Black Petals Issue #81, Autumn, 2017

Surviving Montezuma-Chapters 11 & 12
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Haunting of Hell House-Fiction by M. L. Fortier
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Nowhere Man in a Nowhere Land-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Surviving Montezuma-Chapters 11 & 12-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
The Box with Pearl Inlay-Fiction by Roy Dorman
What was Lacking?-Fiction by A. M. Stickel, Editor
The Statue-Poem by Janet C. Ro

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SURVIVING MONTEZUMA, Ch.11 & 12

 

By Kenneth J. Crist, BP Editor

 

Implants & incense

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

When Gunny Hatcher was sufficiently rested the debriefing began. He had seen nothing of Marla, but this did not surprise him; after all, she was an officer. He had been subjected to a much more thorough physical examination and measured and fitted for a prosthetic arm. This involved taking molds from his good arm, which would be reversed to make his artificial limb as near an exact mirror image as possible. He had been assured that his prosthesis would allow him not only a full range of motion and near-normal strength but its nerve-stimulation module would allow him to feel the same sensations his own arm had provided. The limb would be built on Earth and shipped within a few weeks.

In spite of his ordeal, Gunny Hatcher was found to be in quite good condition, all things considered. His diet was adjusted to suit his needs and a light exercise program was prescribed for him, under the watchful eyes of a cute female Gunnery Sergeant, Jan Whitmore. She assured him that she would get him in top condition very soon. After the first day’s “light” workout, Billy believed her. He came out of the shower with his ass dragging, sure he was going to be sore until his body caught up to the routine.

Just about a week after their rescue, Billy attended his first debrief and it didn’t go well. His questioners were a captain, a major and two colonels, who seemed inclined to believe nothing Billy told them. Only his military training and respect for authority kept him from telling them to ‘shove it’.

Nobody had ever seen the inside of an operational Glassie hiveship and lived to tell about it. They found Billy’s story as incredible as the ravings of a madman, and they as much as said so. Whether their motivation was to try and shake his story, or they really were incredulous, Gunny Hatcher could not say, but by the week’s end, they seemed to be coming around. He was smart enough to know they were doubtless debriefing Lieutenant Kinkaid and getting the same story from her. As things progressed, their skepticism waned and they became more interested in details.

They were particularly interested in the disease or epidemic that swept the Glassie ship and killed all their captors. They not only asked endless questions that seemed to have no bearing on the event, they also returned him to sick bay and took samples of everything from his skin to his feces, including tartar scrapings from his teeth. It soon became apparent that they were looking for the factor that caused the deaths and would not rest until they found it.

 

Marla Kinkaid was getting much the same treatment as Gunny Hatcher, although with somewhat more respect. Still, she endured the debriefings, the skepticism, the taking of samples, and the endless questions. Several times during her examinations, she caught glances exchanged between doctors and other medical personnel that told her she wasn’t being let in on everything they knew or suspected.

 

The samples being taken were being transferred daily to a research lab elsewhere on Earth Station where several captured Glassie warriors were secreted in a fairly plush POW facility. The existence of these specimens was not general knowledge; until Billy and Marla showed up with their incredible tale of the deadly epidemic aboard the hiveship, they were merely being used for normal research. They were not at all cooperative, and, as with any vicious animal, required care in handling. Their very nature made them hateful and dangerous. Perhaps that was why nobody seemed to mind inoculating them with every factor that could be found on Billy and Marla. The hope was to find something that would readily kill them. So far, the research team had had no luck.

 

The crews of the Deep Space Salvage Vessels Lunar Raven and Coyote spent eleven days in frantic activity, stripping everything useable from the hulk of Montezuma and cutting her up into chunks small enough to fit inside the vast, empty salvage bays within their own crafts.

This was accomplished while they were under way to Mars. The material and equipment would sell more readily there, to colonists who tended to ask fewer questions and were glad to get anything at all since the war started. They were a proud lot, mostly misfits and malcontents who had little use for Earth government, anyway. Getting their hands on stolen goods or raw materials from an Earth ship wouldn’t bother them in the least.

 

The so-called Trojan Asteroids lie in two clouds, one sixty degrees ahead of Jupiter and one sixty degrees behind. It was in these clouds of tiny planets, ranging in size from a few hundred meters to a few kilometers in diameter that the Glassies hid their fleet, while more warriors were bred and readied for what was believed by their leaders to be a final assault on Earth and mankind. When, in a few months, the next crop of soldiers was ready, they would make the strongest and most coordinated effort yet to eliminate the human threat from their universe.

