Gianina rises from the desert dust, careful not to stir it up and reveal the squad’s location. Despite talking in a closed helmet she almost whispers, ‘Rudi, cover our six. I need to see what’s happening. Don’t kick up dust.’
Rudi slides from his position, squats and points his rifle to the rear. Gianina says, ‘I’m going to have to tread on you to get up there.’ She plants her boot on Rudi’s shoulder and hauls herself into the vantage point he was using. Despite having to put her entire weight on him he doesn’t move. Sliding her rifle through a section of the mangled tractor she looks through her scope at children and teenagers arguing, laughing, and shouting encouragement to each other as they push cargo down the firebird’s ramp and haul it across scattered debris.
Gianina can’t believe she has an assault rifle pointed at children even if it’s only so she can study them. She keeps her index finger well out of the trigger guard. Until two weeks ago when she joined PHALANX Gianina was a mercenary and assassin. Hits on children sometimes came up as jobs but she never took them.
Little hands pull away wooden slats from the cargo and reveal a grey metallic machine about a metre high. The children throw the slats around for fun.
Vogel says, ‘Squad, ideas please. Googoosh, take my place and look, I’ll cover our six. Talk to me.’
Awenasa peers through a ruptured hangar door. ‘Kids … I’m spooked. This feels wrong.’
Gianina says, ‘The pilot’s not helping them. Why are they here? What’s going on? Is this anything to do with the children that were here?’
Vogel says, ‘I don’t think so. Look, we have to get to Oslo fast so we need to deal with this quick. Something’s gone badly wrong with communication. We must get these kids out of here. There are weapons … corpses… Googoosh, you’re good with kids…?’ It’s almost a plea.
Googoosh says, ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Go and talk to them. Talk to the pilot. Get all of them out of here.’
‘This seems so surreal.’ Googoosh crawls twenty metres into a hangar. Standing, she slings the rifle over a shoulder. Shuffling along a partially collapsed walkway, the back of her combat smock scraping against the concrete wall, she heads for the rear entrance and says, ‘There’s a deep, black pit below me. Sorry to take so long but I won’t reveal your position this way.’
Vogel says, ‘You’re doing good but step on it.’
After a few scary but blissful moments in shade, Googoosh steps back into sunlight, turns east and walks into the quadrangle. One by one the children see her and stop what they’re doing. A slat drops from a hand and clatters on wreckage. One girl of, Googoosh guesses, about four years old, screams and hugs one of the larger boys, burying her face in his chest.
Googoosh snaps open her helmet and takes it off. Her face revealed she runs fingers through long black hair and hopes she’ll look less frightening. She draws the toys from a pocket. ‘Hi, you guys, what brings you here?’
She gets no response: they seem transfixed. She walks towards them. ‘Hey, don’t be afraid. It’s just that this is a dangerous place. I need to talk to your pilot.’
They still don’t say anything but take steps back and look scared.
Googoosh reaches them and kneels, ‘It’s fine. Chill. Follow me to the firebird. I’ll help you move your stuff back in.’ She points around the quadrangle. ‘There may be mines and anyway you’re breathing very fine dust which is bad for…’ She screams as dull grey tentacles lash from the cargo and wrap around her. She’s slammed against the machine and unable to move.
The little girl who hid her face in the boy’s chest, stands aside and shouts, her voice echoing round the quadrangle, ‘I have the human called Googoosh Soomekh. She carries objects children play with and must know about the girl. The human will be crushed slowly unless the one called Vogel approaches unarmed.’ The other children crouch behind the machine and are invisible to the squad.
Rudi says, ‘If no one objects, I’m going to flank them.’ He eases Gianina’s foot from his shoulder to a part of the tractor and crawls east, sliding behind the bank of dust thrown up by the demolition of the control centre. Entering the accommodation block, he’s able to rise and move faster, squeezing between angles of fallen walls and ceilings. Getting almost to the other side of the building and peering from shadow at the children’s flank, he counts seven enemy and notes only the girl speaking is animated. The rest stand huddled behind the cargo, faces blank as if they’ve been shut down. They have all taken weapons from the back of the machine.
Googoosh feels tendrils growing and feeling their way around her calves, thighs, in between her fingers and around her neck. Her titanium wristcomm bracelet is snapped and dropped. The tendrils pull her backup 9mm automatic from it’s holster and tear it apart, slicing through metal.
Vogel’s seen it all before. A weak leader would watch the captive tortured screaming to death, let emotions take over training and send troops into the suicidal attack of a planned ambush. She’s not going to watch Googoosh tortured or see her squad die. She says, ‘Safeties off, prepare to destroy the enemy and their machine. She knows Awenasa, Firoz, and Gianina will understand but Rudi, an eighteen-year-old untrained conscript … would he blow apart a comrade to kill the enemy? ‘On my word…’
Safronov’s voice comes over the squad radio, ‘Vogel, stand up alone, drop your weapons now. Walk towards them.’
