8




"We've got to save her, Fly!"
Arlene had recognized our kid, too. We'd both started thinking about Jill that way--as our responsi- bility. We hadn't gone through all this crap just to let her die now.
"Come on!" I shouted and headed toward the sound.
When we returned to the corridor, another zombie was waiting for us, a male. This was one of the talkative ones. He didn't babble about the Gateways and the invasion. Instead, he kept repeating, "Write it over and resubmit." I didn't give him a chance to repeat his mantra. Arlene had our only gun, but I was angry at not having been in time to save the woman in the next room. Sometimes I like to get personal.
I felt the skin crawl between my shoulders as I hit the blue-gray face with my right fist. Marines were not meant to touch this reeking leather that once was human skin, but I was too angry to care. The sound of the nose cracking did my soul a world of good. Unlike Arlene's prey, this one was slow. I could have moved a lot slower, but adrenaline surged through me as I did something I'd never done to any of these bozos: I gave it the old one-two with straight fists. No karate, no fancy side kicks, no special training. I just pummeled that damned face in a sincere effort to send it straight back to hell, where it belonged.
"Fly!" Arlene was right behind me. "Be with you in a second," I said.
"What about Jill?" Shit. How could I have been sidetracked so easily? There are certain drawbacks to being a natural warri- or. "Take it," I yelled, resuming the twenty-yard dash--thirty? forty?--to save Jill. I measured dis- tance in kill-ometers. I didn't bother looking back as I heard the solid, satisfying sound of Arlene putting a round in the zombie's head.
Arlene stays in good shape. I never slowed down, but suddenly she was running right beside me. We found a dead guard slumped against the wall. Recent kill. Blood still trickling down his arm onto his M1. Dumb-ass zombies didn't relieve him of his satisfac- tion. I grabbed the weapon without slowing down, and then Arlene and I slammed through a pair of unlocked doors, ready for anything.
Anything consisted of a zombie ripping open a sawbones with the man's own surgical instruments. I fired off six rounds of .30-06 little round scalpels that opened up the zombie a lot more completely than he'd managed to do to the doctor.
"I can save him," said Arlene, noticing the conve- nient medikit at the same time I did. In Kefiristan, she'd had plenty of experience treating abdominal wounds. Before I could say diddly, she was on her knees, scooping up the medical guy's intestines and shoveling them back into the patient. Fortunately, the guy had passed out; and just as fortunately Arlene was really good at handling slippery things.
Jill was my responsibility--if it wasn't already too late to save her. As if on cue, she screamed again. I gave a silent prayer of thanks to Sister Beatrice, the toughest nun I'd had back in school. She always said the only prayers that are answered are the ones you say when you truly want to help someone else. I humped. I hurried. I tried my damnedest to fly. ...
Jill was still alive when I got to her. I almost tripped over the head of Dr. Ackerman, staring up at me with a really surprised expression. I did slip in the blood, and dropped the M1 as I careened right into the back of the biggest freakin' zombie I'd ever seen. The creep had cornered Jill and was trying to get at her with a blasted meat cleaver. She was holding him off with a metal chair, like a lion tamer. She'd taken shelter in a tight corner, which gave her an advantage: he couldn't swing the cleaver in a full arc, and she was able to avoid him by sidestepping the blade.
I slammed hard into the back of her lion, and he fell forward. Jill jumped out of the way and shouted, "Fly!" That was all, just my name, but she crammed so much gratitude into that one syllable she made me feel like the cavalry, Superman, and Zorro all rolled into one.
"Run!" I shouted, now that she had a clear escape route.
"No way!" The brat liked giving me lip. It was hard to be mad at her though, because she was trying to retrieve the weapon from the floor. The big, hulking zombie was slow, but he didn't seem interested in giving us all the time in the world.
Jill leveled the M-1 at our problem and pulled the trigger. Nada. Either Jill was doing something wrong or the gun had jammed. Zombie was still fixated on her, even though I was behind him again. Jill looked at me with a hurt-little-girl expression as if to say I gave up a perfectly good metal chair for a gun that doesn't fire?