 

Dr. Emmet Carlisle sat at the head of a polished table in a medium-sized conference room located in the medical wing of Earth Station. Also present at the meeting were the Earth Station Commander, General Warner, the Sub-Commander, Colonel Brierly, two more doctors, and a stenographer. The meeting had been in progress for some time, though not much had been accomplished.

“So, do we know exactly how these implants work?” the General asked.

“No, sir,” Dr. Carlisle answered, “we don’t. We do know they are planted under the scalps of both Lieutenant Kinkaid and Gunnery Sergeant Hatcher, and we suspect that they are the reason for all the nightmares they both complain of; but, as to their functioning, we have no clue. We don’t think the implants are transmitting information, at least not on any frequency we could detect. We think they may be receiving, though. They may be some type of brainwashing device the Glassies use, or maybe just a tracking device. Anyway, we’re keeping both subjects under close observation.”

“Are you thinking sabotage?” the General asked.

“That’s one possibility, sir. If the Glassies can influence these two, there’s no telling what they might do.”

“Why not just take out the implants?”

“We’d rather leave them in, sir, and study the subjects, so we know what the intent was.”

“That could pose a danger to this station, and I’m not sure it’s worth the risk.”

“Believe me, General, we have them under control. Nothing’s going to be damaged and no one’s going to get hurt.”

“Let’s hope not. What about finding the factor that killed the Glassies, out on that hiveship?”

“We’re still working on that, sir. So far, we haven’t found anything positive, but I’m confident that it’s just a matter of time.”

“I admire your confidence, but time may be the one thing we don’t have a lot of, doctor.”

 

“What about cosmetics?” the doctor asked.

Marla Kinkaid was being interviewed for about the eleventh or twelfth time by these people and it was getting to be repetitious.

“Cosmetics?”

“Yeah, you know, lipstick and stuff?”

“When we were picked up by Lunar Raven, I left everything behind. I wasn’t using much of anything, anyway.”

“Let’s talk about specifics. What were you using? We need brand names of everything you can remember.”

For the next hour, they discussed Marla’s deodorant, lipstick, blush, nail polish, and feminine products. They’d obtain samples of each over the next few days, inoculate the captive Glassies, and look for reactions.

“What about perfume?” the doctor asked.

“Well, I hardly ever used any, except a few times when me and Gunny...well, you know...”

“Had sex?”

“Well, yeah...”

“Lieutenant, you needn’t be embarrassed. You were alone out there, facing death. He was a normal man and you were a normal woman. People have needs. So tell me about your perfume.”

“It’s some stuff I bought in Rio on my last vacation. It’s called Brazilian Encounter...”

 

Nine hours later two operatives broke into a warehouse in Curitiba, Brazil. They had already captured and interviewed the one-time owner of the now defunct “Perfume La Brasilia” company. He had assured them that all of the leftover stock was warehoused here. As their flashlights swept the darkness, they could see where barrels had sat in the dust, but the last of the “Brazilian Encounter” was gone. The thieves had been here first.

 

Marla Kinkaid was curled up with a detective novel in the VIP lounge of Section 2 of Earth Station. This was a large, cheery room in officers’ country, which could have been a place of relaxation on almost any civilized world, had it not been for the intrusion of the white-painted structure of the station and the stars and Earth wheeling by outside. Large windows, made of Lexan3, allowed a panoramic view, if a person cared to look and was not subject to motion sickness.

Marla, who had no problems in that area, could sit there for hours. She was curled up in a window seat which was formed by merely adding cushions to the eighteen-inch-wide interior ledge of the window. In her lap was Timmy, one of the many cats aboard Earth station. Most were private pets and some were feral, but others, like Timmy, had become “station” pets, belonging to no one but cared for by every animal lover aboard. Timmy had taken a shine to Marla and become her constant companion. He seemed to satisfy a need within her that had been gnawing away since the death of the “Chef.”

Because the windows were in the sides of the “wheels” which formed the living areas of the station, her view was of the other, outer wheel and the Earth beyond. The outer wheel appeared stationary to her and the Earth tumbled over and over like clothes in a dryer, though not as quickly. Still, if one didn’t look away periodically, it could make you dizzy.

She stared out at the view, firm jaw set and eyes slightly narrowed, her novel forgotten for the moment. When she arose that morning, she’d had another bout of morning sickness and, later in the day, had stopped in at the drug store over in Section 1 and purchased an early pregnancy test kit. Its results had been positive.

