release, she felt it flow out—her son, a new life, a child emerging into the open air.
“That’s it. Here it comes. I have him.” The doctor held up a slick, red infant. She heard the
baby start to cry as it gasped its first breath.
“Mrs. Stewart, you have a fine little boy—” The doctor halted in mid-sentence. “Good
The nurse began to scream.
“How can this be?” The doctor still held up the baby, but now his face bore a look of
disgust. “How can this happen?”
Anthea struggled to sit upright. She felt utterly exhausted and drained; her
strawberry-blonde hair was plastered with sweat to her head. “What is it? I want my baby.”
The doctor looked at her with an expression of horror, his mouth open. Anthea glanced up
to see the newborn baby.
He had tiny twisting tendrils coming out the back of his head.
The President of Earth, leader of billions, commanded a certain amount of respect. For decades
Kier Gray had been a strong and charismatic ruler. He led with a mixture of sternness and
compassion, guiding the citizenry along a dangerously narrow path between paranoid terror
Now, though, as the secret police dragged him down the stone-walled hall, Gray was no
longer treated with much respect. Until now, no one had ever suspected the President’s true
heritage as a hidden slan, his actual alliances, the covert work he had done among the surviving
slans on Earth. The secret police grabbed him roughly by the arms and pulled him along. Gray
knew exactly where they were taking him.
John Petty, the chief of the secret police and notorious slan hunter, waited for his deposed
leader inside the primary command-and-control center deep beneath the grand palace. Around
him, technicians studied cathode-ray tubes, receiving reports from all their operatives.
“Hail to the President,” Petty said with feigned applause. He had short, dark hair, brows
that looked like smudges of soot, and glittering eyes like the buttons on his dark uniform. The
chief slan hunter seemed satisfied to see the great Kier Gray so helpless.
The guards shoved the President forward, catching his ankles and knocking him to his
knees. Petty looked down at him as if he were no more than a discarded cigarette butt in the
rain gutter. “We’ve already rooted out and killed dozens of slans working in the palace. Others
have fled like rats in the night. Whatever you were planning, it’s over—and I’m in charge
Gray didn’t curse, didn’t protest his innocence, but simply looked up at the bloodthirsty
man who had long been his rival. During his long administration, he had weathered numerous
conspiracies, assassination attempts, and back-stabbings. Only hours ago he had watched the
guards shoot down three of his trusted advisors—true slans—in a shielded cabinet room. All of
his quiet plans had crumbled in less than a day; he’d gone from great hope and optimism to
Gray recovered his dignity. “I don’t suppose you have any basis for these treasonous
actions, Mr. Petty? Or is the rule of law simply an inconvenience you’d rather not bother with
“Law? Allow me to cite the Emergency Powers Act: ‘In these times of perpetual crisis, any
person suspected of being a slan or in league with slans is to be held for immediate
questioning. The due process of law is suspended in such cases for the benefit of national
Gray’s anger flared. His secret organization had worked so hard, been so careful … but not
careful enough. Over the years, the President had even authorized quiet assassinations of
people who posed a threat, advisors who accidentally discovered too much about the slans.
He’d had no choice but to replace them with a small band of loyal comrades dedicated to
changing the world and ending centuries of unnecessary witch hunts. He had
Petty crossed his arms over his chest. “We caught you meeting with the infamous slan rebel
Jommy Cross in your private quarters. We have recordings in your own voice revealing that
the slan specimen you kept in your palace, Kathleen Layton, is your own daughter.”
“Where are Kathleen and Cross? Did you just shoot them, like you executed my cabinet
The slan hunter paced inside the command-and-control center. “Oh, we didn’t execute
those two—not yet. They’re too valuable. They have been taken to the detention cells in the
lower levels of the palace. You need not worry about their welfare.”
If you aren’t careful, John Petty
, Gray thought,
you may need to worry more about your own
. Despite his obsessive fear, he would probably underestimate Jommy and Kathleen.
Gray hoped that some of the unobtrusive slans working around the government center had
managed to escape and disappear.
When he’d surreptitiously met with young Jommy Cross, Gray had explained the situation
among slans and humans. Very few knew that the true danger came from a different group of
mutants, slans born
, who had infiltrated society while preparing to launch their
takeover. The tendrilless passionately hated both humans and slans and meant to exterminate
both rival races, leaving themselves the sole inheritors of the Earth.
Jommy had infiltrated the main tendrilless base on Mars, where he had found startling
information about an imminent invasion. Returning to Earth, he had slipped through the
palace’s defenses to warn the President. After they had begun to make plans, Jommy returned
with his own highly advanced car and a deadly disintegrator weapon invented by his father.
For only one day, President Gray had believed that he and his shadow government—including
Jommy and Kathleen—could change the world.
Then the secret police had arrested them all.
