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One: Now

Bullets punctured the bulkhead to Bob’s right, and almost immediately the holes began to suck.

Nah, he thought, chambering the next set of rounds. This whole thing began to suck ages ago. Gun loaded, he watched the holes slowly heal over. Extruded carapace darkened to violet black. On a human ship, those holes would have been fatal. Overseer ships were damned good at keeping their occupants alive. It’s why their mind-wiped slaves were allowed to run around with full-caliber projectile weapons. Which were currently pointed at Captain Robert “Bob” Harris and his team.

Damn it, he thought, as another salvo cut through his cover. Everything on these damn boats was dark. The hallway behind him was dim as hell’s outhouse; the hallway in front of him pulsed with just enough orange and blue light for the pale heads of slaves to stand out like beacons. And they could most definitely see him. He braced himself, ducked around the cover and fired. His bullet sent one slave spinning into the dark, finally dead.

Poor saps, he thought, chambering another round. The slaves did their best to turn his cover into lace. You poor, damned bastards. Being in an Overseer pen usually meant you were dead. That was the better outcome. If you were particularly unlucky, you got drained of everything. Memory, the color of your hair and skin, even the color of your eyes. Fifteen blank slates sat crouched behind Overseer boxes and crates, each one of them will-less, each under the total control of their terrifying masters. They moaned, footsteps shuffling, mouths drooling…and their aim was impeccable.

Count on the cannibal aliens to create zombies with guns. He took seven shots, dropping six slaves. That cut the remaining opposition to twelve.

Three of them had been members of Bob’s team, though it was kind of hard to tell.

There was a sudden rustle among the slaves. Four taller, paler creatures stepped into the light. Seven feet of pure muscle and ugly hate, four eyes, shark teeth bared in a nasty snarl. Their armor was square-ish, like the costume of a berserk hockey player in solid black. Guns wrapped around their hands, hinges tightening, pulsating muscles drawing tight across bone. Some bits even dug into pale flesh. Dark alien blood dripped onto the floor. Bob looked down the sight of his gun, lined up one baleful eye, and pulled the trigger. Dark liquid splattered the bulkhead and the monster was down.

Bullets riddled his cover as the slaves reacted. Their weaponry wasn’t hooked directly into their nervous system, but it still looked like the extruded remains of someone else’s nightmare. Bob was more concerned that they hadn’t stopped shooting. Damn. He hadn’t gotten the leader. He didn’t know much about Overseer society, but Holton Fleet knew there was a division between the shock troops and the real bad boys. Nail the shock troops, the slaves would keep shooting. Kill the leader, and the poor saps would stop dead in their tracks.

I guess your boss is happy to let you soak up the bullets, he thought, and turned another Overseer into so much mangled meat.

“Where’s our backup?” he muttered.

He’d started this push with twelve men, and had managed to secure a quarter of the Overseer’s Hellcat. Now he was so overextended he couldn’t go any further, and he was using people who shouldn’t have been anywhere near the front line. Glancing left, he frowned at the girl with the radio. Case in blasting point, right there. Adrienne Parker had insisted on going into the field as soon as her probationary period ended. He’d have been glad to have her on any other mission. She was the best battlefield doctor he knew. But she’d already proven less than solid around Overseers, a massive liability.
Still, when things had gone sideways a few minutes ago, Adrienne had risked her neck and grabbed the radio.

Corporal Lewiston had taken four Overseer bullets to the torso during the first strike. Bob had deployed cover so they could hold ground while she patched him up…only she hadn’t. Instead, she’d shot Lewiston up with a dose of the enzyme that would keep him from becoming dinner. Then she put a popper full of concentrated morphine into his mouth. In ancient times the drug had been used as a pain killer; with better, modern options, these days it was only used to make dying easier.

“I’ll give you as long as I can,” he whispered. Blood spurted between his lips and down his chest. The wheeze of a punctured lung was almost inaudible under the gunfire. Almost.
We can’t get him out, Bob realized. Lewiston handed Adrienne the radio. “Make it count,” He whispered, and he had clenched her fingers tightly in the dark.
I’ll make it count, alright, Bob thought, teeth clenched. The enemy kept coming, but they also kept going down.

