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Authors: Stephen B. Pearl

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War of the Worlds 2030 (9 page)

BOOK: War of the Worlds 2030
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The two battle-apes consulted. One took the victim's pulse. Another bucket of filthy water was employed and they slapped the man's face. His head lolled and in the stillness that had fallen over the crowd his groans were audible.

The Darmuk pulled two slender, red-hot, metal rods from the barbecue and inserted them in the man's ears, deafening him. The human screamed and fainted. They then returned him to the gibbet. A furry hand reached out of the window and reconnected the cerebral symbiont and feeding tube.

“You are ours to do with as we please, human vermin. You live or die at our whim. Resistance is futile. Remember this lesson. That is all.” Tannal's voice issued from the loud speaker.

Richard felt shaky but forced himself to shuffle forward with the line.

* * * *

Zane raged inwardly. He'd recognized the man as a neighbor from down the street. He couldn't recall his name, but he'd always given little arrow bars at Halloween.

* * * *

Janis grit her teeth. She wanted to cry but knew she mustn't, knew that later she wouldn't be able to. She had cried her tears out years before, first when Betty was taken, second when she had finally had enough and escaped the slavery of the
Darmuks
to fight with the resistance. She'd known Tomas. A member of one of the smaller resistance cells. She'd met him in the sewers while he pulled a guard shift. A friendly man, despite all he'd seen.

Too much evil,
she thought. The line shuffled forward and they deposited the rolled up carpet in front of the gate.

“Name?” demanded a human collaborator who held a checklist.

“Franks. Mary Franks,” she replied.

“The man made a check mark on his list. “What is your request?”

“Tetracycline for my daughter.”

“If the offering proves sufficient you will be credited at the city hall. Check there the day after tomorrow. Move on.”

They shuffled forward. Richard led them at a snail's pace, allowing himself and Zane time to fully note everything their respective expertise allowed. More gibbets hung from the embassy's second and third stories. Creatures much like he had seen in the front encircled the building.
Darmuks
patrolled. Engineered beasts, with fangs and claws, were held on chains about the grounds. They growled and strained towards the humans. When they'd circled the embassy Janis led them down a side street, away from her house. An hour later Zane pried up a manhole cover and they slipped into the storm sewers. Richard closed the lid behind them. Janis clicked her tongue twice. A snap sounded down the passage. She clicked three times, waited five seconds then twice. Shadowy figures appeared from the gloom carrying Richard's and Zane's equipment. The two men suited up and minutes later they were moving through the maze of passages.

After what seemed an eternity they settled in Janis's living room.

Richard accepted the mug of whisky she offered him with trembling hands. The undamaged side of Zane's face was pale and Janis looked drawn as she settled on the couch beside her husband.

“The brutality,” whispered Richard.

“That was a particularly bad session.” Janis took a hit off her drink.

“I've never seen them leave the poor bastard alive before.” Zane put his arm around Janis pulling her into his side.

“That's new. Ashley warned us that Tannal was going to start doing it to suspected resistance. First time I've seen it.” Janis snuggled into her husband, seeking the warmth and comfort of his human touch.

“Even so. To imprison a person with no room to move; to what end? It is quite the most hellish thing I can think of.” Richard drained his mug.

“We were no kinder to the calves we use for veal,” said Janis sadly.

“It simply seems counterproductive. Surely the humans die under such conditions. They should want to perpetuate bio-mind elements, not squander them.” Richard stared forlornly into his mug.

“You honestly don't know?” asked Janis.

“What?”

“Only about one in a hundred people who are connected to the bio-mind survive more than two months. It's, in part, a function of intelligence. The smarter you are the more able the brain to deal with the strain. Most people literally die of mental exhaustion. The ones they gibbet are those who don't make the grade. They hang out there after their brains start to breakdown until they die. They're the example and threat for the rest of us. They keep the people who will last as ram units inside.”

“What brave new world is this that has such creatures in it? Whenever I think I've reached the limits of my hatred for the
Darmuks
, they prove me wrong,” said Richard with disgust in his voice.

“Can we talk business?” asked Zane.

