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Authors: James Axler

Tags: #Speculative Fiction Suspense

Truth Engine (8 page)

BOOK: Truth Engine
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Sela adjusted her aim, closed one eye as she targeted the figure's forehead, which was hidden beneath his low-hanging hood. “Fuck it,” she muttered, blasting a 9 mm
Parabellum bullet where she knew the man's head must be. The bullet cut through the man's hood, and he staggered in a two-step jig before falling to the floor.

By then, his companion was on Sela, his hand sweeping up in an underarm throw. She sidestepped as a half dozen tiny flecks of stone leaped from the sling in his hand and rushed at her. The stones rattled against the wall behind her even as Sela turned the Beretta on the robed man and snapped off a shot straight into his face, as she had his companion. The figure made no noise as the bullet struck, but Sela smiled grimly when he staggered backward, crashing into the nearest table and sending dirty plates flying as he fell.

She was already searching for her next target, ejecting the Beretta's empty cartridge and slapping in the new one she had retrieved from her belt pouch. To Sela's surprise, the figure she had first shot pulled himself up off the tiles and made to grab for the pistol in her hand. She reacted immediately, instinct taking over as she lifted the barrel out of the man's reach and drove the toe of her right boot at his face. The kick made contact and the man shook, caught as he tried to get up off the floor. Sela grunted, feeling a shuddering through her leg. It had been like kicking a solid brick wall.

To Sinclair's left, the second figure was rising from the table, as if she hadn't shot him just a few seconds before.

What the hell are these people?
she wondered. Sela had witnessed a lot of strange things in her position with Cerberus, but she had never seen anything that appeared quite so ordinary and yet utterly invincible.
It's as if they're made of stone,
she realized, and her eyes flickered automatically to the towering creature who blundered through the canteen—Ullikummis.

Then the first attacker was upon her, and Sela was driven back against a table as the Beretta jumped in her hand, blasting shot after shot into her foe's gut. It was no good. No matter where she shot them these stone men would not drop, not for long.

Sela yelled in pain as she rolled over the table-top and slammed against the floor. As she landed, the other hooded figure vaulted over the table and landed on her, driving his knees into her chest. She expended her breath in a gasp, felt her attacker's fist strike her face once, twice, thrice, knocking her head back against the hard tiled floor. She struggled beneath the hooded figure, trying vainly to shift his weight and free herself from his attack. Then a blur at the corner of her vision caught her attention, and she turned just in time to see her other attacker run at her and kick, booting her full in the face.

Sela Sinclair's nose exploded in a bloom of blood, and her vision went dark as she faded into unconsciousness.

Elsewhere in the cafeteria area, other members of the Cerberus team were falling to the strangely unstoppable intruders. Clem Bryant was ducking and weaving as one of the robed figures lunged for him and Mariah. Like Sela's foes, this figure threw a handful of stones he'd pulled from the pouch at his belt, and Clem shouted an urgent warning for Mariah to duck. She did so just in time, though several of the stones clipped her shoulder as she tried to get out of their way.

Mariah examined her shoulder, saw that the standard-issue white jumpsuit was torn and there were threads of blood appearing where the stones had—what?—grazed her? It felt like something more, and she reeled in horror as she saw one of the pebbles burrowing into her flesh. With a yelp, she grabbed for it, plucking it out of her skin even as it threatened to disappear.

Before her, Clem pulled back his attacker's hood and tossed the boiling sugar solution—the homemade napalm, as he had called it—into the enemy's face. The figure beneath the hood looked human, quite a handsome young man, in fact, albeit with a stern set to his square jaw. He screamed as the boiling liquid struck, and Mariah watched in amazement as Clem's foe crashed to the ground, clutching his burning face.

“What did you…?” she asked, suddenly recalling the mug in her hand.

“The sugar makes it stick to your opponent,” Clem told her briefly. “Like a scalding that just won't stop.”

Mariah swore, staggered at the man's ingenuity. Clem—a cook and deep-sea diver—had somehow figured out something that could stop these incredible intruders who had infiltrated their home.

“Ingenuity,” Clem said, as if reading her mind. “Come on, we'll need to reload now that we've proved it works.”

Mariah watched as the robed man continued to howl as he lay on the floor, his face burning away. Then she turned, ready to follow Clem back to the kitchen.

Another of the robed figures was running at them, and Mariah realized that apart from a couple of Cerberus people who were just being overpowered, they were the only two left.

Clem shoved Mariah back as the female assailant approached, swinging her fist at Clem's head. He protected himself, fending off the blow with the empty measuring jug. Though ovenproof, the jug shattered at the woman's blow.

“Unsociable,” Clem exclaimed, as he ducked his foe's next thrust. Then, shoulder down, he charged at the woman, forcing her to give ground, albeit just two steps.
“The napalm!” Clem shouted, encouraging Mariah to toss the steaming contents of her mug.

