Friday Fictioneers — Discarded Vegetable

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Short and sweet…

Sarah Potter Writes


You’ve agreed with each other, five years is long enough. Your voices  tunnel through my ears into my bruised brain.

The doctor says, “If by some miracle your mother regains consciousness, she’ll be a vegetable.”

What sort? A carrot, cabbage, or potato? Fried, roasted, half-baked, perhaps? Indeed, you’ve decided to uproot me from this life and cast me into the earth like a shriveled pod.

Foolish you, discussing your inheritances while standing at my bedside.

When you leave, I’m going to perform a double miracle and you won’t see me for the dust, my discarded  life-support tubes your constant reminder.


Friday Fictioneers: 100 word stories
Prompt: image (c) Connie Gayer (Mrs Russell)

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Delta Detective

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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.’

‘Who is?’

‘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

Frostbite and Fire

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Elodie, the firebird’s pilot, calls from the cockpit, ‘Captain Vogel, ma’am, we’re approaching the site. Two minutes.’
Vogel, after eleven years as a mercenary soldier, thinks her mad decision to join the UN Military’s secret order, PHALANX, was the best thing she’s ever done. She’s working with people she can control through respect and trust, not money – and doesn’t need to look over her shoulder to see if she’s being betrayed.
She commands Green Platoon: four eight-soldier units and four pilots. This unit, Delta, mainly comprised of other ex-mercenaries, hasn’t met the enemy yet. She’s worked with some of the soldiers before. Firoz, dark-eyed, hard-faced, a man who, up till now, worked for large companies, dealing quietly with their dirty work; Kpangba, tall and jet-black. The terror of pirates and slave traders anywhere, he’d take missions for pennies just to get at them. Vogel thinks there is a bit of family slave-history there – but Kpangba doesn’t talk about it. Gianina started as a prostitute, killed a client, became an assassin, and worked with Vogel on small, exclusive missions. Quick and quiet, she’s the most meticulous planner Vogel has ever met. Heidi, Janice and Awenasa worked for other ex-mercenary bosses and can be vouched for. Googoosh, a conscript, enthusiastic and inexperienced, has only had a few days training, but training is in short supply in PHALANX and Googoosh begged to join Vogel and learn on the job. Vogel put her though some virtual combat tests and was impressed with her quick mind and speed of learning. In a few seconds Googoosh faces real action, but looks as calm as the others.
Every soldier in Green Platoon chose to work under Vogel. She’s quirky, demands UN procedure to be followed exactly, likes to work as part of a team rather than be over-directive, demands initiative, and allows each soldier to choose one name to be known by.
Elodie she stole from her commander – as part of the price for enlisting. Elodie was happy with that, after she’d seen helmet-cam recordings of Vogel’s first mission against the aliens. Vogel, with an empty rifle, attacked and killed an alien, to save civilians. She could have reloaded her rifle to ensure her own safety – but people would have died first.
Vogel sits with Delta section – four either side of the fuselage of the firebird. Straps hold her to the starboard bench. Her knees steady a dull, black 6mm Valmet rifle set to three-round bursts and loaded with armour-piercing. She calls to the pilot, ‘Elodie, screens on.’
‘Screens on, ma’am. We have two stilettos covering us at angels fifty, well, in about twenty seconds.’
The four dozing soldiers opposite Vogel wake and stare at the overhead screens. Vogel elbows the soldier next to her. ‘Wake up, pass it on.’
She glances at the left-hand screen above the soldiers on the port bench. But it’s only a glance. A blank map, there’s nothing to see out there but snow and ice. She wonders why it’s called “Greenland”.