During the time she and Gunny Hatcher had been trapped aboard Montezuma, she had given little thought to possibly becoming a mother. She was aware, of course, that her contraceptive implant had run out, but when that happened she hadn’t been seeing anyone and it just didn’t seem important.

Now, she wondered why the medical teams who had examined her so closely hadn’t caught the fact that she was going to have a child. Or perhaps they did and just chose not to tell her. But she was bound to find out as soon as she skipped her next menstrual period, even if it weren’t for the sickness. She wondered now what else they weren’t telling her.

She also wondered what to do about the child. Of course, she could just go buy an abortion pill and terminate the pregnancy. Perfectly legal. No repercussions of any kind. It was her body, after all. Recent interpretations of constitutional amendments had given every woman the right to choose within the first trimester whether they would carry a baby to term. Now would be a good time to end it, while the fetus was small enough to expel without difficulty. But every time she thought of that, she started another wrestling match with her conscience.

This child was half Billy Hatcher and, in spite of the fact that before Montezuma they would have had little in common, now Marla could envision a day when the war might be over and she could be married to Billy (or someone very much like him, should he not survive).

She hadn’t seen Billy since they came aboard Earth Station. Attempts to contact him via phone message and electronic mail had all gone unanswered, and Marla suspected her messages were being intercepted. She could not imagine that Billy would snub her, nor fathom any reason why the military would keep them apart, but it was happening. Military protocol more or less forbade Billy from contacting her, since she was female and a superior officer; she figured they would have run into each other merely by chance by now. Her thoughts were interrupted by someone near her right elbow clearing his throat. She turned to find Sub-Commander Clifton Brierly standing about three feet away.

She quickly hopped to her feet, dumping Timmy unceremoniously on the deck, and assumed the position of attention, saying, “Good Afternoon, sir!”

“At ease, Lieutenant,” the colonel said with a deprecating wave of his hand. “Nice view, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. Quite spectacular.”

“Let’s have a seat, Lieutenant,” the colonel said, motioning to a table and chairs not far away.

What the hell’s this all about? Marla wondered. The colonel was a dapper little guy, about four inches shorter than her, with more than just a slight paunch and a bad comb-over, but he was a “wheel”, so she’d better pretend to respect him, even if she didn’t, really. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Timmy stalking out of the lounge, miffed at the dumping. He’ll probably get over it.

When they were seated, a waiter scurried over and the colonel ordered a whisky sour for himself. Marla ordered straight orange juice. Alcohol would be bad for the baby.

“You know, Marla...may I call you Marla?” Marla smiled slightly and nodded, and the colonel continued, “You know, I really owe you an apology.”

“An apology, sir?”

“Yes, that’s right, Marla,” the man was being positively oily. “Almost two months ago, a memo came across my desk about a possible nuclear detonation in space and a large object tracked nearby and I blew it off. The message was from a salvage vessel, commanded by a man I knew to be a notorious drunk, so I just gave it no credence at all. I’m afraid, after reading your reports, that I caused you and this Gunnery Sergeant of yours to be stuck out there a lot longer than you needed to be.”

“That notorious drunk would be Bill DeForrest.”

“Yes, that’s right. A drunk and a womanizer and totally unreliable. But still, if only I had known that someone such as yourself, someone so lovely...”

“Not your fault, colonel.” Marla said. She was starting to get the picture now. This little tyrant was going to try and score with her.

“Still, Marla, I feel somewhat responsible...”

The hell you do, you little prick. You just wanna get in my pants.

“I thought perhaps you might let me make it up to you. Perhaps dinner some evening soon?”

“Nothing to make up for, Colonel. Besides, it might not look good, militarily speaking, for us to be seen together socially. Someone might report it to your wife or a superior officer. I don’t think I’d be comfortable with that, although I do appreciate your gracious invitation.”

Marla could see that she had effectively cooled his jets, at least temporarily. She had no doubt he’d soon try some other ploy. She glanced at her watch and said, “If you’ll excuse me, colonel, I’m late for my hairdresser. Thank you for the drink, sir.”

The colonel stood as she left, rather glassy-eyed at the whirlwind brush-off. She would not be easy, this one, he mused.

 

Billy Hatcher awoke from an afternoon nap, exhausted and sweaty. His sleep was filled with vivid dreams nowadays, dreams of the rain forest and the singing of the Glassies. Dreams of war and extermination. In his dreams, the battles never ceased and the singing went ever onward, a destiny that he had inherited intact from another culture. In his dreams, he was still a soldier, but that was where the similarity ended. When he dreamed now, he rode the giant hiveships to a small solar system that held a blue planet full of hateful beings called “humans” and he could not wait to taste their blood.