Mariah didn't hesitate. She threw the cup, sugar solution and all, at their hooded foe's face. The woman dropped back as the contents struck her. Some of it spilled across her robe, but enough hit her skin that she began screeching in pain, sounding like a stuck pig.

Mariah felt sick at what she had done. She wasn't a soldier, nor was Clem. They didn't belong here, shouldn't be doing this. She turned, peering around the room as the lights flickered and dimmed. They may not be soldiers, but they were all that Cerberus had left here now, everyone else in this room had fallen.

“Clem,” Mariah cried, turning back to him. “We're all that—” She stopped, the words freezing on her tongue.

The impressive figure of Ullikummis stood before the door to the kitchen, hefting Clem Bryant high above the floor. Clem was shouting, but Mariah couldn't make sense of what he was saying. It was like watching something in slow motion, it all seemed so inevitable.

Mariah cried out a single word: “No!”

But even as the protest left her lips, Ullikummis threw Clem across the room, until he slammed against the far wall like a discarded rag doll. Mariah turned and ran for Clem, feeling hot tears running down her cheeks even as she did so.

“Clem,” she shouted. “Clem, no. Don't be…”

He was lying there, slumped against the wall, blue eyes wide as if looking at Mariah, his head at an awkward angle. The geologist knelt before him, reaching for his hair, brushing it off his forehead.

“Clem, you're not allowed to die,” she told him. “It's the rule. I hadn't told you yet. I hadn't told you that I was
falling in love with you. So you mustn't die until after I've told you that. You mustn't.”

But Clem didn't hear. He was dead already, had been so as soon as he struck the wall. Mariah watched as a trickle of blood seeped from his nose, spreading out through his mustache and neatly trimmed beard.

She reached for his mouth, tried to push the blood away from his lips, feeling the warmth of his skin against her fingers. As she did so, she became aware of the towering shadow that fell over Clem Bryant's still body.

The voice came from behind her, sounding like two millstones being ground together. “Submit.”

Mariah did not turn to face Ullikummis. Instead, she knelt at Clem's side, wiping the blood from his lips, smearing it across his face, until two figures grabbed her and pulled her from her knees, forced her to stand.


, Mariah Falk tried to cry again for Clem, but the tears wouldn't come any longer. She had nothing left to weep with. Why had Clem died, and she'd been allowed to live? She was just a geologist. She had no place being here, locked away in a cell, treated like something inhuman. Why was she still living?

Chapter 9

Brigid found herself alone once more in the shadowy cave with just the mirror for company, haunted by her own face peering out at her from the darkness. She tried to recall what had happened, and remembered Reba DeFore in the storeroom, distraught, sitting in a pool of blood. Thankfully, the blood had appeared to not be her own.

Brigid closed her eyes, pictured the way Reba had looked, so terrified and alone and small. But it was a picture; it wasn't a memory anymore. Brigid's eidetic memory, her ability to recall the finest details of events and the things she saw, seemed diminished. It was the lack of food and water, she knew, making her lose concentration. Her body was begging for sustenance.

Her green eyes snapped open and she peered into the mirror, saw the red rings around them where exhaustion was beginning to show. Ullikummis had told her of the way the Annunaki perceived reality, the way it was all just a surface, that what appeared to be might not truly be what was. Ullikummis was in her head, she realized. Somehow, he had done something that was changing how she thought, how she saw things. An education.

There was a gulf of time as Brigid waited uncomfortably in the chair, thinking about the things Ullikummis had told her. Her whole life had been characterized by a single trait, the total recall of her eidetic memory.
Memory was the thing that made an individual, she realized. A continuity of memory was what provided sentience. To find herself suddenly losing an aspect of that memory, however small, terrified Brigid. Whatever Ullikummis had done, he had opened her mind to the way in which the Annunaki saw the world. It was subtle, and yet Brigid Baptiste pondered upon it for a long time. She had battled with the Annunaki for years alongside the other members of the Cerberus team. She, Kane and Grant had led strikes against these terrible alien foes, and yet never once had she really stopped to consider what it was to be alien.

The Annunaki had a continuity of memory like no other, Brigid understood. They shared memories through their whole race, were gifted at birth with a knowledge of all that had gone before. It made them intelligent, learned, and gave them a perspective on life and the lives of others that was radically different to anything Brigid had experienced. And it had also done something else—it had made them arrogant and, worse, bored.

The Annunaki had the perspective of infinity, Brigid concluded, and so they played with lives, played a never-ending game where the rules must constantly change. But they were not unstoppable; she and Kane and the others had proved that, and others had found their way around the Annunaki, too. Brigid had met a group in Russia not so long ago who had hidden a doomsday weapon on a higher plane of human awareness, accessible only via transcendental meditation. It had been developed as one way to avoid an enemy who could read minds, and Brigid guessed there must be others, too. And if there were ways to avoid the Annunaki, to repel them, then there must be a way out of this chair, a way to overturn Ullikummis, to gain the upper hand. The secret must lie in memory,
Brigid told herself, for that was the only weapon that he could never take away from her. Wasn't it?