“Seems best.” Janis nestled into his side, trying to lose memory in the warmth of his presence.

“Yes,” agreed Richard. “The perimeter defenses are impenetrable. I could spend the rest of my life working on counter agents and still not be finished. Infiltration is our only option.”

“Too true. The guns they've mounted would dice anyone attempting a frontal assault.” Zane picked up the mug of whisky he had set on the coffee table and downed a mouthful.

Janis sipped at her mug. “Like I told you.”

“There is a way to use this to our advantage.” Richard put his empty mug on the table. He wanted so for the liquor to numb him, to erase the images of what he'd seen. He longed for another drink then another then another, until he could lay insensible as he had so often in the last few years.

Good thing the bottle's empty,
he thought.

“How?” asked Janis.

“If we can force them to deploy their forces, once we are behind the perimeter defense it will be relatively easy for me to activate certain of the bio-forms. That should keep them from recalling troops once we begin our internal attack.”

“Shouldn't be any shortage of ammo or pick up weapons as we go through. Must be an ammo dump somewhere inside. A charge or two could take out half the building, if we set it up right,” agreed Zane. He looked at Richard whose hands twitched.

“Thirsty?” asked Zane.

“As you Americans like to say, ‘like peanuts.'”

“I have—” began Janis.

Richard raised his hand to silence her. “It is a demon, Janis. I cannot afford to indulge its whims at this time. Please do not place temptation before me.”

“I didn't know, or I wouldn't have offered in the first place,” she apologized.

“I believe we all needed something after what we saw. Now let us return to our plans.”

Chapter Twelve
Landing

“General Flanders, if we don't give the Richard biological unit a break, it will burnout,” explained Major Joans. He stood at attention just inside the door of his commanding officer's office.

“Why is this happening to your unit and not the others?” The general stood up behind his desk and started pacing the length of the small room.

“Doctor Green is older. There are more memories, more data. I've always told you the biological unit was the weak link, sir. I will follow your orders, but it is my opinion that if we do not allow the unit at least a twenty-four hour hiatus, for the brain chemistry to balance and refresh itself, it will suffer a catastrophic failure.”

The general stopped pacing and looked at the open files on his desk. “Very well. Twenty-four hours then I want the upload to recommence.”

“Thank you, general.”

“Don't thank me. From the looks of the data you've sent me the Ashley unit is showing no signs of degradation. I want you to adjust the schedule to increase that upload.”

“Yes sir. I'll inform Lieutenant Carlson immediately.”

“Dismissed.”

The major turned on his heel and left the room.

* * * *

Upload monitoring/ Ashley Hinkly /Index 13:05/ 7/9/2032

* * * *

Ashley looked at herself in the mirror and couldn't believe she was the slender elegant woman that stared back. She wore a blue sequin dress with a slit up the side that showed flashes of her leg when she walked. The gown left her bow shoulder bare and hugged tight over her breasts. Her makeup was understated and her red hair shone.

“Perfect,” said the plump, middle-aged woman who stood beside her.

“Goddess, I can't believe it,” agreed Ashley.

“Some of my best work. You know you have skin just like Amanda Hennessy.”

“Who?”

“Don't tell me you never watched Dryland the series?”

“No.”

“Oh deary. I did make up for them. You would fit right in.”

“Thank you.” Ashley smiled then moved to the dressing room's door. “I'm not going to turn into a pumpkin or anything, am I?”

The makeup artist smiled back. “I doubt it. I caught a peek of your doctor. You two will look wonderful together. You're a lucky girl.”

“He's just a friend. We…” Ashley paused and steeled herself. “We're both unattached so we decided to escort each other to the landing celebration.”

“Dear, a man like that, if he's straight, don't let him get away!”

Ashley cringed slightly then stepped out of the trailer into the parking garage.

“Wow!” Richard strode towards her from another trailer.

Yum,
thought Ashley as she scanned her escort. The tailored, blue suit he wore showed off his broad shoulders and lean buttocks and his hair had been styled to make the most of his green eyes and classic profile.

“You look magnificent.” Richard moved to her side and proffered his arm.

