The three-mile starship hovered two miles over the city of Los Angeles, casting a shadow of oppression that extended far beyond the limits of the literal shadow that fell across the business district.
Diana felt a distasteful discharge of venom in her mouth when Lydia emerged on the bridge. She hated her security chief -- and the feeling was mutual.
"The Leader has contacted us," Lydia said. "He wants to know why the continuous delays in the transport of this planet's water supply up to our Mother Ships."
"Our Glorious Leader forgets that it takes time to conquer a world," Diana said without looking up from the control console. She continued to finger the control board, enjoying the nervousness of the young ensign seated there. "Numerous shipping plants have been destroyed by the Resistance. Security is an issue -- and that, dear Lydia, is your department."
"In other words, Diana, you've been wasting precious time on these pitiful Resistance movements rather than -- "
"You forget your rank!" Diana snapped. Beneath the prosthetic human eyes, her reptilian pupil slits narrowed. "The Resistance is a problem, but they are being dealt with. Meanwhile, I intend to resume the transportation of water from the Los Angeles basin by day's end."
Lydia's sneering smirk transferred from her reptilian face to the blonde human disguise she wore for the long stay on Earth. "That's a very optimistic prediction. I'll be interested in seeing it borne out."
"Tanker shuttles have already landed at the Los Angeles refineries." Diana was losing patience with the thick-headed security officer, and her tone had turned brusque. "And I believe, in addition to the water, we can soon begin transport of Resistance fighters, who will make fine additions to our victory feast."
Lydia clutched the papers in her hands, her
artificial face creased in doubt.
Even Leftist terrorist groups have to visit the grocery store once in a while, Mike Donovan thought. But when you're at the very top of the Visitors' Most Wanted List, it's tough to just go shopping.
Donovan eased the red van into a parking space, noting with annoyance that stray shopping carts were clustered all around.
He stepped out of the van and looked around, scanning for red uniforms. There was no place where you could escape the Visitors completely, but since human grocery stores rarely sold live rodents, here was a spot that was relatively safe.
Ham Tyler got out of the van and glanced in the direction of the Mother Ship, a huge silver disk only partially obscured by mist. "I wish there was someplace where you couldn't see that thing," he growled.
"Got the shopping list?" Donovan asked.
Tyler nodded. "I don't see why Robin can't do this. Or Kyle. We know no lizard would dare mess with him."
Donovan smiled at his adversary. "I don't think any lizards in their right minds would dare mess with you and me."
"You don't take war very seriously, Gooder."
Despite Tyler's harsh tone, Donovan knew his friend wasn't really angry. He just didn't feel comfortable with friendly banter. "Well, the war's on hold for us for an hour." He broke off, his gaze fixed on a wooded area at the edge of the parking lot.
"You smelling something, Gooder?" Tyler said.
Donovan nodded toward the wooded area. "Someone's over there with something heavy. Listen to that -- "
Amid the bustle of the store and the clanking of a nearby employee stacking carts together, it was hard to notice the banging of metal on metal that was now unmistakably coming from behind some bushes layered at the base of the trees.
"Let's be inconspicuous, Gooder. There
are lizards around here. Let's just get this shopping done."
No, not defense. She hated the Visitors as much as any honest citizen. But -- what was it she had said? -- "We have to live with them or die."
True, they had all been a bit vocal in their complaints about the Visitors, but what was Mrs. Foster afraid of? That the house was bugged? Even if shock troopers were all around the house, surely they couldn't have heard the anti-Visitor rhetoric that had characterized the meal.
And the whole point of the dinner party had been to try to forget about the war for a while.
He looked again at the scribbled note:
I have to think of my family. If the Visitors knew what we were saying, who knows where we might end up? I'm sorry. I called them.
Well, it was only a matter of time, then. He had to wake Joanne up and they had to get out fast.
But even as the thought crossed his mind, he knew he was too late. Through the curtains, he saw the bulky, white shuttlecraft settling to the ground in front of the house, heard the whine of its engines die down.
In the back yard, two skyfighters descended.
And laser jeeps were approaching from both ends of the street.
The terrifying Visitor efficiency, and this time it was he that they were after. He knew there was no one to protect him. The Resistance was busy holding off the Visitor army that was entering San Francisco. And his neighbors would simply look the other way, ignoring the fact that someday there would be no one to protect them.
He headed for the bedroom, and then a laser blast blew the door off its hinges. Shock troopers poured into the house, their laser rifles cradled in their arms like babies. A single red-uniformed man -- no, not man, alien monster -- was the last into the house, a brown-haired officer holding a laser pistol pointed harmlessly at the sky. His eyes shone with malice.
"You are Henry Carlton?" the Visitor officer said.
He heard Joanne's screeches of protest as two shock troopers dragged her into the living room.
Other troopers were upsetting bookshelves, ripping down pictures, overturning tables.
"We have reason to believe you have Resistance sympathies," the officer said. "I have orders to search your house and place you under arrest."
Carlton knew it was fruitless to spout the Bill of Rights at this alien soldier. America was in the hands of the Visitors, and they did what they chose. Nazi Germany would be appealing by comparison.
Joanne bit the wrist of one of the shock troopers and broke free. The trooper gripped his forearm, where his fake human skin had been torn and green scales were visible.
"No, Joanne!" Carlton cried.
But it was too late. The unbitten shock trooper fired a single blast from his laser rifle. A whisper and crackle of energy, a hissing as flesh was burned, and Henry Carlton's wife sunk to the floor.
"No, no, no -- " He crawled to her side.
"Take him," the officer ordered.
Carlton was no longer aware of the Visitors, or the remorseless invasion of his home. He was aware only of his wife's body in his arms, and that something was pulling him away from her. He struggled, all too feebly.
Then machine gun fire tore through the room.
Distracted, the Visitors released Carlton and directed their attention to their unexpected attacker.
"He has us bottlenecked in here," the officer said. "Out the back!"
The red uniforms that had ruined his life backed into the dining room. Some of them lay dead in the living room in puddles of green blood.
Carlton looked toward the door at his rescuer. A young man, possibly in his early twenties, with thick, dark brown hair and wearing a black leather jacket, held an Uzi tightly, watching the Visitors fall back.
Carlton stared at him a long time before a deep sigh, half of relief and half the beginning of a heartfelt sob, escaped him. "Kyle! Kyle Bates!"
"I'd heard they were onto you, Henry," Kyle Bates said, slowly loosening his grip on his weapon. "They're searching the grounds. I'm here by myself. We've gotta get out of here."
"But Joanne . . . "
Kyle looked at his friend sympathetically. He tried to imagine Elizabeth lying face-down, a hole burned through her body . . .
"Come on, man," Kyle said. "You can live without her or die. Or worse. Let's go."
Slowly, Carlton moved toward Kyle. As soon as he was close enough, Kyle grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him out of the house. His motorcycle was right by the front door. He handed Carlton a helmet and jumped on.
"There he goes!" the Visitor officer shouted. Laser blasts hissed through the air, showering white sparks all around the motorcycle as it gunned its way down the street.
"What are you doing here?" Carlton asked his old racing buddy.
"I was on my way to San Francisco," Kyle shouted over the roar of the motor. "The San Francisco Resistance is trying to hold off a major Visitor onslaught, and they need help. We were trying to set up a communications network with them, but L.A.'s got its own problems. I thought I'd drop in on you anyway while I was on my way through, but a friend of yours, George Foster, tipped me off that you were in trouble. Thank God I got there just in time."
