Jane glances back over her shoulder to look at me just for a fraction of a second. Then she says, ‘Don’t worry about the Zygs. Kill the driver.’
I understand. The guy on the school bus is controlling the Zygs. If I can plug him without getting attacked then we’re safe. I know Jane can handle herself so I take out my gun and, holding it with both hands, skirt around the edges of the kitchen to the rear exit, my eyes fixed on the little scene on the floor. The Zyg doesn’t take its eyes off Jane.
I’m at the rear entrance. Jane and the Zyg are feet apart, eyes locked. Suddenly the Zyg launches itself off the chest of the dead guy with ferocious power, screaming as it leaps at Jane’s face. I’m frozen for that moment, transfixed, unable to do my job. Faster than lightning Jane side steps the Zyg, grabbing it mid flight by the back of its neck and seat of its pants. She swings the thing around, its legs and hands kicking and clawing at her, its head lunging at her face. Jane grips the wriggling and kicking kid tight, takes a step towards the cooking range and plunges it face first into the deep fat fryer, pushing it in hard by the seat of its pants. It’s all over in seconds. The screaming stops.
In all my years as a soldier and then an SOS cop, all the horrors I’ve seen, this was the worst. I know a Zyg isn’t a kid, isn’t human, but to see that thing, the image of a small child, pushed face first into boiling oil was horrific. My stomach tightens and I retch, then throw up onto the kitchen floor.
‘We haven’t got time for that,’ says Jane, pushing me through the door into the cold, sweet fresh air of the morning outside.
The rear of the building is deserted, no cars in the lot out back. It’s cold. I can see my breath turning to vapor as I suck in the sweet air.
Jane hisses in my ear, ‘Just the driver…don’t kill the kids. They might not all be Zygs.’
I hiss back, ‘You killed him once already today. Can these things regenerate in some way?’
‘I didn’t kill this one,’ is all she says.
We edge towards the corner of the building so we can see the school bus. A vehicle pulls into the car park. It’s a delivery van, a frozen foods truck.
‘Plan B,’ says Jane as she edges us back towards the rear entrance. She puts her head back inside to check there’s nobody in the kitchen just as the truck pulls to a stop in a space near us.
‘Give me your badge,’ whispers Jane.
I slip my hand in my pants pocket and pull out the wallet with my SOS badge and give it to her. She flips it open, holds it towards the cab as she walks over to the driver.
‘Environmental Health,’ she says as she taps on the driver’s window, ‘I need to check your delivery.’
‘What?’ says the driver, taken on the hop, ‘Never had one of these before.’
He shakes his head and opens the cab door, sliding out to stand next to Jane.
‘Keys,’ says Jane, and the guy hands them over without a fight.
‘Wait inside till we’ve done,’ says Jane to the driver.
‘Hope I get a free breakfast out of this,’ he grumbles as he slouches past me and through the rear door into the diner.
‘Get in,’ she hisses at me as she jumps up into the driver’s seat.
Just as she fires up the engine we hear a scream from inside the diner. The rear door flies open and the driver comes tumbling out, a Zyg locked on to his face, a girl in school uniform, her hands clasped around his head, her teeth tearing lumps out of his face. He falls backwards onto the tarmac, the Zyg biting and tearing his flesh. He’s gone, already as good as dead. I lean out the window and put a slug through both their heads as Jane spins the truck round and screams towards the exit.
But we’re a fraction too late. The school bus lurches forward then screeches to a halt blocking the only exit back onto the freeway. In a flash the driver is out of the cab and crouching on the ground. He points an automatic weapon at us and releases a hail of bullets. I can hear kids screaming in the bus. Jane was right. Not all the kids are Zygs, just the ones that got off the bus. This bastard must have hi-jacked an early morning school run, confident there were enough Zygs on board.
We crouch low as the slugs shatter the windscreen and smack into the bonnet of the truck. A cloud of steam belches up from the truck’s busted radiator. Jane crunches the gears to get reverse and hammers the engine. We fly backwards as the bullets continue pounding the truck. Jane jams on the hand brake and spins the wheel. The truck nearly flips, but steadies itself. Moments later we’re flying in reverse towards the gunman crouching beside the bus.
