Walker started the engine. As they pulled away, heading in the direction of the address Jude had given them, Chrissy said, “I’m assuming I shouldn’t ask how you know that guy.”
“And you would be correct in that assumption.”
“Does that guy have a power?”
“What do you think? I want to hear your logic.”
“Well, he seemed like an information broker of some kind, so he probably had some sort of mentalist power. Memory or intuition based probably,” she said immediately.
“Good. You’re wrong, not even close, but a good start down the long and arduous road of critical thinking.” She gave him a weary look. “A good lesson, expect nothing, you will never be disappointed. Jude is actually a fairly powerful bruiser.”
“You’re kidding.” He shook his head. “Why is he not punching things then?”
“He is intelligent. He believes in the whole ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ kind of stuff. That little quote doesn’t quite work, but you get what I’m saying. All his power tells you about him is what kind of trigger he had. He’s still human, just like you, just like me. People can do all sorts of stuff if they put their mind to it.”
“He could be more useful fighting or something though.”
“Good, good, get all of those misconceptions out now. Your standard criminal is a criminal for the money. For most it’s more profitable to escape than get bogged down in a brawl with us. You can’t spend money when you’re dead, after all. The fights you hear about are anomalies, more often than not. Psychopaths, murderers, variations thereof, those are the ones you hear about leveling a city block in a fight. But that’s what’s interesting, and that’s what the news always covers,” he explained.
She sighed. “People, there’s our inherent problem. For every techie that tried to raise buildings, there’s a bruiser to knock them down. Mentalist warlord with an army at his beck and call? There’s a trickster or null there to stop him.”
Well that was philosophical. They continued on in silence. Chrissy sent what they had learned to HQ The building they headed towards was near the docks, an iffy place in terms of how strenuously the law was enforced. To their right they passed a burned and bombed out husk of an old building.
Chrissy asked, “Why do aliens keep attacking us? It seems more effort than it’s worth for them to me.”
“Important distinction to make here, a xeno is a hostile alien.” Walker responded.
“Well aren’t you Mr. Exposition today?”
“Hey, you’re the one who keeps asking questions. I may as well impart as much information to the younger generations while I can before I’m done. Though I’m taking a job with the Freeman Company as a trainer/consultant, so I guess I’ll be continuing that tradition,” he said with some eagerness. The change of pace and better pay for less physically strenuous work appealed to him. I’m getting too old for this… If this were a movie or something, I just sealed my death warrant didn’t I?
“Going mercenary then.” Chrissy stated.
“Pays well, especially for soon to be former MHU personnel. Gotta pay rent somehow.”
“Blegh, I know. I’m probably going to have to take out loans for the Academy. After that I’d like a job in the New York Unit, but we’ll see who hires me in the first place.”
Am I being too hard on her? It’s not as though I can just grab some random guy off the street and expect him to know all this too. “I wouldn’t sell yourself short. There’s a good balance to be struck between job happiness and job availability.”
They were interrupted by Walker slamming on the brakes as someone merged ahead of him without warning. “Jackass,” he muttered under his breath. “Anyways, you asked a question?”
“Yeah…wait. What was it? Do you remember?”
“You asked a question, I know that much. It was…goddamn, what was it? Something about the xeno?” Walker was struggling to recall, and by her expression, so was Chrissy.
“Oh, yeah! Like, something about why the alien or xeno thing is here. No, that wasn’t what I asked, but whatever. New thing. My thinking is he’s a scout of some kind. Hear me out, hear me out,” she added hastily before Walker could respond. “There’s probably only one, maybe a couple more. Otherwise they would have been found out already.” OK, I came to the same conclusion. “Alright, so what are a couple things going to do where an army failed? Something subtle. They’re obviously not peaceful, otherwise they wouldn’t have killed that guy, and they wouldn’t be sneaking around. You with me so far? I know, it’s, like, a lot to take in. Stay with me though.”
“Yes, please, continue to illuminate my feeble, inexperienced mind.”
“That’s more like it. So, what are the few aliens, sorry, xenos, going to do? Either sabotage something important, or collect information for their many friends up there for later,” she said, pointing upwards. She was getting more animate now, speaking faster. “Now you might know more about this than me, but I didn’t recognize that kind of alien Jude described, did you?”
“No, not that I can recall.”
“So yeah! That probably means scouts. They figure out what the defenses are, the lay of the land, and whatnot of this new species they’ve discovered. Then, BOOM, another invasion. They probably think we’re still weak after the Bears. Of course, Jude could have lied, but that seems like a bad policy for an information broker.”