"A little too late," Carlton said too quietly
for Kyle to hear. With the loud growl of the motor and Kyle's back
to him, Henry Carlton, executive vice president of South Pacific Closed-Captioning,
Inc. and motorcycle racing champion of Colorado, allowed himself to break
down in tears.
Elias Taylor, owner of the classy nightclub, bit his lips as he considered his reply. "Look, Julie, ain't nobody expects you to be any kind of leader. Things have changed, and you've got a new place in the Resistance now. You get too involved with our operations, somebody spots you in the thick of battle -- "
"I know," Julie said. "I lose my job at Science Frontiers and we don't have anybody working on the inside anymore. But I hate the thought of people dying in this war; you guys out there with your lives on the line while I sit nice and comfy in my lab, punching buttons on a computer."
"Hey, I'm in the same spot. I gotta look like this respectable restaurant owner, even let lizards eat here, so that nobody knows I've got a secret Resistance hideout down here. But we all gotta do what we gotta do."
Julie smiled. "You know, Elias, Ben would be really proud of you."
Elias's face softened, and he looked at the floor. "Yeah. Sometimes I think I'm where I am now because of him."
Dr. Benjamin Taylor, Elias older brother, had been killed by the Visitors while trying to steal medicine from them. Secretly, Elias often thought, If only I had helped, if only I had given him the help he asked for . . . Before his brother's death, Elias had lived on the streets, dealing drugs and breaking into houses in petty thefts. But now he felt a need to improve, to be all he could be and more. That, after all, was what Ben had done.
And even now, Elias often heard his father's gruff voice -- "Why can't you be more like brother Ben, the doctor?"
Yeah, Ben would be proud.
A door opened, and a teenage girl in a pink dress slowly entered. "Julie?" she said in a small voice. "Is Kyle back?"
"Elizabeth?" Julie said. "Uh, no, sweetheart, I'm afraid he might be a while."
No one looking at the lovely Elizabeth Maxwell would guess that she was half-lizard, or, more astounding, that she was little more than a year old. Fortunately, she had been born nearly human, except for a flicking lizard tongue and venom glands, but she had matured physically at an astonishing rate.
Kyle Bates had learned that Elizabeth was the famous Star-Child only after becoming involved in a romantic relationship with her. It was almost impossible to fathom that this sweet, kind girl was the result of one of Diana's evil "medical experiments." That a Visitor youth leader named Brian had been ordered to "mate" with Robin Maxwell, whose DNA had been shuffled by Diana in order to produce the world's first hybrid.
Not even Diana could explain why Elizabeth was capable, under certain conditions, of strange feats of telekinesis.
"When do you think he'll be back?" Elizabeth asked innocently.
Julie got up and walked over to Elizabeth, placing a hand gently on the girl's shoulder. "Well, you know, he's on a very important mission for the Resistance. The Visitors are attacking San Francisco, and -- "
Julie broke off, again feeling a sense of inadequacy. Kyle was out there risking his life against unlikely odds, and she was hiding out in the basement of the Club Creole. In a few hours, she might be back in her lab at Science Frontiers, chatting amiably with Kyle's infamous father, who unthinkingly turned his back on the suffering of the world.
"Don't worry, Elizabeth," Julie said. "We'll let you know the minute we hear anything from Kyle. Willie, take Elizabeth upstairs and get her a milkshake, will you?"
Willie had just come down the spiral stairs. He nodded agreeably, his artificial human mouth pressed in the usual grimace. The harmless Visitor chef turned to Elias and said, "They need you upstairs, Boss. Some customs officers are complaining that the nervous is slow."
Elias frowned, glanced at Julie, then said slowly, "You mean . . . customers are complaining that the service is slow?"
Willie closed his eyes and nodded in his typical way. "Yes. Customers. Yes."
"Take it easy, Julie," Elias said, leading Willie and Elizabeth up the spiral stairs to the secret entrance and into the kitchen.
Not surprisingly, the customers making the fuss were a table of Visitors.
Willie gestured toward them, and Elias strode over to the table, straightening his tie. "Excuse me, gentlemen," he said in his smoothest PR voice. "I'm Elias Taylor, he owner. What seems to be the problem?"
James, commander of the Los Angeles shock troopers, said, "Mr. Taylor, your restaurant has a very fine reputation and a propensity toward what the American population considers 'exotic' food, which is why I decided to try it out. Why should it take longer to prepare food that needs cooked less?"
"What was your order, sir?" Elias said, bristling at the criticism but maintaining his calm.
"Steak tartar for me, sushi for Douglas here, and a plate of fruit for Oswald. We have been waiting for nearly fifteen minutes."
"I apologize, sir. I'll go to the kitchen and see what's taking so long."
"I expect prompt service," James said, his icy blue eyes staring into Elias, as cold as the reptilian eyes behind them.
"You'll get it," Elias said. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience."
As he headed for the kitchen, Elias prayed
that the cruel, arrogant Visitors wouldn't make too much of a scene.
"No," Donovan said. "But I do see what looks like the remains of a car . . . and a man with a gun."
Tyler's arched eyebrows shot up his expansive forehead. "No firearms allowed in the Open City. Maybe this is worth checking out."
Tyler followed Donovan, doing his best (which was very well) to look cool and menacing, while Donovan constantly glanced around for signs of Visitors.
Sure enough, as they climbed into the small patch of woodland that extended maybe a block and a half, they came upon a young, unshaven man in a black leather jacket, sleeves removed, gun smashing the one remaining window of what might have been a Nissan Sentra or a Chevy Blazer or a Model T. It was impossible to tell now.
As soon as he noticed Donovan and Tyler, the gun swooped up like lightning, levelled on Tyler's chest, then Donovan's. "Back off, you two!"
They did back off, but only in surprise. Their hands rose instinctively.
"Hey, take it easy," Donovan said.
"You've got an interesting pastime, hotshot," Tyler said.
"Who's askin' you?"
"I'm asking you," Tyler said. He had had enough guns pointed at him in the past not to be intimidated. "What's your name?"
Before the confrontation got any uglier, Donovan said, "I'm Mike Donovan, this is Ham Tyler. We're with the Resistance."
"Donovan? Yeah, I've heard of you. Lizards might pay a high price for you. And your friend."
Tyler shot Donovan a look that promised an unpleasant death if they got out of this alive. Donovan shrugged.
"What are you doing, Ace?" Tyler asked. "Carrying a gun in L.A. isn't a good way of endearing yourself to the lizards."
"Says who? This wasn't a lizard staff car I just trashed. For all I know, it might have belonged to the Resistance. I work for Luigi Vermacelli."
Tyler's eyebrows rose even higher.
"The casino owner?" Donovan asked.
"That's right, pal. He sells off the parts, the manufacturers bypass the lizards, the company profits."
Off the looks of astonishment from Donovan and Tyler, the man grew self-righteous and even more angry. "Hey, we can't all be a bunch of do-gooders like you Resistance types. If the lizards help us profit, why shouldn't we take advantage? Just 'cause the world is in pieces doesn't mean there aren't people who still want to make somethin' of their lives."
"What's your name?" Donovan asked.
The man hesitated, then slowly relaxed his grip on the gun. "Lee Fink."
