Alien nation 3 body an.., p.20
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       Alien Nation #3 - Body and Soul, p.20

           Peter David
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  Suddenly Jill sat bolt upright. “Oh, shoot! I gotta go! I promised my dad I’d clean the aquarium!” Not that, under ordinary circumstances, she’d really give a damn about remembering to clean the aquarium or not. But when it came to excuses for ditching homework, Jill was a master. She started gathering her materials together and asked, “You wanna come over?”

  Emily shook her head. “I’m gonna get a little more UV before the sun goes down.” She lowered her head and rested it on its side.

  Jill shoved her books into her backpack, heedlessly crushing two important notices for her parents. “ ’Kay. See you tomorrow.”


  Emily closed her eyes as Jill ran off. The sun was warm on her face. She listened to the gentle noises of kids calling to each other in the distance, tossing a Frisbee around. There was a rustling of the trees as the wind passed through them, and a bird took off—she could hear the flapping of its wings.

  Then she heard footsteps coming in her direction. She waited for them to veer off, but they didn’t. Instead they stopped not too far from her. She looked up, opening her eyes and squinting.

  A Newcomer teenager boy was standing directly in front of her, backlit by the sun so that he had a sort of aura about him. He was eyeing her appreciatively, and with a guilty inner thrill, she realized that he was regarding her potniki. “Hi,” he said. His voice was low and confident.

  “Hi,” she replied.

  “My name’s Dirk,” he said. “Dirk Knight.”

  “Emily Francisco.”

  He squinted at her. “You go to Marshall High?”

  A little warning bell went off in the back of her head, informing her that maybe this was more than a casual question. It might be that he was trying to get a feeling for her age because . . .

  Nah. He just wanted to know if he was talking to some dorky junior high school kid or not.

  “Uh-huh,” she lied.

  “I’ve never seen you.”

  “I just transferred,” she said easily. That was the wonderful thing about lying. Once you’ve done it, it becomes that much easier with every passing moment.

  He nodded in the general direction of some other Newcomer teens who were in the distance. “I’m with some friends. We’re looking for lichens. There’s some really good rock moss in the trees over there,” and he pointed in the direction of the trees. “You hungry?”

  “Yeah,” she said as eagerly as if she hadn’t eaten in two days, instead of, in fact, having snacked up less than a half hour ago.

  She stood and they started toward the trees. He looked at her with what appeared to Emily to be mild suspicion. “How old are you?”

  Coyly she said, “How old do I look?”

  He shrugged, unsure. “ ’Bout fifteen.”

  She was thrilled beyond belief. Fifteen! That was practically grown-up! Jill had to trowel makeup on her face and wear nylons to look older, and here Emily seemed fifteen just from her stylishly low-cut sweater. Not to mention, of course, the very mature way in which she presented herself.

  “Good guess,” she said cheerfully.

  She went with him, walking side by side and chatting amiably as they walked through the trees and into a clearing surrounded by tall pines. Emily paused as she entered, and the first buzzing of being uncomfortable started to trill.

  There were several Newcomer couples seated on blankets. They were engaged in activities that were not exactly conducive to scrounging around rocks. The earth term was making out. They were rubbing temple to temple, humming low and melodiously. One of the couples was even further along, with the girl fondling the inside of the boy’s elbow. He looked as if he was about to pass out from the enjoyment.

  Emily gulped.

  “So much for the rock moss,” said Dirk, not sounding particularly upset about it. “Y’know . . . my ankle’s sore. Let’s sit down.”

  He guided her over to a fallen log, now limping somewhat noticeably . . . which was odd, Emily realized, considering that he hadn’t been limping at all up until that point. They sat and watching the young couples who were so involved in pleasuring each other that they were totally oblivious to the presence or existence of anyone except themselves.

  “Looks like fun,” Dirk observed.

  Emily gulped even more loudly than before.

  Dirk didn’t seem the least bit deterred by her obvious nervousness. In fact, he seemed oblivious to it. From his backpack, he withdrew a rather grubby looking, single-serving milk carton and offered it to her.