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

In Brazil, the hunt for the perfume called “Brazilian Encounter” went grimly on. The operatives charged with the task of finding and securing samples of it were given a free hand and an unlimited budget. These were intelligent men, men of imagination and resourcefulness. They were not, however, men of compassion, not when it came to anything having to do with winning the war against the Glassies.

Every man, woman and child in the entire neighborhood around the warehouse was taken into custody and questioned. Little thought was given to gentleness, the prime objective being the recovery of the perfume, rather than the winning of hearts and minds.

They learned that men had come in the night with a red truck and taken away barrels. “Did anyone see a license number?” Nao, seņor. “Did anyone see the faces of the men? Nao, seņor. “Did anyone see which direction they went?” Ah, sim, seņor. Este. East?” Sim, seņor, toward Paranagua.

Paranagua was a small fishing village with docks. From there, the barrels were no doubt shipped up the coast to São Paulo or Rio. Hadn’t the woman said she bought it in Rio? Thirty agents spread themselves up the coast, checking open-air markets, department stores, boutiques and private shops. Everywhere the question was the same: “Do you have or where may one obtain Brazilian Encounter?”

 

In the Trojan asteroids, thirty hiveships paced the numerous chunks of spinning rock and metal, remaining camouflaged from inquisitive patrols by the sheer number of radar contacts. Queens laid eggs, which hatched into larvae with voracious appetites. These were lovingly fed and tended until they entered the pupal stage, at which point they were packed into chambers or cocoons for their change to adult stage warriors. The process would continue until there was no longer an adequate food supply or sufficient room to contain them. Then the ships would de-orbit and the Glassies would pour forth to raid and replenish and kill.

 

In the inner planets, preparations were underway for the next assault no one doubted would come. Battle damage was repaired, even as new ships were being built. New weapons were being developed at an astounding rate, even for humans. Cities were being rebuilt underground, with personal shelters the norm for every family.

Personnel were being recruited from middle schools and care homes. Even a boy of twelve or an old person with an alert mind could make some contribution to the war effort. Many a dowager, wearing incontinence diapers, had learned to watch a radar screen or stuff ammo boxes from her wheelchair. The “Granny Brigades” already had their own awards system and some wore more medals than any general in the field.

 

In Brazil, in the small village of Alfredo Chaves, an operative at last found “Brazilian Encounter” being sold in a stall at the open-air market. He bought all the wizened old vendor had, twenty vials, then questioned her. Where did she obtain it? A shrug. A man comes around... “What does this man look like?” Another shrug. Like any other man. “Does he drive?” Sim, seņor, he drives a red truck. “When is he due again?” Another shrug. Any time, Seņor. Perhaps esta noite. The operatives sent the samples to their contact and settled in to watch and wait.

 

Billy Hatcher had decided to see the shrink. His nightmares were starting to affect his appetite and his general well-being. He was sure he was developing an ulcer.

On the other hand, he had received his prosthetic arm and was in therapy. It was working out nicely and it should, considering that it had cost the taxpayers sixty thousand credits. Not only did he have a useable hand and arm again, it was so lifelike that most people didn’t give it a second look. Best of all, he no longer had the tingles and phantom limb sensations. His nervous system had adapted quickly to the way the arm felt and the sensations it produced, including heat, cold, pressure, and touch. The only thing it couldn’t do was transmit pain. Billy thought that might be a definite advantage, especially in battle.

 

The doctors overseeing Billy and Marla’s cases were meeting almost daily now. They knew Marla was aware of her own pregnancy by now and was starting to experience nightmares similar to Billy’s, though not yet of the same intensity. Billy had asked for the services of a psychiatrist, something most battle-hardened veterans prided themselves on not needing. He had told one of the doctors that he was becoming fearful that he might hurt someone, and got urges he wasn’t sure he would be able to continue to cope with. He didn’t want the responsibility of someone’s blood on his hands.

The doctors were deliberating over how soon they should take out the implants. They had also noticed that whenever Billy and Marla were having their nightmares, the Glassies being held as prisoners showed an increased level of agitation, well above their normal, merely vicious nature.

The doctors had received word that the perfume had been found in Brazil and was being shipped by the next shuttle. They were aware they were walking a fine line between complacency and loss of control. The detail that was assigned to watch Billy and Marla was doubled.