Donovan glanced at Tyler, then surprised even himself when he said, "Maybe we can work together."
"Say what?" Lee Fink's face scrunched up in scepticism and confusion. "You're a Resistance member and a newsman. People like Vermacelli and I are your worst enemy."
Donovan nodded with a slight smile. "Maybe
so, in other circumstances. But as long as the Visitors are here
. . . "
He looked at Tyler, surprised that his distrustful friend wasn't putting up an argument.
"Before the Visitors came, Tyler here and I were enemies. He tried to kill me quite a few times -- "
"And now we're the best of friends," Tyler said.
Donovan looked at Tyler, surprised. He expected to see that malicious sneer of Tyler's, but his look remained sincere. Donovan was touched.
"So you tell your boss," Donovan said, "that the Los Angeles Resistance would like to join forces with him, help him in his embezzling of the Visitors. He's the enemy of our enemy."
Lee laughed derisively. "You and a criminal!"
"Criminal?" Donovan's blood began to quicken as he thought of the ravages of the Visitor invasion. "What kind of criminal? The Visitors are in charge. Since we're fighting them, we're criminals, too. At times like these, we make bargains with criminals!"
Lee's muscles tensed. He paused, then, ever so slowly, lowered the gun.
Then he extended his hand, and Donovan took
Houses burned. Visitor shock troopers marched people into the streets and shot them one by one. Skyfighters cruised overhead, seemingly arbitrarily firing their lasers at random buildings. Homes, businesses, warehouses, whatever had been built by human hands seemed a target to the Visitors in their merciless effort to take over the planet.
Common sense told Kyle to speed up, to get out of this place as quickly as possible -- but, firstly, it would only get worse from here to San Francisco, and secondly, there was too much rubble and debris, too much commotion to speed through town too quickly.
It was in this area that they came to the first roadblock. A skyfighter was parked along the side of the road, and two shock troopers stood manning the barricade.
"Only two," Kyle said. "We can rush them."
"And get shot at," Carlton said, not really caring one way or the other if they were killed.
Kyle gunned the motor and ran the motorcycle toward the roadblock. The Visitors waved their arms, then raised their laser rifles.
But the motorcycle smashed through the barricade before they had a chance to fire. As they made their getaway, laser blasts exploded around them, but the Visitors must have been too busy with the next person to come along to bother with Kyle.
Too busy! Who in the world other than Kyle would be crazy enough to be headed into San Francisco? The line of cars to get out stretched as far as the eye could see. Some of them were in flames.
Ahead, the San Francisco skyline was in flames, and Kyle could barely hear the air raid siren over the roar of the motorcycle engine.
"The Resistance Headquarters is around here!" Kyle shouted to his hapless guest. "We'll get things straightened out here and then hopefully head back to L.A.!"
"For what?" Carlton said, hating himself for his self-pity.
"It sure isn't safe for you in Malibu anymore!"
It was still another twenty minutes -- twenty minutes of murder in the streets that was vicious even for the Visitors -- before they reached a ramshackle building that had once been a minor newspaper.
"Here's where we get off," Kyle said once his engine was silenced.
Carlton got off the motorcycle and stared at the fires and smoke in the distance. He could hear screams coupled with laser blasts.
"Let's go," Kyle said, leading the way into the building.
A small but fierce-looking man jumped from an open doorway and pointed his gun at Kyle and Carlton. "Hold it there!"
"I'm Kyle Bates from Los Angeles. Greg's expecting me."
"Kyle," the man said, lowering the gun. "Kyle Bates. Okay. This way."
The man led the way down a hallway flickering with bad lightbulbs and sick with the stench of blood. In rooms on both sides of the hall, Kyle saw dead and wounded of all varieties and in all states of blood and gore.
Greg Janssen was waiting in a room at the far end of the hall. The former insurance salesman was crouched over a map of San Francisco dotted with red Visitor symbols.
"Kyle Bates," said the man who had greeted them.
Greg looked up at Kyle and forced a lame smile. "Hi, Kyle. I'm Greg Janssen."
"This is Henry Carlton," Kyle said. "He's
an old friend of mine. I picked him up on the way. The Visitors
. . . "
No more needed to be said.
"Alec," Greg said, "take Mr. Carlton down the hall and give him a place to rest."
"Right," a heavyset black man said.
Kyle watched as the numbed Carlton was escorted from the room, then he turned his attention to Greg. "Julie thinks we can station some people between here and L.A. at safe houses, run an underground railroad into the Open City."
Greg nodded. "Yeah, that's about our best bet. The lizards are serious here -- and why shouldn't they be? We've got enough water here for their needs for sure. We can't hold them off forever, and to be quite frank, I think San Francisco is going to be in their hands by nightfall."
Kyle nodded, biting a corner of his mouth. "We were afraid of that. How have the casualties been?"
"Bad. You saw it yourself coming in here. It's not just Resistance fighters they're after, either. If you're human, you're not safe. They're just hauling people out of their homes and into those shuttles of theirs."
"Food processing," Kyle spat.
"We've lost a lot of good people here, Kyle."
"Well, I brought a map that highlights the safe houses. With any luck, we can put this into operation by tomorrow, at least the first part of it."
"Well, let's see the map."
Kyle pulled his map from his pocket and unfolded
it. For a fleeting moment, as he heard a scream of pain from down
the hall, Kyle Bates wondered if maybe his father was right. . . .
"Diana, don't go looking for an ally in me. As far as I'm concerned, if you start causing me more of a headache than a help -- "
"Nathan," Diana said in that soft, soothing way that unfailingly disarmed Bates's anger, "I thought we were seeking a lasting peace."
Bates laughed, a condescending, insincere bark. "Don't pretend with me, Diana. I'm the only one in this room seeking a lasting peace."
"Then let's stick to the facts." Diana was becoming annoyed -- hardly surprising, considering the personalities that were clashing in this large, plush office situated on the top floor of the Science Frontiers highrise. "Our planet is on the verge of becoming a wasteland. Our people are dying. Our machines are failing. Our Leader demands progress."
"So you need water, as we all know so well. Fair is fair -- you take the water, and we die instead of you."
Diana stroked Bates's desk as if it were an old lover. "Nathan. You were always one for a compromise. I'm not saying you should let us take all the water from your precious city. Surely you have enough to share with us."
"To share, Diana, not to give away freely. And your food supplies must remain nonhuman."
Diana smiled. There was no warmth or friendship in the smile. "That sounds like an agreement. I also understand you arrested a group of dissidents planning a terrorist attack on our legation."
Bates looked at his computer screen and snapped, "Yes."
"In order to cultivate the spirit of co-operation, why not turn them over to us?"
"Diana, I'm the law in this city. They'll be interrogated, and I'll learn the location of the Resistance headquarters."
"The Resistance poses a threat to more cities than Los Angeles," Diana said, pacing the spacious office. "This is a worldwide problem, and one which is spreading. I hope to learn from this group of rebels the entire network of the World Liberation Front."
"All the more reason for me not to turn them over to you," Bates said pointedly. He hit a button on his handy remote control device, and the bronze doors to his office slid open. "I'll hold you to the terms, Diana."
Not altogether satisfied with the meeting, Diana turned and left. Once the doors had closed, Bates hit the intercom button on his desk. "Mr. Chiang?"
