Authors: Stéphane Desienne
When she worked in Miami Hospital, one of her colleagues had been attacked in the parking lot. Since that day, she had taken classes on how to memorize the physical details of the attacker. In the case of an assault, this information increased the chances of identifying the assaulter.
They both rolled under the truck. The man kept his hand in place.
“I'm Colonel Masters, from the Marine corps,” he whispered. “You and your friends are completely nuts. You shouldn't have gotten off here, the area is infested.”
Elaine nodded nervously.
“They are there, just behind the door. I’m going to let you go and you aren't going to scream, because if you do, we're dead. Understand?”
The “hmm, hmm” which she let out seemed to suffice. Elaine took a few deep breaths. Around them, a forest of worn down feet moved in the direction of the pier. The concert of grunts sent shivers down her spine. She felt beads of sweat sliding down her skin. The metal walls amplified the sucking and scratching noises of the ragged clothing worn by the infected. It resembled a dolorous melody. She twisted her neck. “I need to warn my companions.”
The military man put a finger to his lips. Then he opened his hand to ask her not to move until the horde had left the warehouse. Her stomach in knots, the wait seemed never-ending.
She got up first, as soon as the colonel authorized her to do so. Before she could dart away, he grabbed her by the sleeve. “They move quickly, despite appearances. You won’t get to your friends in time.”
“It doesn't matter, I have to warn them.”
In this wreck of a place, she noticed the ladder in the back, to the left of the workbench. She ran for it. At the top, the trap door provided rooftop access. She had trouble lifting it and when she managed to, the nauseating wind which whipped her face extracted a grimace from her. She hurried to the edge, with the military man at her heels trying to reason with her, but she didn't listen to him. Her course stopped abruptly, directly above a morbid spectacle. Elaine was left speechless.
“I told you. You can't do anything for them.”
The tide of disgruntled bodies still hadn't finished pouring out onto the pier. The creatures were preparing to launch themselves onto the group of survivors, who were walking in the direction of the white building. They weren't looking behind them. They were tired and too caught up in the effort. Their need called for desperate measures. In a rapid movement, she grabbed the gun that the colonel carried in a holster attached to his belt which he had irresponsibly left open. She lifted the colt and pressed the trigger. Once. Then a second time. The heads of the column turned towards the warehouse.
Realizing that danger was near, the boat's former crew started to run. Elaine watched the boat, which was drifting in the middle of the basin. The shots had also alerted the Colombian. The infected were coming back towards the warehouses. Masters gripped his balding head. “You’re crazy! We'll never get out of here!”
Elaine tried to catch a glimpse of Hector, who she imagined to be sitting down at the helm, his shotgun within arm’s reach. He had already saved them. This man didn’t seem fundamentally bad. She pointed to the boat with the barrel of the pistol.
“He's our only way out.”
“Impossible,” replied Masters. “We won't make it.”
She passed him the 45 and hurried towards the ladder. Undecided, the colonel stayed on top of the roof for a moment. He didn't stay long.
he path down to the bottom of the metal and glass tower was carried out by means of an agrav tube installed in the place of what were originally elevators, now too slow. The technical feat had consisted in securing the pathway of large quantities of energy as to avoid a breakdown with dramatic consequences. The building had not been expected to handle such a power level.
Naakrit's engineers had risen up to the challenge. At least with respect to the calculations. Afterwards, they had left the execution of the work to engineering drones. Mercenaries used drones excessively. Because of this, thousands of these machines, sometimes very specialized, operated on Earth.
To hunt billions of humans with only a few hundred
… Jave recognized that this was their only choice. The power ratio seemed to be unfavorably overwhelming, but technological superiority reversed the initial imbalance until turning impossibility into reality.
The Sybarian stretched out her arm. Her thin hand opened, extended by her long, dark-tipped fingers. “If you could please follow me.”
Her blue skin was refracted into many colors under the sun's rays. The emissary knew little about the biochemistry of this species. Captor-pigments reacted with UV rays, he remembered. They fed transformation processes necessary for their metabolism.
The decontamination room was located outside, in the center of the dome complex. There as well, the power being used required adapted facilities. Stepping out onto the scorching plaza, he noticed a cell in the form of a cistern resting on four feet. Cables grouped into bundles ran along the reinforced syntho-concrete.
“We have three PEM units in service,” the mercenary announced.
One single potential extractor module would have covered the needs of a quarter of all humanity for an octan. They followed a hallway. Jave heard strange noises and stopped. The grunts and whines came to him, and he pointed to the moving mass behind the wire fence. “You stock those here as well?”
“Not exactly. Even though they’re unfit for consumption, the infected do, however, make for excellent guards. If healthy products escape, they will be caught and eaten, which has revealed itself to be much more dissuasive than weapons.”
Naakrit's style of efficiency at work.
This was smart
, he recognized internally.
“Has that ever happened?”