 

 

In Brazil, the man in the red truck showed up in Alfredo Chaves and was taken into custody, along with his eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. Questioned as to the whereabouts of the remaining Brazilian Encounter, he steadfastly refused to cooperate. He was made aware of the gravity of the situation and the fact that if the Earth lost this war, no one would survive. He still refused to give up the perfume. It was not until agents tied him in a chair and made him watch as they prepared to torture his son that he finally gave up the location of the stash. The remains of the world’s supply of Brazilian Encounter was hidden in a shed behind his house.

By nightfall, eleven barrels of the stuff was on its way out of Brazil and the original owner of the perfume had a check for thirty thousand dollars. The man in the red truck had nothing but his children, safe and sound. Still, he counted himself lucky. The operatives had been very dangerous.

 

From the stable of six Glassies that Earth science had managed to keep alive, one was selected for inoculation. It was carefully isolated and a decision was made as to how the Brazilian Encounter was to be administered. The scientists decided to start with an airborne mist. If that didn’t produce results, they could move on to direct inoculation. They needn’t have worried. The Glassie began to show signs of agitation within twenty minutes of the time a fine mist was sprayed into its containment cubicle. It began constantly trying to clean and groom itself, running its feelers through its mandibles and chewing at its feet. Most any Glassie kept in confinement would pace its containment area whenever it was not asleep; however, the infected specimen began a concentrated effort to flee or escape that included some astounding leaps onto walls and even the ceiling.

Within twenty-four hours it was starting to show obvious signs of weakness. It no longer leapt or threw itself against walls or bars. It became quite docile, merely sitting and feeling poorly. After forty-eight hours it had stopped eating and was hurling everything back up. In seventy-two hours, it was having difficulty breathing and, in four days, it was dead.

Now the medical team aboard Earth Station bundled up the Glassie’s remains to be shipped back to Earth. There an autopsy of sorts would be done to find out why it died.

 

The deep space salvage vessels Coyote and Lunar Raven arrived in orbit around Mars. They made a total of two laps around the planet and were preparing to send down a shuttle to start negotiation of sales of the equipment and materiel salvaged from Montezuma. Before a shuttle could be launched, however, they were hailed and boarded by Federation troops who had been alerted to watch for them. All personnel were taken into custody and held, pending an investigation.

Captains Bill DeForrest and Arthur Griswold would be charged with piracy of a United Federation Space Vessel and reckless endangerment of military personnel and, perhaps, even attempted murder. Their vessels and all contents were impounded and sealed, to be held as evidence for the court. As time permitted, all contents were inventoried and a video record was made for the benefit of a jury.

 

Gunnery Sergeant Hatcher awoke from a deep, slow-moving murky dream to the buzzing of the interphone. He had no idea how long it had been ringing. Its tone had blended so well with the song of the Glassies in his dream, that it had taken him a while to respond. Again, he had been in the deep, cool rainforest, listening to the dripping of moisture, tinkling of leaves, and the soft rasping insect song of the alien creatures.

He reached out and slapped the “active” button without even sitting up.

“Yeah?”

“Gunny?”

At the sound of Marla’s voice, he sat up quickly and looked at the monitor. He felt his heart give a leap as he saw her face. Damn, she looked good!

“Hi, Ell-tee. Long time no see.”

“That’s no shit. They’ve been keeping me from calling you. I finally raised enough hell, they let my calls go through.”

“Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know, but they’re probably listening to us now.”

Billy was smart enough to know what that meant. Keep the conversation strictly professional. No bantering, no fraternization, no hint of intimacy. “So, what’s new, Ma’am?” He hardly ever called her that but it would let her know he understood.

“They believe they’ve found the factor.”

“Say again?”

“The thing that killed the Glassies.”

“Oh, no shit? What was it?”

“My perfume. Or more correctly, something in my perfume. They’re working on finding out why it kills ‘em right now.”

“Man, that’s good news!”

“Yeah, Gunny, the best. Maybe we can still win this friggin’ war.”

“Where are they keeping you?”

“Over in Section Two. Officer’s country. You know they have cats over here?”

“Oh, yeah, we do too. They’re runnin’ all over the place—mostly underfoot, but everybody likes havin’ ‘em around.”

“Yeah, they tell me they take to low gravity really well.”

“Yeah.” Conversation was starting to drag and both of them realized they couldn’t say any of the things that were really on their minds—their time together, their futures, their love for each other. Billy wondered if they might be able to meet somewhere. He reached over and flipped a switch to record the conversation.