The right screen shows the blurred black and grey of a ruined building amid a background of frozen white. A fifty-metre radio mast towers over the desolation. Vogel says, ‘OK, the aliens left maybe two days ago when contact was lost. There won’t be anything here, but it will be good practice for you, Googoosh. We land and deploy as if among hostiles. Stay tight, enter the complex, sweep and return to the firebird. Firoz, Kpangba, Janice on flowing point. Googoosh with me; Heidi, Gianina, and Awenasa cover our six.’ She pauses, ‘Elodie, temperature?’
‘Minus thirty-eight C, ma’am.’
Vogel snorts. ‘Nobody take a leak out there. I mean it … and don’t take your gloves of even for an instant.’ Elodie, map of the complex please.’
‘There you go, and last satellite pass.’
Vogel says, ‘It’s a burned-out wreck. Hey what’s that?’ She puts her helmet on. ‘Get ready, everyone. Keep her steady, pilot; I want to take a look.’ Buckles clatter against steel as she rises, slings her rifle over a shoulder and, steadying herself, both hands grasping ceiling-straps, approaches the cockpit.
Despite the constant blast of hot air, ice forms and melts on the windscreens like ghostly fire. ‘Take us in on VTOL. Everyone, helmets on, radios on.’
Elodie says, ‘Hang on tight, ma’am.’ The firebird slows and VTOL jets cut in, roaring too loud for normal conversation.
They creep forwards, Elodie’s thumb flicking the safety off the sentinel gun’s trigger.
Vogel, gripping the door frame, knuckles white, says, ‘It’s a snowmobile. For a mad moment I thought … wait … there is a body! A human. What on earth? Elodie, get back one kilometre while I think this through. OK, people. Something weird happened down there. The aliens didn’t collect at least one body, but their harvesting-craft left. Strange.’
Elodie cuts in, ‘Infra-red … there could be someone alive down there.’
Vogel shakes her head. ‘I suppose it could be a surviving alien, but unlikely. Did seven unarmed civilians fight aliens? The only reason the harvester would leave is that it’s fully loaded with bodies, or all the aliens were dead. No way can seven scientist take on aliens. This is all bizarre. Elodie, land one kilometre east of the base. Cover it with the sentinel.’ She turns and grabs hand-straps by the port cargo-bay door. ‘Change of plan. Awenasa, take Firoz, Janice, and Kpangba. I want you 250 metres south. I’ll take the rest of you north the same distance; Googoosh partner me. Both teams keep parallel. That will leave the sentinel a 500 metre arc when we arrive. The main dome is … was … 180 metres in diameter. We’ll reassess on arrival. Any better ideas?’ No one responds.
The firebird jerks as it touches down. Cargo-bay doors open like wings and the eight soldiers are out in less than three seconds.
Vogel skids on ice and powder-snow. ‘Googoosh, with me.’ She runs north while Heidi and Gianina kneel. Heidi covering the base, Gianina aiming east, to their rear.
After a hundred metres Vogel squats and scans the base. ‘Cover our six, Googoosh. You’re doing well.’ Heidi and Gianina race past. Vogel adds, ‘How many double paces?’
Googoosh replies, ‘Forty.’
‘That’s your hundred metres then, same as me. Poor Heidi with her short legs has to count to forty-eight. Come on, we’re off again.’ They race past the other two and slither to a halt fifty metres north.
Half a kilometre south, Awenasa’s team are ahead. ‘Awenasa, slow down, keep pace, this is not a race.’
‘Yes, ma’am. Keep pace with you, understood.’
They near the wrecked base. The burned remains of a polymer dome, a streak of black ash staining the ice to the north. The only noise is that of the firebird’s engines turning over and the breath of panting soldiers over the radios.
‘Firoz here, ma’am. There’s a spent cartridge by the snowmobile … .375 Ruger I think. Yes.’
Vogel says, ‘Hell’s bells. They did fight back. Gods, what happened here? Elodie, anything new on the scanners?’
‘Nothing, ma’am. The infra-red hotspot was nearer Awenasa’s team, south west edge of the dome.’
‘Wait. I have a mystery here.’ Vogel nudges Googoosh, and points to a confusion of equipment beside the radio mast. ‘What do you think that lot is?’
‘That bit’s a generator, but the rest? No idea, ma’am. Are you looking at the wires?’
‘Two have ice on them. Two don’t. Why?’