  She shook her head and waved it off. Dirk looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then downed some of the sour milk himself. He licked his lips, moving his tongue very slowly and in a manner that would have been suggestive to Emily, had she been savvy enough to know what he was suggesting. “Y’know, Emily, I really like that sweater.”

  “Thanks.” Before she would have been thrilled for an older boy to say something like that. Now, though, it made her feel creepy. Reflexively she crossed her arms.

  “You cold?” he asked, upon seeing the movement. He slipped his arm around her back, and partly by accident—but mostly intentionally—let his fingers drift over her potniki as if to warm them. She gasped quietly.

  “No . . . I’m okay,” she said, her voice partly strangled.

  “Yeah,” said Dirk appreciatively, “you sure are.” He continued to rub her back, and said, “Why don’t you have a little sour milk. It does a body good.”

  Emily wanted to stand up. She wanted to run. But she couldn’t get her legs to support her. “I . . . better get home.”

  “You just got here,” he protested. He moved in to nuzzle her temple. Her eyelids fluttered, her body was starting to turn to warm Jell-O—and then her eyes snapped open, her brain screaming a kick-start warning to the rest of her that this was going too far, way too far.

  “I gotta go,” she said, trying to get up off the log.

  “No, you don’t . . .”

  “My dad might get worried . . .” and then, underscoring the significance of this, she said in a mildly threatening voice, “. . . and he’s a policeman.”

  Dirk didn’t seem remotely interested in anything except her temple and her spots. “Really . . . ?”

  He pulled her close and started to hum.

  Her legs had no strength in them at all, as if they weren’t remotely interested in getting her out of this. But she still had her upper body weight, and the moment he started to hum it was all she needed to send her into a full-blown panic. She lurched backwards, so fast that Dirk wasn’t able to get clear. With a yell, they both tumbled back off the log.

  “Hey!” shouted Dirk, lying comically on his back.

  But comical or no, Emily wasn’t laughing. She was, however, on her feet, her traitorous legs suddenly flaring back to life. “I lied!” she shouted. “I’m only twelve years old! I don’t go to high school . . . I go to junior high! I’m a kid! And I don’t want to do this!”

  And with that, she turned and bolted, leaving Dirk lying on the ground, his head spinning.

  “Should’ve started with rubbing her foot,” he muttered.

  C H A P T E R 2 3

  THE OFFICE IN the federal building had once been teeming with workers. But the cutbacks in federal budgets had winnowed the staff down further and further, with money being routed away from Newcomer projects and into programs that were oriented to the needs of human beings. There were enough lobby groups and enough influential people who were still stridently anti-Newcomer, that it prompted any politician to think long and hard before approving money for anything earmarked for Newcomers.

  When Sikes and Francisco entered, they made their way around desks, chairs, and filing cabinets that were gathering dust. The thick dust on one desk had a vile anti-Newcomer slogan traced in it and Sikes, in the lead, casually wiped it clean before George spotted it.

  There didn’t seem to be any signs of life. Overhead a fluorescent bulb hummed, and another was flickering. Sikes had the sneaking s
uspicion that if a light blew in this joint, no one ever came to repair it. The point at which this office would be shut down for good was the point at which the last of the bulbs went out and one couldn’t see anything anymore.

  Presuming that there was anyone left.

  “Anybody here!?” Sikes called out for what seemed the twentieth time.

  And this time, he was rewarded with a response. “Yeah! Down here!”

  Sikes and George maneuvered their way through the files and found, in a distant corner, a desk. There was a diminutive man seated there who kind of looked like Yoda, except for obvious differences such as skin color and lack of pointed ears. On his desk was a nameplate that read simply Mr. Brown.

  He had absolutely nothing on his desk. No papers. No books. Zip. A computer screen with the glowing word Ready on it, and who knew for how long it had been sitting there ready. The keyboard had dust on it, so that was a clue right off the bat.

  He simply sat there with his hands folded. Sikes wondered what in hell could possibly inspire this guy to get up in the morning and come to work. It sure wasn’t the hustle and bustle of the workplace.