“Thank you. You look quite magnificent yourself.” She smiled, something she hadn't done much in the last few months.

* * * *

Upload monitoring/ Ashley Hinkly /Index 13:32/ 7/9/2032

* * * *

“Richard, Miss. Hinkly,” greeted General Flanders. He stood by the security gate installed across First Avenue, which had been blocked by two chain link fences and was patrolled by armed soldiers. Curious on lookers crowded against the outer fence. The general was in full dress uniform and seemed uncomfortable.

“Andy,” greeted Richard.

“Hello.” Ashley scanned her memory for the man but was at a loss.

“I'm sorry, my dear.” remarked the general as he watched Ashley's facial expression. “I was security officer for the Darmuk project. As a necessity I've developed an extensive file on you. It's easy to forget we have never met. Which I must say is my loss. Your pictures do not do you justice.”

“Um…thank you.”

“Richard, after the festivities?”

“Of course.”

The general walked off. Ashley and Richard scanned the plaza. Well-dressed people milled about on the edges of a large pile of what they called Milorganite for the press. Ashley knew it was digested, dried sewage. Several bars were set up on the yard's parameter, and waiters, who carried themselves as if they were something more than waiters, moved through the crowd with trays of drinks and hors d'oeuvre.

“I can't believe this. I never thought I'd go to a party like this, let alone something this historic,” observed Ashley.

“It's impressive.” Richard checked his watch. “Fifteen minutes before they start landing approach. Look.” He pointed towards a large screen that had rolled down covering the side of a building. The image of the
Wikell,
the Darmuk ship, was projected onto it.

The ship was vaguely circular with alternating green and brown stripes running over its surface. It pulsed and manipulator tentacles projected off it at intervals.

“It's a jelly fish,” whispered Ashley.

“It does look organic,” agreed Richard.

“Biological spacecraft. That's so Star Trek.”

“Why not? Animal, vegetable hybrid; each feeding off the waste of the other. Do it as an enclosed ecosystem. Maybe even use DNA from an oxide eating bacterium to allow it to process its original oxygen needs from an asteroid.”

“You've thought a lot about this, haven't you?”

“This isn't the first time I've seen close ups of the ship.”

“Look.” Ashley pointed at the screen. A sphincter opened on the
Wikell
and a triangular craft emerged. The small, brown ship sped towards the Earth.

“You ever see that before?” asked Ashley

“No. It must be the lander?”

Speakers mounted behind the bars carried the voice of Canaveral mission control and the ship.

“Earth landing authority, this is the landing vessel,
Rigal
, of the space vessel
Wikell
. Requesting clearance for atmospheric descent,” boomed the resonant tones of Tannal's voice.


Rigal
, you are cleared for pre-authorized approach. Air force units are maintaining an open corridor for final flight plan. Canaveral out.”

“Acknowledged Canaveral. Beginning descent.”

On the screen the brown vessel slipped towards the atmosphere. The angle changed as the image moved from one orbital satellite to another. For a brief time a collage of images filled the screen as the lander past under the international space station.

“What do they use for propulsion?” asked Ashley.

“No idea. For all I know they fart their way between the stars,” muttered Richard.

“Richard, I hope you intend to phrase things more delicately when we meet them.”

“Of course. Ash, the committee has been on me for months to answer these questions. Frankly, I'm all out of educated guesses and down to just guesses.”

“Poor, Doc, reduced to the level of we mere mortals.” Ashley played the world's smallest violin with her thumb and forefinger.

“Ash?” Richard sounded offended.

Ashley grinned. “Oh relax. You know you love being the one with all the answers.”

“Look.” Richard pointed at the screen.

The brown ship was beginning to glow and char black as it struck the upper atmosphere. A huge diaphanous canopy, like the top of a dandelion seed, spread out behind it. It slowed noticeably and began to descend more rapidly. Bits of material fell off its bottom.

“Ablative shielding. Hmm,” murmured Richard.

The craft continued to descend. Satellite views shifted, keeping it constantly under surveillance. The flames vanished.

The crowd gasped in dismay as the front of the ship broke apart and fell away. Richard stared.