Half a minute later, the doors opened again, admitting a grinning Chinese man who clearly loved his work. Chiang entered, faced Bates, and bowed, his hands folded together. "Yes, Mr. Bates?"
"Get down to the Richland plant and set up a branch to monitor Visitor activities there. I'll give you more details later."
"And keep me informed of whatever happens. No piece of news is inconsequential in this matter. Clear?" Bates pointed a smouldering cigar at his henchman.
"Quite clear, sir," Chiang said.
Without another word, the tiny but powerful
man left the office.
He got out of the van, checked the mouth of the alley, and nodded.
Tyler and Lee Fink got out of the van, Tyler quickly pulling the other man to the door that led into the Resistance Headquarters. As they led Fink through the hall and into the large living room the Resistance used as a meeting spot, Donovan said, "I really don't think the blindfold was necessary."
Tyler pulled the blindfold off of the subdued but not-about-to-take-much-more Fink. "I'll appeal to this punk's better nature when our headquarters isn't at stake."
Ignoring Tyler, Donovan pulled a chair from a nearby desk and sat facing Fink. "We have an agreement, then? You'll take us to your boss under a flag of truce tomorrow?"
"That's the bargain," Fink said. "But don't you guys be pushing me around, or the whole thing's off."
Elias, who was coming down the stairs as they entered, regarded the scene curiously. "What's goin' on here?"
"This is our new ally," Donovan said. "I hope."
"So why bring him here?"
"That was the deal. This guy lives on the streets, makes whatever money he can working for Luigi Vermacelli."
"Not a renowned humanitarian," Tyler said.
"So we agreed to let him sleep here."
Elias pursed his lips, not quite pleased by the presumption. After all, the Club Creole was his restaurant -- and the incident earlier with James had not put him in the best mood. He wondered how many customers he had lost because of the damn lizards . . .
"All right, just keep him out of trouble," Elias said.
"Where's Julie?" Donovan asked.
"She and Elizabeth left. I think she's dropping Elizabeth off at Kyle's house and then going home."
Donovan swatted Tyler on the arm. "I need to see her, Ham. Keep him here. I'll be back in an hour."
Tyler looked at the table in front of him and spoke with obvious annoyance. "Gooder, it's almost nine o'clock. You're not Bates's favourite person during the day, let alone at night. You don't need to be caught outside after curfew."
"Come on up and use the phone," Elias said.
"The phones could be tapped," Donovan insisted. "You both know the good of the Resistance is more important than personal safety."
"The good of the Resistance," Tyler growled, "doesn't include a romp under the covers."
"We need information, and Julie's our best source until we find a new contact with the Fifth Column."
Poor old Martin, Donovan thought, remembering the uptight Visitor turncoat who had helped out so many times -- until Donovan, subjected to Diana's truth drug, had blown Martin's cover. God, how they needed Martin now. . .
"Then it can wait till morning," Tyler said. "If Diana is lifting water up to the Mother Ship again, she won't drain the entire Pacific overnight. Besides, there's no guarantee Julie got the information."
Donovan sighed, putting back the brown jacket he had just lifted off the coat rack. "Yeah, I suppose you're right."
"Now, get some sleep, Gooder. Tomorrow's a busy day."
"Willie and I need to finish cleaning up," Elias said. "Catch you later."
Donovan morosely headed into the communal sleeping area.
Ever since he and Tyler had been caught blowing up a Visitor staff car and killing Diana's chief food processor Raoul, it hadn't been safe for them to live at home. Ever since Nathan Bates had negotiated for Los Angeles to become an Open City, it had been assumed that the Resistance would quietly acquiesce to the new laws.
But now . . . now not only were the Visitors the enemy, but the civilian human government of Los Angeles. How many times now had the Visitor invasion pitted humans against humans?
The Invasion From Space was sure different than the old B-movies said it would be. There was no frontal assault of evil alien forces met by humanity uniting as a whole to rid the world of the threat. It wasn't that black-and-white. There were so many shades of gray -- humans collaborating with the Visitors, Visitors like Willie who just weren't up to fighting a war -- or like Martin, who stood for what was right despite the overwhelming forces of his own oppressive people.
Then there were the powerful, who allied themselves with the aliens -- or those who allied themselves with the aliens in order to become powerful.
Recently, in the mining town of Rawlinsville, the Visitor invasion had set the Resistance shooting it out with other humans -- hardly a new scenario on Planet Earth, but so ridiculous with the Visitors trying to take over.
And there were so many people who just sat
around doing nothing.
Flanked by shock troopers, Diana came down the ramp, her red uniform made all the more impressive by the dark glasses she now wore to protect her sensitive Visitor eyes from the harsh light of Sol.
"Diana," a three-striped officer said, coming out the double-guarded doors of the embassy. He raised his hand, fingers spread.
Diana placed her own hand against his, their fingers locked in the Visitor handshake. "Andrew, what is the status of the plant?"
"We lifted two tanker shuttles last night," Andrew said. "Each was half full, but it was a start. The entire operation was conducted quietly and with no interference from the Resistance."
"Excellent." Diana touched Andrew's shoulder affectionately. "But this is not the place to talk. Come inside."
As they passed through the front entrance, the officers on duty holding the elaborate doors open for them, a police van drove onto the grounds of the legation. Lieutenant James and six shock troopers marched out of the parked shuttlecraft toward the van.
A police officer stepped out of the van, followed a few moments later by Nathan Bates's henchman, Chiang.
James strode toward Chiang, who bowed solemnly but hinted ever so slightly at derision and insincerity.
"You have the Resistance fighters?" James said.
"As promised, Lieutenant James," Chiang said. "A gesture of co-operation from Mr. Bates, to help assure an ongoing peace."
"Open it up," James said to the troopers.
The rear of the van was swung open, and the shock troopers began ushering the imprisoned humans out, their laser rifles pointed menacingly.
The Resistance fighters lined up, hands behind their heads. It was a typical Resistance group -- hardly military types. There was a young couple, recently married. There was an elderly man who vividly remembered freeing a labour camp in Germany back in 1945. There was a policeman, the former partner of the van's driver. A shrimp boat captain, a bank teller, a lawyer, a cook from McDonald's.
As the shock troopers marched the procession of humans into the shuttlecraft, James said to Chiang, "You may tell Mr. Bates that the Visitors are pleased, and we hope to continue these profitable relations between our two peoples."
Chiang bowed, stepped back two paces, then turned and climbed into the van.
The driver watched his old partner for a few moments, wondering what would become of all these people in that vast saucer that forever dominated the sky above Los Angeles. Then he climbed into the driver's seat, started the engine, and drove off toward the gate.
Meanwhile, Diana led Andrew into her office in the legation building. "The Resistance can be unpredictable," she said. "Their foolishness leads them to take risks that often take our commanders by surprise."
"I'm grateful that you have confidence in me," Andrew said.
Diana smiled, slowly circled her desk until she stood behind Andrew. "Then you must know -- " She began to massage his shoulders, her smile becoming a hungry grimace. " -- how disappointed I would be if you were to fail me."
Nervous, Andrew shifted under Diana's probing hands. "I haven't disappointed a commander yet . . . "
"My standards can be difficult to meet." The massage became more intense. "Some might even say . . . unreasonable."
"I could never consider you unreas -- reasonable, Diana."
