The edge, p.34
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       The Edge, p.34

           Leslie Lee
 
shot her when they attacked us." He looked around the room. "We need engines. We need to leave this thing behind. Maybe we can get our people back that way. We have forty-eight hours and then it doesn't matter. Let's move."

  They got up silently. He had shocked them. It could mean somebody might choose to take over. That would be fine with him. But they'd have to take it. Now wasn't the time to argue about who was who.

  "Any luck reaching the Unity?" he asked Th'han'dra.

  "Negative."

  "Jamming?"

  "I don't know. Maybe nobody is listening. I've had them trying D'ha'ren and Hellborne as well. Nothing."

  For the first time since he had known her, she looked really concerned.

  Softly she asked, "What's going on, Mak?" She rubbed at the bruise on her forehead with long delicate fingers. She never wore rings or bracelets. He grabbed a rag and tried to rub the dirt away from her face. He ended up smearing it all over.

  "Won't matter unless we can get the hell out of here."

  "Thanks," she said dryly, removing the rag from his hand after seeing his efforts in the reflection of a monitor. "You need some new clothes."

  He looked down and tried to rub some of the grime and blood off his flight suit but it was no use.

  "That won't matter either."

  "I'm sorry about Ives." She didn't look at him.

  "Me?" He stopped. He gathered the stillness within him and froze the feeling, making it hard and solid inside him. It joined the other things that he had no time for right now. "We need to get off that rock."

  "I'll see what progress we have." She slipped away, and was quickly lost among the many bodies running around.

  He was left alone in the Squad Ops room. The chairs looked particularly inviting. He didn't sit. Too great of a chance of not getting up again.

  He found a protein bar in his pocket. He unwrapped it and chewed dryly on. It said it was nutritious, provided tons of energy, and was tasty. It lied. He tried washing it down with some water. The empty wrapper went into the overflowing recycling bins. The food had been given to him by Ives. She couldn't have known it was him, he thought. He looked around trying to find the source of the stench surrounding him. Then realized he badly needed a shower.

  That was the difference he noticed on his first trip to the Upper Levels out in the open. Everything smelled good. Grass, air, the people. They even had pets they paraded around in parks. On the lower levels, anything that moved was considered food. His previous trips to the Uppers were in the darkness of tunnels and crawlspaces. Stealth was the best way to avoid trouble. Sneaking into buildings and hiding was his real nature. Being out in the open like this was strange, unsettling.

  And he knew he smelled. He stank of the lower levels. And even though he was with the recruiting officer, he felt alien. People stared, they drew away, clutching their children, tightening their grip on their bags.

  "Ignore them," Andrews grunted.

  "When I get out, will I get to live up here?" he asked.

  "No. We hate you. We always will. We might tolerate you. Might even be thankful for what you do. But no, we don't want you living with us."

  He guessed he was supposed to be grateful for the frankness of the man's answer. But all it did was crush him down more.

  "Do all of you hate me?"

  "They'd deny it. I'm telling you what I know to be true. I hate you and your kind. They do too. Never forget it."

  He'd always known the Uppers thought about him that way. Still, hearing it angered him. Though not as much as he would've thought.

  Andrews was right. They hated him. Ashamed people like Mak existed. And they were needed. The colonies, the Soldiers, the miners, most of them made up of people from the lowers or their equivalent. He'd watched some politician decry the chasm between the Uppers and the lowers, but for all his talking he had no solution. Obviously he was someone who wanted to hear the sound of his own voice. If voting was allowed by the lowers, Mak might have considered him. His opponent denied the existence of this divide. Only hard work was important. There was no divide, no chasm. Everybody had an equal opportunity and only laziness and stupidity kept people from progressing. He got the wildest cheers from the crowd. The audience were Uppers of course.

  As they marched along, Mak knew if he stopped and asked somebody, anybody, they wouldn't say they hated him. There had been a little part of him hoping if he had done something good, they'd let him be one of them. He could get enough money, do enough things, be a hero, maybe he could show them he was one of them. No different. All they had to do was give him a chance. But they didn't even want to look at him. They had no chances to give. He tried to crush that little hope out that day.

  The ship shuddered jerking him back to reality. The engines had fired, then cut off.

  "Thurber, report," he said.

  "We've got about twenty-five per cent of the Normal engines back online. That was just a test."