‘Not a clue, ma’am.’
‘Join the club. OK, everyone. Move in as usual.’
Heidi and Gianina zigzag towards the base. Heidi kneels, Gianina drops flat, their rifles pointed in random arcs across the ruins.
‘Kpangba, ma’am. Human male dead and frozen – the one you saw from the air. He’s lying over a dead alien. Can’t move him. Everything’s frozen.’
‘Awenasa, move in. Come on, Googoosh. Let’s see what the hell happened…’
She’s interrupted by Awenasa, ‘Two people in a shelter made from wreckage. One is moving.’
‘Deal with them. Your other pair to the base. Heidi and Gianina stay clear and cover.’ Vogel and Googoosh reach the wreckage of the dome’s entrance, and wait until Janice arrives, her boots clumping. She squats at the right side of the entrance and points her rifle in, while Firoz does the same on the left.
Vogel says to Googoosh, ‘Let’s go, you on the left.’ They enter.
Googoosh says, ‘Human, ma’am, can’t say male or female; too badly burned, dead. Another, female, dead. One alien, dead.’
Vogel says, ‘Comms all destroyed. That’s why no one received a mayday. One male, dead, and another. That’s the whole base accounted for. One alien, dead here too.’ She looks at the short, humanoid in its charred red clothing and oversized helmet. The visor has frosted inside, obscuring the face. ‘So five aliens got away. Why didn’t they harvest the bodies? Awenasa, report.’
‘Female here. She’s in a bad way. Ghastly frostbite. There’s a man, dead, I think.’
Googoosh says, ‘Is he shot up? I mean any obvious wounds?’
‘Face is burned and one hand doesn’t have a glove. It’s black, maybe burnt, maybe frostbitten.’
Googoosh goes on, ‘He could be alive, just severely hypothermic. He’s not dead until he’s warm and dead.’
Vogel says, ‘Elodie, over here. Land by the base. We need to warm those two up. Two of you treat them with nanos, quick.’
Awenasa says, ‘Will do. Kpangba has already treated the woman. Hey, here’s the rifle. Jesus, they took on the aliens with a bolt-action.’
‘Stay with them. Heidi collect alien tech; the rest of you collect the human bodies and bag them up when Elodie arrives. Sorry, but no one else is going to come out here to get them.’
The firebird lands seventy metres south east. Chunks of ice falling from its undercarriage. Elodie says, ‘Problem, ma’am. The VTOL melts the ice and it refreezes. We’ll need to find some way of not being trapped.’
Vogel says, ‘That would be a little embarrassing. Ideas people?’
Awenasa calls, ‘Ma’am the woman is responding, trying to move.’
‘Get her in the firebird. I’m coming. Move, everyone, or we’ll be stuck here.’ She straddles an area of burnt plastic wall and climbs out of the dome, charred polymer snapping, falling, and skittering over the ice.
Awenasa and Firoz try to lift the woman, she reaches for the rifle. Vogel says, ‘I’ll get that for you. Relax.’ She lifts the gun, checks the breech and magazine are empty, and slings it over a shoulder. ‘Googoosh, give me a hand with this man.’
‘Kpangba here, ma’am. No way are we going to get these bodies into bags, they’re frozen and won’t fit.’
‘Bring them in. Put them in the back and cover them. I don’t want to be looking at corpses for three hours.’
Elodie’s voice comes over the radio. ‘This is Tampere Green Flight Delta. Request refuel 500 kilometres NNE of Jan Mayen, angels three. ETA 45 minutes plus.’
The radios blur messages, relaxed conversation, not terse and urgent combat talk.
‘We’re treating the survivors. You’ll have to pass the bodies over us.’
‘Yes, he’s alive. I’ve got a faint pulse, about twenty-three beats a minute. Boy was he cold.’
‘I’m taking a flame-thrower to sort the undercarriage.’
‘Don’t worry about the tyres, we’re not going to be driving anywhere.’
‘I dunno, I’ll go too and take an extinguisher just in case…’
Vogel kneels and cradles the woman’s head. ‘Elodie, get someone medical on the line. I don’t want to leave until these two are conscious enough to sit and be strapped in and still breathe. How long will it take?’ She looks at the groaning woman, whose eyes show signs of increasing consciousness and agony. ‘Give her your morphine shot, someone. She may be healing, but I don’t think it’s much fun for her. Must be like pins and needles on a titanic scale. Thanks, Heidi. Right, close the doors. We need to get this place warmer, and don’t let me forget Kpangba and Awenasa are still outside, they’ll cry if we leave them behind. OK, everyone, well done. Thanks for the hypothermia reminder, Googoosh. Now we need to identify our survivors.’