Diana smiled, released her grip on the junior
officer whom she had now sufficiently dominated. "Good. Then
I'll wait for your regular reports. I'll expect any Resistance activity
to be dealt with."
"The boss's office is this way," Lee said, leading them out of the conference room and down a short hallway. Light shone through the translucent window that dominated the upper half of the door at the end, casting a pompous glow over the black etched letters LUIGI VERMACELLI - THE BOSS.
"He don't like strangers," Lee warned, knocking on the door.
"Who is it?" a gruff voice called from within the office.
"Lee Fink, Boss. I've got some guys here to see you."
"Bring 'em in."
Lee opened the door and gestured for Donovan and Tyler to precede him into the small office.
Luigi Vermacelli sat at a cluttered desk, stroking a white cat which reclined next to the haphazard pile of papers. He looked at Donovan, then at Tyler. His gaze finally settled on Fink. "I expected to hear from you yesterday."
"These guys found me. Took me to their headquarters. Resistance."
"Resistance?" Vermacelli looked at them again. "Mike Donovan! Didn't recognize you. And your buddy?"
"Ham Tyler," Donovan said. "We were hoping we could cut a deal."
"Cut a deal?" Vermacelli laughed, tore off his thick-rimmed glasses and tossed them onto the desk. "That's good. That's really good. I like that."
"This is a waste of time, Gooder," Tyler said.
"Let's at least try." Donovan pulled a chair from a corner and sat facing the desk. "You're cheating the Visitors, we're fighting them. I think we could work together."
"You just add a few items to your hit list. We need medicines, lab supplies -- "
"Lizard pistols and uniforms," Tyler chimed in.
"Yeah," Donovan said. "And we'll pay you the going rate for them."
Vermacelli drummed his fingers on the desk. "At my price?"
Donovan nodded once. "Yeah. Right. At your price."
"And if you can't afford my price?"
"You'll set a price we can afford, or we can't pay you. You'd have gone to a lot of trouble for nothing."
Vermacelli picked up the glasses, hastily slipped
them on, and stood. Donovan rose to face him. Studying Donovan's
face with the slightest trace of a smile, Vermacelli said, "Deal."
About twenty minutes later, they pulled into the driveway of a white, one-story house in a friendly-looking little neighbourhood. The motorcycle engine died, and Kyle pulled off his helmet. "Well, here we are."
Carlton took his helmet off, disoriented by the apparent peace in the neighbourhood. Children played in the neighbouring yards, cars cruised back and forth as though there wasn't a care in the world. Only the looming Mother Ship gave testimony of the horror that still gripped the planet. After the death of Joanne and the nightmare of the battle for San Francisco, it seemed almost immoral that people should still live like this.
"Where are we?"
"Resistance safe house," Kyle said. "This should be the last link in the chain from San Francisco. From here it should be a one-way ticket to wherever you want to go."
Carlton followed Kyle to the front door. Kyle knocked in a Morse Code rhythm, a sequence of dot-dot-dot-dash. A moment later, the door was opened by a squat, balding man with sad eyes. "Hello, Kyle," he said. "Come in."
Kyle motioned Carlton to enter.
The balding man led them into the living room, where a dark-haired woman stood, eyeing Carlton suspiciously, rubbing her hands together in seemingly perpetual nervousness.
Kyle gestured at Henry. "Henry Carlton, Stanley and Lynne Bernstein."
"Welcome, Henry," Stanley Bernstein said.
"Now, Stanley, Lynne, I can't stay. I need to get back to Headquarters and let them know we've set up a preliminary chain of safe houses from here to San Francisco."
"Do you have a map for us?" Lynne said.
"Yeah." Kyle pulled a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket and handed it to her. "It's not finished yet, though. That's why I need to talk to Julie and get things finalized. But at least we should have a radio linkup with them by now."
"When can we reach them on our set?" Stanley asked.
"I'll get back to you tomorrow. With luck, I'll contact you by radio or telephone." Kyle sighed. "I hope I don't have to drive. I made the distance between L.A. and San Francisco today, and what the Visitors have done to gas prices . . . "
"All right, if you have to go, go," Lynne said. "You might have been followed, and I don't want them to see your bike outside our house."
"Right." Kyle propped his machine gun over his shoulder. "Good luck, Henry."
"Thanks," Carlton said. "I'll be all right."
"Of course you will. Take care, Stanley."
"I will," Stanley said. "And we'll take care of Mr. Carlton."
Kyle disappeared out the front door, closing it behind him.
Then Stanley opened the refrigerator and produced a can of Pepsi. "Have a drink, Henry."
"Thank you," Carlton said, taking the can.
"You can stay in our son's room. He's . . . dead."
Carlton looked up, met Stanley's melancholy eyes. "I'm sorry."
Stanley smiled sadly. "I wish I was. Our son was a traitor. I'm not sure whether I'm ashamed that I grieve for him or wish I could grieve."
"You can stay here as long as you need to," Lynne said, "but do you have any idea where you'd like to go?"
Carlton stopped in the middle of slugging his drink. "I don't know. I don't want to go anywhere. I can't imagine . . . living . . . after this." He shook his head. "How dare I? Who hasn't been through hell since those lizards arrived?"
Stanley sat on the couch next to Carlton, touched his shoulder. "We could arrange with the Resistance to have you transported to the Free Zone. There are places where the Red Dust is still active."
"No." Carlton bristled at the thought
of fleeing to some place where that deadly poison, lethal to the Visitors,
contaminated the air and water. Where there were no Visitors, where
he could live the good life while people were being killed or eaten, while
the precious Earth lost its water and resources. No, he had no good
life to live. He wanted to fight back. He wanted to kill the
Visitors who had killed Joanne. He wanted to watch those giant silver
ships retreat from the world and know he had contributed to their retreat.
"I want to join the Resistance," he said.
A large oak panel on the wall of her lab slid downward, uncovering a window that looked into Nathan Bates' office. She resented that, at the touch of a button, he could open that panel and stare in at whatever she was doing. She knew Nathan trusted her, but under his watchful eye it was hard to feel trusted -- especially since she was regularly deceiving him.
Despite his cruelty, Julie sometimes felt guilty at betraying her boss. Clearly, his interest in her was more than professional, and she was embarrassed for him that, as intelligent as he was, she was able to dupe him.
Lately, though, there were signs that Bates suspected her involvement with the Resistance.
"Julie," his authoritative voice said over the intercom, "I'd like to see you."
"I'm on my way," Julie said, not having any work in front of her to justify a delay. Besides, she wanted to talk to Bates before seeing Donovan.
The door to Bates's office was just outside
her lab and to the left. The bronze doors slid aside to admit her,
and she was instantly assaulted by the fumes of his thick cigar.
Actually, she had never seen Bates without a lit cigar.
Tyler had once said that was the one good thing about Bates -- "At least he'll smoke himself into an early grave."
Bates was sitting behind his desk, leaning far back in his chair, fingering the cigar as one might finger a pencil. He eyed her without his usual seductive smile. "Julie," he said with carefully controlled patience, "do you know my son Kyle?"
Julie was suddenly cold. Hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. What is he getting at? she thought frantically. Well, the best way to lie was to tell as much truth as possible. "Why, yes, Nathan, of course. He's a good friend of mine."
"Then where is he?"
At Bates's cold, even tone, Julie half expected to look over her shoulder and see Mr. Chiang grinning in the doorway. "What, uh, what makes you think I would know?"