She closed her eyes once more, forced herself back to that storeroom where she stood looking at the shivering form of Reba DeFore.

Brigid remembered standing in the doorway, listening to her companion's horrified words. “He who?” she heard herself ask.


,” DeFore replied.

Crouched down before DeFore, Kane glanced up at Brigid, meeting her eyes with a significant look. They were
Brigid and Kane—soul friends, destined to be together throughout time, their eternal souls reincarnated again and again, drawn together like magnets. Their shared bond was something that defied reason.

“Where is he now?” Kane probed gently, turning his attention back to the Cerberus medic. “Do you know?”

DeFore shook her head frantically, almost as though she was having a fit. “I don't… I don't…” she mumbled.

Kane reached out to her, held her gently by the shoulders to still her. “It's okay, Reba,” he soothed. “We're here now. Everything's going to be fine.”

“You can't stop him,” DeFore spit, her eyes wide with fear. “I've never seen anything like him. He's… Nothing can stop him.”

“Yeah, well,” Kane said, “we'll see.”

Standing beyond the door to the little storeroom, Grant turned back to his companions. “Company,” he warned.

Automatically, Brigid checked the ammunition of the TP-9 semiautomatic, and Domi and Kane did the same with their own weapons.

Outside, Grant had pressed himself against the near
wall of the tunnellike corridor, the Sin Eater ready in his grip.

“What's going on?” Kane asked as he joined Brigid and Domi behind the broad-shouldered figure of Grant.

The hulking ex-Magistrate gestured down the corridor with his Sin Eater. The lights flickered and popped above them, illuminating this main artery sporadically. But as they looked, they saw a bolder rectangle of light was gradually expanding at the end of the tunnel. Someone was opening the accordion-style door that led out of the redoubt into the open air.

The Cerberus redoubt was located high in the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana. An ancient military facility, Cerberus had remained largely forgotten or ignored in the two centuries since the nukecaust. Indeed, over the years following that nuclear devastation, a curious mythology had grown up around the mountains, their dark, foreboding forests and seemingly bottomless ravines. The wilderness area surrounding the hidden redoubt was virtually unpopulated; the nearest settlement was to be found in the flatlands some miles away, and consisted of a small band of Native Americans, Sioux and Cheyenne, led by a shaman named Sky Dog.

Hidden beneath camouflage netting, tucked away within the rocky clefts of the mountains, concealed uplinks had chattered continuously with two orbiting satellites, working to provide much of the empirical data for the Cerberus staff. Gaining access to those satellites had taken long hours of intense trial-and-error work by many of the top scientists at the redoubt, but their persistence had given the Cerberus personnel a near limitless stream of feed data surveying the surface of the planet they had sworn to protect, as well as global communication links and the like. That was until the ops room had been all but
destroyed under the devastating attack that Kane's team had stumbled upon less than fifteen minutes before.

Hidden away as it was, Cerberus required few active measures to discourage visitors. It was almost unheard-of for strangers to come to the main entry, a secure door located on a plateau high on the mountain. Instead, most people accessed the complex via one or other variation of the mat-trans system housed within the redoubt itself. To enter via the main door took arrogance and foolhardiness, especially with the security team that patrolled the surrounding area. Yet Brigid realized now that it was through the main access door that their mysterious enemies had entered. Impossible as it seemed, an army had walked right in.

As the distant door slowly rolled back, propelled by its whining hydraulic motor, figures became silhouetted against the sunlight beyond.

Chalk-skinned Domi muttered something to herself, slipping once more into the fractured Outland patois she used in times of stress. “Strangers at gate,” she said. “Trouble.”

“Stay sharp,” Kane instructed, leading the way toward them on light feet.

The group followed him, hurrying along the wide corridor, keeping to the shadows as much as they were able, their movements silent. There was more blood splashed all over the floor, and several Cerberus personnel were lying dead, one of them with his skull caved in. Kane ignored them, his attention focused around him, using his fabled point man ability to stay alert to any threats. The intruders appeared to have all gathered at the end of the artery where several stairwells met. They seemed ignorant of the possibility of further resistance. Kane didn't trust that ignorance—it worried him that these interlopers
were so confident in their mastery of the facility that they hadn't even bothered to post guards.

As they neared the end of the corridor, Kane and his team saw a large group of Cerberus personnel, held by the strangers in the hooded robes. They were all kneeling, hands behind their heads, now prisoners of the hooded strangers. No weapons were trained upon the prisoners, and yet it was clear that the Cerberus staff members were utterly defeated.