She leans over the woman. ‘What was that?’
The woman whispers, ‘Erin Jackson…’
‘Is that your name?’
The woman nods. ‘Is Petraneck alright?’
‘Who? You mean the man we found you with?’
A flicker of fear in her eyes, Erin says, ‘Is he alive?’
‘Hey,’ Vogel says, brushing Erin’s curly brown hair from her face, ‘You’re both going to be OK. I mean really OK. Your fingers and toes, even his face will totally recover. You’ll need a little specialist attention when we get back to Finland though…’
Erin gasps, real fear in her eyes. ‘No, not Europe. Please, no. They will deport Alexej to Russia. He’s Russian.’
‘What’s wrong with Russia?’
‘He was one of the people who sabotaged the secret oil drilling in Greenland.’
‘Hey, Europe was in on that too.’
‘He spent three years in a German prison. The Russians will put him away for fifteen at least. Don’t take him to Europe.’
‘Sorry, we don’t have a choice.’
Elodie shouts back. ‘Ma’am, The nanos work more slowly when cold. But they do generate a little heat from their own activity … hang on … yes. You can expect an 80% recovery in fifteen minutes whatever the temperature.’
Firoz says, ‘OK, our man, what was it? Alexej Petranek? I wish I had a name like that, has a pulse of fifty-three now. Looking good. That must be just the nanobots, amazing.’
Vogel says to Erin, ‘I’m getting sore knees. Can you sit yet?’ She gets a nod and several hands help Erin to the port bench and fit a harness round her.
Vogel sits opposite. ‘What happened at the base, Erin?’
But Erin has her eyes closed, tears flowing. She says, ‘Oh God,’ over and over.
‘Erin!’ Vogel snaps, ‘what happened?’
Erin’s eyes jerk open. ‘I … I was coming back from a collection…’
‘Collecting what?’
‘Meteorites; on pack ice you get only this year’s. The meteorite that struck Mars at Christmas will have sent debris in all directions – including ours.’
Vogel waves her silent. ‘Back at the base…’
‘I saw something drop out of the sky … and drove my snowmobile into a hole by accident. I wrecked it. I collected my samples and took the rifle…’
‘Why do you have a rifle?’
‘Polar bears. We don’t kill them unless we have too, we…’
Vogel says, ‘Sorry, I’ll stop asking stupid questions. What happened?’ The soldiers sit, or stand, all looking at Erin.
She goes on, ‘I saw aliens. They were attacking. I shot one. Two went into the dome. I had two more bullets in the rifle and two spare in my pocket. I put a spare in the magazine and went in. The aliens had their backs to me and were just blazing at everything with laser beams, or something. The place was already filled with smoke. I shot another in the back. The other one turned to shoot at me, but part of the ceiling collapsed on it. I shot two more bullets at it through the debris, but by then it was on fire anyway. I turned to run out, but fire burst up at the entrance. The heat drove me back. But the heat behind me got worse too.’
‘How did you get out?’
‘I didn’t. I couldn’t even breathe. I couldn’t move. Alexej ran through a wall of flame … all his clothes on fire. He lifted me and ran back out, rolling me in snow. I don’t know much of what happened next. I only remember a haze of pain and Alexej saying someone would come for me. I think he thought he was dying. He tried to keep me warm. He must have built the shelter.’ She bursts into tears and covers her face.
Elodie calls, ‘Flame-thrower’s exhausted, I’m going to have to take off. Sorry, guys. Port cargo door opening.’
Kpangba and Awenasa dash in, Kpangba hitting the button as he passes it. The ramp rises and closes. Awenasa secures the flamethrower and rubs his gloved hands together.
Erin’s stopped crying. She staring at her hands, dumbstruck. Her fingers, rigid, blackened claws, are turning pink and beginning to move under her control.