Bates leaned forward, snuffed out his cigar in the ashtray that sat next to a framed photograph of Kyle. He sighed. "You and Kyle both seem to think you can play me for a fool. Now, I don't appreciate that. If you're double-crossing me, I'd appreciate it if you'd just own up."
Julie thought quickly. Her attention became focused on Bates pulling out another cigar. Let's see . . . Nathan knows Kyle is involved with the Resistance --
Snip . . . Bates clipped the end of the cigar.
But he doesn't know about the underground railroad.
A flare of flame from the lighter, the tip of the cigar glowed orange.
"To be honest, Nathan . . . "
A deep suck on the cigar, smoke billowing from Bates's nostrils like a fire dragon.
"I believe Kyle is working with the Resistance. He hasn't told me that in so many words . . . "
"Then where is he?"
"I think he went to take weapons and ammunition to San Francisco."
Bates's stare softened. She had placated him. "I didn't mean to come across so harshly, Julie. I just don't know where I went wrong with Kyle."
My God, Nathan, how about you were never a father to him?
"Well, Nathan, it's bad in San Francisco. They need all the help they can get. Surely you can't object to Resistance efforts in other cities. Have you ever considered striking a deal with the Resistance?"
"I don't bargain with criminals," said one of the most crooked men in the world. "Besides, there's no talking sense with people like Donovan and Tyler."
Julie nodded, quickly giving up that risky line of conversation. "Well, anyway, Nathan, I've heard talk about a peaceful settlement regarding Diana's wish to take water from the Los Angeles basin. Congratulations . . . if it's true."
"It's true. I think if we could strike a lasting peace with the Visitors, it would be a wise gesture of good will to assist them with the environmental crises that threaten their planet."
And that's that. I have the information I need. "Do you know when they plan to start their operations?"
"Should have been last night."
"Well, Nathan, I hope you know what you're doing."
Bates opened his drawer and pulled out a stack of papers. "I always do."
Seeing him sifting through his papers, Julie knew she was dismissed. Glancing at her watch, she assumed Donovan and Tyler were at Club Creole now, so now was as good a time as any to head over there. "Okay, Nathan, I'll be heading home for a few hours while the lab processes the results of some cultures I sent down. See you later."
"Have a good day, Julie."
She left the office without another word, and
as she headed down the hall, she heard the doors close behind her.
She wondered if, just this moment, Mr. Chiang was being paged. How
much did Bates suspect? Was she really pulling the wool over his
eyes, or was it the other way around?
The front door of the house opened, and Elizabeth bounded toward him. "Kyle!"
As she wrapped herself around him, he let out a startled, "Whoa!" Regaining his balance, he hugged Elizabeth and responded to her enthusiastic kiss.
"I'm sorry," Elizabeth said, her smile not fading a bit. "I'm just . . . glad you're back."
"Well, I am too, especially now."
Elizabeth's smile disappeared abruptly, and she looked at the ground as though it held the answer to some long-sought question. "My mother said it was dangerous where you were going."
Why doesn't Robin keep her mouth shut? Kyle thought silently. Sometimes he felt the rest of the Resistance was a little hard on Robin -- after all, she was just a teenager who had been caught in a mercilessly cruel situation. In fact, it was safe to say the Visitors had ruined her life. But the war was hard on everyone, and it was difficult to listen to Robin's constant whining. Kyle had it easier than the others, because Robin was in love with him, but that also made the situation more complicated, considering his feelings for her daughter.
"Elizabeth," he said patiently, "yes, it was dangerous where I went. But nowhere is totally safe. And where I went... the Visitors were killing a lot of people. Can you understand that the Resistance has to stop that?"
Elizabeth shrugged noncommittally. "But does it have to be you?"
Kyle touched her chin, smiled gently. That seemed to soothe her a bit. "Everyone has to do their part, Elizabeth. That's what being in the Resistance is all about. Otherwise I'd be just like all those people who sit in their homes, silently hoping the Visitors go away. And that doesn't help anybody. In fact, it's people like that who are helping the Visitors win. Can you understand that?"
After a moment's silent reflection, Elizabeth nodded. "Yes."
Kyle kissed her on the cheek, wishing as he
often did that he could be alone with her and do all he wanted without
feeling he had compromised her innocence. Someday, he thought.
But meanwhile, Elizabeth's childish dependence and love stripped away the
grease monkey exterior that Kyle had built for himself. Thanks to
Elizabeth, he was discovering the human being he had never known he was.
But Diana had tasted human, and it always excited her, almost sexually, to be eating the body of a creature that had been intelligent and conscious.
The buzzer at her door rang with a series of chirps and bleeps. "Enter," she called.
The door to her quarters slid aside, admitting the unwelcome form of Lydia. "Diana, we have a report from Commander Andrew. Richland is operational."
"Good." Diana opened the lid to her transparent bowl and clutched another mouse. "Care for one?"
"Thank you, no. I'm rather more interested in how you plan to prevent another Resistance raid on our operations."
"Fear not, dear Lydia. I have captured a number of Resistance members, as you are no doubt aware."
Lydia sneered. "If you plan on employing that glitch-ridden conversion process -- "
"The conversion process has its problems, but with the proper approach, these Resistance members will serve their short-term purpose -- and our long-term purpose. At the very least, we will prevent a raid on our refinery, and at the most, we will completely eliminate the Los Angeles Resistance."
"Shall I inform the Leader of your confidence?"
Diana smiled. "Our Beloved Leader appreciates confidence in his top military commanders. Which is why you are not the commander of this fleet -- and I am."
Simmering, Lydia turned and left the room.
Julie nodded. "Yep. The Visitors are already lifting water to the Mother Ship. Tankers are probably on their way as we speak."
Tyler strolled across the room and leaned against the table next to Donovan. "Let's make some explosions."
Donovan nodded. "Right. Let's sneak in there tonight, get a feel for the place."
Elias, who was sprawled across the couch, suddenly sat up. "Wait, won't they be expecting us?"
"Resistance units have been attacking a lot of these shipping plants," Julie said.
Tyler turned his back to Julie, frustrated. "If we do it right," he bellowed, "we'll be in and out before they know we're there."
"And if we do it wrong," Elias said, "we'll be packed in freezers on the Mother Ship."
"You just don't get it, Elias. That's what's in store for all of us if we do nothing."
Elias nodded. "Yeah, right," he quietly agreed. Despite his general dislike for Ham Tyler, Elias frequently found himself in agreement with the man.
"We'll find out what we can about their defenses tonight," Donovan said. "If we're discreet, we should be able to get a handle on whether they're ready for us."
Julie nodded. "Sounds like a plan." As the leader of the Resistance, she felt compelled to "approve" Donovan's plans. Some leader, she thought. "Mike, you and Ham go out there tonight, and we'll meet tomorrow morning to plan the raid. Agreed?"
There were general nods of agreement from the other gathered Resistance members.
"Okay," Donovan said.
That single word dismissed the meeting.
"Move it," Lieutenant James barked. "Go on. You're being released. Now go, before we change our minds."
Not everyone who had initially been taken to the Mother Ship was among the group. The conversion process was harsh, and not everyone survived its terrors.
Just outside the legation grounds, a Greyhound
bus awaited its passengers. They were going home. Those were
the instructions that had been given to the bus driver by his boss, who
had been given his own instructions by Mr. Chiang.