  “I’m Detective Sikes. This is Sergeant Francisco.”

  “We need information on a program called Opsil,” said George.

  Brown wrinkled his brow, which surprised Sikes. He didn’t think it could possibly get any more wrinkled than it already was.

  “Opsil . . . that was Operation Silence,” said Brown after a moment’s thought. “Jeez, that must’ve been . . . four, five years ago. We had a bunch of Newcomer programs back then.” He pointed to different areas around the room. “AquaNuke. Bioprobe. NewTech. We had this one guy,” he said wistfully, “who was from DOD. Thought Newcomers could jam enemy radar with mind waves. There was money back then,” he added with a sigh.

  Desperately trying not to lose patience with the man’s reminiscences, Sikes said, “What can you tell us about Opsil?”

  Mr. Brown turned to his computer and started typing in some letters. Typing might actually have been too generous a description. He’d study the keyboard, his finger skimming along it until he found a letter, and then he’d enter it. Then he’d repeat the process to find the next letter, and the next after that. Sikes resisted the impulse to yank the keyboard away and entered the damned thing himself.

  “Okay,” said Brown, seemingly three days later. And then he gripped the monitor and swiveled it so that it was not facing Sikes and Francisco. Upon seeing their puzzled expressions, he said, sounding a bit apologetic, “Some of it’s still classified.”

  He then took what felt like an additional week running his finger over the keyboard. His lips moved quietly as he read. “There’s not much here,” he said finally, “but hey, if you want, I can give you an address.”

  “That would be great,” said Sikes.

  “Tell you what . . . just so it’s easy to read, I’ll type it up for you.”

  “No!” shouted George and Matt.

  The desert facility was as desolate a place as Sikes and Francisco had ever seen. Matt tried to imagine that the place could ever have been the source of any real serious government activity. It seemed dead now.

  Tumbleweeds blew across the grounds as Matt and George got out of the car. Matt, who was used to the hustle and bustle of the city, always felt a bit disconcerted upon coming out to barren sites like this. The silence was, indeed, deafening.

  He sniffed the air. “Y’know . . . it smells like there was a fire somewhat around here recently. Yeah, look.” He pointed to the side of the building, and there was some scoring on the brick face.

  George, for his part, was standing in the driveway and looking down. “These tire tracks,” he said slowly, “look relatively fresh.”

  “For a dead place, it’s been pretty lively around here.”

  They walked to the guard shack, and Sikes pulled a faded note off the door. “In case of trouble . . .” he started to read, and then looked over to George, whose attention was still focused mostly on the tire tracks. “Guard left his home number. I guess he doesn’t have to punch a time clock,” he said, sarcastically.

  George nodded absently, and then turned his attention to the building. “Let’s take a look,” he said.

  The door was hanging almost off the hinges, and George pushed it aside. They entered and the smell of burnt air was even more pungent in their nostrils.

  But if there had been a fire, it seemed largely to have been confined to one area. The shafts of light from high broken windows filtered down onto areas that seemed largely untouched by any sort of disaster. The place was dark and discomforting, and Sikes started to have the feeling—not exactly rational, he knew, but he had it nonetheless—that he was in a place where great evil had been present. The fact that it was now gone did nothing to make him feel any better.

  Then he heard George start to choke.

  He spun, thinking that someone was attacking his partner. But George was looking off to the side, his superior vision picking out something before Sikes’s eyes had fully adjusted to the dimness. George pointed wordlessly.

  Now Matt saw them, too. Rows of huge jars, filled with formaldehyde. And from each jar the eyes of dead monsters stared at them.

  No. Not just monsters. Newcomers. They were clearly Newcomers, but distorted and deformed, every one of them.

  “Oh, my God . . .” whispered Sikes.

  Sikes was simply appalled, but George looked as if he’d just come face-to-face with his worst nightmare. He sagged and would have fallen had Sikes not put out an arm and caught him. “I’m all right,” whispered George, looking even more ashen in the nonexistent light. Obviously he was steeling himself to deal with the horrors they had discovered. “I’m all right,” he said again.