“That products have escaped? Yes, once. That's where the idea of improving the security on site by making use of the infected came from. The humans have an irrational fear of them because of their beliefs regarding a world of dead people.”
“They think that there’s a paradise reserved for pure beings and a hell destined for the souls of non-believers. Their world has collapsed and the survivors undoubtedly imagine that they are part of the latter category.”
“Of the religion...” Jave whispered.
“Many religions. They are far from reaching the Lynian ideal.”
The response surprised him. “What do you mean?”
All of a sudden, she corrected herself. “I didn't mean any offense, Emissary.”
He accepted her excuses and they started to walk once again in the direction of the decontamination sector. The slender building was built on simple concrete. The staff entered on one side, passed through two treatment rooms and came out the other side. Jave put on his outfit and started the cycle in the first chamber. The mercenary followed shortly afterwards. Service tunnels, arranged in a star shape, led to the domes.
Each of them had a stocking capacity of six thousand units. His guide told him that many of them were empty and that for several octo-diems. She suggested that they visit the first one. The Sybarian didn't object to his wish to visit number seven. They arrived at the airlock. Before activating the opening mechanism, she brought up the instructions once again.
“Don't ever take off your gloves and don't touch the products. Don't talk to them. Stay on the central walkway.”
The emissary raised his hand as a sign of acceptance. They entered.
Hundreds of humans were distributed in batches ready for harvesting. In places, the wire mesh floor allowed them to complete defecation functions. The excrement fell down into trays. It possessed a market value, though lesser, but still enough to justify its collection and transportation to distant regions.
Jave didn't ask for details on the subject.
He left the Sybarian close to the airlock and moved towards the inside of the hallway delimited by a fluorescent holographic band. Crossing it would certainly trigger alarms or some sort of retaliatory action.
The terrified humans watched him walk along his side of the electronic barrier. With just one hand, he would have been able to crush the skeleton of any one of these sickly creatures. The galaxy was home to a large variety of races, some of them intelligent and resourceful enough to become a part of the Commercial Collective. The misfortune of these creatures was that the Collective had discovered them first. The holdings system led to this sort of situation, where buyers explored their corner of space primarily to reimburse their predatory creditors. The science or even the friendship between civilizations came long after business plans or debt payments.
The emissary stopped in the middle of the dome. With no visual point of reference, he wasn't able to judge its height. The milky ceiling seemed inaccessible. However, from outside, they didn't look so big. The explanation was surely that of an optical illusion, once again well used.
Suddenly, Jave adventured away from the path. Immediately after having crossed the line, the mercenary’s voice came to him through the headphones in his helmet. The melodious tone had given way to serious inflections. “You’re breaking protocol! Come back!”
He didn't pay attention to the warning and moved in the direction of a group. In his path, the humans scurried away, even though he was trying to not give off an openly aggressive attitude. His size was enough to inspire fear in them.
, he thought, but he had to see this specimen from closer up.
He spotted him among a crowd of males in uniform. The helmet was provided with an imaging system which he called upon to bring up an amplified image of his target.
“What has gotten a hold of you?” he heard.
It was Naakrit.
He activated his information connection and sent the photos which he had just taken.
“I need to question that one.”
“Not possible, the products do not leave the domes.”
The opportune moment offered him the chance to establish by example the basis of their relationship. “I am under your authority, but I am above all under a Combinate mandate, and this gives me a degree of implied freedom within the framework of my investigation.”
“I thought that you were an observer. I was assured of your neutrality.”
“You know the princes. They are above all negotiators, diplomats. Behind the scenes, I assure you that their intentions are less sweet: they have put you on the spot to test your abilities.”
Silence took over, but Jave didn't doubt that this exchange had gone in his favor. He softened his revelations after the severe blow which he had just dealt Naakrit.
“My role consists of helping you fix the human problem. May I remind you that the interests of the Combinate are also your interests? For the moment, your fortune has been damaged. Let's work together to re-establish your solvency.”
“I want to attend the questioning in this case.”
“I wish to have a discussion with him alone. But you can still follow it on the screen.”
The reptilian let out a whistle of anger, but granted his request.
laine hurtled down the ladder at such a speed that she missed a step. After a perilous recovery, she burst forth like a sprinter thrown into the competition of her life. Masters struggled to capture her and shouted at her that running would solve nothing.
“This is craziness! We’ll never reach that pier.”
The woman turned off of the main pathway before the doorway. She charged towards the truck. The African-American military man passed his hand along his shaved head and then his uniform. He caught up with her, swearing, on the dirty seat of an old Ford pickup truck.
“What makes you think that this guy is going to let us onboard?”
“Nothing, but he already did it once,” she responded, digging through the glove compartment searching for the keys.
Elaine straightened up. Through the wind shield, she saw the infected shove each other at the entrance to the warehouse. Masters was right; they moved quickly, drawing from a mortal energy which made up for their shaky walk. Their lack of balance gave the impression that they were puppets strung up with cords which just needed to be cut.