Jane looks at me as if I’m crazy and says, ‘Are you okay Jake?’
‘I’ve just had some sort of vision,’ I say, still hardly believing it happened myself. I tell her and she wants to know every detail.
‘This is bad news,’ she says when I’ve finished my story, ‘…but I can tell you this, it wasn’t a vision. The actinic I sprayed on you works its way to the back of your eyes, into the optic nerve, then the brain. You won’t see any vision generated by a Torp or a Dreek ever again, guaranteed.’
‘Then what the hell was it?’
‘I don’t know…a memory, perhaps.’
‘How the hell could it be a memory? I’ve never been that deep in the shit before, trussed up in some dingy cell with goons pumping drugs into my arm.’
‘Are you absolutely sure?’
‘Hell yes! It’s the sort of thing a guy like me would tend to remember.’
‘…but what if you had been interrogated some time in the past and these people had done something to suppress the memory.’
‘And how would they do that?’ I ask incredulously.
‘Drugs, hypnotism…I don’t know.’
‘What if what I saw just now was my reality, and you, and all that’s happening now isn’t real,’ I say to her. She leans towards me and I think for one stupid moment she’s going to kiss me. Instead she pinches the tender skin of my swollen eye hard, and it hurts like hell.
‘What the fuck!?’ I shout as I push her hand away, pressing the palm of my hand against the skin she’s just pinched.
‘Two things,’ she says, ‘Number one, you feel real pain, right here and now. Number two you have a fully functioning memory complete with precise details. If this wasn’t your reality you’d only be able to recall whatever was given to you as your past. It would be limited to a few select events to anchor your belief that you are in the here and now. So, let me give you a memory test.’
‘That won’t work,’ I say, ‘I’ve only known you a couple of days and you ain’t exactly got a certificate of model citizenship, being an alien here with a crew who’s purpose it is to bring about the extinction of the human race. For all I know this is a set up. If you ask me anything I won’t know whether it’s all pre-arranged somehow.’
‘I see your point, although I’m hurt by your apparent lack of trust after all we’ve been through. So, you tell me something detailed from your past.’
‘That won’t work either. How would I know whatever I said wasn’t a memory implant?’
‘Another fair point. So, let’s combine the two. You pick a subject area and I’ll ask a question.’
I think this is our best bet, so I say, ‘Okay, how about sport?’
‘That’ll do,’ she says, ‘What’s the sporting moment you’re most proud of?’
I don’t even hesitate, ‘Getting my first Dan at Judo when I was sixteen.’
‘Tell me about it,’ she says.
I tell her how to get awarded the grading the last part of the process is a series of fights, a line up, where you have to face three other similar players trying for their black belt. To win you have to beat all three of them one after the other. I tell her in detail about each fight and how I won. It’s a vivid memory of mine, my proudest sporting moment.
‘Let me ask you this,’ she says, ‘who was the first Judo instructor you had?’
‘My school coach, Bill Taylor,’ I say.
It takes a moment or two to picture him but I put together a reasonable description.
‘I could have picked anything and so could you. There should be no doubt in your mind now, this is your reality. Trust me.’
‘Then how the hell could that have been a memory? I’ve never been anybody’s prisoner, and I’ve never been tortured.’
‘Then, let’s look at it another way. Why would anyone want to interrogate you? What do you know that could be of such value to someone?’
‘…the USB stick, the names and addresses of your guys, perhaps?’
‘No, that can’t be it,’ she says almost irritated by my suggestion, her brows furrowed in deep thought. Then she says, ‘You were in the army, right? What did you do?’
‘Front line, Middle East for a couple of tours, then got invalided out towards the end.’
‘I took ill, nothing life threatening, but it was towards the end of my service, so they brought me home to recover then serve out my last six months.’
‘What did you do back home?’
‘You must have done something,’ she says, a little irritated.
‘Desk job, admin duties, as boring as hell.’
She’s deep in thought for a few moments then says, ‘The three things we need to know are: Why was Harvey so important to Krillik; why was he playing for time with us, and what do you know that’s so important to someone?’
‘What do we do about what just happened to me?’