Adrienne worked the radio dials, listened for a few moments, and then shook her head. Chin length brown hair bounced slightly as gravity blipped. The Indy, he thought, must be giving the aliens hell. “Indiana says they can’t get close enough to punch the hull a second time. The Hellcat’s deployed Fangs and Spiders. They—” a shudder rippled through the gigantic ship, slinging all the humans hard against bulkhead walls. The Overseers didn’t even shudder. One of them almost took out Sergeant Jean Haskill, Bob’s second-in-command. Adrienne cursed and pulled herself upright, then unsnapped her gun.

Adrienne packed a fifty-cal, the smallest caliber that could fire explosive rounds. She braced against her cover, aimed, and with surgical precision placed bullets neatly in the monster’s torsos. With standard ammo those shots would not have been fatal. That’s why the Space Force issued explosive rounds. The Overseers hearts went splot “They can’t get through the mess out there,” Adry continued, as if all she’d done was swat a fly. “Alpha Team still has control of this hallway. We can make it back to the shuttle if we try. It’s getting undocked that’s the problem. If we go now--” Gunfire cut her off.

Bob fired, dropping the slaves that had almost nailed Adrienne. Then his gut winged. Two of the slaves had begun to…eat…portions of the third. Zombies with Guns.

“Sir, we need to go back to the shuttle,” Jean Haskill said.

Bob shook his head. “We came here to blow the ship and we’re gonna blow her. We got to get closer to the ship’s main drives.” He braced himself on the ship and aimed down his rifle once more.

A Polycarbonate Rifle Type 3 wasn’t as flamboyant as a PCR 9. A three made smaller holes, it couldn’t empty a hundred round clip in two seconds, and the explosive charge it could fire wouldn’t penetrate a spaceship’s inner hull. No good for vacuum or ground war, but the threes were perfect for ship-to-ship warfare.

Overseer guns were different. The firing mechanisms were organic, heavy on the methane and sulfur. A firefight could become overwhelming just based on smell alone. The bullets themselves were lozenge shaped, with awful aerodynamic barbs at the ends like some kind of seed. If they weren’t removed from the human body quickly, they would decay into a flesh-eating soup of acids and bacteria. Gangrene could follow in a matter of hours.
So the sooner he got rid of the guys with the big toys, the better. He aimed his shots for the alien’s heads and fired. Direct hits. The noise was deafening. The sight, even with the dim shipboard lighting, was the stuff nightmares are made of. A piece of black-glazed skull spun slowly on the ground between the two forces. Even the slaves stared at the mess.

“I’m sure that was completely necessary,” Adry muttered, her skin gone faintly green.
“Yep,” Bob said, and chambered another round.

Bob and Adrienne had come to Golden Dragon on a tip. A lone Overseer had been seen in the district capital’s main market. Not too unusual. Golden Dragon had a history of cooperation with Overseers, treating outlaying villages as buffets and turning Space Force personnel over if they needed a bargaining chip or three. But the hyper-militant race of aliens did not travel alone. It was strange. Bob had to check it out.
Golden Dragon had given them a warm welcome and offers of assistance. With the Landry Enzyme, Bryan Landry’s last creation before his subsumation, Golden Dragon finally had a defense against the alien horde on their doorstep.  Of course the Space Force could come investigate their planet. Holton fleet had full access and co-operation….right up until Golden Dragon turned their transport and half their mission team over to a cloaked Hellcat, the Overseer version of a battleship. Landry Enzyme or not, Golden Dragon was still straddling the fence.

The worst part, Bob thought, as he sighted down the barrel of his gun, was that they’d come to Golden Dragon looking for Bryan Landry himself. Holton Fleet would never give known collaborators the enzyme. Landry had to have provided it to Golden Dragon; he had to still be there. Maybe he was even on this ship. Much as humans in the Rim worlds wanted the enzyme, the Overseers wanted it more. Humans were, after all, Overseers food. The enzyme could increase their supply exponentially.

Wide-scale distribution would  end the slave supply, though, and take subsumation off the table. He aimed and took out two of the faceless slaves. Some of them, the brightest and most durable, might have regained the ability to speak. Maybe. Most of them were known for abandoning their weapons and coming at you with their teeth. If that damn drug only poisoned the alien sons of bitches, we’d be three for three. Another shot, another dead subhuman.

But if Landry could create the enzyme in the first place, he could also negate its benefits to humanity. And that would be very bad. Nothing said the good doctor was still on humanity’s side.