We smack hard into the side of the bus, the driver screaming as he’s pinned between the two vehicles. Jane is down from the cab and round the front of the truck in a fraction of a second. She holds her gun straight out till it’s touching the driver’s head. I can hear the kids inside the bus screaming. I can see their terrified faces as they watch Jane and the driver through the window, whatever vision the driver had planted in their brains now gone. Jane looks up at them. Suddenly they’re calm, moving away from the window, behaving like kids do. Jane must have planted a vision of normality in their heads. She looks back to the driver.
Between gasps of pain he hisses, ‘Krillik won’t like this.’
‘Tough,’ she says and puts a slug through his head. His lights go out as a spurt of blood flies from the exit hole in his skull.
‘Look at his face,’ Jane says to me.
It’s not the cop she shot earlier but it could be his twin brother.
‘Remember the features,’ she says, ‘He’s a Dreek.’
‘A Dreek. They’re a racial type. They have distinct facial features, like your Orientals or Negros. The contractors employ them to do the dirty work. In India they have a caste system, the lowest being the untouchables. They do all the dirty jobs over there. These things do ours. About eighty percent of the contractors down here are Dreeks.’
Half an hour later we’re on the freeway in a stolen car heading for Washington, Jane at the wheel. I’m twitchy. If they could find us at Jane’s house and in that diner they must be able to track us somehow.
‘Maybe it’s my mobile,’ I say to myself as I take it out of my jacket pocket and turn it over in my hand.
‘They know where we are. They must have someone that can track my mobile.’
I wind down the window and just about to fling the phone into a field when Jane grabs my wrist and shouts, ‘No!’
I look at her in surprise.
‘We might need that,’ she says, but I can sense there’s yet another thing she hasn’t told me. I look at her and I know she’s hiding something.
‘It’s not the phone, is it?’ I say, looking hard into her eyes.
She comes clean, ‘No, it’s not your phone. It’s me. Krillik can track me.’
‘Who the fuck is Krillik?’
‘He’s the guy that runs the whole show, my boss…someone we both should be very afraid of.’
‘Okay,’ I say, parking this little gem for later, ‘So how come he knows where you are all the time?’
‘Not all the time,’ she says, ‘It’s hard to explain…’
‘To a mere human?’ I cut in sarcastically.
‘If you like,’ she snaps back.
‘Try me,’ I say, not even trying to sound friendly.
‘Our race has a…sort of biorhythm, a pulse. About every half hour we need to check in with others in our species. Whales and dolphins do it. They click or sing regularly in the sea, sending a signal to the others in their social group, touching base, letting each one know where the others are. What we do is similar. It’s an instinctive thing. I couldn’t stop doing it even if I wanted to. It’s deep in our brains.’
‘Brilliant. So, every half hour you tell the bad guys that are trying to kill us exactly where we are.’
‘I’m afraid so,’ she says, only slightly apologetically.
‘So, you’ll know where they are.’
‘Yes and no. I’ll know there’s someone in this or that area, but I won’t know who.’
‘…this or that area? How accurate is this pulse of yours?’
‘I can identify others like me up to a thousand miles from where I am, and pin the location to within about a square mile.’
‘The closer I get the more accurate I can pin point someone. Within a hundred miles I can narrow the location to about an acre, within a mile it becomes yards. That’s why I was pretty confident the guy in the cop’s uniform I wasted earlier was a Dreek…that and his facial features.’
‘How will this Krillik know it’s you?’
‘Each pulse is unique, like a mobile phone signal. Krillik is different to the rest of us. He’s at a higher level, both in authority and in mental development. He’s the only one on this planet that can identify a pulse and know who it’s from. There will be more attacks on us, Jake. It’s inevitable. Krillik will want to stop us getting in front of the President. No matter how far fetched our story might seem he can’t run the risk we’ll be believed. Right now he’ll be moving people, those we have the location data for, shifting them around so they can’t be traced.’
