you involved in all of this, making out he was a whistleblower who wanted to come clean about some pretty bad things going down that he knew about. I would have hidden behind Tommy had those two Torps pretending to be Tommy’s folks not attacked us. Then I had no choice. I had to come clean with you. I was the whistleblower. But that wasn’t the truth either.’
What is the truth?’ I ask after another pause, ‘Are you really an alien?’
‘Most of what I’ve told you is absolutely the truth,’ she protests, ‘Yes, I’m an alien, to you humans anyway, and I am a contractor, here to do exactly what I told you I was supposed to do.’
‘So which part is the lie?’
There’s another long pause before she speaks.
‘I work for Noone, not Krillik.’
‘What the fuck?’
‘Noone is what you would call an alien, just like I am. He’s been here over thirty years, deeply embedded in your society, gradually working his way into a position of power down here.’
‘This is just wonderful,’ I say in disbelief but knowing it’s probably the truth, ‘Go on. Tell me more.’
‘Noone doesn’t work for Grow. He’s a sort of independent observer, working for the highest authority there is out there where I come from. It’s the supreme judiciary. It’s called The Powers, and it rules us all. Noone carries it’s authority in the office he holds. He’s here to ensure that the extinction of mankind is carried out strictly by the book.’
‘What a nice guy,’ I say, but think, ‘What a piece of shit!’
‘It’s easy to be judgmental, but the situation is much more complicated that your brain can understand.’
I almost give her a swipe across the side of her face but control myself. My time will come soon. She may be beautiful but right now I’m looking forward to putting a hole in the side of her head.
‘Try your best to explain it to a Neanderthal like me,’ I say, biting down my rage.
‘Grow’s project should have terminated in the early twentieth century. Fogging Zyg sperm was due to start in 1920, but you guys had a huge fucking war which knocked the project off plan. So it was put back twenty years. Lo and behold you started another world war just as the termination date approached. The real estate was trashed, city after city bombed to rubble. There was no point in terminating the project then either. Grow would never have recouped their investment. So Grow applied for and was given an extension license, this time for fogging to start in 2010.
There was a huge risk on Grow’s part in doing this. In 1940 the development of human capability was right on the limit of what is permissible to get the go-ahead to carry out the genocide of your species. You were still considered primitive, developed under license by Grow and their property. Grow took a chance that the second world war would set back the development of human society by at least 100 years, pegging the species at about the same level it was back in 1940. But it went the other way. The war was a massive stimulant to human technology and culture. Your species rocketed forward to a point now where The Powers would deny any license to carry out the genocide of mankind for corporate profit, despite Grow owning the human DNA copyright.’
‘…if they find out. But Krillik has blocked all communications from here back home. None of his guys transported back would blow the whistle to either Grow or The Powers. They’d risk losing huge bonuses or worse, their lives. Krillik would kill them.’
‘What about Noone? If he’s independent of Krillik’s team why doesn’t he blow the whistle?’
‘How? Krillik’s blocked all transmissions back home. Noone is a one off, a lone operator. He carries the authority of The Powers but it’s like a lone cop in the projects surrounded by thugs with guns and knives.’
‘…who can’t call for back-up?’
‘How come you work for Noone?’
‘Noone was sent down thirty years ago by The Powers. Krillik didn’t know he was down here monitoring the run up to the start of the fogging. Noone saw that mankind had tipped over the point by which they could legally be wiped out, and recognized their right to independent existence. He sent a report to The Powers to that effect. This report was in stark contrast to the hundreds of project update reports sent by Krillik to Grow. They all said the real estate was ripe for harvesting and humans had yet to reach a development level sufficient for the right to exist as a non copyrighted species. Grow gave the go-ahead to start fogging the Zyg sperm. Somehow rumors reached The Powers about what was happening down here, the polluted sperm, the implants and the suffering. I was sent under cover by The Powers, hired by Grow then sub-contracted to work for Krillik on this project to do exactly what I told you. I made contact with Noone about two months ago. When I found out what was really going on I tried to get shuttled back home so I could tell the truth but Krillik was too smart for me. He suspected I was up to something and let me know he’d overwritten my portal packet.’
‘What the hell does that mean?’