“Hey, you got your arm!”

“Yeah,” Billy said, holding it up, flexing the fingers of his bionic hand, “pretty cool, huh?”

“Yeah, neat-o.”

“Have you been doing any exploring?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah. I’m all over the place, as far as they’ll let me go.”

“Yeah, me too. Especially up the walls, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, it’s affecting me that way, too. Up the walls and across the ceilings.”

“Are your corridors guarded?”

“Yeah, I can’t leave Section Two without a pass. There’s an MP station on every access port.”

“What’s your cabin number? In case I need to call you?”

“It’s two dash one-one-seven. You just punch that in on your keypad and hit “star.”

“Got it. Okay, Ell-Tee, I’ll let ya go. I gotta get back to sleep.”

“Sorry I woke ya, Gunny.”

“I’m not. It was good to hear your voice and see ya, Ell-Tee.”

“‘Kay, bye.”

“Yeah, later.” Billy wondered if she was smart enough to catch his ceiling reference. He got out of bed and spent the next twenty minutes going over his cabin for hidden video cameras and microphones. He found nothing. Then he got dressed and climbed up on his bunk and unscrewed a ceiling panel. Lifting it away and sliding it over, he poked his head up into the crawl space above. It was dark but not inky. He could see well enough to navigate. It was a maze of wires and pipes, everything color-coded and precisely laid out. Every fifteen feet there were reference numbers painted on the walls and every forty-five feet there were small pressure hatches.

He knew what direction Section two was in and he had a flashlight and time on his hands. Might as well explore. If Marla was as smart as he figured she was, she’d be finding him somewhere up here.

He didn’t have to wait long. Billy was crawling along on all fours, keeping his weight on the struts rather than the panels, so nothing would flex and make his presence known. He had proceeded as quietly as possible through the false ceiling access and gone over three sections, carefully closing and dogging each access hatch as he went through. He saw nothing to indicate that the hatches might be wired to a security board somewhere. Most people on the station probably didn’t even know they existed. They were kept closed and dogged in case of a meteor strike, which might open a compartment to space. The idea was to keep the rest of the station air-tight, isolating the problem until it could be repaired.

Soon, he saw a flashlight ahead, turned off his light, and found a large strut to crouch behind. When he was sure it was Marla, he flashed his light and she came to him.

They had an awkward moment when Billy couldn’t decide whether they should salute or hug each other. Marla solved that one by wrapping both arms around him and kissing him heartily on the mouth. It was nice to be able to respond with two arms. At last they broke off the kiss and she said, next to his ear, “I’ve missed you.”

“God, I know it. I’ve missed you, too.”

“Any idea where we could go to be alone?”

Billy chuckled and she asked, “What?”

“We spent five months alone in space, finally get back to civilization, and we can’t wait to be alone again.”

“Yeah, well, it’s been a while, ya know?”

“Yeah. So, your place or mine?”

“Mine’s closer,” she said, shining her light at the nearest reference number, “see? We’re in section two.”

“Okay, you lead, I’ll follow.”

They started making their way back to Marla’s quarters.

 

At the same time that Billy and Marla were crawling around in the ceilings, arranging their clandestine meeting, another meeting was taking place in Section two. Present in the conference room was the Station Commander, General Warner, the Sub-Commander, Clifton Brierly, Dr. Carlisle, and three other doctors. They were discussing the death of the Glassie they had “perfumed” and other topics.

“Killed it deader’n hell in four days, huh?” General Warner said.

“Yes, sir,” Dr. Carlisle responded, “and we need to repeat the experiment, to be sure but it looks like we’ve found our weapon. Of course, we’ll need to figure out why and how it works, you know, isolate whatever is in that stuff that kills ‘em. It appears to affect their respiratory system first, then their nervous system and digestive tract.”

“Good, good. Fed Headquarters assures me you can have all the money and resources you need, but they want it post haste and need to figure out a delivery system.”

“All we’ll need to do is get it inside their environment, General. It should spread throughout their hive ships within days.”

“Okay, how about our other problems?”

“Lieutenant Kinkaid and Gunny Hatcher? No change, really. They don’t seem to be turning violent or anything, although Hatcher has asked for psychiatric help.”

“He must be pretty desperate then. He’s gotta know this won’t help his career.”

“We’re pretending to go along with it for now, General. We want to see if anything changes as these captive Glassies sicken and die.”

“I’m not sure I like the idea of having them running around loose with these implants in their heads. If one of them snaps, they could do a lot of damage, maybe cost us a lot of lives.”