  “What . . . is this place?”

  “Chorboke,” said George, speaking the name with loathing, contempt, and barely contained fear. “His experiments.”

  “Let’s get out of here.”

  “No,” said George firmly.

  Now bringing himself to standing, he started forward again. Sikes followed him reluctantly as they made their way deeper into the building.

  The images of those dead Newcomer freaks had seared themselves irrevocably into Matt’s mind. And as long as he was in the building, Sikes couldn’t shake the irrational fear that the little bastards would suddenly come back to life, break out of the jars, and seek revenge on the nearest life-form around.

  Sikes had seen too many horror movies.

  Then again, considering the horrors he had just witnessed, it seemed that movie people couldn’t come close to the atrocities that existed in real life.

  “Look,” said George.

  Matt was almost afraid to. After what he’d seen thus far, he wasn’t sure that he could handle . . .

  A crib.

  In front of them was a baby’s crib. Overturned nearby was a steel-framed bed that looked to be at least eight feet long.

  “Call me crazy,” said Sikes, “but I don’t think this is a coincidence.”

  “This is where the fire started,” said George, picking through the remains of burnt bedding. “No more than a few days old.”

  “Hey, George . . . what does this mean?”

  Sikes was tapping some Tenctonese writing on the wall. George walked over to it, and the sharp intake of breath when he read it was enough to tip Matt off that it wasn’t Tenctonese for “For a good time, call Zelda at . . .”

  “What’s it say?” said Sikes.

  George looked at him as if he’d seen a ghost.

  “Chorboke is coming,” he said quietly.

  C H A P T E R 2 4

  THE FIRST THING that George and Matt noticed as they pulled into the driveway of the small, isolated ramshackle house was the large construction truck that was parked outside. The sign on the side read Ariel’s Pools and Hot Tubs. Dust blew around the tires of Matt’s car as they rolled to a stop.

  The sounds of digging filled the air as they go
t out, and Matt gestured to George that he was going around back. George nodded and followed as they made their way to the back of the house.

  A Bobcat bulldozer was digging dirt out of a marked-off area. Standing there surveying the work with obvious pride was a middle-aged man wearing beat-up jeans and a polo shirt tight across the middle.

  “Emmet Cutter?” Sikes shouted to him over the din of the bulldozer.

  Cutter turned and looked at him cautiously. Strangers coming up out of the blue in this deserted part of the world was a rather rare occurrence. “Yeah?”

  Sikes flashed his shield. “Police. You’re the security guard at that desert facility?” He pointed in the general direction of the building they’d left several miles behind them.

  Emmet bobbed his head in a manner that struck Sikes as being a somewhat nervous one. “I’m on my way back there. I just came home for a minute. There, uh,” he cleared his throat, “there isn’t any problem, is there?”

  “Who was living at that facility?” George asked.

  “No one,” said Cutter a bit too quickly. “It’s just a storage facility. Buncha things in jars.” He shuddered, and that at least seemed genuine. “I don’t like to go in. Gimme the creeps.”

  “We found a very large bed and a crib in there.”

  Emmet shook his head so violently it looked like it might topple off his shoulders. “I don’t know nothin’ about it.”

  Sikes had had quite enough. He put his arm around Emmet’s shoulders. The guard stiffened faster than a warped board. “Come here, Emmet,” said Sikes with false joviality. He walked toward the pit, pulling the reluctant guard along. “Nice to have a pool out here in the desert. Can’t be cheap.” He scratched at his chin. “I’d say, what, about seventy . . . eighty thou? Hmmm?”

  “Well . . . uh . . .”

  Sikes didn’t wait for the answer because he knew it would be a lie. “Not easy on a security guard’s salary.” He smiled into Cutter’s face, and then the smile turned nasty. “You know, Emmet, the government gets very nasty when an employee gets caught taking bribes. Very nasty. They like the heads of folks like that on silver platters, y’know? And they don’t have nice luxurious pools in Alcatraz, Emmet. Not at all.”

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