Vogel slips from cover, stands, walks into view of the girl, drops rifle, backup and bayonet in the dust and walks forward. Into her mike she says, ‘Safronov, where have you been?’
‘Get ready to drop and let me fire over you. Rudi, I see you; good position. You fire too. Be careful where you shoot. I’m at the north end of the hangar. Hit the machine and people behind it. Rest of you, get ready to fan out.’
The girl’s voice calls, ‘All Sigma Squad stand and leave your weapons on the ground.’ From behind the machine, the children spread out in a crescent. Each of them carry an alien weapon.
Safronov says, ‘Do as they say. Now.’
The entire squad stand and drop their rifles.
A shrieking whine fills the area. The children look around, pointing their guns at echoes. One child fires needles at the cockpit of the abandoned stiletto but too late.
The stiletto’s VTOL cuts in. Before the dust hits, Rudi’s sights are locked onto the machine. He fights his rifle’s recoil and empties a full magazine of AP.
The deep bank of dust blasts in lumps and vortices around the squad and towards the children.
Googoosh feels all her bonds jerk and fall away. She falls flat and pulls clothing over her mouth as a temporary filter. Tracer flashes. Blue light burns over her head. Something explodes and covers her in heat and dust.
On fully-automatic, Rudi sprays a second magazine into the area behind the machine. A blue bar of light scythes into the wall beside him, bursting plasterboard into a fountain of sparks and glowing motes. The beam stabs skywards and dies.
He’s reloaded and crouched by a door as the dust begins to settle. The children lie motionless, except when jerked by the squad’s bullets. Vogel says, ‘All down. Point secure the firebird. Gianina, keep point covered.’
Keeping his gun aimed at the inert figures Rudi runs to Googoosh. Slinging the rifle over his shoulder he pulls slack tendrils, like a mass of dropped whips, away and picks her up. She staggers, sagging against him. He helps her to the helmet, kicks it like a football towards the side of hanger one and carries Googoosh behind the corner of the wall. Safronov, reloading his rifle, runs past them into the quadrangle.
Rudi hears people running, another shot and Awenasa calling, ‘Area secure. Securing firebird.’
Googoosh shudders. Rudi pulls a medikit from his thigh pocket. ‘Do you need treatment?’
She shakes her head. ‘No, give me a sec; I’ll be fine.’
Vogel calls Chuck. He puts her on hold again. She says, ‘Googoosh, report.’
Gianina and Awenasa cover as Firoz waits for a flash-bang to detonate and storms up the ramp of the firebird. He calls, ‘Secure, no pilot present. Awenasa, cover me. I need to check the storage unit.’
Chuck answers Vogel’s call, ‘Yes, Captain.’
‘The firebird carried children who attacked with alien tech. They’re all down. We have no casualties.’
‘The children are all dead?’
‘Twenty, thirty seconds.’
‘Treat them with nanos. Be cautious.’
Vogel calls, ‘Everyone, throw your medikits towards the children. Rudi, treat the kids. Squad, give him cover.’
Chuck goes on, ‘The children were probably under alien control. If you treat them fast enough you can revive and rid them of it.’
Rudi takes Googoosh’s medikit from her pocket and races into the quadrangle. Puffs of dust rise as medikits land near the children. Googoosh puts her helmet on and says, ‘Going to assist Rudi.’
Chuck continues, ‘Treat any survivors as dangerous. Keep them with you until you get to Oslo. You have five hours to get there. You’re cutting it fine, over and out.’
Elodie shouts, ‘Sounds like it’s all over. Someone help me down from this stiletto.’
Safronov walks towards the plane. ‘Eh, I catch you. Just don’t kick my head like when I helped you up.’
Vogel, suspecting that seconds count, goes to help Rudi and Googoosh but they’re already treating the last two casualties. Vogel suppresses a hiss as she sees blood and horrendous wounds on children. ‘Everyone apart from rearguards keep your weapons on the kids. Don’t trust them.’
Elodie says, ‘Sakakah Base, Sigma Squad here. We request refuelling over Surt area, Libya, in two hours, over. OK, team, Give me ten minutes to get back to the firebird and I’ll pick you up.’
Rudi’s eyelids feel heavier than he can ever remember. He lets them stay closed for the moment. The firebird is full of the usual noises; first the whine of the engines pushing them at over a thousand kph and the snores from Firoz. There are also children crying, talking and complaining about the bonds around their wrists.