The bad guy still had his cleaver, and he had plenty of elbow room now, so he could swing the thing and add Jill's head to his collection. It pissed me off that all my heroics had only made Jill's situation worse. I did what I could. The big hulk was standing with his feet just far enough apart so that I was able to kick him in the groin. I wished I had on my combat boots instead of sneakers. I wished he were alive, as the dead ones are only mildly bothered by that kind of action. But it was the best I could manage.
The big bearded mother turned his head. That was all Jill needed. She held the barrel in both hands and swung the weapon so fair and true that it was worthy of the World Series. The wooden stock cracked against the zombie's neck. He was thrown off-balance. As he tried to turn his head, I heard a snap: Jill had done something bad to his old neck bone. Good girl! The zombie fell to his knees. Before he could get out of his crouch I karate-chopped the back of his neck. No time to play George Foreman now. So far, Jill and I had merely slowed him down. Time for something more permanent.
Jill had the same idea. No sooner did I body-slam the hulk into a prone position than she yanked the cleaver away from him and started swinging it at his head.
"Hey, watch it!" I shouted. "You almost hit me." "Sorry," she said, almost as a gasp. But she kept swinging that wicked blade at the peeling, rotten flesh around the zombie's neck and head. I wasn't about to tell her she didn't have the strength to finish the job. The zombie wasn't getting up, and I intended to make sure it stayed down.
As I retrieved the M1, I realized that no other zombies were showing up to bother us. There was something eerie about Doc Ackerman's head on the floor, staring at us. (A marine isn't supposed to use a word like "eerie," but it was freakin' eerie, man.) I picked up the M1. So it had jammed for Jill. So she'd used it as a club. It's not like she'd smashed it against a tree. I cleared the bolt. What the hell, we'd give it another try.
"Excuse me," I said to Jill, busily trying to return the favor to the great decapitator. The meat cleaver was a little dull. And Jill just didn't have the necessary body mass. She offered me her hatchet. I declined. I fired the M1 once, point-blank. The head came apart like a ripe cantaloupe. The blood that poured out was a brand-new color on me.
"The gun jammed," she insisted. "I know."
"I didn't do anything wrong with it!" "I'm not saying you did. Knocking the gun around probably unjammed it."
"Well, I just want you to know it wasn't my fault that I couldn't fire it."
There were times when Jill went out of her way to remind me she was a teenager. I really wasn't in the mood for her defensiveness just then. God knew how many more zombies were roaming the installation. We had to get back to Arlene. And I was worried about Albert. We'd become like a family.
At some moment in my military career I'd become used to the stench of death. I could probably thank the Scythe of Glory and their Shining Path buddies for that. But I would never get used to the sour-lemon zombie odor; and the strongest whiff of it I'd had in a very long time scorched my nostrils as the head of the dead zombie leaked at my feet.
When I threw up, I knew the vacation was over. I am Ken. I once was part of a family. They're all dead now. I once took long walks every day and rode a bicycle. I swam. I ate food off plates and drank wine. I sang. I made love.
Now I am a cybermummy. A Ken doll. They have taken off the bandages and removed some of the objects from my flesh, but I feel that the aliens have made me less than human. Dr. Ackerman thought the opposite; but I don't feel more than human. Dr. Williams, the director, says they will bring me back to normal, but I don't believe him. The director puts nothing above the importance of winning the war. I am more useful to him now where I am, remaining what I am. The medical team tries to keep its findings from me, but I can tap into all their computer systems.
They say they can overcome my physical weakness quite easily. They can stop feeding me intravenously and slowly acclimate my system to regular food again. Simple brain surgery would restore full mobility, but there is a risk--not to me but to their project. The alien biotech in my head could be altered or lost in the course of getting me back to normal. So they take their time.
Meanwhile, I am plugged into the computers and confined to my bed, except when they risk placing me in a motorized wheelchair. I do not complain about this. I do not tell Jill when she comes to visit me. She's my most frequent visitor. I don't complain to Flynn or Arlene or Albert when they check up on me. These are the people who saved me. They care about me. I see no reason to make them worry.