‘Let me guess, this Krillik tunes in to your location then picks the nearest Dreek and sends him gunning for you.’
‘Us,’ she says, reminding me we’re both being hunted, ‘Yep, that’s about the size of it. On the plus side, I can often tell when there’s a Dreek nearby.’
‘…and on the minus side?’
She glances at me before she answers, ‘They’re not all Dreeks.’
‘Go on,’ I say, not looking forward to what she’s going to say next.
‘Dreeks are the grunts. They’re not too bright. They’ll come for you but you can more or less predict what they’re going to do. The others, the ones like me, they’re much smarter. You won’t see them coming.’
‘So how come we’ve gotten this far? Why hasn’t Krillik sent some of these guys after us?’
‘Simple. Geography. They’re scattered all over the world. There’s only about five hundred spread across the states, mainly in the centers of highest population. You can bet your butt by now he’s got a few heading down here to find us.’
‘Why? We’re heading for the capital city. Won’t there be a couple hunkered down there, fogging Zyg sperm every night?’
‘So, what’s the plan?’
Here was I, always my own man, asking an alien what the hell we are going to do. In truth I was well within my comfort zone working my shift for the SOS, weeding out the implants. This, though, is a whole new ball game. I’m out of my depth and perhaps lucky to have survived the last couple of days. If it hadn’t been for Jane I’d be lying dead somewhere with my face chewed to shreds.
‘The starting point’s gotta be Harvey Keen. Somewhere between us talking to him on the conference call and now, word has got back to Krillik about us. Either Harvey Keen, or somebody close to him is a contractor.’
‘They vet their people real careful in the White House.’
‘Yes, but remember, this is an extremely long term project. It started ten thousand years ago. It’s nothing relative to the time and costs involved to have people put down here and work their way into high office. They’ve done this before on a number of other planets with well developed civilizations like you have here on Earth. They send their people down well ahead of the genocide crews, placing them in whatever power centers are potentially capable of jeopardizing the project. Hell, they could’ve put people down here forty, fifty years ago. Your President might even be working for Grow.’
I look at Jane.
‘How old are you?’
She glances at me, and her face breaks into a smile, the first I’ve seen from her in a while now.
‘What does that matter?’
‘Isn’t it considered indiscreet to ask a lady’s age in your society?’
‘It’s all relative,’ she says, the smile broadening.
‘If you must know, I’m thirty two, if you don’t count traveling time.’
‘…and if you do?’
‘I’m thirty two and eighteen light years. This is my first assignment.’
‘Jeez! That’s older than my Mom.’
‘Getting back to things that matter, can you find out where Harvey Keen lives? We might learn something by paying him a home visit.’
‘No problem but I’ll need access to a computer,’ I say, then to keep the mood light I add, ‘…thirty two and eighteen light years. You still got all your own teeth?’
It was meant as a joke, but she looks at me, face all serious.
‘You know damned well I have,’ she says, as I see the stupidity of what I’d said, and recall the irreparable damage Jane had done the previous evening to young Tommy’s so-called mother’s face.
We don’t speak for a few moments then I ask, ‘Why do you do it?’
‘The biting…kill that way?’
‘That’s how most meat eating predators kill. Jaws have strong muscles. You humans would naturally kill with your bite but that piece of your genetic code was snipped out of your DNA by Grow to encourage you to develop tools.’
I think about this for a moment but find it hard to get my head round what she says so I bury it down deep. I’m two or three clicks up the greasy pole from a grunt. I have no idea how to deal with information like this.
As much as we’d love to avoid diners of any sort, having had two really bad experiences in them lately, an hour later we’re sitting in an internet café. There are a few people about but no one to worry us. Jane grabs us some food while I use the computer in front of me to log in to the SOS system. If anybody our side is looking for me, by logging in they’ll know where I am. That doesn’t concern me too much. It’s the things coming at us from Jane’s side that make me jittery. It takes a minute to locate Harvey Keen’s home address. Just for good measure I open details on another couple of dozen or so names I can remember of senators and congressmen. If what I’m doing is being watched then this will help dilute their resources if they’re going to stake out the addresses I’ve downloaded. It also buries Keen amongst a couple of dozen other people we might be checking out. I don’t print out the addresses; just scribble Keen’s address in my notebook.