Googoosh is saying, ‘Yes, I’ll help you to the toilet. Take my hand, I’ll hang on to the straps. Mind your feet…’
Rudi dozes, aware that he feels weak and exhausted until someone puts a boot on his knee and gives him a shove. Awenasa says, ‘Wake up, Rudi. We’re landing.’
Rudi says, ‘Where are we?’
‘The UN security compound in Oslo. Drink some more water. Have you got heat exhaustion or something?’ A plastic bottle is thrust into his hands. ‘Wake up and drink.’
Vogel says, ‘Could be heat exhaustion building up over the last two days. He needs to stop working in the Arctic and get more sunshine. OK, squad, we need to offload first but I have orders to discuss with you. Sending them to your wristcomms. Read them when you get a private moment.’
Someone forces Rudi’s lips apart and pushes two small objects in. Awenasa says, ‘Rudi, take these salt tablets and drink the water you’re holding. You’ll be fine in a few minutes.’
Elodie shouts from the cockpit, ‘Cover you ears, children,’ and the VTOL roars.
Rudi opens his eyes and swallows water, the bottle crumpling and collapsing in his hand. He tries to avoid eye-contact with the four children they resuscitated, not able to bear the thought that they failed to save the other three. Considered by his family to be strong both physically and emotionally Rudi realises he needs something more to reach the level of objectivity his peers possess. He wonders how Googoosh is coping so well and decides to talk to her when things are quieter.
The firebird settles on the ground. The soldiers release children from the hugs that kept them safe from turbulence. Buckles clatter, people grunt and groan as they stretch.
Elodie calls back, ‘Dammit, an air blockade has just been enforced over our destination. We’ll have to find some other way of getting around.’
Safronov’s eyes narrow. He checks orders from Commander McKenzie on his wristcomm and the flood of information informing him of a major disaster unfolding in Argentina. He says to Vogel, ‘You see this?’
Vogel studies the scrolling text on her screen. ‘I…’ She gasps, eyes wide.
‘I deal with it. Go ahead. I catch you up.’
The cargo-bay doors open slowly, the safe speed in non-hostile areas. Googoosh and Awenasa shepherd the children ahead.
A clipped voice from outside says, ‘You must all leave the aircraft. Leave all weapons.’
Vogel pushes between people. ‘We do not leave weapons. We’re to hand over the children and proceed to the conference.’
Three Military Police have their weapons trained on her. One of them, a major, says, ‘All seven of you, your pilot and the four children; come with us.’
Rudi says, ‘Six of us.’
‘Yes, we left one to clear the mines he laid. The clean-up people were on their way.’
Vogel says, ‘We go to the conference. Those are our orders from Commander McKenzie. You can confirm with your superiors.’
‘You will come with us. Leave your weapons.’
‘Do not tell me to leave weapons behind again.’
Rudi can’t resist a glance at the high fences topped with razor-wire and the guards outside and inside the UN compound’s vehicle-bay gates. He feels the same tense and uneasy feeling as with the children when they arrived in Chad.
The MPs lead them past armoured personnel carriers and hold the admin block’s double doors open. The squad enter a spacious open-plan unit.
The major says to a lieutenant, ‘Lead the children into the accommodation block reception area.’ To Vogel, he says, ‘Wait here with your squad.’ He switches a screen on. ‘While you wait I want you to watch the conference. I’ll be with you as soon as it’s over.’
Vogel looks at the squad, smacks her helmet and puts it on. As they don theirs she whispers into the radio, ‘Something’s not right. Get ready to fight our way back to the bird.’
Awenasa turns the speaker volume up. ‘That’s Brigadier Craithie…’ The soldier, dressed in torn and bloody combats, seems to be agitated, his words tumbling out but drowned by the roar of a huge engine firing up near the firebird.
It quietens for a moment and the squad hear the brigadier say, ‘…hard for the hive mind to pass from one human head to another but I think Chaucer has found a way. Everyone, take your headsets off now…”
Googoosh hurls herself across the room and switches the screen and speakers off.
Rudi looks through the window and into the compound. ‘The MPs out there are all shut down. People here are infected.’
Safronov calls, ‘Where are you?’
‘Behind the main entrance.’
‘Stay there. Get as close to the west wall as you can.’
Vogel says, ‘Awenasa and Firoz on point, Rudi with me to cover.’ The engine rises to a deafening roar. Paneling and plasterboard explode as an armoured personnel carrier, still accelerating, erupts into the room and destroys the east wall from end to end. ‘Point, go!’ She empties a magazine through the major’s door as the handle turns. The APC leaves a huge hole in the fences and roars into the streets.
©Gary and Christy Bonn, 2014
This is the last of the parallel chapters that show you what’s happening behind the scenes of Hive Mind – the first of the UFOAI series.
If you’ve not already done so you can play UFO:AI by visiting: http://ufoai.org/wiki/Download