Adrienne made a whimpering sound. “Don’t shoot them if you don’t have to.”
Zombie slaves kept coming, even when their guts were riddled with holes. Dead white, faces like melted candles, eyes like boiled eggs, each slave was consumed with hate for anything human, driven by undying loyalty to their alien masters. Oh, Bob had to shoot them. He had a powerful need nothing else could satisfy.

And if Landry shows his ugly face around here, I’ll develop a need to shoot him, too.
He tightened his grip on the rifle.

Bryan Landry had been Bob’s best friend.

That was the problem with Overseers, he thought, as he finished another slave off. You never knew if the thing you were killing was truly alien. The slaves were obviously former people drained into an animal state by the ravenous monsters they served. But some of the aliens themselves had once been human. Somehow the aliens could remake you that completely. The brains and brass of Holton Fleet called the process subsumation, and the only protection against both it and their goddamned feeding process was the Landry Enzyme. Bryan had made it. Adry had refined it after Bryan was subsumed. Every report said the former humans remembered nothing of their old lives, but that must have been bullshit. Bryan had made a B-line for Adry and the enzyme, snatching both off a transport Bob had been flying.

Bob and Bryan had been face to faceplate in the back of that ship. Bob hadn’t recognized him. And Bryan, apparently, hadn’t recognized Bob either. Except possibly as dinner. Bob could still remember the prickle of alien teeth on his neck. Bryan, as a tall, handsome human, had told him those teeth were like overgrown jellyfish stingers. And once you came that kissing-close to death, you didn’t forget it fast.

According to Adrienne, he’d protected her and an entire village, had half starved himself to avoid feeding on the humans. Well, she had survived nearly a month in Overseer custody. It was bound to make her a little loopy.

Adrienne had known Bryan’s work inside and out. He might not have remembered enough to recreate it on his own, but Bryan must have worked out just enough to maneuver Adrienne into betraying the human race. Bob didn’t think that would be all that difficult. She was a doctor. A healer by nature. He could probably turn her coat with a ten-year-old kid and a pop gun.

He looked sideways. Adrienne had her gun braced against the crate top. Black carapace did not regrow when it was used as storage casing, apparently. Fluffy white insides and bits of circuitry were spilling out of the cracks. She should have traded her perch for better cover, but her eyes showed no hint of fear. Or of anything, really. Another alien had arrived to ride herd on the handful of surviving slaves. She took it out with a single shot to the cranium. Pieces flew everywhere, and the zombie-like once-humans descended on the corpse en masse.

Alright. A six-year-old kid and a pop gun.

Besides, she’d been Bryan Landry’s fiancée. Of course she’d get unbalanced around alien him. Bob reloaded his gun.

The Overseers had the USS Phoebe Balboa. Feeble, they’d nicknamed her. She wasn’t very big, but she was a primary contact ship. Now that Holton Station was gone, the fleet that it had supported was on its own. Without repair bays, manufacturing facilities and a full company of bored researchers happy to help refit warships like King, Garrison and Tejas, they’d elected to limit inter-system contact to the smaller Admiral-class battleships. Addys were tough birds, most of the time, but if they had to lose one, he was pretty glad it was Feeble.

But Feeble’s computers had passwords and a full catalogue of Holton Fleet’s subspace drives. If the Overseers’ main body got hold of that intel, they could blow Holton Fleet out of the sky. We’d have to retrofit every subspace drive and change their frequencies. And we don’t have the manpower or the supplies to pull that off. Holton station had been their primary support. If they could have pulled the ships back to Old Earth, they would have, but friction between humanity’s oldest star systems had resulted in a blockade. Communications couldn’t be stopped, but only one supply ship in ten made it out to the Rim these days. Holton Fleet was on its own.    Losing even one ship was a disaster. Feeble’s commander had ordered them to sit tight and wait for General Shawn Miller to decide what to do.

Bob had been halfway to the Hellcat when the order went out. That close to the ship, well, you might as well finish things. And dropping Adrienne off at Golden Dragon would have been too much trouble.

The Overseers could not be allowed to keep Feeble. Bob’s strike team had thirty pounds of Explosive Compound Formula 9, which was enough to turn even Feeble’s computer banks into loosely connected molecules of compound steel. It’d also separate most of her parts and blow a very generous hole in the Hellcat’s hull, but then Bob was in a very generous mood right now. All that was left was finding Feeble and turning her, and large sections of the Hellcat, into very, very tiny pieces.

Of course, that was the plan before they ran into three quarters of the Overseer crew and most of their slaves en route.