‘Nothing we can do but hope it doesn’t happen again, but it’s a worry. I can’t figure it out.’
‘You got a plan?’ I ask, hoping she has because I haven’t got a clue what we should do next.
‘I think so,’ she says, ‘If the whole Harvey thing right from the start, the helicopter, Harvey’s house, the car chase and all was a time wasting sham then Krillik’s playing a conjuring trick on us.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s what magicians do, get you to look where they want you to while the real business happens somewhere else. We chase after Harvey and just happen upon the carnage at his place, then the car chase and our narrow escape, followed by old Harv’s high profile suicide. They’re all small, not insurmountable barriers stopping us getting to the President. There’s even a question mark as to whether or not the President is in league with Krillik…we need to step back, take a breather, then perhaps take another path.’
‘…like checking out the shuttles. If anything’s going on there’ll be increased activity at a shuttle portal. Come on.’
She fires up the car engine, slips it into gear and we’re away.
‘Where the hell are we going?’ I ask, more confused than before.
I wait but get no answer so I ask another question.
‘What the hell is a shuttle portal?’
She turns quickly to look at me, that look that tells me she thinks I’m an idiot. Then she starts to talk as we drive, and another mystery unfolds.
She tells me that shuttles aren’t space ships and blows another of my preconceptions right out of the water. Instead they are places, locations down here on Earth, where the transportation of people and materials takes place. She tells me it’s all about nano-technology. It’s a basic scientific law that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. What happens at the shuttle site is that whatever needs to be shipped is analyzed at a molecular level then disintegrated, broken down completely into molecular constituents, then atomic, then sub-atomic until it’s completely destroyed.
There is an identical portal out there on whatever planet is the destination. At that site there is a feed of all the materials needed to recreate the item to be transported. The code is transmitted at the speed of light to the off world portal, then re-created to the exact same atomic pattern. It has to be exact because of the vacuum in the time / space continuum created when the original was removed. Anything alive before transmission is jolted back to life, memories and everything intact.
I don’t understand a fucking word of it. It’s just more information to be buried deep inside my head till I can cope with it.
She tells me the shuttle portals on Earth were constructed ten thousand years ago when Grow landed real space vessels on the planet when they seeded the human species. They’re well hidden and well protected. I ask how.
‘Simple,’ she says, Visions. They’re right there in your face but you just can’t see them…and there’s one about fifty miles from here.’
‘How do you know? Have you used it?’
‘No,’ she tells me, ‘I don’t know where any of them are. I wish I did.’
‘How did you get here then?’ I ask.
‘Through a shuttle portal, but it’s not like arriving at an airport where you turn up with a bunch of other guys, go through passport control then hail a cab to where you want to be. Non-operational specialists like me are sent after the main crew have cleared the path, so to speak.’
‘By that you mean have hidden themselves deep in our communities.’
‘Dead right. When I arrived it was at night. I was settled in and orientated by two Dreeks. They put me in a car and drove me hundreds of miles to my first safe house. I had no idea where the hell I’d landed and barely knew where I was for the first couple of days.’
‘So, how do you know there’s a portal near here?’
‘I’m sensing too many Dreeks in one cluster. I’m picking up dozens of them, all in a nice little bunch. I’ll bet the farm that’s a portal.’
‘Any Dreeks near us right now?’
‘Surprisingly no,’ she says, ‘I’d have thought Krillik would have a bunch of them on our tail now that we’re above ground. I can’t sense any near us or even heading towards us. Hold on…’
She closes her eyes for far too long, and instinctively I put my hand on the steering wheel. It would be a travesty to get this far then die in a freeway wreck. When she opens them again she looks worried.
‘There are far too many Dreeks on the move. Something big’s happening. Let’s get a move on.’
She pushes her foot down hard on the accelerator and I’m thrown back in my seat as we rocket forward, oblivious to the speed limit, weaving in and out of the traffic, switching lanes dangerously. She’s driving like someone possessed and I have to confess I’m more than a little uncomfortable. If we’re going to drive like lunatics I’d be much more comfortable if I was in control of the wheel. I don’t think she’d react too well if I asked her to pull over so I could drive, so I do the next best thing, man up. I lean back in my chair and I close my eyes. Sleep comes in seconds.