Kane scanned the group until he spotted Lakesh kneeling among them, a well-built man of medium height who appeared to be in his midfifties. The man's dusky face was bruised, and a trickle of dried blood could be seen below his aquiline nose. Lakesh held one hand to his head, as if in pain.

Behind him, Kane felt Domi tense, and he held his arm out like a bar, blocking her as she began to scamper ahead. “Wait, Domi,” he whispered. “Let's not get crazy.”

“Crazy's already here,” Domi hissed, her crimson eyes flashing in the flickering illumination of the overhead lighting. “Didn't bring it, just going to fix it.”

Grant stepped up behind the albino wild child, placing one immense hand on her shoulder with a gentleness that belied his strength. “Just play it cool for now, Domi,” he told her.

For a moment, it seemed that she would react, unleashing the instinctive rage that simmered beneath the surface of her civilized personality. But she stopped herself, visibly relaxing, though the fierce anger was still clear in her face. Domi respected Grant, and had once harbored something of a crush on the man. Domi was different, and was never more aware of that than when she was among the Cerberus staff. But Grant had always
treated her with respect, and even now she knew he was looking out for her.

“No point revealing ourselves too soon,” he told her quietly.

After a moment, the albino girl nodded, dipping her head and stepping back into the shadows of the far wall, the Detonics Combat Master ready in her hand.

As Grant waited with Domi, Brigid sidled up to Kane, pressing her spine to the wall. Before them, the huge steel door was still rolling back on its hydraulic system, a slow and deliberate process. Brigid recoiled as she scanned the kneeling prisoners properly for the first time. Some had their heads bowed and several were slumped in such a way that they seemed to be barely clinging to life. Most wore the standard Cerberus white jumpsuit with a vertical blue zipper down the front, but for many the white was scuffed and dirtied now by the traumas they had evidently suffered. Several had obvious wounds, blood marring the torn material of their clothing.

Brigid recognized Donald Bry kneeling close to Lakesh, his mop of copper curls falling over his face as he bowed his head in weary defeat. There, too, was astrophysicist Brewster Philboyd, his lanky frame bent over uncomfortably as he knelt before the guardsmen. Just a few hours earlier, Brewster had been providing recon information for Brigid's field team via Commtact link; now he knelt in supplication before an enemy.

As Brigid's eyes flickered across the group, she felt a growing sense of helplessness at their plight. Here was Sela Sinclair, her face bruised and blood staining the front of her jumpsuit, her left wrist hanging limply at her side, clearly broken. Next to her was geologist Mariah Falk, tears silently streaming down her face as she knelt beside her colleagues.

But as Brigid scanned the group, she noted that there were people missing, too. She tried to ignore the awful thought nagging at her mind—that the others were dead.

Fifteen hooded guards wandered to and fro, patrolling a group made up of at least forty Cerberus personnel. Forty was two-thirds of the staff, Brigid realized. Behind them, sunlight streamed in as the main door shuddered to a standstill.

“So what do we do?” she whispered to Kane.

His steel-gray eyes shifted from the scene playing out before them to the gun in his hand, assessing their chances. He wanted to tell Brigid that they could take intruders—thanks to firepower and training and some innate ability or luck they seemed to possess—and yet he knew that the other Cerberus people had tried, and he himself had been stunned by the near invincibility that their hooded foes appeared to possess.

As Kane pondered their next move, the ground around them began to shake, and the rock walls seemed to rattle in place.

Grant stumbled away from the wall he stood by with Domi. “What th—?”

“Earthquake?” Domi suggested, though she didn't sound so sure. It would be the first time the Cerberus redoubt had been struck by such a thing.

Brigid's breath caught in her throat as she saw another figure looming just beyond the redoubt's wide entrance. It was the unmistakable figure of the would-be stone god, Ullikummis, the Annunaki prince she had met and challenged twice before.

As Ullikummis stood there, arms spread before him, pillars of stone emerged from the ground, clambering out of the soil at the redoubt's entrance like living things,
twisting and spiraling upward as they stretched toward the sky. Each rough-sided pillar was four feet in diameter, and they seemed to surge out of the ground like launching missiles, kicking up dust as everything about them shook.

Brigid, Kane, Grant and Domi watched in astonishment as the pillars continued to grow, reaching higher than the top of the redoubt door, beyond where the Cerberus warriors could see. In their previous meeting in Tenth City, all four had witnessed Ullikummis's ability to somehow control stone, exhibiting a kind of psionic talent to command the rocks and stones about him. On that occasion, the stone-clad Annunaki had moved a wall into Brigid's path as she had tried to escape, drawing it from the ground like a gate.

Beyond the shaking pillars, Brigid saw the overcast skies, gray with rain-heavy clouds, and she spotted two fast-moving objects whip across the clouds, accompanied by the familiar sound of engines cutting through the air.

BOOK: Truth Engine
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