With the first plan knocked out, things moved on to something more dangerous. One could almost call it suicidal. Overseer ships blew up when they took too much battle damage, even when there were aliens aboard. It seemed an automatic function of their atomic reactors. Bob figured, strap enough ECF to the main reactor coils, they could make more than the Feeble evaporate. There was just one major problem with that plan.
The reactors were down this hall, right behind two carapace doors and this apparently endless flood of slaves.

Every time, Bob thought, as he fired his gun, I think I’ve seen—blam—how bad these sons of bitches can get—blam, blam, blam—I find myself realizing it can get worse. Bang, bang, bang, and he was out of ammo again. What’d they do? Raid a village?
He reloaded, sighted down the PCR 3 and fired, dropping one of the last slaves to the ground. He’d lined up the final shot when the doors slowly sectioned open. Five more aliens stepped through. White hair, wide, double thumbed hands, a four-eyed face mostly hidden by the extruded mask. Black blast armor. Another ten slaves.
Here we go again.

“Damn,” Adrienne’s clear voice echoed in the suddenly quiet hall. “I’m out.”
The lead Overseer gestured, and the gunplay began again. The slaves advanced quickly; Adry wasn’t the only one out of ammo. Bob’s reserves were running dry. Soon, he’d have to sound the retreat, and—

Kzzzzit!

A blue halo of electrical discharge engulfed two Overseers. The radiant voltage zipped into their limbs, locking muscles in place as their nervous systems were overloaded. A second blast took out the other two with a hiss of ozone. Shock round discharge. Something that could only be fired by a PCR 9.

Goddamn it! Bob thought. Hellcat layouts were one of the few ships Holton Fleet had mapped out. Bob had it memorized. Whoever was firing off the rounds had no cover at all. He grabbed the radio from Adrienne, ignoring the hail of slave-fired bullets winging past. “Hold your fire! Whoever is on the left flank, hold your fucking fire, you’re too goddamned exposed.”

After a few moments of confused babble, the radio crackled to life. “It’s not us, sir. All personnel accounted for.”

Another shock round blasted from the unseen rifle. Overseers were almost impossible to kill. They healed rapidly. Short of disconnecting the head from the body or julienning the heart all in one go, your options were very limited. Bryan Landry had developed shock rounds long before the enzyme was even a possibility, but the manufacturing process had been lost with Bryan and Holton Station. They were too valuable to throw away on a mission like this. No one else should have them.

This, Bob thought, is not good.

A young, blond man emerged from behind the hallway pillars. Blue eyed, chiseled features, he was a solid looking kid. Not one of theirs, though. He didn’t have the heft to hold a PCR 9. Then the boy’s vest swung open and Bob got a good look at a young, manly chest with a well-healed feeding mark just left of center. Right over the heart.
This is either bad, Bob thought, or incredibly fucking bad.

The slaves responded slowly, wheeling as if in a dream. The kid, on the other hand, had a souped up AK-103. Russian, Bob thought, as the kid drilled the slaves full of holes. This is not going to be my day. Another Overseer ran up, weapon still sliding needles into pale skin. The blue corona of shock rounds dropped it cold before it even got close to firing.  The kid followed this with a volley of gunfire that sent both Adry and Bob back behind their cover. Nobody’s taught this idiot about quality of fire over quantity. Gimme two seconds and a decent full-auto, and I’ll educate the moron.

The kid had to reload eventually. Bob took this pause to duck back around the box. He came up to a rifle staring right at his head. The kid shouted something in Russian.
And an Overseer voice answered.

Incredibly fucking bad it is. Well, shit.  “Hey, kid,” Bob shouted.

“Da?” the boy responded.

“Why don’t you and your buddy come out and—”

Adrienne’s shout was all the warning he got.  Something grabbed the back of his neck. Something with the familiar prickle of nematocyst teeth.

Oh, hell no. he thought, how’d it get around us? His combat knife was out and moving before that oh-so-delicate prickle had time to fully register. It hit flesh, glancing off bone, and the Overseer behind him grunted in displeasure. Adry screamed, a combative howl that ended with the thunk of sharps hitting flesh. Bob twisted, using the knife as a pivot point, and got his gun under the thing’s chin. He pulled the trigger. In the heartbeat it took for the gun to fire the monster pulled back, and the shot only cut through cheek and faceplate. Blue black blood coursed down white skin and pattered on the deck below.