When I wake up the car is stopped. I can hear the ticking of the radiator so I know she’s only just switched off the engine. We’re on a hilltop looking down over a shallow valley undulating with small hills. The sun is high in a cloudless sky and the view is beautiful, neat fields of different colored crops stretching to the horizon, farm buildings dotted here and there, a picture of peace in a perfect world.
My mouth is bone dry and I pick up one of the bottles of water we bought earlier, flip the lid and take a long, satisfying drink. I offer the bottle to Jane but she gives a little shake of her head.
‘This is as close as I dare go,’ she says as if I’d been awake all the time, ‘Tell me what you see.’
‘The beautiful American countryside,’ I reply, straining my eyes to the distance.
‘Look harder,’ she says, a little irritated, ‘Look at the detail. What do you see?’
‘Same as before,’ I say, ‘What should I be seeing?’
‘Just look again. Concentrate. What do you see?’
I strain my eyes and linger over every detail. I can see a tractor in a field about a mile below us, cutting clean lines in the earth as it ploughs in the remnants of a harvested crop. I can see a criss-cross of back roads with vehicles on the move. There’s a field with cattle way off in the distance, hundreds, stood still like models, only the occasional movement of their heads bringing them to life. I can see small farms, houses with outbuildings evenly spaced across the landscape. There’s a river, not very big, like a silver, glistening snake slithering its way across the landscape. Nothing strikes me as out of the ordinary. I describe everything I see to Jane. She listens intently but shows no reaction to my description until I’ve finished.
‘…and that’s it?’
‘What am I supposed to see?’ I ask, looking for some sort of clue as to what I must be missing.
‘Call yourself a cop! Look at the farm in the distance to the right, the one with the four grey grain towers and the blue water tank. What do you see?’
I strain my eyes and pick out the place she’s talking about. It’s a farm, slightly larger than the others, laid out like she said. I concentrate on it hard for a minute or so.
‘Nothing,’ I tell her, ‘just a farm. A few people milling around in the yard, otherwise it’s just like any other we can see from here.’
‘Shit!’ she snaps out.
‘What’s the problem?’
‘You can’t see it, can you?’
‘See what?’ I ask, wondering what the hell I’m supposed to be able to see that I can’t, and surprised at her lack of sympathy towards me. I’m struggling to see anything out of the eye our friend Harvey nearly gouged out.
We don’t speak and it’s quiet but for the birdsong outside. She seems preoccupied as if in some sort of daydream. Then she starts talking again, but it’s as if I’m not there.
‘I was hoping the actinic would reveal the shuttle ports. Then we could have started mapping them. Obviously it hasn’t. It’s blocked the visions but nothing else. That’s not a good sign and we’re running out of time.’
‘What do you mean?’
She snaps out of the daydream and turns to look at me.
‘There’s a shuttle port right in front of your eyes down there. I can see it, you can’t. So, Mr. Detective, let’s see if you can work it out for yourself. That farm down there. Put your cop hat on and look again.’
I do as she wants and look hard, studying every detail. It just looks like any old farm to me. I can see the frustration with me on her face, so she helps me along.
‘Look at the people. What do you see?’
‘There’s…I don’t know, a dozen or so, maybe twenty…in some sort of line.’
‘They’re all men, by the looks of it.’ Then I spot what she’s trying to make me see, ‘They’re all the same build… Dreeks?’
‘Damned right! You never get that many Dreeks together in one place. It’s a huge risk. They all look near enough the same, like clones. Any human would see straight away something was hellishly wrong with those guys.’
Then I spot something she hasn’t.
‘Look over there…and there, and there!’
I point off towards various places in the vista laid out before us. She picks up on what I want her to see straight away, but probably more through her head than her eyes.
‘Dreeks…dozens of them. Why the hell didn’t I sense this earlier?’
The grid of roads was busier with traffic than I’d first noticed, cars, trucks, people carrier, plenty of them, all heading towards the farm.
‘What the hell…?’ she says, almost to herself.
‘Tell me what I can’t see.’