We’re out of there and on the road in ten minutes, chewing on bagels and sipping coffee, this time hot and good. We park up near Harvey Keen’s place at ten in the morning. It’s a quiet, tree lined avenue, filled with houses that scream money. Harvey Keen’s place has a high wall round it, large wrought iron double gates keeping the world out. There are security cameras on stanchions just inside the grounds. I can’t see the house but, judging by the perimeter wall, it’ll be as easy to get into as Fort Knox.
There hasn’t been much talking since we left the internet café, and we don’t have a plan, a strategy, or even the hint of a clue as to what we should do now. It’s time for another talk. Jane switches off the engine and we sit in silence for a while, listening to the click-click of the engine cooling. I start the ball rolling.
‘Keen’s not going to be here. Likely he’s in some big office on the hill right now, wondering where the hell we are. We can’t sit and wait. Your guy Krillik will be homing in on your unruly brain telling him where we are. There’ll be a bunch of your people and an army of Zygs here any time soon.’
‘They’re not my people,’ she snaps back at me, ‘I work for them, yes, but I’m not one of them…and so you know, there are two types of my people, the Dreeks, the grunts that do all the dirty work, and the ones that manage them. Just so you know they’re called Torps. Dreeks are always those big burly guys with the thick foreheads and flat noses, all males, no females. The Torps can be either sex.’
‘If you can tell where these people are then are we safe for now?’
‘There’s nobody near just yet. I think there’s a couple of Dreeks heading this way. We’ve probably got about half an hour.’
‘If we manage to get inside what should we be looking for?’
‘I haven’t a clue,’ she says, shrugging her shoulders. I was hoping she could do better than that. I give her a look to register my disappointment.
‘We could try asking,’ she says. Why not? It’s as good a plan as any.
We get out of the car and walk round to the large gates. There’s an intercom mounted on the wall, right hand side of the gates, security camera pointing down on it. I press the button and a moment later the small speaker hisses into life. A voice asks what I want, a woman, nervous, not particularly friendly, Hispanic accent.
‘Is Senator Keen here?’ I ask.
‘No he’s not, only Mrs. Keen and she’s not available right now.’
‘Can I speak to Mrs. Keen?’
‘Like I said, she’s not available.’
Jane and I look at each other, both wondering what to do next when the voice on the intercom says, ‘Are you the clean-up people?’
‘…yes,’ I lie.
There’s a buzzing noise and the gates slowly swing open. We’re past first base. The other side of the gates is paradise, beautiful gardens, red block tree lined drive, no expense spared. We walk the 500 yards up the drive to the house. It’s European style, complicated copper roofing, sprawling and impressive. We walk up towards the double doors. A small, fat lady about forty is standing there, arms folded, worried look on her face. She says nothing but her eyes are willing us to hurry the fuck up.
‘…out back. Follow me,’ she says with a jerk of her head. She turns, bustling back into the house. We do as we’re told and follow. The inside of the house is stunning, money practically dripping from the walls. The Hispanic lady doesn’t turn round but talks as she walks.
‘It’s the gardener’s boy, Juan. We found him about an hour ago. Mrs. Keen is upstairs with Amy, taking care of her as best she can.’
We follow her through a conservatory and then on out into an immaculately kept garden, about half an acre of beautifully kept grounds all neatly divided by gravel paths and with as many different types of pretty plants as a landscape gardener can think of.
‘In the summer house,’ she says pointing towards a building the other side of the garden, large enough to be a family home for most folks, ‘I ain’t going near. I’m up with Mrs. Keen. Let me know when you’re finished.’