“A shell?” guessed Ashley, as a green-hued, inner skin was revealed.

“An ablative shield. Gods, the gene splicing they must be capable of,” whispered Richard.

“Canaveral control, we are under seventeen thousand meters altitude and have ejected pod, do you read?” said Tannal.

“We read you,
Rigal
. Gave us a bit of a start there with the pod ejection. Approach looks good, all vectors nominal. Visual contact.” The voice sounded relived.

On the screen the image shifted to a view of the
Rigal
from the side. At its front a single slit pupil eye could be seen. The back of the lander consisted of two long green spines that would act like airfoils. A pair of tube-like projections pulsed between the spines.

“That's a peristaltic motion if I ever saw one.” Ashley indicated the tubes.

“What on Earth? Excuse me, in the galaxy would that be for?” Richard stroked his chin.

“Propulsion? Suck air in thorough the front, compress it, and shoot it out the back.”

“And breathing. The smaller ship probably isn't an independent system. Interesting?”

“Why?”

“It's the first real indication of a limit to their level of advancement in biology. Why make a vessel that can only function for short periods in the void, if you can make a self-contained one?”

“You don't trust them?” Ashley stared at her mentor with a concerned expression.

“The Mezzo-Americans trusted Cortes. I'll wait and see.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please move to the outer edge of the plaza.”

“This is it.” Richard grasped Ashley's hand and they stared to the east.

The screen showed the Manhattan skyline in the distance.

The
Rigal
appeared over the city. Long white tendrils projected off its bottom, it circled the island then hovered over the mound of Milorganite.

“My gods, what a sight,” whispered Ashley.

The vessel's outer hull pulsed; causing a down draught that stirred the dirt beneath it. The white tendrils touched the soil and writhed, burrowing into it. Finally the craft lay still. A second later its back folded open, like a leaf, creating a ramp on both sides that led to the pavement beyond the mound.

A man standing beside a fire hydrant on the plaza's edge opened the valve. A hose leading under the mound of Milorganite stiffened as it filled.

“Goddess, this is incredible,” observed Ashley.

“It gets the job done,” agreed Richard.

The command crew from the
Wikell
stepped onto the ramp. Smiling and waving, they proceeded to the podium where the world leaders waited. Tannal greeted each leader in turn.

When Tannal stood before the mikes he smiled warmly.

“Too plastic,” grumbled Richard.

“He's gorgeous,” countered Ashley.

“Perfect is more like it. All of them.”

“Jealous?”

The speakers screeched then settled and all conversation stilled.

“People of Earth. Greetings from the Darmuk. We are gratified to be welcomed with such warmth. In the days to come I know there will be many opportunities for us to question one another about the particulars of our societies and areas of knowledge, but for the moment, let us simply further our acquaintance as new friends. I would like to introduce my crew for the benefit of those who may have missed our video transmission.

“Osa, my first officer, and chief medical officer.” He indicated the Amerindian woman. She waved demurely.

“My second officer, Kalok, navigation specialist.” He gestured towards the Negro gentleman. He grasped his hands together and nodded at the crowd.

“Shaln, Pilot, commutations.” Tannal nodded at the Asian woman who bowed.

“My people have a saying. Lies require volumes, truth but a word. I give you that word. ‘Friend.' Thank you.” He stepped away from the lectern.

“Man of few words,” observed Ashley.

“At least that last line will force the rest of the blowhards on the stage to keep it brief,” agreed Richard.

A hurried debate ensued between the leaders at the back of the stage. After a minute the speaker of the U.N. stepped to the podium and smiled. He spoke English with a Ukrainian accent.

“As our friends have come a long way and undoubtedly wish to enjoy their first evening on Earth. I will be brief. Welcome gentle beings. I hope this marks the beginning of a long a happy relationship between our peoples.” The speaker stepped down.

“Come on,” said Richard grasping Ashley's hand.

“Where to?”

“We should get to the greeting line.”

“They're only doing the VIPs.”

“Ash, we developed the cure they sent. We are VIPs.”

BOOK: War of the Worlds 2030
10.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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