  "Did we move?"

  "About a foot if that much."

  "Roger that, Mak out,"

  The damage was done. The enemy knew they were making progress.

  "Mak, this is Jamaal."

  "Go ahead."

  "They're on the move. Looks like they're heading towards Engineering."

  "Have you blocked off their access?"

  "Yes, but they'll find another way. There are too many ways in. Another group is heading towards you."

  "Okay, I don't want to seal up the Bridge again and get trapped in here."

  "We'll send teams to block them off. Then if necessary, engage them. But we do have some good news."

  "I'm not sure I'd recognize it."

  "The meds think that a blob takes over a host and that person becomes a zombie."

  "So all we have to do is eject the blob."

  "Working on it. Jamaal out."

  He walked over to the mechs still working on the hatch.

  "We might need to close that again," he said.

  "Yeah, we figured as much. The controls are torn to shit but we think we've got it working."

  Comms was next. "Status," he said.

  "Nothing on long range communication. Short range, there doesn't seem to be anybody home. Maybe if we waved a flag at them."

  "Keep working on raising the Unity. I don't think anybody close by is listening."

  "Aye, sir."

  The Bridge was filled with smoke, the scrubbers couldn't seem to keep up. Worse, he could feel the temperature starting to drop. Some parts of the Bridge were warmer than others, but generally, life support was starting to fail.

  He started to head towards weapons, when the young woman who was manning the comm suddenly grabbed his arm. "Someone's calling on an internal comm. It's in the zombie section. He wants to talk to whoever's in charge."

  "Identity?"

  "Unknown. He says he wants to discuss the terms of our surrender."

  Mak grunted a laugh, then spat out a curse. He started to stalk away, then stopped.

  "Send it here," he snapped, triggering his comm.

  "Who am I speaking with?" the man barked out brusquely.

  "Screw you," Mak snarled back.

  "Is this that pod jockey? You're way out of your depth, sonny."

  "In case you haven't noticed, your little deal has gone to hell."

  "Our deal? This is Earth's future we're discussing. Earth Central is making powerful friends and you're in the way."

  "Tough."

  "You're killing your own people. That's murder."

  "Bite me. You're doing the killing."

  "People are being shared. They are not dead."

  "Has anybody come back from being 'shared'?"

  "Somebody who's being shared doesn't want to separate. They're all still alive unless you start shooting."

  "Bullshit! Why aren't you shared?"

  "It's not my time yet. I will share with one of their high ranking members."

  "What the hell are these things called anyway?"

&nbs
p; "They refer to themselves as the Host. We want you to stop the killing. It's not going to do you any good."

  "Pull the zombies back."

  "They're not zombies."

  "Pull them back. And there'll be no more killing."

  "You gotta get rid of the Isolate."

  "The what?"

  "The pod leader who's come back infected."

  "Yeah, we're really going to do that."

  "Do this now and we can avoid bloodshed."

  "Is this really how your little deal was supposed to go down?"

  "The Kyrzal posed an unexpected complication."

  "I think your agreement is going to hell. Pull back the zombies and we'll talk."

  He closed the channel and called Jamaal on a console.

  "This is Mak."

  "Yeah, I can see that." It was a joke but Jamaal didn't smile. He looked empty

  "Just got a request for us to surrender."

  "Really?" The Security Chief showed a little interest. "I hope you told him where to put it."

  "Avoid unnecessary bloodshed, he said. He also wants us to kill Brenn, the Isolate."

  "The what?"

  "That's just what he called him, an Isolate. We need to wake Brenn up and get him to tell us what's going on."

  "One of the meds has finished an analysis of the zombies."

  "He called them Shared."

  "They're zombies. Brain scans indicate they're in what he called a persistent vegetative state. They're brain dead."

  "No hope?"

  "None." Jamaal's face betrayed no emotion.

  "Damn, Jamaal. I, uh?"

  "I'm going to get Brenn up. I'll get back to you. Jamaal out."

  There were many people from the lower levels in the armed forces. It was one sure way of getting steady work. Plus benefits like health. Mak hadn't known what to make of his first doctor.

  "Malnourished. That's pretty standard, dammit" she muttered, poking at his skinny frame. "But no drugs, that's a rarity. Not even tobacco."

  She jabbed him for

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