"Hello?" an unfamiliar voice said. "I'm looking for Kyle Bates. Do I have the right number?"
"Just a minute." Robin set down the phone and skulked out onto the front stoop. As she might have guessed, Kyle was down by the stream with Elizabeth. She knew she shouldn't be jealous of her own daughter, but she was. After all, Robin was only eighteen, and entitled to her own life. It wasn't her fault the Visitors had thrust a daughter into her life. She loved Elizabeth, but she loved herself more.
"Kyle?" she called.
She saw Kyle turn to face her. "Yeah, Robin?" he called back.
"Someone's on the phone for you."
"I'll be right back," Kyle said to Elizabeth, then hopped up, slipped his black leather jacket over his sleeveless shirt, and sprinted across the lawn to the house. Robin stepped out of his way, smiling at him in a pleading way, but he didn't notice.
He picked up the phone. "Yo, Kyle speaking."
"Kyle, it's Henry Carlton."
Kyle grinned. "Henry! Hey, how are you, man?"
"I'm doing okay. I'm still at the safe -- "
"I'm okay, too," Kyle said quickly. "Anything you need?"
Fortunately, Carlton caught on to Kyle's worry that the phones might be tapped. "Could you pick me up?"
"Sure. Be right there." He hung up, not wanting to give the Visitors any more time than necessary -- if they were even listening. One could never be sure. "Gotta go," he said, noticing that Robin had followed him into the room. "Tell Elizabeth I said good-bye, would you?"
"Okay," Robin said. Her eyes followed
him as he disappeared out the door. There seemed to be nothing she
could do to get him to notice her. He only noticed Elizabeth.
Donovan half-shrugged. "Well, as far as I know, they're not out to arrest us on sight."
The fighter's hatch opened, and four shock troopers and an officer climbed out. Up the front stoop they went and through the front door of the Club Creole.
A whisper issued from an alley behind them. "Hey, what's the idea?"
Donovan looked over his shoulder while Tyler stiffened.
"Lee," Donovan said, extending his arm for a handshake.
"Think you're pretty cute, sneaking up on us?" Tyler said.
"Cool it, man," Fink said. "The Boss sent me to tell you a truck will be bringing weapons in from Santa Cruz."
"What about medicine?" Donovan gave up on the handshake and put his gloved hands in his pockets.
"You can pick it up at our headquarters tomorrow at noon -- if you don't bring any lizards with you."
"You watch your mouth, Ace," Tyler said.
"Easy, both of you," Donovan said, stepping between them. "We're all on the same side. We'll see you tomorrow, Lee."
Fink nodded, shot Tyler an unpleasant look, and retreated down the alley.
Donovan and Tyler then turned as one and eyed the nearby skyfighter warily.
"Let's circle around to the alley and head in that way," Donovan suggested.
When they entered their headquarters through the secret entrance behind the Club Creole, they found Kyle and a stranger sipping coffee on the couch.
"Mike, Ham." Kyle stood, and the stranger followed suit, watching Donovan and Tyler nervously. "This is Henry Carlton, an old friend of mine."
"This place is turning into a damn boy scout troop," Tyler growled. "What the hell's he doing here, Bates?"
"He wants to join us," Kyle said. "The lizards killed his wife. I've got plenty of reason to trust him."
"Well, we always welcome more help," Donovan said.
"Elias tells me we also got back a few of those prisoners the lizards captured the other day."
"Are they up to fighting?"
"They claim they are. They're sure angry enough."
"Hold it, Gooder," Tyler said. "Are you thinking of taking those people on the raid?"
"They've been up to the Mother Ship, Donovan. You know how Diana plays around with people's heads."
"Well, the raid's tomorrow. If any of them have been converted, they won't have much time to rat on us."
Tyler's gesture of exasperation wheeled him off to the far end of the room. "There are almost as many lizards in L.A. as there are humans. It's not like they'd have to hike all the way to the legation or up to the Mother Ship to blow our plan."
"Conversion takes a lot of time and a lot of patience," Donovan insisted. "Diana doesn't have either of those. It's just not a viable battle plan. I'm sure she tried to beat and burn information out of those people, but the conversion process just isn't a practical way of fighting a war. She saves that for the politicians and media people."
"Like you, for instance?"
Tyler was one of a few people capable of bringing out Donovan's temper. Kyle had to rush forward to stop Donovan from lunging at Tyler. "Hey, man, the guy does have a point. This raid won't take a whole lot of manpower. We don't need all those people."
"They'll learn of our plan one way or the other," Donovan said, glaring at Tyler. "Either we fill them in or they'll see that we're shutting them out. And it won't take a genius to figure out what we're up to. We can either bring them into our confidence and let them help, or make it obvious we're hiding something and give anyone who has been converted the chance to tell the Visitors what we're up to."
Tyler nodded reluctantly, his eyebrows characteristically working their way up his large forehead. "All right, we'll bring them along -- on one condition. We forget the scouting mission, raid the plant tonight."
"Tonight?" Kyle said, incredulous. "We can't go on a raid without knowing what we're up against."
"We'll prospect when we get there, analyze their security on the spot. We've raided this plant before. We know the layout. All we need to do is breach security, plant the charges, and get out."
"I'd like to go along," Carlton said. "Killing Visitors means more to me now than my own life."
Kyle and Donovan both looked to Tyler, expecting protest. Tyler started for the spiral stairs that led up to the restaurant. Brusquely, he said, "Bring him."
Donovan nodded. Then he glanced at the clock on the wall. "It's almost 8:00. It's Friday, isn't it?"
Kyle clicked on the television. "If the Visitors haven't captured New York, we should be getting a report from the Freedom Network any minute."
The screen flashed white, and the red, white, and blue letters FREEDOM NETWORK appeared in a stylized font. Then Howard K. Smith appeared on screen. "Good evening. I'm Howard K. Smith, and this is the state of the war tonight.
"We have breaking news from London, where Visitor ground forces are reported to be marching on the city. London is supposed to lie in the free zone, but preliminary reports hold that Visitor experiments in Europe have uncovered the inoculation for the red dust bacteria. Resistance efforts in London are holding off the Visitor ground forces, but all British military bases have been seized, and air raids are expected later this evening. A meeting of the British Parliament is now in session, but may have to break if the Visitors succeed in overpowering the Resistance.
"More bad news here in the U.S. -- San Francisco has succumbed to the relentless Visitor attack that has been in progress for two weeks. We have reports that many Resistance members are still alive. Some will continue the fight, while others will be retreating to Los Angeles or some point above the frost line. Tune in to Radio Free America to learn the whereabouts of your loved ones.
"On the lighter side of the news, Martha Sibley, a motel manager in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, took over a laser jeep when the Visitors overran her Eastwinds Motel and took her motel guests prisoner. Mrs. Sibley directed her motel staff in capturing three more laser jeeps and opened fire, destroying her own motel and driving the Visitors away. All of the prisoners were freed. Mrs. Sibley is awarded this week's Freedom Network Medal of Valor.
"And that's where we stand tonight. From the Freedom Network in New York, our hopes are with you. Good night."
Kyle shut off the television with a huff. "If the Visitors have got the antidote to the Red Dust, we're just up the creek."
"Don't give up," Donovan said. "If they capture the whole planet, our Resistance movements will just get stronger."