When she puts her mind to it, she’s actually pretty good at this. Walker had come to some of the same conclusions himself. Xenos were typically hard to predict in the short term, but long term, their goals were the same as every other species, including humans: strengthen the race. To that end, species were constantly jostling for resources. The only truly non-hostile aliens humans encountered had developed post-scarcity utopias, and had little interest in the affairs of lesser beings like humans or Bears. Earth was capable for sustaining humanity on its own thanks to techie gear for the next two centuries, and the cost of large scale space flight was still prohibitively expensive.
“Couple things I want to point out. One: correct. Jude doesn’t lie when it’s his business’s reputation at stake. We, the MHU, are actually one of his biggest customers. Two: how do you explain the writing that was found? That’s what gave them away in the first place.”
“OK, um, let me think.” She had a look of concentration, staring unseeing at the closed glove box, her hands tapping on her lap. “So, they’re aliens right?”
He broke in, “No, we’ve been dealing with cute fuzzy kittens this whole time. Didn’t you get one?”
“Yeah, right here.” He coughed and looked at her. There was a cute fuzzy kitten sleeping peacefully on her lap. Stop manipulating my sight. I’m driving over here. The kitten vanished and Chrissy smirked. “So the writings might be some cultural thing, like intimidation or something. You and I might think that’s weird, but if they’re new to the whole ‘human’ thing, they might revert to their own mannerisms or whatever.”
“Alright, second question: How did they get here in the first place. We have three cruisers around Earth now. They are there to prevent this exact occurrence.”
Her response was immediate this time. “Well, if we’re still going with the ‘small number’ theory, they probably had a small ship made for this kind of mission. That could possibly get through. Of course, we could be completely wrong, and it’s a super intelligent feral or something.”
“Good. Now you are learning. Everything could be right. I’d like to point out another tidbit: they could have a super with them.”
“What, like a mercenary?”
“No, I’m pretty sure any sufficiently intelligent life form can trigger, access magic, and so on. Don’t look so shocked. You think humans are unique and special? We are not. We are not the smartest, strongest, quickest, most vicious, or anything else. The only thing we have going for us is endurance. A human can endure far more psychological or physical stress than any other species we’ve encountered so far.”
“So this just got a lot harder than I was anticipating.”
“Exactly. Now here we are.”
They were next to yet another bombed out building. However, there were no repair efforts made here, no attempts to fix anything. The asphalt of the roads was grey and cracked, with tar and newer patches haphazardly dotting its surface. Out front were six young men, more around their late teens than anything else, spray painting a large flaccid penis and profanity on the walls. One motioned to a portion of the wall and they all laughed. Walker noted at least two appeared to be armed.
“Alright,” Walker said. “You know how to handle that pistol of yours?”
“Just checking. Let’s get rid of these chucklefucks and search that building for anything that might help.”
The boys (I think I’m old enough to get away with calling them hooligans. Hooligans I say!) noticed them and started to cat call Chrissy. Walker had yet to fully exit, pulling the shotgun from its holster and ammo from a box below it. He advanced with Chrissy, the hooligans (I’m already starting to like that word) looking far more apprehensive than they did moments ago. Unfortunately, their expressions hardened and the two of them reached for their weapons, probably pistols.
“I wouldn’t do that guys,” said Chrissy “He’s from down below.” Had he been willing to take his attention off the armed hooligans in front of him, he would have questioned Chrissy’s sanity. Australians are badass, sure, but not enough to deflect bullets. The second I open my mouth they’ll know that’s a lie.
He plunged ahead anyway. “Yes. Now, if you would kindly move along, I’m sure we would all be better for it.” Surprisingly, they were all frozen, presumably in terror. That’s right, you don’t mess with a guy with a shotgun and a MHU uniform. One bolted, and the rest followed suit, screaming about demons. Chrissy did something didn’t she?
When they had receded out of sight, he looked questioningly at Chrissy. She smiled wide. “They saw you as a demon. A demon with a shotgun. Basically you, but with flames licking at your feet, fangs, horns, all the works. My whole thing is vision, after all. Though if there were any more people, or had they stayed any longer, that wouldn’t have worked.”
“Works for me. Let’s head inside.”
The building was unlocked, nothing to keep people, or aliens out. It looked just as bad on the inside as it did on the outside, right down to the crude graffiti on the walls. Dimly lit, Walker could barely make out the bullet holes and scorch marks from the battle a year ago. Walker took point, shotgun at the ready, Chrissy behind him, pistol drawn and pointed at the ground. The next room made Chrissy stop. The roof was collapsed, the resulting debris scattered about the room. There was still graffiti, a skull and crossbones on the wall to their right, indecipherable writing to their left, multiple doorways into and out of the room. All of the walls were covered in the same script written at the murder site.