She turns and rushes off to whatever urgently needs to be done upstairs with the woman of the house. Jane and I follow a winding path that takes us through the garden towards the summer house. We notice a small carp pond about three yards long near the steps going up to the summer house. There’s something floating on the surface of the water that shouldn’t be there, something not good for the fish. It’s a human head. As it bobs gently on the surface we can see the face, torn to pieces, both eyes missing, and the nose chewed off. It’s the head of a teenage boy, dark hair and skin, another Hispanic. I spot the rest of the corpse. The headless body of a young teenage boy is lying on the veranda of the summer house, blood pooled across the deck.
There is a noise, a low, guttural moan, coming from inside the summer house. I look at Jane. She already has her gun in her hand. I’m a fraction of a second behind. We climb the three wooden steps onto the veranda as quietly as we can but they creak at our every move. The entrance to the summer house has a pair of glazed doors, pushed together but not closed. We hear the moan again. Someone is in trouble. I take the right side, Jane the left.
We hold our guns two handed and lift them to beside our faces. I nod to her then mouth three, two, one, before crashing through the doors and diving on the floor. Jane swings round the corner of the door behind me. I’m lying on a blood soaked carpet, a thick trail of red leading from a pool in the middle of the floor towards the far wall. There is a gardening tool in the middle of the pool of blood, a grass cutting sickle. At the end of the trail of blood, sat against the far wall is a man, early fifties, another Hispanic. I guess he’s the gardener. I also guess he’s the father of the headless corpse on the veranda outside.
Just within arm’s reach of the man is a shotgun lying on the floor. It’s not in his hands because he needs both of them right now to hold his guts together. His stomach is ripped open and his intestines pulled out. The man is as good as dead but is stubbornly refusing to oblige. He sees us and tries to speak but has very little life left in him. I move close. I think about kicking the shot gun further away, just to be on the safe side, but there’s no point. It would take a super-human effort from this guy to pick up the gun, aim and fire. I lean in so my face is right next to his. He is panting in swift, shallow breaths and when his voice comes it’s a barely audible whisper.
‘…she killed…my boy.’
‘Who?’ I ask. I wait till he gathers the strength to answer.
‘The Keen’s kid?’
There’s no point calling for an ambulance. I know he’ll be dead soon. I’ve seen men in this state before when I was in the army, guts dropping out of them, minutes left, fucked. I wait for him to muster the strength to speak again.
I’d already guessed the dead kid on the porch had been attacked by a Zyg, all the signs are right.
‘…cut my boy’s head off… with…the sickle…’
‘Did Amy attack you?’
‘…no,’ he says, turning his head towards me, ‘…I shot Amy…Mrs. Keen…she went crazy…cut me open.’
Jane suddenly looks back towards the house.
‘Jake,’ she hisses, ‘Dreeks.’
‘Will they know we’re here?’
‘I don’t know, maybe not. There are at least two of them.’
We leave the poor bastard to spend his last few minutes of life alone on the summer house floor. There’s nothing we can do to help him and if we stick around we’ll risk winding up of the floor alongside of him with our guts torn out. We slip out of the summer house and head for the garden wall. Seconds later we’re edging along the wall towards the gate. We’re about ten yards short, well hidden in the bushes when Jane pulls me to a halt.
‘Listen,’ she hisses in my ear.
I stop dead and do as I’m told. I hear nothing at first, just the background noise of suburban life. Then I pick up on something. It’s faint but distinctive. It’s screaming, coming from deep inside the house.
‘Do we go in?’ I ask but before she can answer we hear the roar of vehicles coming into the street from the far end. Moments later two motorbike outriders followed closely by a Cadillac scream through the gates past us and up the drive towards the house, skidding to a halt outside the front doors. We crouch low and watch as the dust settles. Two security goons, sharp suits, dark glasses and ear pieces, their right hand inside their jackets, jump out of the front seats and quickly check out the area before opening the rear door of the Cadillac. A tall man climbs out, distinguished, silver hair, immaculately groomed. Something inside tells me that this is our man, Harvey Keen. He heads round the car towards the front doors. One of the front doors opens and there’s the Hispanic lady but this time she’s not alone. Behind her stand two men, big guys, dressed just like the other security goons. They could be brothers but they’re not. I recognize the features. They’re Dreeks. Keen walks past them and goes straight into the house. He shows no surprise. It’s obvious to me. He’s seen Dreeks before and he’s comfortable around them. What the hell is going on?