Adrienne clubbed it hard with the butt of a dropped PCR 3. Its blood splattered her cheek. Eyes wild, teeth gritted, she wrenched her combat blade from its throat. The thing dropped, and she put two bullets through its knees. Adrienne was a damn good shot, Bob thought. It was a damn shame the goddamn monster was going to heal. She stepped around its body, keeping her gun level with the creature’s temple. “Take off the mask.” The creature hesitated. “Take it off,” She barked. The monster brought a double-thumbed hand up to its faceplate. Her hands began to shake. Bob’s gut fell like a stone and then rose with relief when the face revealed was inhuman as starlight. Adrienne’s sigh was even louder than his own.

But this one was different. The brutish features were more refined. Four slitted nostrils flexed with a trickle of blackish blood. The pale eyes glittered with fine intelligence. It was shaved bald, save for a neat braid, and it didn’t smell like rancid blood or an open sewer. It studied them all, breathing heavily.

“Submit.” Mobile lips exposed a double row of shark teeth, a glowing blue tongue. Four white eyes observed its potential victim. “You will live unharmed. We could use your…talents.”

Okay, Bob thought. This is new.

The Russian stopped beside Adry, pointing his gun in its ugly face. “Where is little ship?” the boy said. His accent was heavy. Far heavier than most of the survivors from Dorofey. “Where is captured cruiser?”

The alien eyes flickered to the Russian. “Tell us where the renegade is, and you will get your little ship.”

“You get nothing, four eyes,” Bob said, tilting his gun down further. The alien studied the barrel for a moment, and then surged back to its feet. With a heavy backhand it threw Adrienne into the wall, then stood between her and the other humans, blocking her from escape or rescue. A massive hand snapped Bob’s gun into two pieces. It grabbed the Russian by his neck. The boy began to scream. Bob caught a glimpse of white nematocyst teeth penetrating flesh like small, questing worms, emanating from an organ in the monster’s palm. It was going to feed. Bob caught his combat knife off the ground and wheeled to face the alien. He was USMC and human. He’d save the universe or else die trying. That was his job. It was what he was made for.

“Hey, bastard, why not—”

And then the monster’s head exploded.




Two: Then

Being a kid on Foster kind of sucked. Especially if you were the youngest in your class. It helped that Bob wasn’t a wimp. He looked puny enough, but the first kid to try to take his lunch credit had gone to the nurse with a bloody nose and a beatific black eye. Bob was never a major target, but he’d never been a major helper, either.
The Landry boys, now, they were targets. The girls flirted with Bryan, which didn’t help matters, but the older boys made it a habit to pummel the ever-loving shit out of tiny little Michel.

The problem with standing up for targets was that it made you one, and Bob had never had much truck with the Landrys anyway. He wasn’t happy about breaking that record. But it was either help Bryan, or fail school this year. There’d been a little dirty card on the school bulletin board. No name, but there didn’t need to be. It was handwritten. Everything Bryan Landry did was neat and precise, as if he thought making all his letters and numbers mathematically perfect could somehow mitigate what was happening at home.
The kids all knew. It was one of the things that made Bryan and Mich targets.
Bob had wondered about this. He’d seen Bryan fight at the compulsory bouts at Space Force sponsored rec, and he’d decided long, long ago he didn’t want to tangle with the kid. Bob was pretty sure he’d beat Bryan fair, but he wasn’t sure it’d be a bloodless victory. But Bryan never fought back outside of the ring. And he’d certainly never fought back against his father.

Well…you love your parents, Bob thought, and even when you don’t if you’re a good kid you protect them. If people found out what Hatch was doing and he wound up in jail, he could get hurt. Maybe even dead. People did stupid things when they loved people; that’s what his sister Mary always said.

But why would Landry post a notice on the physical board? Especially with such a sweet honey pot. Five hundred credits and permanent help with homework. Raise a full grade av, promise! Bob was failing writing comp, lit and math, and it was five hundred credits! Whatever Landry wanted, Bob was pretty sure he could pull it off.

The meeting point was in the old grain silo, a leftover from the colony days before Old Earth sold Foster the new storage/shipping containers. It was tall and echoy. The old plas-alloy sides hadn’t rusted in two hundred years. Plenty of birds nested up in the roofing. They were Aaron’s Swallow, or just Aarons. They built nests of hardened spit. It made a pretty good soup if you boiled it, but you really had to boil it. Almost a full day of hot, stinky steam. The nutritional value was super, though, and if you were poor, or broke, or your da spent most of the child allotment on booze, Aarons-nest soup and watergreen root would at least put food in your stomach.