Kyle did not look convinced.
Diana entered the bay on an upper level and descended the winding staircase. Lydia and several sentries followed. The guards at the bottom of the stairs made way as the commanding officers strode past them and strolled with the casual self-assurance of command toward the shuttlecraft that now sat stationary, one of thousands in the cavernous chamber, its engines dying into a soft whisper before fading away. The side hatch opened, and six shock troopers disembarked, followed by Andrew.
Diana and Lydia fell into step with him.
"The Resistance fighters were taken to their halfway house. If they disclosed the location of their main headquarters, Mr. Bates should know of it by now."
"Their main headquarters is no longer of any interest," Diana said. "Shortly we will have Donovan, Tyler, and the rest of those scavenging street cats in our clutches."
"Unless the conversion process failed again," Lydia said, "as I believe it did with at least four of your subjects -- or was it five?"
Diana stopped and whirled on her security chief. "The process was successful, dear Lydia. The older and weaker subjects died, as I expected them to."
"I only hope, for your sake, that we resume our collection not only of water, but of this planet's food resources."
"Need I remind you that our primary objective
is subjugation of this species. After that is done, there will be
no difficulty in harvesting them and taking every drop of water."
Henry Carlton, at the outer fence, gestured that all was clear. Donovan and Tyler hurried up to him, and Tyler gestured. Julie, Kyle, and several other Resistance fighters, all clad entirely in black, darted across the pavement to an opening in the fence. Elias and Willie led five others in the opposite direction, in a position where they could fire on the sentries guarding the tanker shuttles.
The shuttles themselves were parked at the edge of a dock, where hoses were feeding into their tanks directly from the ocean below.
"Okay, she's full," an officer standing near a shuttle's entrance said.
Visitor technicians pulled the hoses from the tanks and sealed them shut. The officer climbed into the shuttle.
"Now's the time," Tyler said, watching intently. "While they're busy. We can create more confusion."
Donovan turned and waved at Elias, who nodded at Willie.
Gunfire sprayed the complex. The sentries at the shuttle fell, dazed, then stood again, thoroughly protected from the bullets by their body armour.
Overhead floodlights flickered to life, and the Resistance fighters were suddenly throned in crimson, the yellow, then white brilliance.
For a moment, no one was sure what was going on. Tyler was the first to see Kyle and Julie on the business end of rifles held by their fellow Resistance fighters. A glance in the other direction showed him what he had guessed -- Elias and Willie had also been stood up by their allies.
"Nobody moves!" a man shouted -- as Tyler recalled, his name was Rick and he was a mechanic.
Donovan couldn't argue with the accusing look Tyler gave him.
"Stand up over there!" a Visitor screamed.
Donovan and Tyler stood, hands behind their heads.
"What is going on here?" A Visitor officer asked as the Resistance turncoats marched Donovan, Tyler, Elias, Willie, Julie, and Kyle into the center of the plant.
"A gift for Diana," Rick said. "The leaders of the L.A. Resistance."
"I guess your involvement with the Resistance doesn't count for anything?" Tyler growled.
Rick looked confused for a moment, seemed about to lower the gun -- then he dropped the gun, screaming and clutching his temples.
Donovan and Tyler exchanged a glance in mutual understanding. They turned and kicked at the shock troopers who had just surrounded them.
"Grab them!" the officer shouted.
The other traitors were also writhing on the ground, struggling with a seemingly reasonless pain in their heads.
The whine and accompanying his of a laser pistol flared through the night, and an intolerably bright light leaped toward Donovan. A nearby body was already in motion, though, and intercepted the full energy of the blast. Henry Carlton, his upper torso neatly cooked, fell to the ground.
As more shock troopers poured into the area, Donovan and Tyler were quickly subdued.
"You're to be taken to the Mother Ship," the officer said. "March!"
And so the Los Angeles Resistance, defeated
by their own kind, climbed up the ramp into a Visitor shuttlecraft to be
flown into the heart of the alien tyranny that had dominated the world.
The struggle for freedom had, apparently, come to an end.
"Then you don't have the location of their headquarters?" The feminine face on the screen was livid. Bates had often wondered how the serpentine faces formed facial expressions that came through on the rubbery masks.
"I'm afraid not." A puff on the cigar, then: "I assume, when and if you capture the Resistance, my son will be turned over to me."
Diana smiled sweetly. "Despite the fact that the Mother Ship is a few miles above city limits and therefore outside your jurisdiction -- in the interests of peace, he will be returned to you. I have received word that the Resistance has been captured, and they're being shuttled here now. If your son is among them, don't worry. You'll see him soon."
Bates nodded, his thick brows furrowing. "And rest assured, he'll be suitably punished."
He clicked a button on his remote control, shutting off the screen. Another button, and a bronze panel slid down, covering the three screens on the wall of his office. He spun in his chair and checked his watch. About time to call it a day. A soothing mug of mint tea and a hot shower before bed -- yes, that sounded good.
"Mr. Chiang," he said into the intercom on
his desk. "Fetch my driver and have him pull the limo up front."
It would, no doubt, be hardest on Willie. The rest of them were human enemies, and would probably either face the terror of the conversion chamber or the dreamless sleep of the Special Section. But Willie -- Willie was a traitor to his own kind. Donovan didn't want to think of what might be done to him.
Suddenly the shuttle lurched and began to tilt heavily to starboard. Visitors and humans alike tumbled across the cabin into the wall.
"What the hell's going on?" Tyler grumbled.
"I don't know," Donovan said. "But let's take advantage of it."
He rushed forward, to the cockpit, and saw the pilot frantically trying to regain control of the tumbling craft.
Tyler, Kyle, and the others were already beating their Visitor captors to a pulp. Donovan grabbed the upper portion of the door and swung his legs up, kicking the pilot in the head. Dazed the pilot slumped forward, and before he could recover, Donovan grabbed him by his fake hair and slammed his face against the console -- several times.
The pilot slumped to the floor, unconscious, half his human mask torn off.
Donovan slid easily into the seat and took the controls.
"She's not flying," he shouted at whomever was listening.
Tyler, rubbing a sore shoulder, climbed into the cockpit behind him. "Can you set her down?"
"I'll try," Donovan said. "But we can't seem to keep distance from the ground. We're flying fast enough, though, that I can manage a controlled crash."
Now Julie's head popped into the cockpit behind Tyler. "Can you land us inside city limits?"
"Let me figure out first if I can land us at all."
"What the hell happened?" Kyle demanded, holding an unconscious Visitor by the scruff of the neck.
"I don't know."
"Whatever it is," Elias said, "we can just thank the High Lights of Zolton."
"Lords of Light, High Priests of Zon," Willie corrected.
A few miles away, Luigi Vermacelli grinned,
looking into his drawer full of power packs, stolen from quite a few Visitor
Vermacelli just smiled; it wasn't necessary to reply.
"How did you know when the raid was set. Shuttles come and go all the time. You had to know we were attacking the plant last night, to sabotage the shuttles that were already there."
"We're thorough," Vermacelli said. "I didn't know when the raid would be, and I didn't expect you to tell me, but selling these power packs will be pretty lucrative. They power not just the shuttles and skyfighters, but also the laser pistols. -- Uh, how much you willing to pay for them?"
Donovan's face twisted. Tyler was humble
enough to smile.
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