Captain Vogel, never without her Valmet 6mm assault rifle, strides into Green Section’s ready-room. Jet-black hair tightly braided, narrow, dark eyes and athletic figure, Vogel looks every bit the mercenary and assassin she used to be.
‘Everyone listen! News.’ She waits for silence; twenty-five heads turn to her. ‘Awenasa, you are now a first lieutenant and command Delta squad. You’ll get a trainee to fill my space. Congratulate her later, everyone. From Monday we are Blue Section, I want you in this room by 15:30 and ready for action by 15:50 every day. Sorry to call you all in early, but Black Section just took losses and I want your brains to work out why.’
Murmurs fill the room.
Vogel goes on, ‘Three dead. Pig farm, slaughterhouse, processing plant and transport depot. A busy place even at night. Look at the screens. First an overview. OK, there are long shadows that don’t help. The sun had just come up. That is the alien harvesting craft as soon as we got a drone over it. You can see the marks of weaponry on buildings and all the smoke drifting from the resulting fires. Five civilians were killed and carried to the harvester before Black Section’s Alpha squad arrived. Any questions so far?’
No one responds. They’ve seen the pictures already. Vogel says, ‘The harvester was badly damaged by stilettos on the way down through the atmosphere and Black Alpha decided to hit it with rockets. Interesting decision, but perhaps unwise in retrospect. With no way to retreat, the aliens ran amok, at random, and killed many more civilians than in a normal harvesting mission. One alien is still unaccounted for – but it’s not in the area now. Black’s Beta Section is sweeping the woods nearby and supported by numerous drones. They’ll get the last of the enemy soon. The area is locked down until we find it. Black Alpha haven’t even gone in to lift the casualties. Any questions?’
The newest recruit, Googoosh stands and says, ‘Ma’am I will have questions, but first I need information. Can we connect with the owner of the farm?’
‘Dead, sorry, but there are other staff. They’re itching to get back. The pigs have been left unattended for too long.’ Vogel taps into her wristcomm, and after a moment says, ‘Captain Vogel UN Military here. Who is this? … How long have you worked at the farm? … OK, pull more people into your office, or whatever. If you want us to declare the farm area safe we need information.’ She glances at Googoosh. ‘Sending the link.’
Googoosh stares into her wristcomm, her long, arching eyebrows pulled into a frown. She connects and says, ‘Private Soomekh here. The alley where the three soldiers died. Has anyone been through it since?’
Over the speakers comes, ‘No.’
‘Good, don’t let anyone near it. I’m putting you on silent hold for a moment. Please don’t go away. Be ready for more questions.’ To Vogel, and all in the ready-room, she says, ‘Look at the photos in this order.’ Everyone present looks at the wall screens.
Tapping buttons on her wristcomm, Googoosh says, ‘Alright, this one. See the squad are moving in pairs. Now this photo, two have gone down that alley and one is dead. In the next sweep, the drone takes this. The leader of that pair has gone all the way back up that alley. She’s down too, but a mysterious distance from the soldier that died trying to help her. That soldier used a medikit and dropped it beside him, there. The healing was successful and the healed soldier moved – then both were killed. That’s the most logical explanation for their positions. The alien was in that alley.’
Vogel says. ‘I think that’s pretty obvious, but it’s not there now. We’ve had drones up and down it.’
Googoosh shakes her head. ‘Please, ma’am, I haven’t started.’ She taps her wristcomm and says, ‘Evgeny, sorry to keep you waiting. In that alley from the lower level – the bit north east. There’s a circular object, looks like metal. What is it?’
‘My English not good. Is old thing. We store food for pigs.’
‘Could someone hide in it?’
No, no, bottom broken all, old, red, falling apart. Not for hide in.’
‘Looking further down the alley. What is all that silver stuff on the wall on the north side?’
‘Is ladders, old feeders; all old rubbish.’
‘Could a short person hide in it?’
‘Maybe … I think … maybe.’
‘The next thing is a tractor.’
‘Old and no good … it has no wheels, or cabin.’
‘Thank you, Evgeny. Stay with us, I’m putting you on hold again.’
Googoosh says to Green Section, ‘No soldier would have passed any of that without checking, but there was alien there, somewhere.’
Vogel says, ‘Obviously. Where are you going with this?’
‘To the alien, ma’am.’
‘Can you get there faster?’
‘No, ma’am.’ Googoosh closes her eyes and runs fingers through her spiky, black hair. ‘If it wasn’t on the left, it was on the right.’
Someone shouts, ‘There’s nothing on the right.’ Other comments concur.
Googoosh says, ‘Yes there is.’ She boots up her connection again. ‘ Evgeny, what is the low wall, or whatever, on the opposite side to all the junk?’
‘Is … is outlet.’
‘Outlet for what?’
‘There are four thousand pigs in that building. It is, how you say … wait…’ Voices shout over each other in what sounds like a small room. ‘Sewage, slurry.’
Googoosh goes on. ‘What are those objects all along the wall?’
‘For air. For pigs breathe.’
‘Could an alien hide in them? How high are they?’
‘Too small. Is not possible. Uh … they are four, five metres up.’
‘Any other holes or windows on that side?’
‘Not windows or doors, no.’
Goongoosh enlarges a detail. ‘The vents on the roof … no. Thank you, Evgeny.’ She disconnects, looks at Vogel, and says. ‘The alien was in the slurry and may be still there, ma’am.’
Vogel sits on the arm of a sofa. ‘Go on.’