Bryan Landry hung from the rafters, his legs clenched tight around an upper girder. In his right hand was an Aaron, blue-blush feathers with a round little face. They were closer to Earth mammals than birds, bearing live young and nursing them in the safe hollows of their oval-shaped nests. They had beaks, though, and talons, and they’d make ribbons of your hands if you weren’t careful. Bryan worked a thin knife through the nest. Like any good harvester he left just enough nest to put the avian back into. Only an asshole took the whole thing. The bird would leave and not come back, and you’d be out supper next week. Bryan was good; not even the stuffiest Greenskeeper could fine him for this harvest.

“Landry,” Bob said. His voice echoed through the old silo.

He got a quick wave of the knife in response. That, Bob decided, was one thing he hated about Landry. He had an o-tech knife. It was not illegal to own Overseer tech, though most people would choose not to. Why keep nightmarish stuff around if you couldn’t even use it? But Overseer knives were really killer. Sharp as blazes, almost parting molecules and they never needed sharpening. Between when you put it up and when you used it again, the blade resharpened itself. Blasting wicked.

Landry took two more nests, dropped his harvest bucket, then managed a quick somersault down to the ground. He was, Bob thought, the second best gymnast in school.
Bob was the first.

“How ya doin’, Harris?” Bryan asked. Black haired, blue eyed, dusky colored skin. He was sixteen, all legs and shoulders and elbows, and because he was so good at harvesting edibles from the wild he and his brother weren’t stunted at all. Some of the other kids in class had parents just as bad as Hatch, but they looked it. Bryan and Mich weren’t like that. Sure, their clothes were the synth fiber that came with Child Allotment, but even Bob had worn that for a little while, when he was growing out of everything and good clothes weren’t that cheap. Bryan wore the featureless black shirt and pants with pizzazz.

Bob decided that small talk was out. “What’s this about five hundred cred, Landry? What you want me to do, kill your da?”

There was a brief flicker in Bryan’s eyes. Bob grinned. Bryan had thought about it. He weren’t no slouch, then. If it were Bob’s dad…he shied away from the thought. His dad was a good man. Captain-leader of his squad in the Space Force, one year away from earning his Honorary Citizenship, something that would give him and his family a straight shot back to Earth, if it ever came to that.

It won’t ever come to that, Bob thought. Dad’s gonna stop the suckers before they get within sixteen light-years of Foster. You’ll see.

Bryan sheathed his knife. “Nah, I wouldn’t need help with that, you know? Hatch is a waste of ammo. No. I want you to help me and Mich run away.”

Bob hesitated. He could definitely get behind that cause…but it’d be a major felony if he got caught. If you had a felony the Space Force wouldn’t take you, and that was Bob’s great goal in life. But they also wouldn’t take you if your grades sucked. Rocks and hard places. That was life in the Rim, for sure. “You said you’d help me get my averages up.”

“Well, we can’t go right away. I got to get a solid grade av this year, A neg or better.” Now he got a bag open and began running a peeler over watergreen roots. The soft bark gave way to shockingly green flesh. Watergreen roots: a high source of proteins and trace nutrients. Even if you were dirt broke, if you knew plants on Foster you wouldn’t starve.
Something in Bryan’s tone gave part of the game away. “You cheated.”
“I did not.” Bryan dropped the peeler.

“Yes, you did. You hacked the recommends. You know who’s going to get the Jordan College ‘ship…and it’s gonna be you.”

“Christ. Keep your voice down, will you?”

Bob modulated his tone. Not that it was a surprise. “Why’d you do that?”
“I’ve been hacking the goddamned recs since we were both thirteen,” Bryan said.

“Why?”

“Because I needed to make sure I didn’t get it. Otherwise I’d be leaving Mich home. Alone.” A significant pause. “With Hatch.”
Birdsong echoed. Sunlight gleamed off a pile of broken plas and glass in the doorway. Bob’s shoulders slumped.