“We can’t really confine ‘em, General, not without an explanation. They’re considered heroes, you know. Besides, we know where they are at all times, and, whenever they’re not in quarters, they’re being watched. They can’t do anything we don’t know about.”

Not strictly true, you prick, Billy thought. He was perched three feet above the doctor’s head, in the false ceiling. He and Marla had crawled directly above the conference room and paused, mesmerized by the conversation. Implants. It certainly explained a lot. Billy looked over at Marla and, in the dim light, could just make out the frown line between her eyes. He could also see that her complexion had darkened. She was pissed off and getting ready to do something stupid. He motioned her quickly to move on and, in three minutes, they dropped down into her quarters. When she opened her mouth to speak, Billy clapped his hand over it, then turned on some music and her shower. Then they crawled into her bunk and pulled blankets over their heads and had a conference.

“Implants?” she said, in the hot, muffled darkness, “We’ve got fucking implants?”

“It would explain a lot...”

“No shit...”

“Yeah, the nightmares...”

“The way that queen was able to show us things...”

“The way our feelings have changed...”

“You, too?”

“Yeah, I’ve...I’ve been having bad thoughts, stuff like murder and sabotage...”

“Me, too.”

“We’ve gotta do something, Gunny.”

“I agree, but what?”

“Gotta get these things outta our heads.”

“They wanta leave ‘em in...an’ study us.”

“Hey, I ain’t no lab rat, okay? They can study all they want, but I’m gettin’ this thing outta my head.”

“How we gonna do it? We don’t even know where they are. They might require some kinda special surgery. We can’t do that.”

“You’re right. I’ve gotta get to General Warner. He doesn’t like the idea of us havin’ these things, either. If he knows we know we got ‘em...”

“Then, he’ll make ‘em take the damn things out. Might work, babe.”

“I’ll see if I can get an appointment with the General.”

“Say, while we’re under here...”

“Yeah?”

Billy pulled her closer and they kissed, roughly at first, then more tenderly. Soon the jump suits were in the way and they solved that, too.

Afterwards, Marla said, “I hope all this turns out okay and the war’s over soon. You’re gonna be a daddy, Billy.”

“Wha...how the hell did that happen?”

“I should buy you a book, or what?”

“No, I know how it happens, smartass. But I thought all military women were protected...”

“Well, mine ran out while we were on Montezuma and there wasn’t any pharmacy handy. I can get a pill and take care of it, if it bothers you.”

“We’ll have to get out of the military, or at least one of us will.”

“I know. Probably me, since I’m the one carrying the kid.”

“Do they know?”

“They must, but they haven’t said anything yet.”

“Okay. For the time being, let’s just leave it that way. We’ll see how things go and, when it’s over, get married.”

“Think so, huh?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He reached for her, pulling her close once more.

She snuggled close under the rough military blanket and whispered, “God, I love you, Billy.”

For the time being, it was all he needed to hear.

 

Gunny Hatcher stayed the night in Marla’s quarters, in spite of the fact that if they were caught it would mean a court martial for him and dismissal for her. They were in the kind of mood where they didn’t care. After all they had been through, the loss of her commission would mean little to Marla, and a few months in the brig would seem a picnic to Billy after the time they spent on Montezuma.

In the morning, Billy went back to his quarters via the above-ceiling route. Along the way, he noticed two cats up inside the access areas, hiding. Neither would come to him when he called and, in fact, one of them hissed at him. They were clearly afraid of something, but Billy couldn’t imagine what it might be. He had just dropped into his quarters when the public address system paged “general quarters.”

Billy had never heard general quarters sounded since he’d been at Earth Station and didn’t even know what to do or where to go. He went out into the hall and approached the nearest Marine guard post.

The Lance Corporal on duty sent him to the nearest armory to draw a weapon. When Billy arrived, he was issued a compressed gas riot gun with beanbag rounds and something called “sticky net.” That was when he learned the reason for the alert. The remaining five Glassies were loose. No one seemed to know how that had happened and all the Marine personnel who were guarding them had been found dead, none of them in pretty ways.

Rather than rampage through the station, as might be expected, the Glassies had chosen to hide and a search was under way.

Billy and another Lance were given radios and a sector assignment. They were to search and secure Section Two and remain there until relieved or the crisis was over. Station personnel were being assisted by patrol craft that were being called in and their crews assigned to help.