‘It means that if I ever used a portal down here it would de-construct my body but not transmit the packet of code for re-assembly on arrival at the other end. In short I would be disintegrated.’
‘Not a man to cross,’ she says, giving me one of her enigmatic sideways glances.
‘So Noone was lying when he said he didn’t know what that thing was behind my eye.’
‘Absolutely not. Technology is moving fast back home too. He’s been down here thirty years. He’d never seen one before. If you’d seen an iPhone thirty years ago what would you think it was?’
‘Fair point,’ I say, but I’m not really convinced. Are they really just like us?
‘So, who else works for Noone?’
‘Nobody, just me.’
‘Then who did the surgery on me?’
‘Think it through, Jake,’ she says, looking at me as if I was an idiot. It was obvious once I applied my brain power. Noone can use anyone he likes to do anything he likes. He doesn’t need a bunch of helpers. It’s just a matter of which vision he uses, on who and when.
‘Dreeks!’ she suddenly says, ‘…four of them coming up fast from behind us.’
I adjust the passenger side mirror so I can see the traffic coming up. There is a saloon car weaving in and out of the lanes moving very fast. I pull my gun out and breathe deep to try and relax.
‘Pull off at the next junction,’ I say, and Jane swerves onto the slip road we’ve almost passed, ‘Do we want them dead or alive?’
‘Dead will do,’ she says without a second thought, the heartless bitch.
I see in the mirror the car follows us, all blue rubber clouds, honking horns and screeches as it barges through a line of traffic to make the turn in time. As we approach the top of the slip road I shout to Jane, ‘Stop!’ She jams on the brakes and we screech to a dead stop near the top of the slip road.
I figure I’ll roll out of the Hummer and pop one in the driver’s face as he thunders towards us, easy-peasy. When the Dreek’s car hits the slip road wall I can pop the rest of them in the car like sitting ducks. If only life was that easy. I spot the highway patrolman’s Harley screaming up the slip road after the Dreeks, lights flashing and siren wailing. He pulls alongside the Dreeks’ car and flags it down, pulling in front of it with the Harley. They stop about twenty yards down the slip road from us.
The stupidity of the situation strikes me as funny. Here we are ready for a gun battle with aliens as part of a plan that just might save mankind, and here’s this traffic cop in between us about to blow it all by trying to give the aliens a speeding ticket. The cop slowly dismounts from The Harley and takes a couple of steps towards the Dreeks in the car, a small black box, an electronic ticket generator, in his hand. I have my gun ready as I slide out of the passenger seat. This rookie needs help before the alien Neanderthals waste him. Before the cop reaches the Dreeks their engine starts revving like crazy. The next thing I see is the Dreeks’ car screaming back down the slip road in reverse burning rubber and swerving backwards onto the highway, cars skidding everywhere. A few seconds later and they’re gone, lost in the traffic.
The cop goes crazy, jumping up and down and cursing, but he doesn’t pull his gun or set off after them. Instead he runs back to the Harley, grabs the radio and calls it in. I stand by the Hummer door watching this little show, while Jane stays put in the driver’s seat, engine purring, ready to skedaddle in case more Dreeks reappear in front of us at the top of the slip way.
The cop finishes his call and looks over to me.
‘Did you see that?’ he shouts.
‘With this patch?’ I point at the dressing on my eye, ‘Didn’t see a thing.’
I start to open the passenger door to get back in the Hummer, but the cop holds up his hand to stop me.
‘Wait a minute, sir,’ he says as he walks up the slip road towards the Hummer, ‘I’ll need to take your details. If we catch those folks, likely you’ll be called as witnesses when it comes to court.’
I don’t have the time for this, ‘Sorry, my friend, I’m an SOS officer on official business.’ I climb back in the car but he’s at the rear of the Hummer by now.
‘We don’t have time for this jerk,’ I say to Jane and she puts the Hummer into gear. The cop bangs on the roof of the Hummer as we speed away and shouts, ‘Hey! Hold up a minute!’ but we’re gone. I look back at the cop in the rear view mirror as we reach the top of the slip road. He’s standing in the middle of the slip road in front of the Harley, just looking at us.
‘Hold on,’ I say to Jane, and she stops the car just before the junction.