“I heard what Marian Liester said he did,” He said, sitting beside Bryan and picked up a watergreen root. His own pocket knife was standard Marine issue. The Space Force were, like, the absolute greatest. Whatever you wanted to do, you could do it when you were in. Why would anybody want to be out?  He cut a big chunk off the root and stuck it in one cheek. The flavor was sweet and a little hot, and chewy as all hell. Better than gum, even. “I’d think you’d want to get out of there fast as you can.”

“Yeah, but when Dad’s lit he likes to hit things. Usually it’s just me. He thinks it’s funny.” Pause. “If I leave Dad will probably kill Mich. And I’ve been up for the Jordan since I was thirteen. But you have to be really good to get it, you know? A negs or better. So if I saw that I was in line, I’d drop to B pluses long enough to pull my name off the recommends.”

“So what’s changed your mind?” Bob asked.

Bryan smiled, like someone getting out of prison. “You can take family members with you, now. I think they changed it because of Peredita.” Peredita Chan was the girl who won the Jordan last year. She’d given birth while the recs were still on and had turned it down so she could stay with her kid. She wound up going anyway, when they changed the rules last year.

“I could take Mich with me if he were my dependant. He’s young enough. And they got that Space Force training facility right up against the College. Once he’s sixteen I could get him in. We’d be set for life…and away from Dad.”
Bob thought for a second. “Won’t the Peds catch you on your way to space port?” Peds, or PDs, meant the police department. Old timers called them the cops, too, though nobody really knew why. It had something to do with copper.

Bryan nodded. “That’s why I need help. I got a plan.”

“You need more than a plan, dude,” Bob said, thoughtfully. “You wanna run far enough, you’re gonna need a spaceship.”

“Yeah.” And a big grin, enough to see why the girls chattered about Bryan, even with the rumors about him running through school. “I got one of those, too.”



Three: Now

Black-blue blood and brain matter dripped from the ceiling. Bob’s face was covered in an unspeakable glaze slowly oozing into his battle armor. Adrienne turned, her gun glittering with the slick of black ichor, her eyes widening with shock and no small amount of awe. She lowered her gun. A sick light bloomed in her eyes. Oh, fucking hell.

Bob turned. There, down the hall littered with so many bodies, was yet another damned alien monster. It held a PCR 9 special. The kind that can put very large holes in things best left without holes, like spaceship bulkheads and people. Its clip glowed with blue shock rounds.

The alien’s face was utterly inhuman. And it was Bryan Landry. He was smiling.
Fuck, Bob thought, remembering only now to breathe. Unfortunately his face was still covered in alien blood. He inhaled the most unspeakable stink he’d ever sniffed in his life. Gagging, he fought the urge to drop to the deck and launch his combat rations into low-grav orbit.

Adry made a sound like a small, choking puppy. She was going to be pretty useless if this moment went sideways. Bryan had kidnapped her and held her for several weeks. When she’d gotten free, even though Landry was uncontrovertibly an alien, even though he was feeding on people, even though he had straight up kidnapped her, she’d let him get away. Bob hadn’t understood it. How could that reaction be so instantaneous?
He couldn’t take his eyes from that awful face.

“Are you in one piece?” Bryan asked. Alien, whispery voice, four terrible eyes.

Bob’s brain kept working, even if his attention was shot. The PCR 3 was back up to his shoulder, round in chamber, pointed at Bryan’s head. He even had the trigger halfway pulled before his finger stalled. Do it, Harris. This creature never escaped from Foster. He never shot his stepfather. He’s just a monster with a terrible memory cargo, and I need to unload that before it hurts us any—

“NO!” Adry tried to reach him. Bryan made some move, some gesture of a terrible six-figured hand, and the Russian grabbed her. She got in a good hit on the kid’s side and her back swing broke his nose, but the kid was better than Bob thought. He got her in a shoulder lock. Her face turned red trying to break it.

Bryan lowered his gun.

“I am not going to fire,” the alien with Bryan’s face whispered. “It would be best for us both to put our weapons down and get our people out before this place explodes.”

“We haven’t gotten to that part, yet,” Bob said.
Bryan smiled, the way a shark would when presented with a whole whale carcass, no strings attached. “We have.”

The Russian boy puffed up a bit when Bob looked at him. He let go of Adrienne. “It was kind, being distraction. We thank you. Without you, we would have trouble making bomb.”

“Bomb?” Adry said.

“I have reprogrammed the reactors into a feedback loop. I would suggest not being here when it goes critical.” The smile made it easy to see the light of his phosphorescent tongue from behind his teeth.