‘Let’s go back so we can see the summer house,’ hisses Jane.
‘That’s not the brightest suggestion I’ve heard from you,’ I whisper back.
‘You want to know what’s going on, don’t you?’
The two outriders are busy turning their Harley’s round, and the other two goons follow Harvey Keen inside the house. We edge our way around, retracing the path we’ve just taken. We keep a safe distance from the summer house, hunker down and wait for the cabaret. It doesn’t take long. The two Dreeks appear at the conservatory door, each has an automatic with a silencer fitted, mean looking weapons. I guess the housekeeper has told them an advanced clean-up crew, a man and a woman, is already here because they’re both crouching low as they head towards the summer house. They’re looking for us. They reach the summer house and climb the steps. They stand on the veranda either side of the door for a few moments, then one swings round and steps into the summer house, gun held straight out in front of him.
A blast from inside the summer house splits the air in two, and cuts a huge hole in the Dreek’s stomach. He flies backwards off the veranda and lands on the path. He’s out of it. Dreek number two pins his back against the summer house wall and lifts his automatic. In one swift movement he swings round the door and lowers the weapon to take a shot, but he takes too long.
The shot hits him square in the neck and his head is taken clean off from the blast. The knees on the dead Dreek buckle and the remains of the body crumple to the ground like a marionette that’s had its strings suddenly cut. It must have taken every last ounce of life the gardener had remaining to lift the shotgun and fire off the two cartridges. He must have known about the Dreeks and guessed they would come to finish him off.
The noise has drawn the attention of the other goons. We can see the cops from the Harleys un-holstering their hand guns and crouching low as they head towards the source of the shots. At the same time the two goons from the Cadillac fly through the conservatory door, side arms at the ready. We keep real low and stay quiet.
The two goons are much less cautious than the bikers. In seconds they cover the ground from the conservatory to the summer house, stomp up the steps and charge into the summer house guns blazing. They loose off about twenty shots between them, overkill for an eviscerated guy that must already be dead from the recoil of firing off two shotgun cartridges.
The bikers slowly stand up, and then make their way over towards the summer house to see what the fuss was about.
All is quiet again. We sit tight.
Suddenly there’s a loud, piercing scream that slices through the quiet like a knife. This is followed by a low, long cry, an animalistic howl. Both are cries of deep pain, real suffering. Little Amy must have passed away. I can only imagine the suffering the Senator and his wife will be going through now. The Zygs give off pheromones that screw with the parents’ brains. The poor bastards are chemically linked to the Zyg, and will feel all the agony of the death and the grief of losing a child, even though the parasitic Zyg isn’t even human.
Let them suffer, and then some. Of all the people in the world that have been on the receiving end of this blight, the Keens above them all must have known their little bundle of joy was an implant, a killer and illegal. If little Amy was killing in daylight and this close to home it’s unlikely poor Juan was its first victim. So, the Keens must have protected it. They probably lied for it and covered up any evidence of little Amy’s bad habits, knowing it was an implant and knowing they were breaking the law by not turning it over to SOS, the very organization headed up by helpful Harvey.
The gardener and his poor son both died horrible violent deaths. So, let the Senator and his good lady suffer their heart break. My concern right now isn’t for the Keens and their grief. It’s for something much more important. Harvey Keen is the man responsible for the SOS, and here he is with a Zyg of his own, and Dreeks on his security team.
What the fuck is going on?
Jane taps me on my arm and points at the conservatory door. There’s the Hispanic lady coming into the garden. She’s heading towards the summer house to join the others. Tight by her side on a choke chain is a large, ugly, vicious looking Rottweiler the size of a small horse. She slips the chain off the dog’s neck and it starts sniffing the air. Moments later it’s off like a rocket. The woman, the two bikers and the two goons stand watching as the beast tears straight towards us. Suddenly Harvey and his shenanigans take second place to something more pressing. How the fuck do we get out of here alive?
End of Part Three