‘There’s a patch of what to you probably looks like grass to the left of the water tower…you see where those Dreeks are lined up.’
‘Yeah, got it. It’s a darker green than the rest of the field.’
‘It’s not grass,’ she says, ‘I wish we had some Goddam binoculars.’
‘What the hell is it then?’ I ask, because it sure looks like grass to me.
‘Watch very closely…watch as the Dreek at the front walks onto it.’
I watch, hardly breathing in case the movement that creates will distort what I see. The Dreek is at the front of a loosely arranged line of them. He walks towards the centre of the slightly darker colored circle of grass. Nothing happens for a few moments. Then, I struggle to believe what I see. It’s incredible and difficult to convince myself I have just watched it happen.
The Dreek stands still in the centre of the circle. The grass below his feet seems to come to life. It grows in thin strands, whipping around his ankles, working its way up his legs, getting thicker and thicker. In moments his body, then his head are enveloped in the dark green fibers. You can’t see the Dreek for the stuff. He’s wrapped up tight like a cocoon. This then slowly collapses towards the ground, getting smaller and smaller until the fibers retract back to the size they were before the Dreek stood there. So, where’s the fucking Dreek? Gone! The grass seems to have eaten him whole, not a shred of him left.
‘What the hell just happened?’ I gasp out, ‘The grass just ate that Dreek!’
‘It didn’t eat him, it de-constructed him. The grass as you call it is actually a very sophisticated piece of nano-technology. The fibers envelop the subject and analyze its structure down to the very last atom. Then it disassembles whatever the subject is and transmits the blueprint back home. The signal is captured by an identical device that rebuilds whatever the subject was, precisely, again to the very last atom. It’s complicated but if it was transmitted alive, it’s recreated alive. That’s how the shuttles work. It takes about a minute to send an object, and only one object can be sent each time, but as long as whatever needs to be shifted fits on that circle down there it can be moved.’
‘So, why are those Dreeks going home? Have they been given furloughs or something?’ It was meant as a joke but Jane’s answer chilled me to the bone.
‘Dreeks don’t go home. They’re here for the duration. They’re the grunts. If everything happens in line with Krillik’s original contract brief then in fifty or so years there’d be nothing but an aging human population left on Earth. The Dreeks would marshal the frail old survivors into ghettos and keep them there till they died. That’s when the invasion would start, homesteaders that have bought a piece of your planet arriving through the portals. The Torps and Dreeks still down here would manage the invasion, smooth the path for the homesteaders.
Our law doesn’t permit any bloodshed. If The Powers find out Krillik had caused any human suffering all bonuses would be forfeited. There might even be prosecutions, sanctions brought against Grow preventing it from picking up any similar contracts in the future, perhaps taking contracts already in play off it. That would be a disaster for Grow.’
‘Why?’ I ask, naively.
‘These are extremely long term, high investment projects, and there are thousands of them across the galaxy. Some were started fifty thousand years ago. If Grow was sanctioned it would cost it a fortune.’
‘So this must mean Krillik’s pulling the plug down here and quitting? He’s told his guys to cut and run, yeah?’
‘On the contrary. This is far worse for mankind.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It means he’s reverting to plan B.’
I almost don’t dare ask, ‘What’s plan B?’
‘The Dreeks aren’t going home. That would give the game away. They’re going somewhere else, somewhere safe for a while, off world. I think what’s going to happen next is this. With a little nudge from Krillik mankind is very conveniently going to wipe itself out.’
I’m just about to ask Jane how the hell Krillik could do such a thing when an amazing thing happens that stops us both in our tracks. We’re sitting in the vehicle, talking while we look down below us at a seemingly peaceful scene, but we now know it’s not. Something very sinister is happening in front of our eyes. A quiet backwater farm is not what it appears to be. It’s an alien race’s shuttle portal, allowing for creatures from another planet to come and go as they please. It’s been there for thousands of years, undiscovered by and invisible to humans. In a flash it was obliterated before our eyes.
I don’t see the first missile hit but see the next two, a fraction of a second behind the first. There are three massive explosions so close they merge virtually into one. This is followed immediately by a shock wave that flattens the whole farm, and fireball of smoke and flames that slowly rises into the clear blue sky. A fraction of a second later the shock wave from the blast hits our car, shattering the windscreen and showering us both with beads of glass.