Keeping my own counsel is a trick I learned when I was very young. I don't tell anyone how much I want to be the man I was. My favorite uncle used to take his family to Hawaii for vacations. He'd tell us all about it when he visited, and I wanted so much to come here. The irony is that here may be one of the last places on Earth where things are still as he remem- bered, and I can't go out and see them while there is still time.
I access all that I can on Hawaii. The screen flickers and tells me that Hawaii is a group of islands stretch- ing for over three hundred miles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I bring up information on how it was discovered by Europeans; and then I read how it became the fiftieth state of the United States. I remember my uncle saying the most popular fish here is difficult to spell, and I find an entry for it, and I realize my uncle was an honest man:
humumunukunukuapuaa. I read all about King Ka- mehameha and envy how he could get around the islands so much more easily than I ...
I grow tired of feeling sorry for myself. I don't mind being useful. I'm not certain that's the same thing as doing one's duty, but I don't really care. This could be the last stand of the human race. But I hate the lies. All the military is good at doing in a crisis is lying. I would never talk about this with brave soldiers. They don't want to hear about it. There is no point in discussing it with cynical senior officers, especially those who have decided to use me without being honest about their intent.
I like my new friends. They have honor. They look out on the world with a clean vision that no amount of dirt or blood can obstruct. They think they are fighting for individualism. For freedom. If the human race survives, they will face a serious disappointment. I have accessed the files. There are plans.
Perhaps I am closer to the future than those who rescued me. I am trapped inside myself. Maybe some- thing deep inside me died when I was in the clutches of the invaders. Before they altered me, I would have been horrified to discover human plans for a New Eugenics to build the future. This is not a plan of the human collaborators. The traitors have their own genetic plans for "improving" that part of humanity the new masters will allow to survive.
The New Eugenics is a plan devised by our side. The good guys. The ones fighting the invaders. Who knows? Maybe they will deliberately create more computer adjuncts like me! It's a dead certainty that they will begin making breeding decisions for the survivors on our side. Warriors like Flynn and Arlene will be spared this nonsense. They were born to die in battle. They are too valuable to use in non-military operations. I have accessed plans for them. They don't know it yet, but their time on Earth is limited. Very few people have their skill as space warriors. Flynn is Flash Gordon. Who is Arlene? Barbarella? Marines Taggart and Sanders will follow orders even when it involves facing hundred-to-one odds and near-certain death. I'd like to imagine some bureaucrat, human or otherwise, telling them with whom they should go to bed and how many children they are expected to have. They will be spared this future Earth that I believe to be inevitable, no matter which side wins. Times of crisis are made in hell- and made for the kind of man who has a plan for everything.
Jill and I are to remain on Earth! If Albert is fortunate, he will go with Fly and Arlene. He is too religious a man to stay. Where would he turn when he found out there's no side for him? Would he try to return to Utah? He doesn't know about Utah yet. He'll probably find out today.
They have a lot to cover today. The service for Ackerman and his staff was held this morning. I watched it on the monitor. So much has happened since yesterday.
First, the admiral will pretend there was a possibili- ty of sabotage even though the video recordings show that the killings were the result of simple carelessness on the part of one of Ackerman's staff. Plain incompe- tence led to the holocaust. Those tapes remain classi- fied, naturally. The possibility of a traitor does more for gung-ho morale than an admission of incompe- tence. I can hardly fault our new leaders for being students of history.
Besides, my friends will be receiving a big dose of declassified material relevant to their next mission. They shouldn't be greedy for too much declassified material all at once. It causes indigestion. Besides, their marine colonel will be giving them a nice dessert.
I should have a better attitude about this. The other side is so terrible that we should forgive our own shortcomings. Isn't that what they said when they were fighting Hitler? The doom demons, as Jill likes to call them, are perfect enemies. In the name of fighting them, we can do anything we want. No, it isn't fair to say we want to do terrible things. We will win by any means necessary, as Malcolm X used to say.



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DOOM. INFERNAL SKY
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