‘You told me about finding a defensive position with a good field of fire. Once you have the best position, stick to it. The alien waited until the two soldiers were about to leave the alley and probably shot the last to leave. The second, believing there’s nowhere to hide on what would be her right side, ran back up the alley, hunting the alien, but passing it, and was shot too. The third soldier went to help … and the rest we’ve worked out.’
The noise in the ready-room grows, Vogel calls for silence. Googoosh goes on. ‘There is no trail of slurry from the outlet, as you’d expect if someone were to leave and have it running from their clothes.’
Vogel says, ‘Your alien can breathe in slurry?’
Googoosh nods. ‘I would say so. They carry a small amount of liquefied gasses to add to our air. Maybe we only assume it goes into their mouths. Possibly they can respire through their skin. Look, we don’t know their natural habitat. We do know they have feet that can spread. That could be for swimming. Maybe they live in a muddy … ah … what troubles me is that it can sense people passing, without being able to hear or see them…’ General conversation drowns her out.
Vogel shouts, ‘I’m not convinced, but there’s no harm in taking a look. OK, Awenasa, your two best shots take .5 sniper rifles. I want two more in heavy armour and two with rocket launchers. Everyone carry two rockets. Four minutes. Go.’ She sees Googoosh shaking her head. ‘What?’
‘If … it’s … ma’am…?’
‘Out with it.’
‘The noise of four thousand pigs coming through ventilators, the dampening of vibrations and sound by the density of the slurry, the overwhelming smell, the inability to see through slurry… I think the aliens have a sense we don’t possess.’
Googoosh shrugs. ‘If they do live in a muddy environment, how do they know where each other are? It’s reasonable to assume they will have adapted in some way to locate, even communicate with each other.’
Amid the clatter and bustle of Delta Squad preparing, and the pilot running up the engines of their firebird outside, Googoosh says, ‘Ma’am, the aliens could be psychic.’
Elodie, the firebird pilot, touches down in the centre of the vehicle park to the hoots from blocked and frustrated lorry drivers. Despite the sun having risen well above the horizon, in the dim daylight of an overcast morning, floodlights still turn the area into stark light and shadow.
The cargo-bay door-ramps have hardly touched the ground before Delta Squad are deployed. Googoosh, paired with Vogel, runs beside her. ‘Ma’am, a word.’
Vogel says, ‘Switch your radio from you and I to general.’
‘Yes, ma’am.’ Awenasa, Janice and Kpangba form a flowing point, one racing from cover to cover in turns, while the other two crouch down, muzzles pointing into shadow, to roof-edges, windows and doors.
Firoz, Gianina and Heidi move in the same way, but concentrate their attention rearwards.
Googoosh, slightly scrambled by the contrast of soldiers moving in full combat mode among factory workers going about their normal business, goes on, ‘I’ve been thinking. I think if we do this your way … how about sending the armoured pair down the alley, covered by the two snipers about a hundred and fifty metres away? If the alien can feel where we are, it may have limited range and not detect the snipers.’
‘No, we hit the slurry with rockets until we’re sure the alien is dead, or not there.’
‘Ma’am, then we won’t know if it can detect us or not. I think that’s a vital piece of information and something we should resolve.’
Vogel says, ‘OK, squad, hold position at the edge of the lock-down zone.’ They continue to move until they’re two hundred metres from the pig-shed.
Googoosh squats in shadow, rifle sights pointing along the edge of a roof, dropping to the shade under a flat-bed lorry, moving to a stack of pallets… ‘I’ll volunteer to put on the heavy armour and walk down the alley.’
‘No, you saw the mess of the first soldier that died. That alien has at least two weapons and used something very powerful then. If it uses it again, nanos won’t save you and I’m not sacrificing anyone to prove a hunch.’
‘Ma’am…’ Googoosh’s shoulders slump.
Vogel hisses and says, ‘Stay where you are, everyone. Going to personal comms.’
Googoosh tenses, expecting a reprimand, but nothing comes.
Vogel calls command, ‘Iraina, I need to speak to lieutenant-colonel Hatzis urgently.’ She waits until Iraina responds.
‘Sorry, ma’am, the lieutenant-colonel is not available.’
‘I can try general Craithie in Chad…’
‘What? I can’t bother him … damn, get him.’
A few seconds later she hears, ‘Allan Craithie here, what is it, captain?’
‘Sorry to bother you, general. We’re about seventy kilometres north east of Borovichi, Russia, and about to move in on a suspected hidden target. I have a new recruit here who believes that the aliens may be psychic. She’s bright and sharp, and wants to test her theory. It would mean risking casualties, but she thinks this is too important an opportunity to miss.’
‘Interesting. I have just, in the last hour, discovered that the aliens can detect human minds – even through walls. We don’t know much more, but you don’t need to risk anyone. Who is this private?’
‘Googoosh Soomekh, a conscript that wanted to train on the job.’
‘She sounds like gold-dust.’
‘She is, when she’s not doing my head in.’
‘Destroy the alien. Don’t risk anyone. Send me a full report asap – including a report on this, uh, I didn’t get the name clearly, but how she worked this out.’
‘Yes, sir, over and out.’ Going to general comms, she says, ‘Delta, we move in and take positions to hit the suspected alien with rockets. I can confirm that the aliens can detect us in some way. Googoosh, you seem to have impressed a general. Don’t let it go to your head. Move in, everyone.’
©Gary and Christy Bonn, 2014