Alexej gasps and opens his eyes, his charred eyelid recovering. He looks around, jerking his head and gazing from one face to the next. Firoz helps him sit up. Alexej sees Erin. ‘They came… Someone came!’
Vogel turns to him as Elodie performs the gentlest VTOL take-off she’s ever managed. When the noise diminishes, Vogel says, ‘Alexej, I am Captain Vogel of UN Military. We were sent to your base to see what happened. We didn’t expect anyone to have survived.’ She looks around. ‘Strap him and yourselves in.’ Looking back at Alexej, she says, ‘How did you survive?’
He lets Firoz and Kpangba help him up, his legs slipping, weak and uncoordinated. As they secure his harness he looks at Erin. ‘You’re alive … alive.’
Vogel says, ‘Alexej, pay attention! You’re both alive and will be in perfect health – all your wounds healed due to a miracle of nano-tech. Now, tell me how you survived.’
He looks at her and shrugs. ‘I was cleaning the radio mast…’
Vogel frowns and interrupts, ‘What?’
‘We had a severe and prolonged storm, the mast and retaining wires were covered in ice … too much. They were not far off snapping under the weight.’
‘So I clean them with the hose.’
Vogel waves him quiet. ‘Pardon my feeble brain, but how does putting water onto frozen metal in sub-zero conditions get rid of ice? Sorry to sound dumb, but I have to make a report that my superior won’t laugh at.’
‘Super-heated water. It…’
‘Right … I get that bit now, thank you. What happened next…? wait … an alien harvester lands beside you and…’
‘The doors opened. What am I to do? I have nowhere to run. I turn the hose on the aliens.’
Vogel leans back and looks at the ceiling. ‘And boiled five of them before they even got out. Well, fuck me…’
‘Not so. I only hit two or three, maybe four. One of the aliens aimed a gun at me as I sprayed him … it. The gun exploded, … electric?’ He shrugs. ‘I don’t know. It knocked several down and tore my visor off.’
Elodie calls, ‘ETA three hours, refuelling in forty minutes. Don’t take any straps off. It’s a superlifter and they make hellish slipstream.’
Erin looks at Alexej. ‘They’re taking us to Europe.’
Alexej’s eyes blank, his face pales.
Googoosh says, ‘Listen, there’s a way out of this. Alexej, you become a European citizen.’
His head snaps round and he stares at her, frowning. ‘What? This is not possible.’
‘You marry Erin.’
‘No … they arrest me long before that can happen.’
Googoosh laughs until she coughs, and says, ‘Captain Vogel is captain of a ship over international waters for the next couple of hours. International law says she can marry you. I’d marry any man who’d run through fire to save me.’ Firoz elbows her. ‘Except you, Firoz, you perv; keep your hands to yourself.’
Firoz snorts, ‘What’s so perverted about a man fancying a woman?’
‘We’re not even the same species, that’s what.’ She looks back at Vogel. Ma’am, marry them.’
Vogel looks from face to face. ‘Is this true?’
Googoosh nods. ‘Yes, ma’am. As soon as we land the local law prevails. Alexej will be married to Erin and … Erin, are you European?’
‘Yes … from Jersey.’
‘Then Alexej will be a European – and Russian, but they won’t deport a European national.’
Alexej shakes his head. ‘This can’t be true.’
Googoosh almost bounces in her seat. ‘It is, it is.’
Vogel shrugs. ‘Fine, I’ll give it a whirl. Do you two want this?’ She gets nods from Alexej and Erin. ‘Googoosh has got me thinking. There may be another way.’
Elodie calls back. ‘Oh God … this is so romantic.’
Vogel says, ‘Shut up and fly, you sad git. Alexej, if I inducted you into the UN Military before we land, you’d get immunity. Someone as quick-thinking as you would be an asset. I’m sure there would be a place for you somewhere. If you were on a scientific base presumably you have a degree in something.’
‘Ah… Well, there’s your answer. You can teach the canteen chefs how to make a decent salad. That’ll save lives for a start.’
Erin says, ‘Marry us anyway.’
Vogel spreads her hands in defeat. ‘Well, OK, but you asked for it. Don’t blame me if it all goes pear-shaped and your children turn out as mad as Gianina and Kpangba.’ She glances at Googoosh. ‘Interesting first mission for you? Don’t expect them all to be like this.’




©Gary and Christy Bonn, 2014

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