This is bad, thought Walker, moving towards the wall to his left as several shots rang out, the last grazing his leg. His leg buckled, but he aimed and fired several shots in the direction the other bullets came from, which tore up the wall around the doorframe. The missus is never going to let me live down yet another injury. He heard chattering and clicking from above him, as if from a giant insect. More accurately, two giant insects. Walker turned as two xenos jumped down from the ruined roof, knives in hand. One for Chrissy, one for Walker.
He saw Chrissy temporarily split into two different people as the xeno facing her rushed forward. Chrissy dodged to the right, the image of her going in the other direction before vanishing. The xeno recovered enough to bring its knife to cut her arm. At this point the second xeno distracted Walker by clicking and swinging knives at him with three of its four limbs.
Now that he could see it clearly, up close and personal, he could verify what Jude’s sources had said. It was mottled grey, a kind of leathery carapace around its body, with dark grey, almost black at the joints. It came up to Walker’s chin, and he was around 6’1”. The four arms ended in a bizarre combination of a hand and a foot, not dissimilar from a monkey’s. The head was a bulb where the shoulders of the final set of limbs were, pincers composed of its mouth.
Reacting quickly, he bashed its face with the butt of the shotgun before it could bring its knives to bear. I know firearms aren’t meant to be used like that, but my face isn’t meant for knife storage. The clicking xeno kicked him hard, causing him to involuntarily loosen his grip on his shotgun. With its fourth hand it grabbed at the offending shotgun. He shoved it towards the surprised xeno; it wouldn’t do much good at knife range, and the thing was faster than him anyways.
There was a large place on its carapace where the rib cage would be if it were human, it was a slot where Walker hoped its skin would be more vulnerable. After losing the shotgun, he immediately drove his fist into that part and was rewarded with a sharp hiss and fervent clicks. He grabbed the knife on his belt with his other hand simultaneously. He heard several shots ring out from Chrissy’s location. Keeping focused on the xeno in front of him, he stabbed forward with his knife. The xeno twisted to the side, but still took a deep cut in its (I’m going to go with human anatomy terms) torso. He withdrew his arm as the xeno slashed at him with all knives.
He was about to turn when he caught something from the corner of his eye. A xeno with what appeared to be a rifle. It took aim and he dropped into a crouch. There was a crack of a single shot from the xeno, then several more shots from Chrissy. The knife wielding xeno was distracted, so Walker plunged his knife into a vulnerable looking spot. Then another. Then another.
He was on his feet again, and the xeno lay dying at his feet, letting out a final feeble click. The xeno with the rifle was also dead, Chrissy’s aim was good. Chrissy herself looked shaken, she now held a hand to her arm where she had gotten cut, leaning against the wall to Walker’s right.
“You alright?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. It didn’t cut me that deep.”
He grabbed the shotgun from the ground and limped to where he had originally been shot from. There was a fourth xeno there, or at least what remained of it. The wall was flimsier than it looked. Hooray for guns. Though my leg would disagree. The wound on his leg wasn’t deep and had missed any important vein or artery. He’d survive.
He saw Chrissy concentrate, and the slow flow of blood out of her wound stopped completely. And that is why shapeshifters are dangerous. That and the whole ‘I can look like anyone’ thing. Her hands were trembling though, and she was looking paler than before. Must have lost more blood than I thought.
He called HQ. “Hey Dispatch, it’s Walker. We ran into four previously unknown xenos, so you might want the biologists to come down here and do their thing. Also, a couple more officers would be welcome, we think we got all of them, but there could be more.”
“Gotcha, good work. Relaying to Cap now. Need anything else?”
“Medics would be great, me and Chrissy got hurt.” Chrissy was holding her injured arm closer to herself now, looking strained, still trembling. “Make it quick.”
He ran as fast as he could to Chrissy’s side. “Let me take a look at that,” he said, motioning for her arm. She extended it towards him, and stifled a yelp of pain as he touched it. The shaking was getting worse. The wound site had turned black. What the fuck, knives don’t do this unless…poison.
He grabbed his radio again. “HQ, tell the medics to get the fuck over here NOW. The xenos used some kind of poison on Chrissy. It’s not looking good.”
At that moment Chrissy made a choking sound and collapsed on her face, now convulsing violently. The radio squawked at Walker, but he was occupied at the moment.
“Fuck, no.” He knelt over her, not sure if he could even do anything about the poison, but unwilling to do nothing. It’s spread through her system, nothing I can do. He turned her over, her face was devoid of color, some foam coming from her lips. Then, the convulsions stopped. She wasn’t breathing. Check for pulse…Fuck, fuck, fuck. Nothing. Dead.