‘Something isn’t right here.’ I’ve got that itch that cops get when something doesn’t quite fit but you just can’t grasp what it is. Then it hits me. The cop’s hands are empty. Where the fuck is the ticket generator? We’ve been suckered.
‘Out of the car!’ I yell at Jane. She doesn’t need telling twice and leaps out. We both sprint for the concrete barrier separating the slip road from the embankment. We both dive high and throw ourselves over the edge of it just as the pristine sparkling new Hummer explodes with a sickening blast and such force that it blows us clean over the barrier and half way down the embankment. We’re still tumbling down when the cop’s head appears over the barrier. Seconds later he opens up with an automatic pistol from the top of the embankment, and a stream of bullets whistle past our ears. Luckily we’re up and moving fast towards the sanctuary of the concrete supports for the road crossing the highway. We make the first stanchion and take shelter behind it just as a hail of slugs pounds into the column. I can see the cop climbing over the barrier and reloading as he starts sliding down the slippery grass embankment towards us, moving fast.
We both turn to make a break for the highway to flag down a car and get the hell away from there, but something stops us in our tracks. There at the bottom of the embankment under the bridge is a parked car, the car that was chasing us a few minutes ago, with four Dreeks ready to climb out of it, automatic weapons in their hands. I see Jane’s eyes close just for a moment and her head cock to one side.
The four doors on the car are wide open and the Dreeks are clambering out, just about to start firing when a petrol tanker slams into the Dreeks’ car. The tanker is hurtling along at about sixty miles an hour when it collides with the parked car, and bulldozes it along the hard shoulder. After about fifty yards the car starts to twist then flips so it’s upturned onto its roof sliding along mangled into the front of the tanker, a shower of sparks flying everywhere. The whole mess ploughs into a bridge stanchion and moments later there is the most horrendous explosion as the tanker bursts into a huge ball of flames.
The shock wave momentarily pins us to the floor and, luckily for us, blows the cop off his feet. He’s still lying on the wet grass in a daze when Jane and I start to run towards him. He sees us closing in on him and lifts his automatic, swinging it round to aim at us. He lets go a burst of gunfire, but he can’t hold the weapon straight. He’s struggling to get up on one elbow while sliding down the greasy embankment on his back. The slugs fly harmlessly into the air as he frantically tries to roll over. It’s uphill and the grass is greasy for us too, but you get more traction when you’re standing and running uphill. My lungs are bursting with the climb by the time we pass the cop, but I still find the split second I need. I stop and put two slugs into the bastard’s face, one in each eye, a little fountain of blood pouring out of each of them. Jane stops beside the body and pulls off the dead cop’s helmet. She puts her index finger against his right ear. I can hardly believe what I see. A silver liquid slides out of the dead cop’s ear and rolls over her finger till it covers it completely. Then it instantly changes to the same color as her skin. She holds it out towards me so I can see. At the tip of her finger is another little peppercorn, another data seed. She smiles at me and I understand it’s mission accomplished. We have a data reader.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ she says, but I don’t need to be told.
The heat from the burning Hummer is intense as we clamber over the barrier back onto the slip road. It’s a ball of twisted metal with flames and black smoke billowing out of it shooting yards into the air. I can hear the screech of sirens in the distance, cops, real ones this time probably. It’s the cops that usually arrive first, then the fire trucks and ambulances. I don’t want to hang around and waste useful time giving explanations so as soon as we reach the top of the slip road I select the vehicle we’ll need, a pick-up truck, some goon rubber necking to see what the fire is all about. I step in front of the pick-up and point my gun at the goon’s face. He jams on his breaks, and stops milliseconds before I’m flattened, his eyes out on stalks. Seconds later he’s sat on his ass by the side of the road with a bewildered expression on his face and Jane is gunning the pick-up down the next slip road back onto the highway.
‘There’s a city centre sign,’ she says after a few minutes, pointing to an overhead gantry, ‘We need to find a subway station. It’s time we went underground for a while.’
‘Why didn’t you pick up on that cop being a Torp?’ I ask as we slow down and blend into the suburban traffic.
‘His helmet,’ she says, ‘It must have been shielding his pulse. Anyway, why didn’t you pick up that he wasn’t a real cop?’