 

Billy had been gone for only a few minutes and Marla was in the shower when the Glassie warrior dropped through the false ceiling and into her quarters. When she came out of the tiny bathroom, wearing nothing but a towel, she came face to face with a nightmare. The Glassie was between her and the door and there was no way she could outmaneuver it anyway. The Glassies were notorious for the speed with which they could move, especially when excited or agitated. She had no chance to reach safety or a weapon. They stood facing each other, and Marla waited for the end. It was clear that the Glassie would be able to rip her to pieces in seconds and she would be able to do little to defend herself. She stood perfectly still and the Glassie did the same. She thought of the phone and the Glassie turned and looked at it. She thought of the door and it looked in that direction. My God, it’s reading my mind, she thought, it’s got to be the damned implants.

When the Glassie’s mind invaded hers, and its cold hatred bashed at her defenses until it seized control of her thoughts, she at last fainted.

 

As troops began to spread throughout Earth Station, it soon became apparent that finding the five missing alien warriors would not only prove difficult but extremely dangerous. The average person who lived and worked on Earth Station had no idea how complex the structure of the station really was. There were numerous areas that most persons never saw and hiding places abounded. There were false ceilings, pipe chases, and tunnels running everywhere and from various access hatches that had been found open; the Glassies were finding and using them all.

General Warner was livid with anger, not only because the Glassies got loose but because he had lost some troops and his station was in danger, along with everyone on it. A quick solution to the problem would not be forthcoming. Before this was over, he would probably lose more marines.

 

Billy Hatcher and the Lance Corporal were teamed with two other regular combat Marines into a four-man squad. The other two troops were off the Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, which happened to be in port. Named for one of the most famous marines in history, the Chesty and its compliment of Marines had a reputation of being the saltiest, nastiest group of battle-hardened bastards to ever jump into a scrap. They fought with a maniacal toughness that had to be seen to be believed and, even when in port, loved a good fight. They had torn up bars and whorehouses on every settled planet they had ever visited. Rounding up and containing five Glassies would be an afternoon’s play for them, no more threatening than a game of touch football.

Billy’s team started a sweep through Section Two, checking and clearing every room and compartment as they went. The maddening part was that even after they secured an area, they really had no assurance that it would stay that way. Something could move through the ceilings or floors and come in behind them at any time.

 

The Glassie in Marla’s compartment spent considerable time hovering over her inert form, its mind linked to hers by way of the implant buried under her scalp. When it had learned all it could from her, it would kill her. Even now, it lusted to taste her blood and feel her bones crunch in its mandibles; but the time was not yet right. Just as it learned the information that would be the most important to its survival, it heard stealthy movements outside, in the corridor.

Billy’s team had just turned into the corridor where Marla’s quarters were located when Billy saw the cat. He didn’t know it as Timmy. He just saw a black and white cat crouched and staring at Marla’s door, its tail twitching back and forth. It’s hunting, Billy thought, it’s got something it’s really interested in. Too bad it can’t hunt Glassies... Then realization dawned that the cat might be doing just that. He began to speculate about what might be behind Marla’s door. She was surely in there, along with his unborn child.

Billy motioned the team to both sides of the door and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the cat take off. He gently tried the door and found it locked. He turned to the biggest of the Jarheads off the Chesty and nodded, readying his weapon. The Marine lowered his shoulder and rammed the door, effectively assuring that it would need to be replaced after this was over. As the door exploded inward with a crash and the squad burst into the room, Billy saw the back legs and part of the abdomen of a Glassie as it sprung upward into the ceiling. Then he went to Marla, snatching a blanket from her bed to wrap her with.

As other Marines were called to converge on Section Two, Billy changed radio channels and summoned medics to Marla’s room.

 

To Be Continued

 

 

 

Kenneth James Crist, blkptls@cox.net, www.blackpetals.net, of Wichita, Kansas, wrote the SF serial (starting in BP #76)  SURVIVING MONTEZUMA  (+  BP #78’s “Those Other Guys,” “The Big Well” & “Virtuality” for BP #75, “Gift of the Anasazi” for BP #73, “The Weeping Man” for BP #72, “Pebbles” for BP #71, “The Diner” for BP #67, “New Glasses” for BP #61, “Ones and Zeros” for BP #50, the novelette Joshua) and has edited BP for many years, continuing as Editor Emeritus, then Coeditor/Webmaster. Widely published, esp. in Hardboiled and on Yellow Mama, he also has four chapbooks currently for sale in Kindle format on Amazon.com, Dreaming of Mirages, The Gazing Ball, Joshua, and Groaning for Burial, his latest zombie fiction.

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