Well, shit. He’d planned on blowing the Addy, sure, but what Bryan claimed he’d done would explode with enough force to put a very large hole in the space time continuum. Adrienne’s face went pale as an alarm went off from somewhere down the hall. Bob was pretty sure he looked just as whitewashed.

Bob couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being played.

“What horse do you have in this race? ‘Cause it’s weird to me that you’d show up in time to save our sorry asses.”

“Ship exploding,” Adry said.

“I think I know who you are, for now. Her, too,” Bryan said. He was far too tense, and only two of those terrible eyes glanced Adry’s way. “I think that our goals are the same.”

“And the ship is exploding,” Adry said. “Leaving might be smart.”

“That doesn’t explain what you’re doing here. What goal do you think I got?” Bob said, gun still up.

“You do not want information to fall into Overseer hands. My memories being one of those things. It might surprise you, but I’d like to avoid that if it’s possible. I’d also like to avoid dying. We should be leaving, now.”

“How you want to do that?” He didn’t put his gun down. Not that it would have made much of a difference. If he were unlucky with the first shot, he wouldn’t get a chance to fire another. Overseers were big, fast, and bleeding dangerous if you hurt them.

“Your ship?”

Adrienne pointed behind them, damn the girl. “We’re cut off from the main fleet. It’s just an Alpha class shuttle. Which is that way. But there are a lot of Fangs between us and open space. The Indy can’t blast us out again.”

Operational security. It’s all I freaking ask. Bob thought.

Something in that terrible face turned avaricious. Another hungry-shark smile. The Bryan-thing said, “How well maintained are your ship’s shields?”

“Pretty well,”  Bob said, reluctant to reveal more. Pretty well for Holton fleet, but not pretty well for reality. They could survive the explosion. Maybe.

“Well enough,” Adry said. “But it won’t matter if we don’t—”

Bryan dug one massive hand into the wall with a bone-chilling crunch, cutting Adry off mid-panic. He twisted, then pulled a large portion of carapace covering off the wall, exposing the living circuitry beneath the black casing. Gold and blue lights blinked beside wires dark as pitch. Clear fluid bubbled around them, filling the gouge that Bryan had made. He reached into it, grabbed a cluster of wires and…Bob had to fight the urge to gag, or shoot the thing in front of him. The nematocyst teeth within Bryan’s palm emerged and wrapped themselves into the pulsating circuitry. After a few heartbeats he withdrew. The decking under their feet shuddered.

“And that would be our cue to leave. Given that taking me into custody was part of your orders, I hope you don’t mind giving us a ride. Bob.” This last was said with a hesitant flick of the eye.

Bob glanced over at Adrienne. She was staring at the alien as if she’d been pole-oxed. He felt similarly abused. He studied the alien, hand on his gun. Getting killed here, now, had not been part of Bob’s plan. And he didn’t like how Bryan seemed utterly in control. As if Bob had surrendered point or something. Overseers were experts at pissing contests, especially those of the chicken-with-spaceship variety. Bryan’s face or not, Bob was getting the same vibe from this one. He was being manipulated. He took the snap off his gun. Just one clean shot--

Adrienne grabbed the gun barrel and yanked it down. “Ship exploding,” she repeated, her face white. “Pose later, run now.”

An alarm began to sound. Something rumbled deep below them, causing all but Bryan to stumble.

“Yeah,” Bob admitted. “That sounds like a good plan.”
The story of Bryan and Adry continues in this exciting sequel to Starbleached.

Bob Harris never forgave himself for letting his best friend, Bryan Landry, become an Overseer captive. And he won't forgive Adrienne Parker for letting a transformed Bryan get away. Overseers are cannibalistic monsters. Bryan is better off dead.

Now the aliens are threatening a human world. Adrienne has her chance to redeem herself, and Bob has his chance to put Bryan out of his misery. The question isn't if he'll take the shot.

It's when.

Planet Bob is available for purchase on Amazon.com [link] Barnes and Noble [link] Smashwords [link] Kobo [link] and here on DA

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What you get in the zip file
-Full text in .mobi format
-Full text in Kindle format
-Full text in HTML format
-Bonus wallpaper of cover image only available here on DA
:iconsakuradrawingpencil:
SakuraDrawingPencil Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
sounds intersting!
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:iconchristwriter:
christwriter Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks!
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:iconsakuradrawingpencil:
SakuraDrawingPencil Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
your most welcome :D
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