“I myself confiscated Cross’s unusual weapons—something he called a disintegrator tube
and a ring with an embedded atomic generator. Amazing little things.” Petty’s lips quirked in a
smile. He seemed in control of himself, in charge of the situation, but Gray could sense just a
hint of uneasiness in his demeanor. “I gave the items to one of my isolated research teams, but
as soon as they tampered with the ring, it dissolved. Now my people have strict orders to
exercise extreme caution in their investigations of the disintegrator tube. Once we disassemble
it, we’ll add it to our own arsenal.
arsenal. Hmm, we might even use it to execute you. That
would be quite an irony!”
The deposed President rose to his feet, squared his shoulders, and faced the slan hunter.
“I’m surprised that I wasn’t ‘accidentally killed’ resisting arrest. It would save you a great deal
of time in your coup d’etat.”
“A coup? I prefer to call it my transition to a new slan-free government.” Petty scratched
his blunt chin as he pretended to consider options. “Killing you would waste too much
propaganda value. I look forward to hauling you before the world courts, exposing you as a
slan, and discrediting all your works, all your supposed peace conferences with the enemy.
Somehow, you have had your tendrils removed, or you were born without them—a mutant
among mutants!—but I’m positive that genetics tests will reveal slan genes in your DNA.”
Despite their vastly diminished numbers, slans were still feared as bogeymen. During his
presidency, Gray himself had been forced to play upon that fear because it was the only way to
survive politically, but he had managed to remove the teeth from the most vicious proposals.
Petty had stalked around behind the President, but Gray didn’t turn to follow him. “You
have had your theatrics, but you’ll have a far more difficult time proving that any of my actions
in office harmed the human race.”
as a slan is a treasonous act. You knowingly deceived the people of
Earth. I, on the other hand, will be held up as a hero of mankind for removing yet another
terrible threat. Slans in our own government, in the presidency itself!” He gave another one of
his smiles. “Your scheme is over, Gray. From now on, it’s simply a mop-up operation. It will
save me a lot of difficulty, and you a lot of pain, if you just confess and reveal how many
members of your cabinet are secretly slans.”
“There aren’t any,” Gray insisted.
The slan hunter rolled his eyes. “Your advisors and cabinet members were sound asleep
with their wives or mistresses. We rounded them up and found out that several of them had
slan tendrils in the backs of their heads, hidden by prosthetics. We’ve already killed them.
Next, we’ll dig through the records to find out who cooperated with your most destructive
policies. It won’t be difficult to prove collusion and thereby treason against humanity. You see,
I have all the angles!”
When more men came into the command center and delivered their reports, Petty seemed
upset, ready to strike the messenger. He turned back to the President. “We’ve just uncovered
the identity of one of your main co-conspirators. I never would have suspected it.” He
scratched his head. “Then again, it makes a certain amount of sense.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Gray said.
“Your chief advisor, Jem Lorry, has vanished. He disappeared like a puff of smoke, as if he
knew what we were planning.” Petty balled his fists. “Could he read it in our minds? Did you
send him a telepathic message?”
Gray did not need to pretend his confusion. He had appointed Jem Lorry years ago, after a
particularly close assassination attempt. Lorry had served extremely well ever since, taking a
hardline stance against slans. He had even proposed an innovative if preposterous scheme to
marry lovely young Kathleen. Lorry wanted to breed with her in (according to him) an attempt
to water down the slan genes, to gradually erase them over a few generations. Lorry had been
very angry when Kathleen rebuffed his advances, but Gray was personally pleased that the girl
managed to get out of the trap.
“Honestly, I had nothing to do with his disappearance.” The President was far more
concerned about his own survival and even above that, the survival of his daughter Kathleen
and Jommy Cross, the hope of humanity. “You should know that Jommy Cross came to warn
me—to warn all of us—of an impending attack on Earth. Another group of slans, tendrilless
slans, have built a large base on Mars and recently launched their battle fleet against us. The
tendrilless mean to destroy us all.”
“Yes, yes, and you and Jommy Cross are our only hope.” He yawned extravagantly. “I’m
not buying it.”
Lying on the table in the hospital delivery room, Anthea struggled to comprehend what she
had seen. Her baby had tendrils!
Impossible. Completely impossible.
The doctor, seemingly in shock, quickly cut the umbilical cord and tied it off. “Pay
attention!” he snapped at the nurse, who stood staring. “Save the mother first. Then we’ll take
care of … of that abomination.”
“No!” Anthea was weak, but she found the strength to prop herself up on her elbows.
“What happened to my baby? Why is—” She tried to make sense of it, but all she could
remember was the conversation between the plump receptionist and the man from the secret
How can they not know that they’re slans
Two normal people wouldn’t have a slan baby, would they? Anthea couldn’t accept that
she herself might have been one of those slans without tendrils, and probably Davis as well.
Ridiculous! She had never imagined such a thing. They were both healthy, they both healed
swiftly, and the two of them had felt a mutual bond that went beyond anything they shared
with other humans.
humans. She felt sick.
“Doctor,” she gasped. “What’s going to happen?”
He ignored her question as he set the baby down. When he turned to the nurse, his voice
was cold and brittle. “Get me a full syringe of hydroxylex-black.”
“Yes, Doctor.” The nurse looked hardened now, no longer hysterical. “It’s what we have to