We brush the glass away from our eyes and off our faces. The farm is just a tangled mess of twisted metal. There is a deep crater where the dark circle of grass used to be. There are no survivors down there. Nothing could have lived through those massive hits. The missile strikes had been precise, surgical, just like I’d seen when I was in the army. This was a human attack, US military at its finest. What the hell is going on?
We skedaddle as soon as we regain our wits. Why wait around? There might be more air strikes, more from where they came from and perhaps not as accurately aimed.
Jane is babbling and cursing away under her breath as she bumps the car at far too high a speed down the narrow, rutted country lane that got us up to the hilltop.
Then she looks at me and snaps, ‘Stupid bastards! What the fuck do they think they’re doing?’
I look at her and think, ‘What the hell am I dealing with here? They? What does she know that she hasn’t told me?’
It’s near enough time I stopped following and started leading. I sit quietly while Jane spins the car off the dirt track onto a decent road and we race off to God knows where. I think about my options as she starts to calm and drive more sensibly, the muttering and cursing now stopped. I should kill her. My life seemed so much easier before she arrived on the scene. Was it only a couple of days ago my life was so simple? I was happily flushing out implanted kids and frying them, and then going home to a quiet life, a couple of beers and watching the game on TV? Now I’m racing round the country, being hunted down by aliens and with this lying bitch as my sidekick, the only thing between me and a premature death. What’s more, I seem to have the fate of mankind in my hands. I hate anything being dependent on me; I don’t even keep a dog.
Up till that missile strike a few minutes ago I thought I was the only human working my balls off to stop this bastard Krillik from making us all extinct. But the missiles are a game changer, and I’m as good as certain Jane knows who gave the order to call in the hit. What’s more it’s pissed her off big style, like it’s not supposed to have happened. That in itself implies something else should have happened. So there must be a plan, a strategy, and Jane knows all about it. But who’s plan, and to what end? What’s more, why hasn’t she let me in on the secret? I decide to play dumb for the time being, wait for the right moment then squeeze her till her pips squeak. If what old Harvey said was true then these aliens buckle easily once a little pain is applied.
As we pootle along the highway we soon hear the wailing of sirens and the whap-whap of helicopters, lots of them, low above us, heading for the lump of burnt ground that was an alien portal a few minutes ago. Troops, probably, but to do what? There’s nothing there now. If any Dreeks in the vehicles heading for the site survived, then they’d be like us now, putting as much distance as possible between that place and themselves. All this activity is soon behind us as we head in the opposite direction at a speed just about legal. Half an hour later I spot a sign for a picnic stop off point and I tell Jane to pull over.
We find a quiet corner in the large, tarmac car park. There’s a few cars around, people with kids or dogs heading off into the woods to enjoy the beautiful day, oblivious to the mess unfolding in the world. There’s a cabin with a sign advertising snacks and hot drinks. I tell Jane to stay in the car while I sidle over to it. There’s a young girl serving, can’t be twenty, curvaceous, flirty and pretty. It won’t last. I order two coffees and two cheeseburgers. I have no appetite but I need the wait. I need to be out of the car, away from Jane, my own time to think.
I have a gut feel that Jane is in on this whole mess, and she’s been stringing me along, playing me for an idiot. I know Jane can make things happen with her brain alone. I know she can make people see things, perhaps even do things at her will. Is this what’s happening to me now? Is it all just some sort of vision? When I think it through, why would the mysterious Krillik, if he even exists, be out to kill me? Like I told Jane, I have no deep secrets I know of. I was only a couple of rungs up from grunt when I was in the army, and I sat at a desk for the last six months of my service pushing paper.
Something hits me like a blow in the stomach, something that had been staring me in the face but only just surfaced in my tiny mind. It was Jane manipulating the teenager, Tommy, who brought us together. Jane singled me out as someone special, not Krillik.
The pretty girl scrapes the burgers together and puts them into cardboard trays, then stacks them next to the coffees. I hand her a $10 note and tell her to keep the change. She smiles and winks when she says her thanks.