‘He may well have been a real cop. Looked just like one to me.’
‘Yeah,’ she says, ‘A traffic cop who carries limpet bombs.’
She spots a subway sign and the underground car park next to it. Driving like a nun she maneuvers across the lanes of traffic and points the car down the ramp, tugging out a ticket at the barrier. She doesn’t want the goon that ‘loaned’ us his pick-up to get a parking fine. So thoughtful!
We’re standing on the subway platform. There’s a few folks about but it’s not particularly busy, so we sit and talk on a bench, as the next train heading downtown isn’t for ten minutes. I would really like to go to the restroom to clean up, my ass is caked in mud and my jacket ripped in places, but I don’t want to let Jane out of my sight. Last time I did that I wound up on an operating table after being zapped in the back with a Hi-V. She looks beautiful, even though she’s as grubby as hell from the last tangle with Dreeks, but she’s not a lady I trust yet. I ease the dressing off my eye and throw it in the waste bin nearby. My eye throbs a little and the light hurts for a few seconds. I blink a few times and the film of gunk clears from my eyeball. I can see okay.
‘Not much bruising,’ says Jane as she examines my face, ‘You look fine.’
We sit beside each other on an empty bench.
‘I’ve been thinking about the missile attack on the portal,’ I say as an opener, ‘The President is the only one in the country that can authorize an air strike on US soil. It follows that he must know about Krillik and what’s going on. At least something Harvey told us was true.’
‘It wasn’t the work of the President,’ she says looking at me in astonishment, ‘It’s obvious who called in that hit. Don’t you understand anything yet?’
‘My apologies for being a dumb ass, but enlighten me. Was it Krillik?’
‘Could have been. It’s easy enough for him. All he has to do is pop a vision into a fighter pilot’s head. There are fighter jets armed to the teeth flying over Washington twenty four seven. He could have made them believe they were authorized to strike and gave them the co-ordinates. If he’d done that the crew’d get a bit of a surprise when they got shot out of the air a few minutes later by their buddies, that’s all. But it wasn’t Krillik. Think it through. Why would he want to destroy a portal, especially when he’s moving his contractors out?’
‘Hell, I don’t know. I saw the Dreeks lining up down there at the portal, so Krillik is definitely bailing out. Surely that must be a good thing, right? If he’s gathering up his crew and skedaddling then we’ve got him on the run.’
‘Christ, you’re so naïve,’ she says, not hurtfully. She puts her hand on my knee and pats it gently, as near affectionate as I can imagine from this treacherous alien killer.
‘So, he may be leaving this planet, but that doesn’t mean he’s giving up and going home. There are millions of places out there he can hang out and bide his time.’
‘Bide his time for what?’
‘Like I said before, plan B,’ she says, her face darkening slightly.
‘What the hell is plan B?’
‘Plan A is where the contractors rid the Earth of humans over the next fifty to sixty years. Plan B is where the humans kill themselves off over the next few weeks. It’s done using a magic bullet, something that will kill off the humans but leave all the real estate intact. Hey-presto job done and no laws broken. Deduct the clean-up costs of getting rid of billions of dead bodies and Krillik still gets a fat bonus for bringing the project in years ahead of schedule.’
I look at her, mouth agape. I can’t think of anything to say so she carries on.
‘There’s one big problem for Krillik though, actually there’s two. Firstly, how does he persuade the human race to wipe itself out? Secondly, what magic bullet does mankind have in its arsenal that won’t damage the valuable real estate but will kill every human on this planet? It would have to be something that looks like a natural disaster or as a result of a war. That’s the only way Krillik could avoid raising the suspicion he was behind it, and body swerve being executed back home by The Powers for illegal genocide?’
I still can’t think of anything to say. Her story is overwhelming. We sit in silence for a few minutes. Eventually the train rumbles into the station and we stand up and step across the platform towards it. As it thunders past us, the rush of wind blowing Jane’s hair across her face momentarily, I shout over the rattle and hum to her.
‘So tell me, who did call in the air strike on the portal?’
She gives me that look, the look that lets me know she thinks I’m stupid.
‘Isn’t it obvious?’ she says as the train’s brakes squeal and bring it to a stop in front of us, ‘…you did.’
End Of Part Six