When I get back to the car it’s empty, no Jane. I figure even aliens need the restroom occasionally so I’m not unduly worried. I set Jane’s food on the driver’s seat before taking a sip of my coffee. It’s surprisingly good. I check my watch. It’s two in the afternoon. I figure we got about five hours of daylight left in the day and that’s as far as my tired mind wants to go. My eye is throbbing, so I decide to rest, just for a while. I’m asleep as soon as I close my lids. When I next open them it’s pitch dark. I’m alone, no sign of Jane. Her burger and coffee, stone cold, are still on the seat where I left them. The car park is deserted. Even the snack shack is all closed up. This stinks and I’m straight into red alert.
I pull out my gun and slip out of the car. It’s getting real cold, though there isn’t a breath of wind. There are no lights in the car park but there are lights marking the start of the trails that lead into the woods, so I can see basic shapes okay. I figure the first place I’ll check will be the restrooms but there’s no point. My feet crunch loud on the chippings, a sure sign the ground is already freezing. It’s going to be real cold later.
Before I’m within ten yards of the restrooms I can see they’re locked up, lights out.
‘Where the hell has she gotten to?’ I say aloud to myself. I risk calling for her.
‘Jane?’ I say in a voice not much louder than talking. Then I holler, ‘JANE?’
No answer, nothing.
I yell out her name again as I head towards the lights marking the start of the nearest trail. I wait a while then yell again, this time hands cupped either side of my mouth to amplify the sound, but no answer. I try another trail but no luck there either. I figure she’s bailed out on me.
I head back towards the car, cursing Jane and at a loss as to what to do next. My heart nearly stops. The nearest trail lights to the car cast long shadows, and it’s from out of darkness of the shadow cast by the car that a man steps towards me. He must have been leaning against the side of the car. I tighten my grip on my gun and stand perfectly still, alarm bells ringing in my head. I can make out he’s a big guy but not a Dreek. He doesn’t have the facial features of a Neanderthal. He’s much older, early sixties I guess. He’s wearing a long overcoat, silk scarf and trilby hat, smart, expensive.
‘Mr. Redwood?’ he asks but whoever he is he already knows damned well who I am. I try to be polite but I’m justifiably jumpy. I fall at the first hurdle.
‘Tell me who the fuck you are before I blow your brains out.’ I make sure he can see the weapon in my hand.
‘No need for the gun, Mr. Redwood, I’m here to help you.’
‘Sure, and I’ll bet you don’t have a couple of dozen Dreeks or a bus load of crazy Zygs hiding up there in the woods, all here to help me as well.’
‘Mr. Redwood, I’m on your side. I promise you I mean you no harm. As I said I’m only here to help you. Now, if you’d be so kind as to point that gun in a different direction then perhaps we can have a little chat.’
His accent is English and oh-so-refined. I’ve heard it before, but at that moment I can’t for the life of me remember where. It brings with it a bad feeling, I know that much. I trust him like I’d trust a snake down my pants not to bite.
‘I’m happy with the gun exactly where it is,’ I say, acting cool.
For a moment I’m proud of myself, proud that the fear I was feeling did not show in my voice. I’m alone in a deserted car park in near pitch darkness. Jane has disappeared and in her place, out of the blue, is this stranger, this Englishman who not only knows who I am but where to find me. I’m concentrating real hard on the figure in front of me, keeping alert, ready for any sudden movement he might make. But I’m concentrating too hard, all my focus on this guy, not what I should be doing, what I’d been taught in the army, watch your back!
It’s only when I hear a sound I recognize do I know I’ve fucked up and I’m in deep trouble.
It’s the high pitched whistle of a Hi-V Taser charging up.
A fraction of a second later I’m on my stomach twitching and screaming in pain, helpless, the two prongs of the Taser’s bolt wedged into my left shoulder blade. I just about manage to turn my head away from the mysterious Englishman to see who the bastard was that shot me in the back. The last thing I see before I pass out is the person that downed me. It’s dark but I can clearly make out the features, lit up by the lights at the head of the trail thirty yards away. It’s Jane, beautiful, treacherous Jane.
End Of Part Five